Photo credit: Manchester Evening News.
I dressed as Mildred Hubble from The Worst Witch for World Book Day. I'm 32 and yes, The Worst Witch is a children's book, but as I've recently mentioned, that book means a lot to me. I was also aware of the fact that I work with children and therefore my costume had to be age-appropriate.
Speaking of which...
The boy in the picture above is eleven year old Liam Scholes. He dressed up - with the full support of his primary school teacher mother - as Christian Grey.
Christian Grey. You know, the character who is known all over the world as being into kinky sex. Indeed, little Liam's costume included a blindfold and cable ties.
Now, I'm not about to go into a moral rant about protecting kids from sex. Children reach the age of 11 or 12 (sometimes younger) and begin to be naturally curious about sex and I personally don't believe in shielding them to an extreme degree, as that can have the dangerous impact of making them think that sex is something dirty or wrong; something that they should feel ashamed of thinking about, or, when the time comes, doing. I think it's vital to be open and honest with young people, ensuring that they are aware of safe sex and of the important issues regarding consent. So just in case any "ARGH, ANTI-SEX PRUDE ALERT!" bells are going off in your heads as you read this, then just so you know: I'm not in any way anti-sex. I am also not in any way, shape or form, anti BDSM. Whatever people want to do in the bedroom is fine by me, as long as it's consensual and safe.
That said... Liam Scholes is an eleven year old boy. He's a child. He won't be able to have sex legally for another five years. Is it really - even for "a bit of fun" - acceptable to encourage him to dress up as a character whose main personality quirk is that he's really into sex? I mean, did his mother tell him what the blindfold and cable ties were for?
"Now, if you turn to pg21, you'll see where the cable ties go. Don't worry that people from the BDSM community have said they're very dangerous. EL James is a MILLIONAIRE, so she must right!"
Let's move away from the sex, because that's in no way the most troubling part of this.
Liam's mother claims that neither she or her son have read Fifty Shades. Well, that's at least good news (because the day parents start casually giving it to their tweenagers to read, I want off this planet, frankly...), but it does throw up an issue. How much about the character did Nicola Scholes know, when she helped her eleven year old son put together this costume? Unless they live in a cave, we can assume she knew that he was into kinky sex (and still decided "I want my child to dress up like this," but like I said, moving on...). We can assume that she knew that Christian Grey was very wealthy, too. But did she know that the novel's title is a play on the fact that Christian refers to himself as being "fifty shades of fucked up"? Was she alright with that?
And given the enormous publicity surrounding the film and the spotlight that was shone on the Fifty Shades is Domestic Abuse campaign, was Nicola Scholes aware that Christian Grey is a stalker? A man who threatens his partner with non-consensual spanking? A man who coerces his partner with alcohol and who uses manipulation to explain away his vile behaviour as being a result of his tragic past? Is Nicola Scholes aware that Christian Grey is a man who doesn't like taking "no" for an answer and who overrides his partner's wishes both in and out of the bedroom?
The answer - I hope - might well be "no." But it doesn't take a great deal of research to find those things out. Even if we live in a world where parents might be okay with dressing their pre-teen children up as characters from erotica, are we seriously living in a world in which parents are okay with dressing their children up as abusive characters from erotica?
Nicola Scholes says that other children were dressed as murderers from violent books. That's problematic, too - of course it is. But rather than play the "hey, don't look at my kid, look at those kids" game, maybe it would have been a better idea for her to simply shrug her shoulders and say "I got this wrong."
Because in my view, she definitely did.