Archive for July 12th, 2010

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It happened right next to the hopscotch grid. One minute I was leaping from one to three and the next I was staring at a woman’s naked breasts.

Andrew Hampson had brought in his Dad’s “The Sun” and was showing off his illicit material to anyone who would look.

There was something odd about this woman, something that immediately made my 8-year-old self uncomfortable. For a start she looked most uncomfortable. Her back was unnaturally bent backwards with her chin jutting up – not to mention other parts of her.

Why would anyone choose to sit like that? I’d never seen a move like that in gymnastics class.

Her skin looked weird, like she’d been covered in baby oil. I hated having that stuff slathered on me after a bath.

The worst bit, though, was her face. She wore  the type of uncertain smile I saw friends give the teacher when they thought they were in trouble but couldn’t figure out what for. It was obvious she wanted for positive attention and had done something naughty in desperation to get any attention.

My friend Louise Stanley had once run round the garden taking all her clothes off because she didn’t want to go to school and my mother had explained it was because she was a bit needy and unbalanced .

I had grown up in a pretty relaxed household. On our annual holidays to Corfu or Crete my mum would go topless on the beach. It seemed perfectly natural, not at all like this poor lady in the room so white it looked like the lunatic asylum in a book I was reading, “Masies Stay at the Hospital”

This picture, in what I was told was supposed to be a newspaper (ha! what kind of idiot did Andrew Hampson take me for?), was unfathomably horrible.

One of the other girls came over and in a thoroughly grown up gesture rolled her eyes and said “Tut, Boys” and wandered off again.

Someone told the teacher and the boy (and hopefully his parents) got a thorough telling off for bringing unsuitable material into the school yard.

Nobody mentioned the incident again. Not the teachers in class, not the other children. But I never forgot about the horrible feeling I had looking at the uncomfortable, oily, woman and thinking of all the other Andrew Hampsons and their dads who leered at her.

That feeling came back every time I took the tube to work when I was 22 and working in London. All the bank workers and city types would stand there reading The Sun. It came as little surprise to me that one day a man on the tube crushed up against me and put his hand on one of my breasts.

It came as little surprise to anyone else either. It had happened to every other woman who worked in my office at one time or another. They just rolled their eyes and said “Tut. Men”.

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Oh, the core parent-of-a-teenager story. A friend of mine recently got a nasty shock when, provoked by the discovery of a sneaky packet of condoms, she found quite the accumulation of explicit text messages in her teenaged daughter’s phone. Her single teenaged daughter’s phone. Her single, fourteen-year-old daughter’s phone.

This is a core story because it’s not the first time I’ve heard it; more than a couple of friends and their more gossip-worthy relatives have been made aware of their teenaged child’s sexual awakening through devious divings into his or her text message history. If rites of passage have evolved at all, it’s to make room for a mortifying encounter with a livid, bawling parent with an unfortunate proficiency in modern sleuthing methods. In this particular case, my friend was terribly shaken – not just because her daughter was apparently sexually active, but because the nature of the messages were less “journey of sexual discovery” and more “let’s all have an orgy”. The result was a horrified, grounded, phoneless young wan, and a horrified, tearful, traumatised mother, who spent the next few weeks doubting her parental fitness, and wondering what the hell she was supposed to do next.

Beyond carefully-selected woe betides, it turned out, not a whole lot. Teenagers will march on towards adulthood, after all, and there’s not much to be said for the concept of a postemptive strike.

When I was a teenager – the mid-nineties, which as far as I’m concerned are still the very recent past – I thought that my mam would absolutely curdle if she knew what we got up to of a Saturday evening, though that would be a problem entirely her own, for we were doing nothing Wrong. No one was in danger. No one was compromised. It was just the generational gap and it was up to the oldies to bridge it. So is it that I’m an oldie now that I can’t get my head around the carry-on of kids today? Has an unwelcome fuddyduddyness infected my tolerance and common sense and wherewithal? Am I just pumped up on the fear of that which I just don’t, like, totally get?

Have I no good reason to be alarmed by the young and scantily-clad and surefooted?

Miley Cyrus has been all over the gossip sites of late; all of Miley, all over. The seventeen-year-old popstrel is keen to ditch Hannah Montana’s blonde wig, tweenie fans and wholesome blether for a more sophisticated image befitting her advancing years. For which read: less pants. Bigger hair. More simulated mutual masturbation with hawt leather-bound dancers. Singer and actress Taylor Momsen, a similarly pantsless chica who wants to be Chrissie Hynde from the waist up only, celebrates her seventeenth birthday later this month, yet is happy to tell us all that she’ll dress in t-shirts, suspenders and ripped stockings now because it would be inappropriate in her thirties. The world’s most extraneous wild child, Peaches Geldof, had, at seventeen, been photographed in more compromising positions than you could shake a paper cone at.

However, just because Ms. Cyrus wants to be seen as a fully-fledged sexual being in control of her own whims and intimate piercings doesn’t mean you should treat her as one – blogging nitwit Perez Hilton recently got a scalding when he posted an upskirt image of an apparently commando Miley getting out of a car. Distribution of child pornography! yowled his critics. Even if she’s dressed in killer heels and negligee and waving her crotch about in concert doesn’t mean you should be looking at it! Miley, in short, is old enough to court controversy for sales figures and column inches, but certainly not old enough to be held responsible for such marketing decisions. Likewise, Taylor Momsen remains stubbornly unable to understand any objection to the persistent flashing of an underage girl’s inner thighs. Peaches Geldof, now old enough to vote and know better, has her boyfriend call out the mothers of those who capture her posing, glassy-eyed, in manky, strange bedrooms. Give me the perks of adulthood so that I may taste, but get them consequences Out Of My Face. Disturbing? Absolutely, but mostly because the Age Of Accountability seems a long way off for each of these little madams. Am I climbing ever faster to the peaks of irrelevance if my jaw drops and my skin crawls? You tell me.

Are we destined – the generation in power, of child-bearing and wine-appreciation age – to wring our hands at the hyperbolic sexual statements of younger ladies? Perhaps it’s as simple as that; perhaps daring text messages are to be taken as nothing but Ye Olde Boundary Pushing, and the disregard of trousers in fashion ensembles equates to a modern day bra-burning. Despite our initial squawks and retchings, when I think about it, it’s unlikely my friend’s daughter was having a train run on her in the back bedroom of her best friend’s house. Most likely, it was just our paranoid, terrified adult minds pinning advanced sexual foibles to clumsy teenage fumbling. There is no doubt that today’s little women are coming of age in a more aggressively sexualised society, but just because you’re surrounded by pole-dancing hotties in music videos, blowjob tips in magazines, and glamour models empowering the shit out of everyone, doesn’t mean you have a wisp of a notion what to do with any of it.

Incidentally, my friend had a fancy-dress party recently, and as a treat, the fourteen-year-old was allowed to join in. As a Playboy bunny. Which she thought was sweet. I shit you not.

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