Posts Tagged ‘Children’

Here’s an uncontroversial statement: different people find different things sexy, just as different people find different things repulsive, outrageous, risque or tawdry. This is why so much of the porn industry nowadays is devoted to kink and specialisation. People are weird, and so, quite often, are our fantasies. It’s a thing.

When I walk into a newsagency and glance at the lads’ magazine section – Zoo and Maxim and so on – I’m usually blinded by a sea of very large bosoms in very small bikinis, hoisted proudly on the torsos of half a dozen tanned and pouting women. These mags are sold over the counter, but while I’m not grossly offended by the sight of mostly bare women, I tend to think the content is more pornographic than not. That’s less a moral judgement than it is a statement of fact: no matter how much skin they may or may not be showing compared to their hardcore counterparts, the models are there to be looked at in a lustful context.

When trying to determine whether something is pornographic, it’s certainly logical to consider why it was created in the first place, and for what audience. In many respects, I’d argue, this is actually more important than what is (or isn’t) on display, but there’s always going to be dissonance between the reaction an image is intended to provoke and the reactions is actually provokes. Because people, as has been mentioned, are weird. We get turned on by weird and unexpected and – sometimes – terrible things. And that’s what throws a spanner in the works when it comes to the current debate on child pornography.

Paedophilia is an awful thing, one that leads to awful crimes and ruined lives. It is a violation of trust and a sexual circumstance in which it is actually impossible for one of the parties to consent, meaning that it should never be condoned or legitimised. We have a social responsibility to protect children from sexual predators. And yet, in trying to do this, we have managed to paint ourselves into a legislative corner, one  in which any image of a child becomes pornographic, regardless of the context in which it was taken.

Because children – and children’s bodies – aren’t the problem. Taking a photo of a child is no more synonomous with making child pornography than being a child is synonomous with being a sexual creature. This is an instance where only two things are capable of making an image pornographic: the perspective of the viewer, which is entirely removed from the original context of the photo, and those disgusting occasions on which an abuser has recorded images of their crime. The latter instance is both vile and undeniably sexualised. But the former is where we hit a snag: because it forces people to be concerned, not with the content of a given picture, but the likelihood that someone will view it in a sexual context.

At the moment, in our zeal to protect children, we are dangerously close to smothering them. It is no longer acceptable to show up to your child’s school sports day and take photos: parents are concerned with how the images might be viewed later. But do we stop the sports day entirely for fear of what perverts on the sidelines might take away in their memories? No: and yet, this is exactly the same logic used to justify the current stance on photographing children. The more we behave as though the general populace cannot be trusted to be in the same room with our children on the offchance of what they might be thinking, the more we buy into the mindset that children need to be locked up, protected, sheltered, kept from the public eye.

On the surface, that might not sound so bad. But take that last sentence and replace the word ‘children’ with the ‘women’, and you have a viable description of the logic behind societies whose female populations are required to stay covered up at all times. Men cannot be trusted in the presence of women, this argument goes: it is futile to pretend otherwise, and much easier to make the women invisible than it is to change the attitudes of the men. This is a mentality which ultimately punnishes those whom it claims to protect, by restricting their actions and, by default, assuming that they exist in a constant sexual context. For many reasons, this is not a perfect analogy, but given our current social struggle to decide how much freedom children should have online, outside the home and in their decision-making, it strikes me that our debate over the definition of child pornography stands as a parallel issue.

Ultimately, we live in a changing world. We worry about online predators grooming or luring children away; we worry about the digial distribution of photos of children, and how our knowledge of their possible misuse might taint our perception of their contents; we worry about stranger danger, and whether it’s better to let our kids walk home by themselves and gain a bit of independence, or whether we should constantly be holding their hand. We are making decisions with the best of intentions, but I also worry that we are approaching things the wrong way. Life will always hold dangers, no matter how effectively we seek to curb them: nothing will ever be entirely safe. With new technology opening up the world in an unprecedented way, our instinct has been to clutch tightly at what we hold most dear, trying to protect it from these new, expanded threats. But the more we grip and shelter, the harder it eventually becomes to let go, and the more difficult it is for children to grow up into confident, capable adults. There is both nobility and necessity in our desire to preserve the sanctity of childhood, but in so doing, we should never forget that childhood is something to eventually be outgrown. The real world never goes away, and the more fearful we are of its dangers, the closer we come to never understanding it at all.

Oh, come on, Queensland – women who don’t breastfeed are¬†more likely to neglect or abuse their children? The fact that you’ve managed to correlate these two things does not mean that one is¬†directly responsible for the other. Many women choose not to breastfeed: some for medical reasons, some out of personal preference, some out of necessity. The fact that abusive mothers go down a similar path, however,¬†is not a rational choice, because for whatever reason, they are already emotionally disconnected from their children; and if this disconnect is caused by external or pre-existing problems, then breastfeeding will not solve them. In fact, if those problems concern substance abuse, alcoholism or chain-smoking, then breastfeeding could well harm the child in question. Fancy!¬†

So, no, Lane Strathearn: promoting breasfeeding is not a simple and “cost-effective” way of¬†preventing abuse and neglect. The act of suckling a child will not cure post-natal depression, alcoholism¬†or¬†nicotine addiction, nor will it negate the consequences emotional trauma, poverty, single parenthood¬†or poor education. Those are many and various battles; none of them simple. By all means, promote breastfeeding in public; educate women about their choices; help addicted mothers come clean. But don’t¬†lay guilt on good, happy,¬†bottle-feeding¬†mothers¬†by¬†wielding¬†poorly reasoned conclusions about their propensity for child abuse.

