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Bailey, Mothers Union, Rihanna, sexualisation of children

I don’t want my twelve year old singing about sado-masochism.

When I first heard it on the car radio, I nearly hit a bus.  “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but whips and chains excite me”.  “S&M”, by the Barbadian popstar, Rihanna, is a celebration of sexual sadism, in which she invites here lover to “give it to me strong”.  Her video depicts life in a fetish bar where everyone is dressed in bondage gear and where the chanteuse whips the customers.  She ends up literally hogtied and half naked saying how much she loves “sex in the air”.

   Now, I’ve been around the block a few times, and I’m all for sexual openness, but I was astonished to learn that this was freely played, even on on BBC radio.  Changed days – I remember when Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s single “Relax” was banned by the BBC for a reference to coitus interruptus which was so oblique I hadn’t even noticed it.  I’m even more astonished that  parents haven’t been talking more about this supposedly playful invasion of sadistic bondage into the lives of young girls who learn these lyrics  by heart.  I’m sorry, but I don’t want to hear pre-teens inviting men to whip them, even if itis ‘ironic’.. 

   Of course, some parents have complained about the sexualisation of children – of which S&M is only a particularly lurid example – like Reg Bailey of the Mothers Union,  whose report , commissioned by David Cameron, is published tomorrow. It will recommend tightening up the 9pm watershed, placing age-ratings on music videos, easier blocking of internet porn and placing advertising with sexual imagery away from schools.  Normally, I wouldn’t support content restrictions – largely because they’re likely to make much difference – but in the absence of any other ideas, I think parents will have to support them.  I’m inclined to agree with David Cameron, when he says that “some businesses are dumping toxic waste on our children”. They need, at least, an umbrella. 

     Of course, sex is part of life, and children shouldn’t be protected from it as if there were something wrong about enjoying their bodies.  We don’t want to go back to the days when sex was something that was only talked about behind the bike sheds.   But how exactly to you discuss, in a mature and caring way, the merits of sado masochism with a twelve year old? The answer is – you don’t.  You avoid it altogether, not just out of embarrassment, but because you don’t want to appear out of touch, living in the past, censorious and prudish.  

   Well, I don’t mind any more how I sound.  This is not  a celebration of human relationships but a vile and venal commercialisation of sex, which is robbing children of their birthright.  Which is to discover and explore sexual relations in their own time and at their own pace, and not be assaulted by images of sexual extremism before their still-developing brains can process them.   Early teenagers are only just discovering sexual feelings.  To expose them to sado masochism isn’t liberal and broadminded, it is a form of sexual exploitation which should not be tolerated.   And I don’t care if I sound like Mary Whitehouse. 

   What particularly offends me about all this, as a middle aged white man, is the hypocrisy and double standards in contemporary sexual culture.   If I emailed a picture of a bondage scene to a colleague at work, I would be sacked and probably accused of sexual harassment.   But there it is up on the screen in restaurants and bars and no one bats an eye.   If  I recorded a song about tying up women and whipping them, I would be excoriated, condemned for sanctioning the enslavement of women.    But because Rihanna is female, somehow it’s edgy. Self expression.  

   Once again, if a teacher in school started giving playful lessons on bondage and latex, he or she would be out the door.  So what is it,  exactly,  that makes these things ok so long as if they are part of a packaged commercial product that is sold over the media?    These images are projected, 24/7 at young children through YouTube, MTV and any number of internet outlets. S&M is by no means unique.  They watch videos like Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” which is also saturated with  disturbing pornographic imagery. And don’t start on rap music like 50 cent, Snoop Dog, Li’l Kim etc. which is blatanly pornographic   

  And yes, of course, pop music has always been about sex, ever since the Rolling Stones sang “Let’s spend the night together” forty five years ago.  And parents have always been outraged by it. But something has changed in the last decade or so.  The mainstream pop charts seem to be dominated today by black rap artists boasting about their sexual performance with their bitches and ho’s.  Invariably, these guys strutt around “the club” dressed as pimps and drug dealers, talking about their doggy style and surrounded by scantily clad women role-playing as prostitutes.  Even stars like Katy Perry and Ja Lo, in their latest videos,  portray themselves willingly as sexual playthings offering themselves to some meat-headed rapper in black glasses and gold chains. Where did this come from?  

   Katy Perry’s video ET presents her as a kind of extra-terrestrial sex toy for a leering Kanye West, who drones on about how he doesn’t “don’t give a f***” because “Ima disrobe you, then I’ma probe you”.  She sings: “Wanna be a victim, ready for abduction. Infect me with your love and fill me with your poison”.  Really nice, Katy.   And don’t think that just because it’s hard to make out the words that your kids don’t get the lyrics.  They know exactly what is going on. 
   No, I don’t think it is possible simply to ban this stuff.  How can you, when the internet is alive with lurid pornography as the click of a mouse.  But it’s the lack of outrage that amazes me.  Feminists used to demonstrate against Miss World contests, and their campaigning challenged the media portrayal of women as sexual objects.   So why aren’t their daughters challenging the objectification of women in contemporary music videos?  Our adult relations are policed by an oppressive correctness that sees almost any sexual allusion as a form of sexual harassment.  Which treats men as potential paedophiles. Yet  we allow the sexual grooming of children by a music industry motivated by commercial gain. This stuff is crack cocaine for the soul.  It is f-ing offensive and we should f-ing say so.  

