email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
269 Amazing Sex GamesA History of MarriageA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyActionAll the WayAmerica UnzippedAmerica UnzippedAmerica's Sexual TransformationAmerican EugenicsAmerican GirlsAmerican HookupAn Interpretation of DesireAnarchism & SexualityAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of LoveAnthony GoicoleaAnticlimaxArt and HomosexualityArt/PornAssuming a BodyAutoportraitBachelors and BunniesBecoming OrgasmicBehind the Red DoorBest Sex Writing 2005Better Sex Through YogaBetter Sex Through YogaBetter Than EverBetween Mom and JoBeyond Diversity DayBeyond SexualityBeyond ToleranceBig Porn IncBill HensonBodies in DoubtBody ImagesBonkBoys Don't CryBreasts - A DocumentaryBrothelBuying SexCase Studies in Communication about SexCase Studies in Sexual DevianceCaught in the WebCelibaciesChildren and SexualityChildren and the Politics of SexualityChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChristy ReportClay's WayClinical Manual of Women's Mental HealthClose toYouClumsyCold HitCollege SexComing of Age in AmericaConfessions of the Other MotherCybersexCyborgasmDare... to Make Love with 2, 3, 4... or MoreDare... to Try BisexualityDating: Philosophy for EveryoneDeadly ButterflyDebating Same-Sex MarriageDeep GossipDeparting from DevianceDigital DiariesDilemmas of DesireDirty MindsDirty StoriesDisorders Of DesireDisorders of Sex Development:Doing ItDoing ItDoing It Down UnderDown and Dirty Sex SecretsDude, You're a FagEarly Embraces IIIEmerald City BluesEmotionally InvolvedEnjoying Guilty PleasuresErotic CapitalErotic InnocenceErotic PassionsEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEveryday PornographyEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorExploring TranssexualismFade to BlackFagbugFaking ItFamilies Like MineFast GirlsFinal JeopardyFinding H. F.Fire on the Mountain DVDFor Lesbian ParentsFor The Bible Tells Me SoForbiddenFrictionFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Shame to SinFuckologyGay, Straight, and the Reason WhyGender in the MirrorGender OutlawsGeography ClubGetting RealGetting the Love You WantGirls & SexGirls Gone MildGirls Gone SkankGLBTQGoddess WorshipGoing DownGood GirlsGood PornGood Sex IllustratedGreat Answers to Difficult Questions About SexGuide To Getting It OnHandbook New Sexuality StudiesHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHard to GetHardcore from the HeartHear Us Out!HeterosyncraciesHit & MissHomosexualitiesHookedHooking UpHow Sex Became a Civil LibertyHow Sex ChangedHow Sex WorksHow To Be GayHow to Do Things with Pornography How to Give Her Absolute PleasureHow to Have Magnificent SexHow to Make Great Love to a ManHow to Make Great Love to a WomanHow to Make Love Like a Porn StarHow to Think More About SexHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenHysterical MenI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'll Be Your MirrorIf Men Could TalkImpotenceIn a Queer VoiceIn Praise of the WhipIn the Mood, AgainInsatiable WivesIntense Games DVDInvestigating Young People's Sexual CulturesIt's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalItís Your HourJane Sexes It UpJock SturgesJust Between UsKama-Sutra--The Secrets to the Art of LoveKids Gone WildLegalizing ProstitutionLegalizing ProstitutionLet's Get This StraightLets Talk about SexLetters to Penthouse Vol. 50Likely to DieLittle ChicagoLoose GirlLosing Matt ShepardLoveLove and DesireLove and SexLove JunkieLove Lust DesireLove SickLustMad for FoucaultMagical ThinkingMaking American BoysMaking Babies the Hard WayMaking Chastity SexyMaking Peace with PornMaking ScenesMale SexualityMalefemaleMaster BreastsMating in CaptivityMedicalized MasculinitiesMelancholia and MoralismMenMental Health Issues in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities MiddlesexMoney ShotMoral Panics, Sex PanicsMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy HeartbeatMy Horizontal LifeName All the AnimalsNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew Sex Now DVDNightswimmingNone of the AboveNormalNormalNot GayNot The Marrying KindNot Under My RoofNothing PinkOedipus WreckedOn Being RapedOne Hot SecondOne Hour in ParisOpenOrgasmOrgasm Inc.OrgasmologyOrgasmsOver 100 Truly Astonishing Sex TipsOverexposedPeekPeriod PiecesPervPhilosophizing About Sex Philosophy of Love, Sex, and MarriagePin-up GrrrlsPINSPlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPolicing SexualityPolyamory in the 21st CenturyPornPorn NationPorn StudiesPorn UniversityPornifiedPornlandPornographyPornographyPornography, Sex, and FeminismPosition Of The Day PlaybookPray the Gay AwayPredatorsPremarital Sex in AmericaPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyPrivate Dicks - Men ExposedPrivate Practices DVDProblem GirlsPrudePsychopathia SexualisQueer PhilosophyRapeRape Is RapeRated X - A Journey Through PornRazmatazRecruiting Young LoveRedefining GirlyRedefining RapeRegulating SexRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRethinking RapeRunning with ScissorsSatan's Sex BookScreening SexSelling Sex ShortSexSex & Single GirlsSex (Ed)Sex and SpiritSex and the American TeenagerSex and the SoulSex and the Soul, Updated EditionSex and WarSex at DawnSex by NumbersSex DetoxSex Fiends, Perverts, and PedophilesSex in CrisisSex ObjectSex OffendersSex on the BrainSex PositionsSex Q & ASex, Family, and the Culture WarsSex, or the UnbearableSex, Therapy, and KidsSex, Time and PowerSextasySexting and Young PeopleSexual ArtSexual Boundary ViolationsSexual DevianceSexual DisordersSexual EcstasySexual EthicsSexual FluiditySexual IntelligenceSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySexual Orientation and School PolicySexual PleasureSexual PredatorsSexual Teens, Sexual MediaSexuality in AdolescenceSexuationSexyBookShameShamelessShy GirlSlutWalkSmall FavorsSmutSocial Control of Sex OffendersSome Assembly RequiredSplit ScreenStir-FryStraight to JesusStrange BedfellowsStripped BareSurviving Sexual ViolenceSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTalk to Me FirstTechniques of PleasureThe Anthropology of SexThe BabiesThe Better Sex Guide to the Kama SutraThe Big Book of PornThe Birth of the PillThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe BodyThe Breast BookThe Breath of Tantric LoveThe Busy Couple's Guide to Great SexThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Chemistry Between UsThe Clitoral TruthThe Education of SophieThe Emergence of SexualityThe End Of AliceThe End of SexThe Erotic EdgeThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Essential KamasutraThe Fate of GenderThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Gay Baby BoomThe Good Vibrations Guide to SexThe Happy Hook-UpThe Hite ReportThe Humble Little CondomThe Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive OrgasmThe Illustrated Story of OThe Love CureThe Madness of WomenThe Men They Will BecomeThe Mirror of LoveThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Moral Panics of SexualityThe Naked Truth About SexThe Nature of Sexual DesireThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New Gay TeenagerThe Notebook GirlsThe Only Girl in the CarThe Order of the Poison OakThe Origins of SexThe Other HollywoodThe Other PlaceThe Other Side of DesireThe Perils of MasculinityThe Perversion of YouthThe Philosophy of PornographyThe Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary ReadingsThe Pleasure's All MineThe Politics Of LustThe Porn TrapThe Pornographer's GriefThe Pornography IndustryThe Praeger Handbook of TranssexualityThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Purity MythThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Right to Be ParentsThe Secret Lives of GirlsThe Sex Addiction WorkbookThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Sex MythThe Shared HeartThe Sleep of ReasonThe Smart Girl's Guide to PornThe SurrenderThe Ten Minute Sexual SolutionThe Tenth CircleThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Trauma MythThe Ultimate Guide to Sex and DisabilityThe Vagina MonologuesThe ValleyThe Violence of CareThe Virgin BlueThe Virginity ClubThings Tom LikesThinking KinkThinking XXXToo Hot to HandleTransTransTransgender Children and YouthUltimate JudgementUltimate SexUndoing GenderUnlikelyUntangling the WebVirginVirgin NationVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysVirginity LostWhat Women WantWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?What's Wrong with Homosexuality?When Jeff Comes HomeWhen Sex Goes to SchoolWhen the Piano StopsWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Who Has What?Who's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWilhelm ReichWired for IntimacyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWomen and MadnessWritten in the FleshZen Sex
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).