That kind of idiocy helps no-one.

Dear Australian Parents,

Stop freaking out about finding the perfect school for your precious progeny.¬†Parroting the answers to standardised tests is not a form of intelligence, and tends to impart the lesson that memorisation is more important than comprehension, let alone independent thought. Kids at their best are creative, explorative, curious . Encourage their interests, but don’t regiment them – the best way to teach is to make learning fun, not to take something they love and make it joyless. If you really want children who are bright, articulate, interesting and well-adjusted, then learn with them: buy them books you’ll read together, play with them, ask what they’d like to do and, where possible, make it happen – but don’t just¬†farm them out to a stranger for rote-learning. ¬†

Not every child is a Rhodes Scholar waiting to happen, and that’s OK. Encourage them to do their best, help them if they struggle, but understand that no amount of money thrown at private tutors, schools or remedial programs will make them any happier or healthier. I understand your concerns, I really do: the world is a difficult place, and especially in times of economic turmoil, it’s natural to want an advantage for those you love best. But education, sadly, has become a commodity, something we buy and sell without anywhere near enough thought as to its intrinsic value. Our society has fathomened the letter of schools, but lost their spirit. When almost everyone finishes Year 12 and a vast majority attend uni, what sets someone apart isn’t their improved marks, but their genuine hunger for knowledge. And that,¬†assuming it can be taught, is¬†a much more subtle lesson.

Parents, let out the collective breath you’ve been holding. Love your kids – teach them, guide them, help them – but remember: they won’t be kids forever. The more you have to force them into something, the less fun they’ll find it. And all too soon, when they shoot up into rebellious, awkward teenagers who storm out, sulk, cut class and answer back, the very best you can hope for is that they want to learn, regardless of whether everything they busy themselves with is part of the curriculum. Like gumtrees that start out in verandah pots, you’re teaching them to be bigger than the space they’ve known. You’re helping them grow up. Whether you send them to public or private school, if they have a tutor or not, it’ll happen. They’ll cease to be meek, but they will inherit the Earth.

So don’t mould them after the system. Teach them to change it.

Visiting friends and meeting their four-month-old son yesterday, I realised that my knowledge of very small children is comparable to my interest in world history: I’ve read a lot about individual periods and ideas, but without the context of an overall¬†timeline. I’ve picked up snippets of data, like the fact that babies can’t initially focus their eyes on distant objects and that learning to smile¬†is part of recognising faces, but I don’t know¬†when these things occur. I have no¬†personal point of reference:¬†I’m an only¬†child, and owing to¬†various circumstances, I’ve never been around the little kids of family or friends, either. This has never seemed like a particularly¬†remarkable thing, but¬†the practical upshot is that while I’m perfectly comfortable talking to someone else’s pet, I have no idea how to interact with their offspring – even when both animal and child are in the same room.

Part of me wants to make this society’s fault (or at least, shift some of the angst in that direction): more than ever, we segregate our lives according to age, creating¬†whole¬†environments –¬†kindegardens, schools, universities, workplaces, retirement homes – geared to keeping young and old apart. Even with siblings, most people are hard-pressed to have contact with people in a wide range of age brackets on anything near a weekly basis, let alone daily, and the norm is now for families to have fewer children. These aren’t bad things, but they do impact on¬†cross-generational interaction. At the same time, there’s a huge amount of cultural anxiety on the best way to raise children, with the result¬†that terms like helicopter parent¬†are entering the common parlance. On top of all the usual reasons given for this mode of uncertainty, many parents are new not just to the world of child-rearing, but to children in any sense. This can’t help but lead to confusion.

Ironically, however,¬†reactions like mine – and, presumably, those of others – are¬†as much the cause of these problems as anything else. In this era, the conventional way to learn is through reading, but¬†nerd through I am,¬†I’m also a big believer in the idea that¬†there are¬†still some things which¬†can only be learned the hard way.¬†Overthinking what we haven’t experienced¬†is only asking for trouble.¬†When we realise how little we know, it¬†startles us: we¬†research, but¬†don’t ask those who are older and more experienced. Possibly, this is another consequence of age-segregation in society – we discount¬†the advice of people who’ve¬†already been there, done that because they are old, and therefore unqualified¬†to comment on current methods. Or so it often seems.

Long story short: in the Information Age, it’s confronting to realise that there are still things you can’t just google. And the sooner we get our heads around that, the happier we’ll all be – myself included.

