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Aug 15, 2012

Helen Razer: Target's 'tramp' gear just child's play

Is Target creating a generation of young "sl-ts"? Or are children too busy learning how to spell to understand the more complex symbolism of raiment?


In news recently to hand, the “tramp” is not a titillating fiction authored by mid-century crime novelists but a threat that is very real and one shortly to claim the virtue of all our female children aged 7-14.

short social media post by a Port Macquarie parent last Friday has attracted more than 66,000 “likes” and a lot of real-world approbation. When accidental activist Ana Amini wrote on the Target Australia Facebook wall of her longing for “modesty and feminine clothing” choices for her daughter, she generated thousands of comments and a rationale for media outlets to use words like “tramp” and “sl-t” apace.

From Lateline to Today Tonight, news providers legitimised the concern that our female children look like sl-ts.

Of course, over at the ABC, we enjoy only the vague and earnest language of pop-psychology. Melinda Tankard Reist spoke, as is her wont, of “s-xualisation” and “exploitative and harmful behaviours”, whereas Seven was happy to more unequivocally ask: “Are you trying to encourage p-edophilia by dressing children in sl-ttish clothing?”

It’s this latter statement, made by a woman identified as a “grandmother” on Today Tonight, that utters our dread best. In short, we seem to be concerned that we will soon find children too s-xy.

Appending a plea for reason by fashion writer Georgina Safe, Fairfax also asked us to assess young female fashions. Are they “too s-xy”, the website asked.

For whom, one wonders, are these leopard-print fashions “too s-xy”? If we accept the grave wisdom that (a) acts of s-xual violence have nothing to do with s-xual attraction and everything to do with brutality and (b) victims of s-xual violence are never responsible for the crimes committed against them, then it follows that a bikini top bearing the name of Miley Cyrus is above suspicion.

It is only if we all agree that children have an irresistible s-xual lure that these arguments to dress them “appropriately” make sense. I can say with some confidence that I could see a small boy dressed like Leather Man from the Village People or a small girl turned out like a tiny belle-époque street-walker and still not feel a twinge of attraction. The child, in my gaze, has not been “s-xualised”. The child is just dressed up in some weird shit.

The evidence that the vision of a child in fishnet stockings does prompt adults to acts of s-xual violence is scant; some theorists would say that it is non-existent. Many parents and popular intellectuals may be uncomfortable with “age inappropriate” duds. Certainly, if I did see a little boy rigged up in arse-less chaps, I may also redden.

But it is not reasonable nor is it constructive to suppose that these dress-ups will end in anything more terrible than chafing.

Children are too busy learning how to spell to understand the more complex symbolism of raiment. They cannot themselves be “s-xualised” or impacted by the s-xual significance of clothing; it’s a handful of diseased adults that do that for reasons far more complex and terrifying that anything we can read in the Target catalogue.

For much of humanity throughout much of history, there never was a distinct style of dress for children. For centuries, children dressed in garments that were indistinct from larger adult versions. There is no reason to suppose that this prompted p-edophiles to action.

When my sister was small, she spent half of the weekend looking exactly like a small, special-interest s-x worker. She picked up glittery things from the dress-up box as many small children do and looked like a sort of fusion of Stevie Nicks with RuPaul. I, by contrast, dressed like a fireman. Neither of us really had any idea about the identities we were trying on at the time; we were just playing dress-ups.

It’s important to remember that kids just see cloth and it is we who see meaning. And it is we who are responsible for buoying a s-xual economy that contains “sl-ts” and tramps” and kids that are “too s-xy”. Perhaps we should be looking at the foundation of this strange s-xual marketplace rather than at vendors like Target if we really want to assail the origin of s-xual abuse.

*Helen Razer blogs at Bad Hostess and tweets via @HelenRazer


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18 thoughts on “Helen Razer: Target’s ‘tramp’ gear just child’s play

  1. Suzanne Blake

    If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. If enough do it, they won’t re-order.

