On 6 June, scrolling through twitter, I came across the news that Munroe Bergdorf had been chosen to be an ‘influencer’ for the child protection and safeguarding charity, the NSPCC. This struck me as somewhat surprising. Like many child safeguarding charities, the NSPCC has rightly acknowledged the sexualisation of children as being both directly and indirectly harmful to children’s wellbeing; and surely recognises valuing people based on their appearance, is not something that those with an interest in children’s mental health would encourage. My limited knowledge of Bergdorf, is of someone who trades on their appearance, often highly sexualised and who is ‘famous for being famous’. So, I googled ‘NSPCC child sexualisation’ and came across guidance that they had published in February this year on protecting children from harmful sexual behaviour, and then googling Bergdorf and one of the first images I found was them sitting on a tyre, legs akimbo, mouth agape, naked except for yellow tape with matching gloves and boots.
My concerns about this apparent contradiction confirmed, I juxtaposed an image of a screenshot of the NSPCC document next to the image of Bergdorf and tweeted the following comment:
“February 2019 – NSPCC: Here’s our guidance on protecting children from harmful sexual behaviour
May 2019 – @NSPCC: Heeyyy, meet our new ‘influencer’ Munroe Bergdorf”
I assumed that people would read the image as illustrating what I saw as the contradictory positions of the two statements. Neither were screen caps (as far as I’m aware) directly from NSPCC publicity and I did not intend to imply that they were. However, one or two people interpreted the tweet in that way and seemed to think that the NSPCC had used the image, so I deleted it.
A couple of days later, someone brought to my attention that Bergdorf had commented on the tweet on Instagram. Since then, the issue and tweet has attracted attention and rather than continue to repeat myself on twitter, I’ve decided to summarise some of my responses to issues raised here:
1) The suggestion (from Bergdorf) that the shot is no more risky than anything shot by Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Rihanna, Britney or Madonna – and no one’s trying to stop them working to empower younger generation
I agree. However, these women are world famous because of a perceived musical or performing talent – not just for being photographed. I apologised to Bergdorf if my lack of knowledge of what’s going down musically with young people meant I was missing their world famous musical back catalogue. It’s also true that I wish that women’s musical output didn’t need to be illustrated with sexualised imagery – what’s wrong with a nice pair of dungarees and a cardigan?
2) The accusation that I hadn’t complained about other people associated with NSPCC who had been photographed in various states of undress and therefore I’m a bigoted cishet transphobic white definitely-not-feminist
It’s true that I haven’t, but that doesn’t mean that I think these women have anything more to offer than Bergdorf and I would probably find some of the images of them equally objectionable – but they weren’t the ones I saw being announced on twitter. It’s a common logical fallacy, sometimes known as ‘whatabouterry’ to suggest that because a person makes a comment in response to a specific issue, their response to a similar issue would be different.
To be clear, I don’t think images of any woman airbrushed within an inch of Barbie are those which should confront children and Berdorf’s so-called ‘gender identity’ is of no interest or relevance in this respect.
I’m happy to admit that I want a world where children aspire to be more than what they look like. I want role models who offer this.
I don’t want people to stop supporting the NSPCC. I do want the NSPCC to have the broadest understanding of the harms to children, and these include sexualisation and sex role stereotypes., and that gender is a hierarchy with women and girls at the bottom.
3) The accusation that I’m anti-LGBT
I’m not. To suggest otherwise ignores the concerns that many, including lesbians and gay men, have identified regarding the homophobia inherent in transgender ideology, and the increasing abuse of lesbians who defend the boundaries of same-sex attraction. On the other-hand, Bergdorf has made some reprehensible comments about lesbians.
4) The suggestion that I have said that “women – particularly queer and trans women – who have engaged in any kind of sexual or pornographic work are a danger to children.”
I haven’t said this and to state that I have is libellous.
However, the sexualisation of children is a huge and harmful global problem. It is not only absurd to obfuscate the harms to children – by males – through pornography and the sex trade, it is grossly irresponsible. Men pay to rape children and get their sexual kicks from watching images of child sexual abuse. The sexualisation of children normalises child sex abuse. This indeed is a danger to children.
5) The accusation that the image I used was ‘doctored’
It wasn’t, it was two images juxtaposed, to illustrate a contradiction. There’s an irony though, isn’t there? As one might struggle to find an image of Bergdorf that isn’t doctored.
After reflecting on the silencing of women, feminists in particular, I’ve regretted deleting my tweet but I also acknowledge that some people really might mis-read the image so I’ve shared it again here, with a few words of explanation.
Accusations of transphobia are used to silence women, whether we’re objecting to the sexualisation of children, men’s fatal violence against women or men’s attempts to coerce/ force lesbians to have sex with them. Twitter and other social media platforms are actively silencing feminists and now gay men too. It isn’t going to work. If you try to silence some of us, others will ensure that their voices are heard and add their own. We will identify, name and resist the sexual exploitation of women and children. We will fight to maintain sex based rights and protections. You can bully, threaten and assault us. We are not going away. You will not shut us up.