Dear Mr Rudd,

Since your triumphant¬†ascention to the Prime Ministership, there seems have been some confusion about who, exactly, was elected. It’s true that I (and others of like mind) voted for the Labor Party under your erstwhile helmsmanship; but that does not mean, Mr Rudd, that we voted for you. You were merely the vehicle with which we ousted the long-loathed Howard. This is not to say we don’t appreciate your governance, or rather, the governance of your party. We do. We are really ecstatic at the prospect of a Labor federal government. But¬†the honeymoon has ended, Mr Rudd – as, indeed, was¬†inevitable – and the time has come for straight talkin’.

Let me be frank. We don’t like Kevin the Man. He is not who we voted for. He might share flesh with our PM, but as far as we’re concerned, he’s a totally different entity. We are interested in his opinions only insofar as they mirror those of Kevin the Prime Minister. We are extremely uninterested – not to say unimpressed – with any effort to make Kevin the Man a spokesman for our nation. Kevin the Man is entitled to his opinions, just like any other citizen. But he is not entitled to lend them Prime Ministerial authority.¬†¬†

Which brings me, Mr Rudd, to the subject of Olympia Papapetrou.

When you tell an 11-year-old girl that her naked self constitutes an abusive image, it is you Рnot the photographer and not her subject Рwho has brought abuse to the party. Consider her portrait as a Rorschach test for your psyche. Where it is possible to see beauty, innocence, fragility, youth, childhood, art, you see only naked sexuality, adult, abusive and paedophelic. This says nothing about Olympia Papapetrou, Mr Rudd, but considerably more about you. Personal opinions aside, you did not become Prime Minister through an inability to compromise, act tactfully or otherwise shut up on cue. Such evasions are your meat and drink, Mr Rudd, just as they are for all effective politicans: and you are very effective. Shaming Olympia Papapetrou was not your only option, because whatever morality is professed by Kevin the Man, Kevin the Prime Minister holds right of veto Рor should, when it comes to public speaking.

Here is a photo a mother took of her child. Here is a photo that child loves Рcherishes as an image of herself. If it comes to hold a taint for her, that taint is your doing, Mr Rudd. Because in your capacity as Prime Minister of Australia Рwhich capacity you are in whenever the cameras are rolling Рyou told an eleven-year-old girl that her naked body is ugly, wrong, and a symbol for the most depraved act that could ever be perpetrated against it.

Child protection advocates seem curiously uninterested in Olympia’s right to defend her portrait, and for no better reason than her age. In another five or seven years, if she still loves the photo, will they listen then?¬†Perhaps such advocates are, ultimately, used to speaking¬†for children, not to them. There is condescention in the view that children cannot think for themselves, which assumption children’s rights advocates have spent the better part of a century trying to correct. To then turn around and claim the exact opposite – that Olympia cannot know her own mind, and is utterly unentitled to enjoy a photograph of herself, or to comment intelligently on it, because of her age¬†– is deeply, insultingly hypocrtical.

Mr Rudd, the office of Prime Minister means more than a right to be heard or to make political judgements: it means the responsibility to do so with intelligence, forethought and a measure of objectivity. We ordinary citizens may complain on blogs or at the pub, in the street or to friends with more freedom than you now possess: because we are ordinary. When you stepped into the top job, you did so at the expense of your right to free and public opinion, because although the Prime Minister is a person, their office is not. Australia cannot speak with the voice of Kevin the Man, but only with that of Kevin the Prime Minister, his government and their people.

In that sense, Olympia Papapetrou – naked or clothed¬†and regardless of age –¬†has more entitlement to her public opinion than you. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, Mr Rudd. And you are neither.

Sincerely,

Foz

Often, it surprises me how worried adults get about the idea of children reading or watching¬†things they shouldn’t. Granted, there is cause for concern in the land of naughty programming, but from my own memories of being small, kids self-censor remarkably well. This is because, to the average six-year-old, adults are indescribably boring people interested in equally boring things. I remember¬†sitting down¬†to watch¬†a movie my father had taped off air as a child and, not knowing how to fast forward, being¬†incalculably uninterested in a volatile political debate between Kerry O’Brian and Bob Hawke (as¬†my¬†adult-memory suspects the participants were) which was tacked on at the start. My comprehension wasn’t that they were talking about Adult Things, and therefore I didn’t understand – rather, they were talking about Adult Things,¬†and therefore I wasn’t interested.

Ultimately, the¬†distinction hinges on¬†curiosity. Kids don’t like the¬†idea of not knowing things. Admittedly, it’s hard to conceive of an instance in which the six-year-old me might care about politics, but that’s the point of self-censorship: what kids don’t understand – or, more importantly, what kids don’t realise they don’t understand – they rationalise. Just like adults, really.

Thus,¬†I used to think that¬†avant gard meant the French police, and that song lyrics¬†referencing coke meant fizzy-drink. I wasn’t quite sure why punks and urban gothics would want to ‘store’ coca-cola, but perhaps they thought they’d run out. (I was sixteen before I listened again, realised the proper word was ‘score’, and went: ohhhhhh.)