    Markets rule

  2. Lannie

    Suzanne, I wish! When they stock winter clothes through most of summer and summer clothes through most of winter, and heaven help you if you waited too long to shop for the season, I don’t think we have much chance of getting more taste in the clothes they stock by voting with our feet!
    Complain and be told ‘thats retail’ (really, that was the answer one time when I whined).
    They don’t offer a lot of choice that isn’t extreme – why can’t they stock more simple plain coloured items for the kids? I don’t really want to plaster brand names all over them, nor pay extra for thew privilege.
    I don’t know who is running the clothing selection at places like K-Mart and Target, but I often stop and consider whether or not they are actually sane 🙁

  3. izatso?

    moneterising other peoples children SB, happy for that you parasite ?

  4. izatso?

    Sorry, you obviously have special needs, Sorry.

  5. TheFamousEccles

    I think my own take-home message regarding the crap some chain-stores try to foist onto the consumer is the sickening certainty that there are Mums and Dads, etc, who buy this stuff because they think it looks cute and their little one by virtue of wearing same are imbued with some kind of “attitute” (and Jeebus knows that we all need more people with attitude around and about), otherwise why would they try to sell it?

    I agree that the child themselves doesn’t necessarily get the rib-tickling nature of the irony of being dressed as charicatures from Snog/Marry/Avoid or The Shire, but I would surely wager that the likelihood of becomming as big a moron-bogan as their Mum and Dad would go through the roof?

  6. R T

    I dont agree, Helen. Your view is too simplistic and you are imposing a 90’s feminist views on the issue. 8 year olds do are not 3 year olds and children under the age of 12 are certainly geting more and more sexualised. Clothing is a part of this, but most certainly not the whole story.

    I met an 8 year old girl the other day, the daughter of middle class conservative parents, who apparently talks about tongue kissing a friend. It is not that unusual to meet 7 year olds who use words such as sexy and hot to describe something they like. Many children under 12 olds routinely watch music videos and listen to music featuring age inappropriate imagery and lyrics that they probably don’t understand but they certainly copy.

    Whether this is actually harmful or not is no doubt up for debate, but as a mother of a 6 year old I find it all really sad and tacky. Childhood is short enough before entering the stressful world of adolescence and adulthood.

  7. Holden Back

    Homeschooling, and making all their clothes yourself might help. But then you wouldn’t be a victim: I can see your point.

  8. AaronH

    My wife is a small size 6. Apart from buying “fashion” brands (e.g. Cue), she’s limited to buying clothes from the youth section, because the adult section of most department stores don’t go below a (largish) size 8. Children’s sizes of 10 or 12 fit perfectly.

    She is glad that she can now get reasonable-looking clothes that don’t look like they came from the children’s section (but come at children’s prices). Recently, she has even managed to find heels that fit her size 3 feet.

    Many women of Asian ancestry are in a similar position. I wouldn’t be surprised if a reasonably large proportion of the sales of adult-style clothes from the youth section isn’t for women to wear themselves.

    The reality is that not everyone is the same size. Even among children, it’s not uncommon for teenagers to need a size 7 or 8 if they are of a smaller stature.

    This whole backlash is frustrating in its assumption that all children and adults are the same size at the same age.

    Target could probably stop the backlash by just moving the more mature styles from the “girls 7-16” section to a section called “young women”, or “petite”. If they decide to stop making the clothes altogether, it will be very disappointing for women who can’t fit the (generally huge) adult sizes at most department stores, and for smaller teenage girls, who will be stuck wearing dresses covered in hearts and butterflies.

  9. SBH

    Raze, one of my girls dressed like a tradie (boots and shorts etc) cause she had some serious jobs that she needed to get done. The other, yep – like something out of Pricilla – you never know when a performance op might present itself. I don’t know why they were so different but neither seemed to have any kind of sexual motive.

  10. mikeb

    It’s all very cute dressing little kids up like adults or sluts or whatever when they are 4 or 5, but what happens when then get to 12/13? Puts a different complexion on things. Let kids be kids and dress them in clothes that keep them protected – both from the elements and from the marketeers.


    Helen I totally disagree with you. I wonder how many children you actually know. Boys and girls of very young ages are sexualised to-day. Social media has taken down any vestige of innocence. Children watch all sorts of videos, music videos, advertisements placed on electronic media and in magazines. Even boys clothing has changed, boys as young 5 and 6 wear skinny jeans imitating older styles. Even though there is an age limit before children are allowed on facebook I know of many 9 and 10 year olds who have facebook pages. Even at school, children are not free of the internet.
    Young people to-day are amazing how they have taken to electronic media where they can be in touch with all sorts of adult people. When was the last time you went to the movies? Have a look at the age of the audience.
    I don’t know what the answer is, but children grow up very quickly to-day and I think that most of them do understand what sexy is. Helen you would be wise to take a walk around some of the stores that sell childrens clothing.

