I'm no Rihanna fan, but it's time to stop agonising about oversexualised girls
I am on the brink of a terrible crisis, one that could arrive any time in the next four to six years, and is likely to last at least that long. Yes, I am the mother of a six-year-old daughter.
Not only that, I’m the aunt of several more girls, whose ages range from four to twentysomething. It’s only a matter of time, or so I’m constantly being told, before I’m drowning in a sea of miniature push-up bras and junior pole-dancing kits, while fending off requests for labiaplasty procedures and Justin Bieber tickets.
For several years now, so-called experts have been warning about the “crisis facing our daughters”. Hardly a week goes by without an article about the growth in plastic surgery for teenagers, or the prospect of paedophiles stalking them on Facebook.
A scour of the headlines from the past few weeks turns up horror stories about the new practice of “slut shaming” among teenagers; warnings about sex toys being sold in Boots; and claims that “sexting” is turning our children into criminals. The British prime minister, David Cameron, has even appointed an adviser with the remit of “preventing the sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood”.
It is true that the messages being pumped out by advertisers may not always be in our children’s best interests. I’ve previously written on these pages about the way we are squeezing young children into restrictive gender roles by the toys we push at them. And, like many others, I worry about the ways porn is shaping popular culture.
But the debate about the sexualisation of children has begun to echo with more than a faint ring of hysteria – not least with the latest contribution from child-rearing guru Steve Biddulph.
A few years back, Biddulph wrote a sensible book called Raising Boys, which sold four million copies worldwide. He has now turned his attention to girls, who are, he says, “in trouble in a world that seems bent on poisoning their confidence and trashing their lives”.
The new book – which does also offer some solid advice – is published this week, and Biddulph has already been setting out his case in promotional talks and extracts. He says: “Girls used to be doing fine, but they’re now having much more problems with bullying, binge drinking, eating disorders and generally not liking who they are.” Everywhere a young girl goes, “she sees messages that make her feel that she is not good enough”, and “the media has become the third parent, sometime first parent, in terms of passing on ideas and values.”
Thankfully, my daughter and her older cousins seem blissfully unaware that they are living in a state of what Biddulph calls “sustained assault”. But really, isn’t this huge, terrifying crisis they’re facing just what used to be called “growing up”? I’m not sure whether teenagers are the problem – or if the issue is the rest of us, who can’t seem to make up our minds what we want for them.