email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
The Creek"Who Could That Be at This Hour?"100 Things Guys Need to Know3 NBS of Julian Drew3 Willows33 Minutes47A Company of FoolsA Corner Of The UniverseA Crack In The LineA Frog ThingA Great and Terrible BeautyA Monster CallsA Monster CallsA Northern LightA Step From HeavenA Step Toward FallingA Stir of BonesA Tragic Kind of WonderfulA Walk in the Rain With a BrainA Wish for Wings That WorkAdam Canfield of the SlashAfterAlice MacLeod, Realist at LastAll Rivers Flow to the SeaAll SoulsAll the Bright PlacesAll the WayAll Unquiet ThingsAmerican GirlsAmong the HiddenAmong the ImpostorsAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of a MisfitAngus, Thongs and Full-Frontal SnoggingAnnie's BabyAnything Could HappenAristotle and Poetic JusticeAristotle and the Secrets of LifeArizona KidArtemis FowlAs Simple as SnowAssessment and Treatment of Childhood Problems, Second EditionAt the End of WordsAway Laughing on a Fast CamelBad Girls ClubBad RatsBang!Beating HeartBeauty QueensBecause of Winn-DixieBefore I DieBefore I FallBetween Mom and JoBeyond MagentaBig Mouth & Ugly GirlBig Rabbit's Bad MoodBlack HelicoptersBlack-eyed SuzieBlind SightBog ChildBoy Kills ManBoy ProofBoysBoys Are DogsBoys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking BootsBraceBrainstormBrave HeartsBreakfast Served AnytimeBreaking PointBronx MasqueradeBruisesBrushing Mom's HairBrutalBurnCatalystCathy's BookCathy's KeyCaveat EmptorCharlie and the Chocolate FactoryCharlie and the Great Glass ElevatorChild Insanity in England, 1845-1907Children and the Politics of SexualityChildren's RightsCity of CannibalsCity of HalvesClaiming Georgia TateClawsClay's WayConfessions of a Teenage Drama QueenConfessions of an Angry GirlContentious IssuesCoralineCountry Girl, City GirlCrispinCrossesCruise ControlCulture and Conflict in Child and Adolescent Mental HealthCut Both WaysDancing in My NuddypantsDani Bennoni: Long May He LiveDead Little Mean GirlDear Zoe,Define NormalDeliriumDeliverance From EvilDestination UnexpectedDirty Little SecretsDiscovering Pig MagicDivaDivergentDoing ItDown the Rabbit HoleDrawing a BlankDuck! Rabbit!Ellison the ElephantEmma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a TreeEmpress of the WorldEscape Under the Forever SkyEvery Exquisite ThingEvery Little Thing in the WorldEverything Is FineEverything on a WaffleFacelessFacts About ADHD ChildrenFade to BlackFade to BlueFaith, Hope, and Ivy JuneFaking NormalFans of the Impossible LifeFeather BoyFile Under: 13 Suspicious IncidentsFinallyFinding H. F.FiregirlFirst CrossingFlashcards of My LifeForbiddenForest of the PygmiesFoxFreak the MightyFreaky Green EyesFree?FreewillFrictionGeektasticGentlemenGeography ClubGeorgeGeorge's Marvelous MedicineGetting Over Garrett DelaneyGhost at the WindowGirl PartsGirls Acting CattyGirls in PantsGirlsourceGLBTQGoing BovineGood GirlsGoodbye RuneGossip GirlGotta Get Some Bish Bash BoshGranny Torrelli Makes SoupGutsHamletHandbook for BoysHappy Halloween, Li'L SantaHarmlessHarry the Hypno-potamusHate ListHear Us Out!HeartbeatHeartbeatHeroHippie ChickHitler's DaughterHonor GirlHootHow to Build a HouseHumanism, What's That?Hurt Go HappyI Am Not Joey PigzaI Donít Want to be CrazyI Need You More Than I Love You and I Love You To BitsI Saw It HappenIf a Tree Falls at Lunch PeriodIf I StayIf We KissIn the Company of CraziesInvincibleIt Happened to NancyIt Was A Dark And Silly NightIt's Me!It's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalJacob's LadderJakarta MissingJake RileyJames and the Giant PeachJennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, ElizabethJoey Pigza Loses ControlJoey Pigza Swallowed the KeyJokerJumping Off SwingsJumping the ScratchKeeping the MoonKeeping Your Child in MindKids Gone WildKidYogi - Yoga for ChildrenKim: Empty InsideKiss of Broken GlassKissing in AmericaKissing Ted Callahan (And Other Guys)Knocked Out by My Nunga-NungasLast CallLast DecemberLeaping BeautyLemony SnicketLess Than PerfectLiarLittle ChicagoLizard LoveLizard RadioLizzy's Do's and Don'tsLock and KeyLooking for BobowiczLooking for NormalLord of the FliesLoserLove and SexLove That DogLove, AubreyLucy in the SkyLukeís Way of LookingMadappleMade For YouMaking the RunMaking the