Belfast Telegraph

Don’t let primped-up princesses rule our daughters

By Amy Jenkins

David Cameron was seen again on the GMTV sofa doing his genial, sensible, reasonable thing — doing that mister nice guy thing he does so well and hoping to mop up some of those all-important female votes.

He's announced that a future Conservative Government will take steps to protect children from inappropriate commercialisation and sexualisation. He wants to “make sure that our children get a childhood”.

He announced that a Tory administration would withdraw government advertising from agencies found guilty of inappropriate marketing to children. They would provide a website specifically designed for parents to come together and complain about adverts they felt were inappropriate. They would also ban peer-to-peer marketing for children.

In terms of the commercialisation aspect, this is nudging the stable door long after the horse has not only bolted but gleefully kicked its heels in every corner of the planet.

In terms of the sexualisation aspect, it's pretty clear that he's not going to shut down Disney and Barbie and the like, so what he's really doing is throwing a sop to the prudish.

This idea that if children don't know about sex they ‘have a childhood’ has been around for ages. But it's a romantic and unrealistic view of what children are really like.

Children soak up information like sponges. They want to know the reality of the world and to deal with it. They don't have our judgments about sex.

Children have their own burgeoning sexuality and they naturally understand about sex — even if they haven't a clue about the mechanics. Children know how to flirt and be sensual and enjoy their bodies. Children are scared of sex only if we teach them to be.

The earlier you tell children about sex, the easier they'll find it to assimilate.

I'm willing to bet you found out all about guns before you realised they actually hurt people. I used to play with cap guns shooting my best friend and I never connected the game with grief or pain.

So then, later, when it slowly dawned that guns were the instruments of unthinkable violence, I hardly even noticed. I thought the whole thing was as natural as the birds and the bees.

Not so, of course. But the example illustrates how children can be inducted gently into the crazy norms of society.

In a more positive way, the same is true of sex. If a child finds out gently and early about the mechanics and realities of sex, there will be no terrible shock in store.

David Cameron also said that his six-year-old daughter is “obsessed” with listening to Lily Allen on her iPod. He objects, though, and thinks it's inappropriate.

But I can think of far, far worse things for a six-year-old to be obsessed with. A Bratz vanity case, for instance (Bratz being Barbie's brashly sexed-up competitor).

At least with Lily Allen, Cameron's daughter may come away with an ear for a great rhyme. She's an original, creative, thoughtful young woman and not a bad role model either.

The overwhelming majority of bestselling toys are heavily genderised. For my three-year-old boy it's nothing but trains and pirates and castles and his current obsession, Fireman Sam.

He wants nothing more than to be a fireman. But that isn't so terrible. Firemen get out there and do good in the world. They are active, effective and useful.

But what if I had a girl and she was pestering me for a Disney Princess make-up kit? What would that mean she wanted to be?

Being a primped-up princess isn't a job. It doesn't contribute one thing to society. Princesses aren't cool and calm. They're silly and pink and scared of mice.

Being a princess is an empty nonsense of a dream.

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