this week's problem

Sam was horrified when her 13-year-old son wanted to buy a poster of a "semi-nude" woman. She feels he is too young, and anyway these posters degrade women. At home her son has three older, intelligent sisters, but his dad reads the Daily Star and finds nude posing inoffensive. How can she tell her son that these posters are wrong without giving him a hang-up?

Hang-ups? What hang-ups? The only one with hang-ups in Sam's scenario is surely none other than Sam herself. Boys entering adolescence drool over posters of sexy ladies as sure as night follows day, and for Sam to disapprove of her son's burgeoning sexuality would be about as sensible as tut-tutting when the tide came in. She should, rather, be grateful that his sexual leanings are so utterly normal. He doesn't want to buy posters of semi-nude little girls; he doesn't want to save his money to spend on packets of cigarettes or illegal drugs. Well, not yet. No, he's doing what every single normal boy does, which is to spend his money on saucy, tit-revealing pin-ups. Phew, Sam should be thinking, what a relief!

If Sam discourages him from hanging the poster in his room, it will only lie rolled up in the back of a drawer to be ogled at after dark by the light of an illicit torch. And if anyone's going to disapprove, wouldn't it be more appropriate for his sisters to be the ones to shout "Sexist pig!" at him rather than his mother? Children are usually extremely embarrassed and confused when their parents start going on about sex, except to explain the mechanics of it, and even then the information, though essential, can be fairly excruciating to hear from a parent. For a child, a mother's breasts are to drink from, and it's uncomfortable to be reminded that they are things that turn some people on.

Anyway, what of his sisters' interest in sex? Are they so pure-minded and sexually backward that they don't have the odd pin-up of Take Thattacked to their walls? Or perhaps Sam doesn't disapprove of men baring their chests in the same way.

If she were to open her mouth, anyway, wouldn't her son go to the nub of the matter and say, "But mum, you don't mind Dad looking at the pictures in the Daily Star, so what's wrong with me having this poster in my room?"

And he would be right because I think Sam herself has a teensy-weensy bit of a problem with sex. Her very name shows some uncertainty. Christened, presumably, Samantha, a highly feminine name, she shortens it to something androgynous. (Sam Fox, of course, can get away it, for obvious reasons.) Even her description of her son's poster as "semi-nude" rather than the normal "topless" reveals a certain ambivalence about describing in what way, exactly, was the poster revealing of the female form. If all she means is "scantily clad", then, indeed, she really does have a problem.

What is it about this friendly, sexy poster that makes Sam get on her high moral horse, uneasy and anxious?

I guess that when Sam's husband sits munching toast at the breakfast table, his eyes on stalks as he ogles the boobs of the page three girls, Sam seethes with silent rage, threatened and angry by his behaviour. It is with her husband that she has the real gripe, not her son, and if she wants to make a feminist stand she should first of all make it with her husband.

She must pick someone her own size on whom to impose her views - views, incidentally, not shared by those feminists who believe that the degraded ones in the ogling game are the men rather than the models. She mustn't pick on a young boy who would just cringe with horror to find his burgeoning sexual feelings under the disapproving scrutiny of his mum.

readers' responses

Think of it positively. At 13 your son is becoming inquisitive about the opposite sex. He's probably seen in the press that one of the royal princes has a poster of Pamela Anderson in his bedroom and he fancies the same. Has your son been on holiday to a Mediterranean beach? The poster was only semi-nude. It could have been worse - the request might have been for a "top-shelf" magazine.

Let him have his poster. It could well improve his relationship with this father, which is something you as a woman won't understand. But make sure his adolescent interest in nudity doesn't extend into pornography.

MA Brown

Hertfordshire

Your son shouldn't be discouraged from asserting his masculinity. It's great that he wants to remind himself that not all girls are big sisters. But there is a difference between being furtive and being considerate. Even if he doesn't hide his poster, he shouldn't put it where everyone else has to see it. How about behind his bedroom door?

Ruth Pocklington

North Yorkshire

Sam's 13-year-old son is obviously still untroubled by incipient sexuality, or he would not have been so naive as to have expected his mother to have approved his choice of poster. A jokey, lightly barbed comment from her, such as "She must have used a bike pump on those", would have possibly cracked the age/sex barrier and even conveyed a smidgeon of critical appraisal of his choice. It is pointless to agonise over what is pretty normal behaviour for a teenage boy.

It would appear Sam lacks a sense of proportion regarding the male psyche. Her husband's reading matter is obviously a strong bone of contention. Agreed, some men never grow up, but most wives accept this immaturity as a harmless strand of life's rich tapestry.

Sam can relieve her conscience over the degradation of women so beloved of the PC feminist mafia. The models themselves undoubtedly enjoy what they choose to do, and are certainly well paid for their work. Save the antipathy for genuine injustice.

Doreen M Machin

Wiltshire

Good for you! I wish more women cared about the fact that too many men still consider us as inferior and little more than bodies. The issue cannot be blown out of proportion. Sexual discrimination and harassment are alive and well, and it's up to you to teach your son to respect women. He will grow up to be the man you make him.

Rebecca

London

When you see how easily pre-packaged boy pop groups get very young girls excited, you realise that it is not unreasonable for a boy of 13 to be interested in the opposite sex.

Recent house-hunting experience of mine would seem to indicate that teenage girls objectify male bodies more so than pubescent boys. Girls' rooms I have seen are literally plastered with half-dressed young men often unzipping what little clothing they are wearing. When Sam's son looked through the poster rack at the shop did she not see similar posters of men for the girls to buy?

Sam is being selective in her response to this situation. Adolescents, no matter what sex, react to attractive images of the opposite sex. Decorating their bedrooms with pin-ups is just the most obvious sign of this interest. Perhaps boys would put up less football posters if they were treated with the tolerance that their sisters obviously enjoy.

David Hay

London

next week's dilemma Dear Virginia,

As my husband is away on business for three months I'm joining him and leaving our two children of six and seven in the care of his parents, who are coming to stay in our house.

They adore their grandchildren, who love them back, but only one thing worries me. The grandparents are regular church-goers, and even say grace before meals.

I don't mean they're born-agains, but religion plays a large part in their lives. My husband was glad to escape from this background when he was small, I am a confirmed atheist, and we both shudder at the idea of religion being inculcated into our children.

Do you think we could ask my husband's parents not to take them to church? There is a friend who would have them on Sunday mornings, and I know they 'd be bored stiff anyway.

Yours sincerely, Joan

All comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate.

Please send any relevant personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, the 'Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182, by Tuesday morning.

And if you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.

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