RunMany StonesMapsMargaux with an XMary Pope Osborne's Tales from the OdysseyMichael Rosen's Sad BookMirrorMaskMolly Moon's Incredible Book of HypnotismMonsterMore Than a LabelMore Than FriendsMore Than FriendsMouse's First ValentineMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy HeartbeatMy One Hundred AdventuresMy Perfect LifeNastybookNo Right TurnNot As Crazy As I SeemNothingNothing But the TruthNothing PinkNow Playing: Stoner & Spaz IIOCDanielOlive My LoveOlive's OceanOliviaOlivia Saves the CircusOn the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex GodOne Hot SecondOur Broken PiecesOut of BoundsOut of the DustPandemoniumPanic at Toad HallPaper TownsPaperweightPatrolPeachesPeriod PiecesPictures of Hollis WoodsPiggyPINSPlanet JanetPlanet PregnancyPlaying a PartPretty Girl-13Prince William, Maximilian Minsky & MePrincess in LovePrincess in the SpotlightPrisoner of Night and FogPrisoners Under GlassProject Sweet LifePsychotherapy with Adolescent Girls and Young WomenPuddlejumpersPunkzillaPurgeRainbow PartyRebuttalRequiemRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRevolting Rhymes & Dirty BeastsRosy Cole's Memoir ExplosionSabrielSaving GraceSay YesScatSchool of FearSee You at Harry'sSexuality in AdolescenceSexyShadows on the WallShatteredShelterShooterSide Effects May VarySilence is GoldfishSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaSins of the FathersSix Impossible ThingsSkelligSmackSmall Avalanches and Other StoriesSolitaireSome Assembly RequiredSomeday This Pain Will Be Useful to YouSomeone Like YouSomething About AmericaSong for EloiseSophie Pitt-Turnbull Discovers AmericaSophie Spikey Has a Very Big ProblemSophomore SwitchSplit ScreenStartled by His Furry ShortsStone WaterStory of a GirlStuffSuffer the ChildrenSummer of the SkunksSurviving HitlerSweetheartsSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTargeting AutismTeaseTeen Angst? NaaahTeen TelevisionThat SummerThawThe 10 PM QuestionThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianThe Actual Real Reality of Jennifer JamesThe Amnesia ClinicThe Arctic IncidentThe Artsy Smartsy ClubThe Bear MakersThe Beast of CretaceaThe BFGThe Big BurnThe Book of JudeThe Boy Who Climbed into the MoonThe Boy Who DaredThe Boyfriend ListThe Buffalo TreeThe Carnivorous CarnivalThe Case of the Case of Mistaken IdentityThe Cemetery BoysThe Chosen OneThe Clouds AboveThe Color of AbsenceThe Crazy Things Girls Do for LoveThe Dating GameThe Day Leo Said I Hate You!The DaydreamerThe Diary of a Killer CatThe Diary of Pelly DThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksThe Dream BearerThe Dulcimer Boy The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round ThingsThe EndThe End of Our StoryThe Ersatz ElevatorThe Eternity CubeThe Eyes of van GoghThe Flight of a DoveThe Future of UsThe Geography of GirlhoodThe Geography of You and MeThe Ghost NetworkThe GiantessThe Great BrainThe Grim GrottoThe Heretic's DaughterThe Hookup ArtistThe Horse and His BoyThe Hostile HospitalThe Last Chance TexacoThe Last Time I DiedThe Last Time We Say GoodbyeThe Little TernThe Love Curse of the RumbaughsThe Lucky PlaceThe Memory of LightThe Men They Will BecomeThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Mystery of the Third LucretiaThe Naked Truth About SexThe Neil Gaiman Audio CollectionThe Opposite of InvisibleThe Order of the Poison OakThe Outcasts of 19 Schuyler PlaceThe Palace of LaughterThe PanopticonThe Penultimate PerilThe Porcupine of TruthThe PostcardThe Princess DiariesThe Rules of SurvivalThe Same Stuff as StarsThe Sands of TimeThe ScarThe Serious KissThe ShakeressThe Silent BoyThe Silly BookThe Sledding HillThe Slippery SlopeThe Snow SpeaksThe Spider and the BeeThe SpindlersThe StepsThe Story of Frog Belly Rat BoneThe Tail of Emily WindsnapThe Teenage BrainThe Thief LordThe Thing About JellyfishThe Thought that CountsThe Treasure Map of BoysThe TwitsThe UninvitedThe View from SaturdayThe Vile VillageThe Virginity ClubThe WilloughbysThe Wish HouseThe Witch of Blackbird PondThe Witch's BoyThe Wolves in the WallsThe Wolves of AndoverThen Again, Maybe I Won'tThen He Ate My Boy EntrancersThey Broke the Law-You Be the JudgeThings I Have to Tell YouThirstyThirteen Reasons WhyThis Book Is Not Good For YouThis Burns My HeartThis