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Tramps like us: Target and modern day misogyny

When it comes to sexuality and young girls, the debate is desperately confused. flickr/Andreas Neustifter

The sexualisation of children issue – this week vomited up in the form of an attack on Target - encapsulates much of the hideousness of the contemporary political landscape.

The debate neglects to acknowledge that sexuality is not something foisted on girls by svengali retailers. That girls - young girls - possess a sexuality that exists even without discounted hotpants.

The debate consistently implies that women, that girls, are passive cultural dupes who robotically buy and don anything offered to them. Because they are, quote clearly, morons.

The debate neglects to acknowledge that parenting is the responsibility of parents. Not department stores. Not the state.

The debate places all attention and all responsibility onto the bodies of girls and neglects that viewing children as sex objects is a pastime of parents, of adults, and not their peers.

The debate places disproportionate power onto garments as though cloth can somehow magically make a girl want to have sex and coerce paedophiles to molest her.

I’ve written enough - perhaps too much - about these issues in the past. For this article, I’m interested in the most egregious, but least discussed, aspect: the faux feminism.

Anti-sexualisation mothers groups have framed their conservative diatribes as being feminist; as a promotion of equality and women’s and girls rights. Canny of them, granted, because evidently, the public is far more inclined to swallow “feminist” rationales for whinging and boycotts, rather than the closer-to-the-truth reality that female sexuality continues to frighten to horses and is best remedied with hessian sacks.

This week and the email that ignited the Target furore perfectly summarised just how unfeminist and misogynist the childhood sexualisation wowsers are.

The whole palaver started with one woman claiming Target was selling clothing that made girls look like tramps.

Tramp is not a neutral or innocuous word. And mothers aren’t using it to pretend that clothing could turn their precious daughters into vagabonds. Instead, they’re tapping into the sex work connotations of the word. They don’t want their daughters to be like prostitutes. (Cue the misogynist assumptions about the worth and the ethics, the morals and the dress sense of sex workers).

The dedication of my book Part-Time Perverts was a simple one, referencing the lyrics of one of my favourite Springsteen songs:

For tramps like us.

The Boss was likely thinking about vagabonds, but my preoccupation was how often tramp is used to criticise, condemn and demonise women. How sex is continually the distinction between those who deserve respect and those who don’t.

Listen to the faux-feminists and there is no-one more loathsome, more abhorrent, more an encapsulation of everything that is wrong in our culture than the sex worker. And apparently it’s perfectly justifiable to point to her as the absolute most hideous thing a girl could be.

I’m not sure what this nonsense is best described as, but I’m thinking “feminism” is one big bloody stretch.

I’m pro-legalised sex work. But let’s pretend for a moment that I’m not. Let’s pretend that I can stick my head in the sand and play the radical feminist game of militant abhorrence until it all spontaneously goes away. Is the sex worker herself still not worthy of our respect?

If we lived in a world where sex workers were treated decently and with dignity, then perhaps the wowsers’ slurs wouldn’t be so repulsive. Alas, in the process of trying to “save the children” and wage the pseudo-feminist good fight, in turn an entire other group of women are being considered as worthy of contempt.

I’m not sure what’s worse: a child dressed as someone’s deranged caricature of a prostitute or the delusion that using a word like tramp to insult is even remotely in line with the equality tenets of feminism.

Feminism can’t be about women’s rights to use misoygnistic language against each other.

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