Tuesday 10 March 2009

Jacqui Smith - the nation's headmistress?

Moving on from spying on our emails and banning foreign politicans she doesn't agree with, the nation's nanny-in-chief - sorry, the home secretary - is turning her attention to the makers of clothers, computer games and videos that she believes are 'inappropriate' for young girls. Announcing a three-month 'fact-finding review' into the 'sexualisation' of teenage and pre-teen girls, Jacqui Smith declared: 'It is time the manufacturers saw the writing on the wall over this and stopped producing these sort of things for young girls'.

Well yes, maybe it is, and as the parent of a 14 year old girl I'm not completely unsympathetic to such arguments. But I wonder what power Smith thinks the government has to tell industry what it can and can't produce? And if it has no such power, then won't this review be just another expensive exercise in paternalistic moralising? Smith's tut-tutting reminds me of the regular missives sent out by my daughter's headmistress, bemoaning the rising hemlines of pupils' skirts. Except that a headteacher has a legitimate role in determining what can be worn within a school, whereas the home secretary has no business trying to influence the fashion and consumption decisions of the nation's teenagers and their parents.

The review is being touted as part of an initiative to tackle violence against women and girls, on the pretext that there might be a link with the sexualisation of young girls. But this is spurious, and risks reinforcing the deeply reactionary assumption that victims of rape and sexual violence are 'asking for it' if they dress in a sexualised manner. By focusing on the behaviour of young women - the potential victims - Smith's review will inevitably draw attention away from the real roots of abuse - the attitudes and behaviour of a minority of men. It's the persistence of certain kinds of masculinity, and not the mutations of contemporary young femininity, that should be the focus of policy-makers' attentions.

1 comment:

TJ said...

It is only to be expected: as more and more powers are evolved to the EU our Westminster politicians will spend more of their time on ineffectual moralising in an attempt to chase headlines and the votes.