Full HouseTime Stops for No MouseTransgender Children and YouthTrue BelieverTrue BelieverTruesightTurtles All the Way DownTwenty Boy SummerTwistedUnder Pressure and OverwhelmedUnder the Wolf, Under the DogUnder WildwoodVery Far Away from Anywhere ElseVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysWalking on GlassWastelandWatch Me Do YogaWe Are OkayWe're Not MonstersWelcome to the ArkWhale TalkWhat Comes AfterWhat HappenedWhat I Saw And How I LiedWhat the Birds SeeWhat Works for Bipolar KidsWhat Would Joey Do?What's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhen Jeff Comes HomeWhen Nothing Matters AnymoreWhen the Moon ComesWhen You Reach MeWhere She WentWhere The Kissing Never StopsWho Has What?Why Are You So Sad?WildwoodWill You, Won't You?Witch ChildWith Their EyesWolf on the FoldWonderlandWorlds ApartWurst Case ScenarioYogaYoga 4 TeensYou Hear MeYou Know Me WellYou Know You Love MeYou Look Different in Real LifeYour Body Is AwesomeZane's TraceZapZazoo
Liza Tsaliki's Children and the Politics of Sexuality provides a much needed counter-voice to the widely held beliefs current in the Western World that children are 'naturally' sexually innocent, and that they should remain that way at least until later adolescence or early adulthood. I see three major influences on Tsaliki's book, and I will shape my review around those (related) sources: the French historian, Phillippe Aries, the French philosopher, Michel Foucault, and third wave feminism.
Aries' book, Centuries of Childhood (1962) was the first serious historical analysis of childhood, and an early or proto social constructionist account, arguing that the notion of childhood was drastically different in earlier historical periods. Perhaps most radically, Aries claimed that adolescence, that stretch of childhood associated with the teenage years, is a fairly recent social construction. Tsaliki uses this social constructionist paradigm to examine the ways in which notions of childhood, and particularly of different conceptions of what the proper position regarding children and sexuality ought to be, have changed. In Chapter 2 (11-32), Tsaliki describes the current situation "by following the academic, policy and media discourses" regarding the debate about the sexualization of childhood" (5). The mainstream view, she argues, is that we are in a crisis where children, and especially young girls, are sexualized far too early. Indicative of this mainstream view is the American Psychological Association's claims that early sexualization of girls negatively affects their physical and mental well-being; in particular, such sexualization can lead to eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression (13). This is the view that the media and parents have largely accepted and which has given rise to concern and indeed almost to hysteria in the media. In the U.S., one can certainly see the rise of the 'abstinence only until marriage' campaign in school sex education programs in the context of this frenzy.
Tsaliki is not convinced that this view is adequately supported. For one, this view "ignores the extent of young people's actual engagement with media and technology in contemporary Western societies, and the challenge to myths of childhood and sexuality they present, [and] ignores the increasing importance of media and leisure in constructing sexual identities and lifestyles" (23). Second, this mainstream view of the problematic nature of childhood sexuality assumes an essentialist and unchanging view of the nature of childhood sexuality. It thereby misses the point made by Aries about the ways in which childhood sexuality is socially constructed and changes over time. Tsaliki picks up this latter point in Chapter 3 (33-64) where she traces these changing views of childhood sexuality from the 17th century to today. Very briefly, Tsaliki argues that these varying historical views have given us a bifurcated view of children as both innocent and inherently sinful. Children are thus currently "interpellated simultaneously as being innocent … – actually, at risk of losing this inherent innocence – as well as in need of (expert) adult guidance and training in order to later evolve into responsible and mature selves…" (53: Tsaliki's emphasis).
