I have just had the privilege of taking my 9 year old son and 7 year old nephew to a carnival in Sydney, Australia.
The boys are on Easter holiday break and always look forward to their annual visit to the Easter show, and going together, given their proximity in age, makes this enjoyable event all the more special for them.
I must admit that I too get excited, mostly in response to the contagious anticipation of the boys on the way to the carnival, and in response to the innocent laughter of young children who find so much enjoyment in all the child-friendly activities found at these events.
However, with all the rides, show bags, walking and carrying, along with the sometimes chaotic behaviour of excitable boys, I am typically ‘spent’ by the end of the day, although with a quiet sense of satisfaction that I have been able to give the boys another positive little memory, hopefully one more small piece in a happy and fulfilling childhood.
However this evening I did not feel this typical sense of satisfaction, in large measure I suspect because of what I and the boys were so noticeably confronted with as we mingled with the tens of thousands of other Australians while at the carnival.
To my utter despair, on a very cold autumn day in Sydney which required winter clothing for me and the boys, one of the earliest sites we saw while waiting in the queue for our tickets was countless young girls, aged between eight years up to their mid-teens, with skimpy-sized, ‘Daisy Duke’ cut-off jeans, not only exposing the length of their legs, but their buttocks too.
On a warmer day and on older women, this may not have looked so out of place, if at an appropriate venue, but in the midst of a cold-snap in Sydney, in a supposed family-friendly event, this seemed nothing less than bizarre.
What I found most distressing was the fact that the boys immediately caught on, and it clearly left a strong and I suspect unhealthy impression on them. The boys, almost on song, started what they described as a “bum-bum count”, and before I even realised the boys were counting in the tens.
It was at this point when I naively quizzed the boys as to what they were counting, assuming naively that only I noticed this most obvious of distractions. In response to my question I got giggles and guilty looks on their faces.
“We are doing a bum-bum count daddy, because we can see the girls bums.” my son finally said while giggling uncontrollably with his cousin.
My immediate response was to sternly warn the boys that it was impolite to stare, and that they should be focussing on the reason we were their instead. On reflection, I perhaps over-emphasised the issue with the boys, but as an adult male, I know only too well that in a society of heightened sensitivity against anything resembling sexual improprietary towards females, that such behaviour can lead to ‘disaster’ for an unwitting older male.
Despite the tone of my voice as I tried to emphasise the seriousness of this behaviour to the boys, my nephew was clearly keen to keep the topic alive, and began to quiz me.
“Why are the girls showing their bum-bums?.” my nephew would ask, while laughing with my son, indulging in this opportunity to say otherwise inappropriate words, seemingly for a legitimate query.
I was at a loss as to how to explain this, but chastened the boys repeatedly throughout the day, for either staring, making references to the visible anatomy, or for giggling quietly for what was to become a quiet but obviously transparent joke between them.
This whole episode left me quite disturbed, as this was a wholesome family event, and the last thing I was expecting was to be confronted by hyper-sexualised displays from under-aged girls, that would get my son and nephew excited for all the wrong reasons.
Pondering on these events after the day was done and dusted, I realised that I was left ‘disturbed’ on a number of levels, some obvious and some that only came to me after some thought, as I realised that this dress code seemed to challenge what I thought were cornerstone values in our society.
I was left asking ‘in a society that prioritised above everything else the protection of children against sexual influence of any kind, what kind of social pressures, or perhaps social incentives, really do exist in our society that compels young girls to expose themselves in such cold weather, in such a sexually affronting manner?’
What does this then say about our very ‘in-your face’ public campaigns against child sexual abuse, and campaigns against the treatment of women as a whole as sexual objects? Are we as a society saying one thing, but doing the complete opposite in truth?
If we are, then our children, both girls and boys, are going to pay a high price for this contradiction.
As we left the carnival that day, a group of young girls, most of which were dressed in these short cut-off jeans, shuffled passed us, all locked in arms and singing in tune to what I think is currently a hit song on the radio.
“I am sexy and I know it”, they chanted as they buzzed passed us mocking the stares of other teenage boys in close proximity.
I hope for their sake, that they don’t really mean it.