There are many ways to interpret the meaning of “sexualisation”, and it is important to be clear about it so as to not fall prey to the “rightwing” distortions.
What Sexualisation means to the Media
We know what “sexualisation” stands for in the eyes of the media: the pressure on younger and younger “children” (it’s of course girls, not boys, but what the Hell) to become sexual objects before they reach puberty.
The problem with this definition is not what it says but what it leaves out. It is an unquestioned assumption from our culture that females will naturally develop a penchant for becoming sexual objects when they begin to fancy men. (The possibility that they may not fancy men at all, that they may fancy women, that they may fancy both or none, is not really considered.) That is not questioned. Nobody is arguing that adult women shouldn’t be sexualised, or that the media should stop sexualising our culture. And nobody but feminists argues that women, irrespective of their age, should never be presented as sexual objects. And even feminists have a hard time agreeing over that one.
So yes, sexualisation does mean “pressure on young children to become sexual objects”, but this is only problematic in the eyes of the media because it’s happening at a younger age than before.
The media does not take issue with the fact that a) it happens at all, b) there’s pressure, c) only happens to girls or d) to reduce a human being to a sexual object is immoral and wrong.
What Sexualisation means to the “Right”
Some people have twisted the meaning of “sexualisation” and use it in the context of “children’s sexuality”, arguing that “children are sexual too”. This is, of course, utter nonsense. Nobody is using the word “sexualisation” to mean “the hormones in the child’s body sexualises them”. This bogus attempt at diverting the conversation from what “big people with power and money” do into what “is natural for children” is, in my humble experience, a tactic from the “Right” to silence criticism. Keep this idea in your pocket, it may come in handy. What they are trying to do is to bring the topic back to the individual, and eliminate all ideas that a small group of people, namely those with power and money, have way more, ehm, power than most individual people, namely those who have to put up with the “sexualisation”. They are effectively cutting off the child from their environment, so that sexual development looks, to an imaginary alien, like a normal, healthy stage in human growth.
Like I said, poppycock to that.
What Sexualisation actually means
Sexualisation doesn’t mean in any way “a child’s sexuality”. What it means is “the turning of a child into a sexual object”. Why?
Because nobody can “sexualise” anybody without objectifying them first. (Ok, perhaps hormones can do it, but nobody is taking issue with that.)
How can “sexualisation” require “objectification”?
Let’s reduce the word “sexualisation” to its bare bones, to mean what it sounds like it should mean: to make something or someone sexual. The “something” is easy to understand, but the “someone”? Let’s see. How can you make someone “sexual”? Surely that is something people do for themselves? Whether we mean biological sexuality or a “sexual” appearance, it’s still something people do for themselves. That’s where the problem lies: in order to sexualise somebody other than yourself, you have to impose your will upon someone. Sexualising means, at its core, that consent is absent from the person being sexualised. Much like what happens with words like “medicalization” or “westernization”. It implies that the subject has not choice in the matter. And this is the very essence of “dehumanization”, which opens the door to “objectification”, the turning of people into objects.
So, this “sexualisation” deal implies that someone is forcing someone else into being sexual against their will. And the truth behind forcing someone into something is that it reduces people into the something. If you force someone into being “labour” you reduce them to just “labour”.
In order to “sexualise” someone, you must make them “sexual” against their will. If you succeed, the person is reduced to “sexual” and nothing more because you have taken away their humanity.
As for Children...
Children do what children do. And that includes sexual development. The problem is that children cannot develop sexually in whichever way they want while they are immersed in a culture as sexually toxic as ours. Rather, they are expected to develop in one way and one way only.
Children develop sexually without any need for “external” intervention, meaning culturally imposed ideas of what sex is and how it should look like. The proof is in the pudding. For quite a long time the very idea of sexuality was kept very hush-hush, as we all know. There was no concept of children developing their sexuality. And somehow this didn’t stop children becoming sexually active adults.