The notion of a problematic expertise of childhood sexuality can be traced to Foucault and his beliefs regarding the advent of various sources of scientific knowledge and power of and over individuals and groups. In Chapters 4 (65-98) and 5 (65-98) especially, Tsaliki discusses the ways in which children's sexuality has become a locus of Foucauldian "biopower." We see this, for example, in the ways in which pornography has been seen as a serious threat to the innocence of children. "Children," she says, "become increasingly sheltered, 'chaperoned' and 'infantilized' with this drive for a 'zero-risk' society…. [T]he end result of this culture of protectionism is that no-one is immune from its governmentalizing effects…. Risk assessment – and the coping strategies for risky endeavors and experiences – becomes a value system in itself… (87-88).
Although Tsaliki doesn't refer to him, her claims about children reminds me of the Foucault influenced philosopher, Ian Hacking (see especially, Rewriting the Soul (1995) and The Social Construction of What? (1999)) and his concept of "interactive kinds." People, including children, are quintessentially interactive kinds, according to Hacking. Like labelling theory, the concept of interactive kinds maintains that people are in part constructed by and adhere to the labels they are given – by parents, teachers, experts, peers, and the media. However, unlike labelling theory, the concept of interactive kinds denies that people are simply passive recipients of their label/classification: they actively respond to and at times come to reject at least part of their labels, which can sometimes force changes to the classification itself. We see this type of notion employed by Tsaliki in her claims that while children are quite aware of the label of them as sexually innocent, they do not fully accept that label. For example, in Ch. 7 (165-207), Tsaliki uses a study she conducted on young girls' and tweens' use of interactive gaming internet sites such as Stardoll and Monster High where children are able to create virtual, online dolls and accessorize them. In doing so, she argues, children sometimes follow "stereotypical perceptions of young children" picked up in part from "the popular culture they consume and practise" accepting partially the view that they are "at risk of losing their innate innocence," and especially their innate sexual innocence (165). But in addition, and against this acceptance, these young girls also display an ability to "locate themselves within particular narratives of identity and produce fluid, flexible, and quite often, contradictory cultural meanings and spaces through their consumption of dress-up and make-over sites (165). Hence, Tsaliki argues, our concerns about the over sexualization of children is overblown.
The influence of third-wave feminism on Tsaliki's work is, I would argue, less direct. But she shares with third wave feminism a rejection of what the third wave sees as the essentialism and anti-sexuality of second-wave feminism (and, oddly, conservativism). As a social constructionist, Tsaliki is committed to the view that the identities of people and groups are flexible and subject to a wide variety of influences. And she is also committed, like most third wave feminists, to a sex positive position open to a variety of sexual identities and practices, even those found problematic by many radical feminists of the second wave. We can consider Ch. 6 (135-163) in this context, Here, Tsaliki rejects the current moral panic over girls' sexualization by examining "young girls' consumption of popular culture" to illustrate "how the entertainment media, rather than being construed as risk laden, … can be used [as a self-directed leisure activity that helps develop] the management of an ethical self, and as part of a broader identity work where issues of self-governance, appropriateness, taste and aesthetics are raised" (135).
Children and the Politics of Sexuality is a complex discussion of a deep and, for many in our society, troublesome subject. Tsaliki explores this material with academic rigor and extensive research to support her views. Perhaps the only issue I have with this book is that it really doesn't discuss the sexualization of boys: Tsaliki's focus, like that of society in general, is on girl's sexualization. I think, however, that if we are going to understand fully the sexualization of children, we must consider both boys and girls. Despite this issue, however, I believe this is a terrific book and deserves a wide audience.
© 2017 Robert Scott Stewart
Robert Scott Stewart, Ph.D., is a Professor of Philosophy at Cape Breton University (Canada). His most recent work has mostly been in the area of the philosophy of sex including two books: R.S. Stewart, ed., Talk About Sex: A Multidisciplinary Discussion (CBU Press, 2013) and Laurie Shrage & R.S. Stewart, Philosophizing About Sex (Broadview Press, 2015).