  12. 81dvl

    Raze, I LOVE your work!

  13. Scott

    Agreed Helen. This is is just a proxy issue for the usual parental concern about kids (specifically girls) growing up too fast..happens every generation. The only difference is we have facebook and more disposable income.
    All we need now is the “50 shades of grey” popularity analysis…backlash against feminism and women’s growing power in the workforce?

  14. robinw

    I agree with SB. When our daughter was young we were extremely careful not to dress her up like a hooker on Victoria Street in fact, I almost had palpitations when my 5 year old daughter entered a calisthenics competition as the young ones had so much make-up on that it made them look like figures from Madame Taussaud’s. Once I realised that this was OK in this setting and that all the parents would have passed the perve screening test anyway I settled down. In my opinion kids don’t think of sex accept as an abstraction until they are 11+. Parents have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their children by not clothing them inappropriately. Anyway, even appropriate clothing won’t stop the psychopathic predator, have a look at the number of kids that have been propositioned while wearing their school clothes.

  15. Tom Jones

    I agree with you Maree Whitton. I don’t believe that Helen Razer knows too many children. She certainly doesn’t know the difference between dress ups and everyday wear. She also wishes paedophiles away saying it is their problem if they miscontrue the dress up nature of the clothes. No Helen, it is the problem of the child, and the family of that child, if those inappropriate thoughts are acted out by a paedophile.

    Parents should be presented with clothing that stops sunburn in summer and keeps children warm in winter. If possible pretty helps for girls and pleasant for boys instead of jungle combat and skulls.

    Target deserves to suffer as it could take over the children’s clothes market as the articles are solidly constructed but if it’s clothes are inappropriate they need to think again.

  16. Hoojakafoopy

    Target should sell hessian sacks in their kids-wear range. Sure, they’re a little bit kinky, but in a down-to-earth, wholesome kind of way…

  17. FelineCyclist

    I usually like Helen’s work, but I think she’s missed the point on this one. The issue is not whether someone will all of a sudden find themselves sexually attracted to children because a child is wearing adult clothing. That may be how some grandmother on Channel 7 characterised it, but it’s not the issue causing concern.

    The issue at stake here is that young girls are being presented with only one version of feminity and are being encultured to act in accordance with that single version. The single version offered is one of woman as sexual object – good to look at, but that’s it. In this version of feminity, the goal is to look good and be sexy (ie attractive to men, able to tittilate and satisfy men’s sexual desires). Activity is to be restricted to “sexy” activity – pole dancing is in, running, jumping and getting dirty is out. The clothes sold by Target reinforce this restriction on movement – it is difficult to run, jump and play in clothes than risk a “wardrobe malfunction” when the wearer attempts anything more strenuous than a pout.

    It is a concerning what 7 year olds wear and what messages they pick up from their clothes because they will one day be 13 year olds and then 18 year olds. Do we really want our young women to be told for 11 years that their goal in life is to be sexy and they should focus on looking good rather than doing good?

  18. Moloch

    Thank you Helen for bringing some sense into a fake ‘debate’ started and dominated by wowsers and the fearful. Why is it that good people become fear-filled lunatics – and forget every vestige of their own childhood – the moment they sprig?

    The issue at stake here is simply this – humans are sexual animals from birth, deal with it.

    When I was a little prepubescent tacker I used to get a sexual thrill reading mum’s catalogues – 40 years on I still have a thing for smiling guys in well-fitted Y-fronts!

    Our appalling judeo-christian forebears have wrecked all our childhoods – and adulthoods for that matter – by using sex as a method of control, painting it as ‘dirty’ and ruthlessly and violently enforcing abstract rules. The most recent of which is the post industrial revolution lie of the ‘innocent child’.

    Far better to ditch the taboos that make clothing ‘sexy’ by ditching the nonsensical ‘morality’ of a bronze-age skygod and learning to grow up as fully fledged humans free of the manufactured fear of actually BEING human.


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