   And while I’m on the subject, Edinburgh Universtity Students Union would like me to point out that  Shagtag, “Edinburgh’s best ever student night” is not run by them, as I suggested in my recent column on rape, but by Stereo Club. That’s meant to be ironic too. 


About @iainmacwhirter

I'm a columnist for the Herald. Author of "Road to Referendum" and "Disunited Kingdom". Was a BBC TV and radio presenter for 25 years - "Westminster Live" and "Holyrood Live" mainly. Spent time as columnist for The Observer, Guardian, New Statesman. Former Rector of Edinburgh University. Live in Edinburgh and spend a lot of time in the French Pyrenees. Will that do?


12 thoughts on “I don’t want my twelve year old singing about sado-masochism.

  1. Agree, Agree, Agree & Agree.Shame we can't do anything but bitch about it.

    Posted by Kane Almsivi | June 5, 2011, 8:50 pm
  2. I like the S&M song, I admit. But I was absolutely shocked when I heard this being played in a large toy store yesterday at about 11am. And I'm pretty sure it was from a play list and not radio. It certainly wasn't the 'radio edit' version.

    Posted by IngridK | June 5, 2011, 8:51 pm
  3. Agree, agree. Need a coalition of groups to change agenda. How do we start?

    Posted by A | June 5, 2011, 8:59 pm
  4. I definitely agree. Some topics should be discussed once people have had the time to mature a lot more. The hypocrisy of the matter is indeed baffling! -Edinburgh Uni Fetsoc

    Posted by Anonymous | June 5, 2011, 9:02 pm
  5. Hmm, Rihanna may be offensive to some but compare her music to that of the 1990s, when the youth frolicked to Sisqo's 'Thong Song' and 'Horny' by Mousse-T (my group of pre-teen friends made up a dance to this one; it involved impressions of bulls fighting with their horns. We were not depraved for life by it). A little perspective before coalitions and action groups are founded, please.

    Posted by Anonymous | June 5, 2011, 9:21 pm
  6. The song sits uncomfortable with me as I'm a secondary school teacher. The uncomfortable part was hearing an 11 year old girl singing this song to herself, probably unaware (I hope) of its meaning.(Although I have yet to form an opinion, this girl the the daughter of an elected MP!)

    Posted by Anonymous | June 5, 2011, 11:10 pm
  7. I disagree with most of the article. The problem is the UK disorganised, has a poor constitution, failing education system, benefits system+too many children, long working hours, EU laws grating with UK sovereignty etc.The example I give is.. there was a story about a swimming baths using heat generated from a mortuary.. the news got into the press.. council had lots of complaints. If the public didn't know about it they wouldn't be offended. Who caused the offence?Nobody asks if the press is responsible for any supposed decline…

    Posted by Anonymous | June 6, 2011, 2:38 am
  8. Mr Macwhirter, though protesteth to much.It was your generation that lampooned poor Mary Whitehouse, made her the but of jokes etc.Sadly our politicians pandered to the radicalism of your generation, seeing the wisdom of advancing years as unfashionable and certainly not a vote winner.Sadly the chickens have finally come home to roost.

    Posted by Anonymous | June 6, 2011, 11:16 am
  9. Yes, poor Rihanna, the little girl whose bad, bad boyfriend hit her and has rarely done an interview since without mentioning it. I think frankly that she is the cheapest of the cheap. Her latest stunt during a concert was to "straddle" a female fan. Nothing gets them going like the girl on girl thing tho' does it? Madonna snogs Britney, Rihanna snogs ……er anyone who'll get her publicity. I'm not exactly ancient but you have to laugh at all these women in "the industry" who complain they're not taken seriously and get all offended at being seen as pieces of meat (tho Gaga took that to new heights). Now the girls barely leave a square inch uncovered and they will simulate anything you want to mention. Girl power indeed. Turning music into a porn movie isn't admirable. The people I feel sorry for are the sad wee lassies who want to be them.

    Posted by Jo G | June 7, 2011, 9:33 pm
  10. Hilarious tho isn't it that shops haven't to sell padded bras and dodgey panties to youngsters any more but Rihanna, Perry, Gaga and co can tutor them with lyrics like those highlighted in this article.

    Posted by Jo G | June 7, 2011, 9:40 pm
  11. The obvious answer is that everyone should listen to the most sexless form of music in existence: power metal.

    Posted by An Duine Gruamach | June 8, 2011, 9:00 am
  12. An Duine…………no, the answer is to let decency be the watchword. Is that so difficult?

    Posted by Jo G | June 10, 2011, 10:21 pm

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