Children have long been exposed to the quiet power of unspoken sexual-determination. Undertones of heteronormativity littered popular children’s tales in Peter Pan and Cinderella while family-friendly flicks like George of the Jungle went a step further - showing Brendan Fraser in nothing but loin-cloth for an hour (a female-gaze phenomena).
In fact, adult themes are strategically hidden within kid-friendly content all the time. Shaggy and Scooby were inseparable stoners with a slacker van, which may as well have had a ‘legalise marijuana’ sign bolted to the bonnet. But the camel’s back finally broke this week.
Grandad’s Pride - a children’s book about love, acceptance and inclusivity - was removed from a nursery school in Hull after parents raised concerns about its content. One couple even pulled their child from school after flagging devilish images of ‘partially naked’ men in ‘leather bondage gear’. I hope they’ve not grabbed tickets for the new Indiana Jones as Harrison Ford goes topless and I’m sure he gets more use out of that leather whip than we’re led to believe.
The book, however, tells the story of a young girl (Milly) who spends the summer in her Grandad’s cottage by the sea. While playing in the attic, Milly unearths her Grandad’s old Pride flag. Gramps explains to Milly the importance of Pride and why it takes place, and afterwards, the pair host a Pride parade of their own - bringing the local community together.
The illustration - which shows two men embracing one another, dressed in what is a stunning but tame display of fetish fashion - may have gone unnoticed in the background of a double page spread before UK media outlets photoshopped and superimposed it on the front cover.
If a child points to the illustration and says “Hey!? that old man is donning bondage wear, tell me about the sexual implications of such a fashion statement?” - well done, you have a gifted and talented child. Try helping the rest of us work out how the colour blue is scientifically associated with male genitalia, after being told gender is not a social construct. I will also be damn-near blown away if the same four year old seeks out a local boutique and strolls home in BDSM aesthetic.
The rather bizarre point is that children take on the meaning we ascribe to such images. The UK children’s reading charity, BookTrust, flagged the image for its depiction of what a Pride march might look like in real life - outlining precaution for any young readers. It is within the parent’s right to disagree with the book’s illustration. It’s just a damn shame to throw the baby out with the bath water.
The backlash on social media has centered around the image, and it has been vile and abusive. Inaccurate and deeply offensive terms such as ‘pervert’ and ‘groomer’ have been unearthed to label non-binary author Harry Woodgate, and those who support the book. Getting books about LGBTQ issues into the hands of young readers is already a task in itself.
Research carried out earlier this year by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, found a third of UK librarians have been asked by members of the public to censor or remove books containing LGBTQ+ themes. While in America, the American Library Association documented 1,269 attempts to ban or restrict books with almost half written by or about LGBTQ people.
The question arises how squeaky clean, inauthentic and conformant LGBTQ+ books have to be when billboards showing heterosexual Calvin Klein models in underwear, marketed on sexual desirability, go unnoticed in the public domain. Since the 18th century, it’s widely agreed there is a hegemony of heterosexuality in western culture with children constantly exposed to such images considered to be the “normal” sexual aim.
Grandad’s Pride offers more variety. It educates kids on diversity and inclusion and could be a vital step in self-understanding and Identity formation. Most of all, it’s a chance to test your child on their undiscovered knowledge of sexualised fetish fashion.