Sexual consumerism is a conspiracy against young women

Capital will never stop exploiting new terrain, even if that means colonising our children's innocence.

Sitting on my commuter train on Thursday, I glanced at my fellow travelers Metro and an article headlined “‘Pornstar chic’ sees nine-year-old girls ask for designer vaginas on the NHS”.

Now I see a conspiracy of consumerisation where others might see Free Masons.  But just because I’m paranoid it doesn’t mean they are not out to commodify you, me and everything.  I Googled the headline on my smart phone to get the facts, which proves two things.  First, Google like Hoover has become a verb and therefore my commodification of everything theory holds true. Second, I’m very careless about what I type into my browser.  Luckily the search was specific enough that nothing too embarrassing emerged. But it was a stupid risk, one I repeated that evening during the Liverpool UEFA cup game when I foolishly decided I needed to know more about their opponents  - the Young Boys of Bern. It's all just research you understand.

Anyway back to young girls’ vaginas. One designer vagina would be horrendous. How can one possibly happen? What could be going through her mind, her parents’ minds or the surgeons that validated such an act?   But a report in the British Medical Journal reveals that 343 labiaplasties were performed on girls aged 14 or younger over the last six years. That’s three hundred and forty three on girls aged fourteen or younger!!

According to the Metro – the morning free sheet paid for by advertisers to sell you things you didn’t know you needed, using money you probably don’t have, which I remind you of just in case you were still in any doubt about my consumerisation conspiracy theory:

The Department of Health says it only carries out the procedure for clinical reasons, such as on those with vaginal injuries.But researchers from University College Hospital, London, suggest the number of operations is far higher than those needed for medical reasons only.

‘Labial anomalies requiring surgical interventions are extremely rare,’ the report said. Cosmetic labiaplasty, which reduces the size of labia, has boomed – and cosmetic surgeons have reported a rise in requests for ‘designer vaginas’ that look like those of Playboy models.

Apparently there is no age limit on when children can have plastic surgery. That’s like saying there is no age limit on when you can become a Nazi. A civilized society shouldn’t have age limits for everything because it is (a) a society and (b) civilized.

So how did we get here? I’m afraid, and obviously this is just my paranoia again, it is the searing and irrefutable logic of the free market that has no morality or scruples, that doesn’t recognise notions of right or wrong just pounds, shillings and pence. Competition means that if you don’t offer services and products that are simply grotesque then someone else will.  Share price, profits and bonuses depend on a dog-eat-dog spirit in which its just the ‘economy stupid’. So a mum or a dad can design and sell a product, like sexualized underwear for girls as young as nine, they would never let their daughter have, because it’s their job and it pays for things they not just want but need and must have. And if they didn’t win the race to the ethical bottom then someone else will.   It’s then up to individuals to decide what they want to buy and what they don’t – we are all free to choose. After all we live in a free society.

But what sort of freedom is it for the young women of 14 or younger who are having  insecurities provoked about the shape of their vaginas? Why do they even know about porn star chic? What pressure or ridicule is heaped on them by the young men in their schools and on their streets? What abuse is handed out if they are not nipped and tucked? A context is being created in which this is the new norm. It tells us about the pornification of our culture – in which internet access to hard core porn is now available to all. And before you tell me parents should monitor it – the proliferation of smart phones, tablets and PCs makes this virtually impossible. And are they meant to avert their eyes from billboards or never watch TV?

Sex sells and commercialisation goes hand in hand with sexualisation.  A wider popular culture is now rampant in which individual beauty and the search for perfection is as endless as it is soulless. And not just for adults but for children. Look at the adverts for the likes of Armani Junior. Small children are dressed up in adult clothes, in adult poses at prices most adults can’t afford. Make up is worn at an ever younger age along with cropped tops and thongs. And as sex sells, it doesn’t matter who is sold to or the misery it causes as young women become objects for male gratification as the figures on sexual abuse and rape are now showing. Love, respect, care and dignity cannot be priced and are therefore valueless. Compassion and consumerism cannot go together.

Over 100 years ago Rosa Luxemburg the Marxist revolutionary wrote brilliantly about the ever-expanding nature of capital in her theory of empire. Capitalism would expand to new territories where natural resources were abundant and regulations were non-existent so that places and people could be exploited to the full, and profit maximized.  She called them virgin lands. Luxemburg could only see the geographical expansion of capital.  What we are experiencing today is the emotional and cultural expansion of capital into every aspect of lives and our society. And yes into ‘virgin’ lands in a way that is stomach-churning. The new abundance is us, the people, or our children if necessary.  And there are still no regulations to stop it happening.

Today in Britain some children go hungry while others have plastic surgery performed on their genitals. It's a sick world.

Freedom to shop. Source: Getty Images

Neal Lawson is chair of the pressure group Compass, which brings together progressives from all parties and none. His views on internal Labour matters are personal ones. 

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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