Thursday, December 7

Beware! Having an opinion about sex while growing old has now become a crime | Catherine Bennett

Will five-year-olds and their parents ever get the chance to see the clitoris song performed at the Family Sex Show? All together: “Oh, go on then and touch it.”

How long will they be denied the guidance, formerly on the TFSS‘s website, on searching the internet for pictures of masturbating animals? “Sexual development and behavior in children starts from birth”, as the company points out. Now the tots must make do with Squirrel Nutkin.

But all may not be lost. Though the show has just been cancelled, following critical articles and online protests, its creators have responded with a commitment to future performances and a statement that instantly locates their struggle in the UK’s long tradition of artistic martyrdom at the hands of Philistines.

“We believe”, says ThisEgg company, “that what has happened is reflective of structural and societal attitudes towards relationships and sex education as well as art, culture and who is allowed to create and what we are allowed to engage with in the UK.” It might not have much artistic merit, the clitoris song, at least not written out, but isn’t that the kind of thing the Lord Chamberlain used to say about Joe Orton?

This emphasis on artistic expression (albeit in a primarily educational enterprise) was respectfully received: you gathered that the rehabilitation of Mary Whitehouse has yet, in liberal circles, to extend to reviving her habit of condemning theater unseen. And it can only have helped ThisEgg, given the current vogue for guilt by association, that her role in the dispute is played by Laurence Fox.

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It was the extreme behavior of their would-be censors – “unprecedented threats and abuse directed at our building and team” – that had forced, the company said, the show’s cancellation. Nothing in its statement indicated that the project’s content, with its sexual songs, masturbation hints and adult nudity, had perhaps called for something more than the justifications on the show’s website, nor that, alongside online aggression, serious doubts about safeguarding had been carefully expressed .

How, people asked, did the company’s line, “pleasure as a vehicle for consent”, make sense to 16-year-olds, let alone to children in reception year? Had it really been okayed (no, someone on Mumsnet checked) by the NSPCC?

Writing in UnHerdMary Harrington did not doubt that the Family Sex Show was “well-intentioned”. But “by normalizing the idea that pre-pubescent children should engage with sexual material, the Family Sex Show in practice carries water for genuine paedophiles”.

Such responses could not have come as a surprise. Interviewed by Kate Wyver for the Guardian about her “show about sex and relationships for ages five and above”, Josie Dale-Jones anticipated resistance – and simultaneously dismissed it. “Children aren’t anxious about the idea of ​​the show,” she said. “It’s the older people who feel discomfort in something that’s challenging their preconceptions.”

And maybe – retirement homes would know – Captain Tom’s generation would indeed be disappointed to find The Family Sex Show‘s “I have a penis in my pants” substituting for We’ll Meet Again. Younger older people may, however, have registered Oh! Calcutta! running for ever, while their formal sex education was confined, where it existed, to diagrams of rabbits. In many ways, there could hardly be a more promising audience.

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No matter: “older people”, particularly older women, are accustomed to seeing this descriptor used as a shorthand for pitiful irrelevance.

Dale-Jones reminds the merely middle aged, the proudly not-boomers, that the wrong or unfashionable opinions can still be dreadfully aging. An excessive concern for boundaries can, this suggests, put a good 10 years on you; doubts about online masturbation searches betray, at any age, an inner pearl-clutching (a popular code for annoying, older and female) hysteric.

Originally a substitute for pensioner, the “older people” category is regularly expanded to include most people over 50, as experienced by the stars of the Sex and the City sequel, and even, if they are careless enough to cause trouble, by women still strangers to the perimenopause. Laurence Fox is, for what it’s worth, 43. There are, as Dale-Jones’s comment confirms, no strict rules.

If relatively young people can recoil, as they have, from a performance introducing five-year-olds to masturbation, it just goes to prove the old adage that you’re only as old as your opinion on the Family Sex Show.

It is naturally the fate of Mumsnet’s members, so many of them being female, intelligent, sexually unavailable and indifferent to male abuse, that their age should be considered ideologically telling in a way that, if it caught on generally, would mean reading repeatedly about “the mainly middle-aged shadow cabinet”, “the mainly middle-aged guests on the News Quiz”, “the mainly middle aged or older court of appeal”.

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Opening a discussion on the Family Sex Show one contributor began: “Just for clarity & in case anyone jumps at the chance to call me a rightwinger bent on denying women reproductive rights: I’m a socialist agnostic who has protested anti-abortionists.”

The selective attribution of oldness and its variants to uncooperative adults of all ages only underlines, of course, its continuing value as an insult, one with the bonus of being, still, semi-respectable. We recently heard “dinosaur” deployed by the otherwise peerlessly including David Lammy.

unlike David Cameron, who was accused of Labor of ageism after he aimed it at Dennis Skinner, Lammy, no gerontophobe, used it impartially it to insult all women who insist, on one subject, on disagreeing with him. “Aunty” worked well recently, for one of the Harry Potter stars wanting to condescend to JK Rowling without being as rude as Emma Watson. With or without the added “crone” or “witch”, old, as more and more people are discovering, is the perfect insult for our times: for caring individuals who know name calling is bad.

Catherine Bennett is an Observer columnist

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