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?

Helen Razer — Writer and broadcaster

Helen Razer

Writer and broadcaster

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. A 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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19 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.

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