Tuesday, March 31, 2009

...and something rather more troubling

When I was about six or seven I can remember my mother getting very aerated. We used to back onto a little park, and just outside our back gate was a holly bush which was big enough for several people to get inside. It was also big enough for the local sexed up teens to use it as a groping ground, which was the cause of my mother's aeriation. I can distinctly remember the sight of a teenage girl wearing just a bra on top, though I think she probably still had her skirt on. Not unnaturally, my mother wasn't desperately keen for this fornication to be taking place where her children played, but at that particular period in the early seventies, the rigid rules she'd grown up with were being bust wide open, and I know she and my father did their best to protect us from what they perceived as a far too sexual society.

Lordy lord. How innocent that holly bush seems now. Thanks in part to a conversation about rape, in response to Marie's thought provoking blog about attitudes to sexual assault here, I switched onto watch Anna Johnson's deeply disturbing programme on Channel 4 last night about the pornification of our children. I had suggested (and Rob pointed me Anna's way) that teenage boys were getting far too much access to pornography via the internet and mobile phones, mainly based on anecdotal playground conversations. I worry this is going to lead to a generation having a really distorted view of sex, and in particular boys having a very demeaning view of girls.

Let us be quite clear here. Though I was brought up catholic and therefore have a strong prudish streak which is hard to shake, I do like to think of myself as openminded. I know the sort of stuff my husband looked at when he was thirteen, I also know that I had steady access to erotic literature via a friend with a useful older sister. It is inevitable, and natural for children to be curious about these things as they move into adulthood. I have no problem with that.

However, where it was reasonably difficult for a boy to get hold of Razzle when he was fourteen, nowadays, he just needs to click on porn (or Jordan Porn as one boy I know did) to find a feast of stuff, a lot of it free, and the majority of it really hardcore. If you don't believe me, go to the Sex Education website here. It makes for very depressing and worrying reading.

On the evidence of the kids interviewed on the programme last night a worrying number of them (especially the boys) viewed watching porn as a normal activity. One of them depressingly claimed that if a girl he was sleeping with wasn't prepared to shave, he'd "make" her - quite how wasn't made clear, but to hear a fifteen/sixteen year old speak in such terms was horrific. The girls all felt under huge pressure to conform to some ridiculous vision of beauty as embodied by porn stars, and were clearly relieved to be shown five "real" women naked, and discover that normal means different, and normal means no one is perfect, and normal means you shouldn't actually be worrying about having a Brazilian while you're still at school.

So horrified was I by this programme, I had a total panicky moment this morning thinking about the kinds of things my children might be exposed to online. I like to think I am fairly savvy about these things: they've been warned about the dangers of chat rooms, I reserve the right to see who they are talking to (having explained I am not trying to breech their privacy, but protect them), and of course we have parental controls. But I know of cases where parental controls haven't worked, where an inadvertent click has led to downloading of unsuitable material, where teenage boys get stuff they shouldn't on their mobile phones. It seems to me, though I didn't particularly want to introduce the subject of porn to no 1, important that she hear about this stuff before she finds it by accident. Although, for all I knew it might have been too late. She is nearly 13, and I have no idea what she might have picked up from her peers.

As it happened today she was on an academic tutoring day, and a long discussion about the sexual revolution (she wanted to know why women had such a rotten deal in the past) segued neatly into attitudes towards sex. Turns out she knew what porn was, she is also disturbed by topshelf magazines (phew), and was happy to discuss the situation with me. So for now, I feel relieved that she hasn't seen anything unsuitable. I am also relieved that we've got a dialogue going and she knows she can come to me if she does inadvertently stumble across something she shouldn't have (thanks to the Sex Education website for that useful parenting tip).

But, jeez. As if modern parenting wasn't difficult enough without this crap thrown into the mix. It remains to be seen whether Anna Johnson's vigorous and vital campaigning actually makes a difference (her campaign bus features a shocking picture of a young girl in a sex shop, and asks why, if you wouldn't let her in a shop like this, you aren't taking more care of what she looks at online.) , but I hope she can persuade the people who police the internet to clamp down much harder on this stuff.

Ultimately we cannot police our children every day, and we have no control over what they watch at other peoples' houses, but maybe this campaign will raise awareness to the point that we are all more vigilant about what comes into our homes. I really fear for the future if we don't.


Marie said...

I agree that children should not be looking at porn. I am not sure that all porn is demeaning to girls. A lot of it just shows men and women having sex, which they do do. But sex acts like blow jobs or anal sex are not intrinsically demeaning to girls. I do think we have grown accustomed to assuming that all depictions of sex demean women without thinking about the fact that women also enjoy sex. I don't like depictions of sex that I know from experience would not be pleasurable for the woman. But that is not what all pornography is about.

Re shaving I fear the battle is lost. We already lost it on armpits and legs so why should pubes be any different? Society says women are hairless and sadly we're not at a stage where women feel comfortable challenging what society says they should look like, and nobody wants to be the one woman who doesn't care ie is not "attractive". I should know, I endured taunts about my unshaved legs for years before I finally shelved my feminist objections and caved in at uni. It was just too lonely being the lone protester and I wanted boys to fancy me. Sad but true.

Marie said...

Know from experience or from having a functional imagination, I should say... Haven't tried them all! :-)

liz fenwick said...

I wish I could have seen the programme but I doubt that one will make it here. I know my boys have seen some which in truth breaks my heart. I have spoken to them about why I don't want them to watch and how it can distort their understanding of what sex is about. The whole thing frightens me as a young mind is so maleable and porn can be so addictive. My fear is that it weill take away the pleasure from the real act act which is best served up between two committed people who love and trust one another - then and only then is it where it should be (especially for a woman - for no matter what popular culture throws at us sex for women is making oneself vulnersable and once the act is ventured into the heart is there. This I have explained to the boys - hopefully it will sink in!).

One of the reason I enjoy life here is that sex isn't thrown in your face every minute. Every thing isn't sexualized. I remember being on a train in the morning with eldest son and there was a stag party a few rows away. AS we set off they all pulled out porn mags and hand them around. My son and I didn't know where to look (he was 12 at the time) and there was nothing we could say. However our discomfort was nothing compared the the poor girl who was serving drinks. The whole situation was wrong and because of today's society I felt I couldn't say andthing and that still haunts me. They demeaned her but waving it in front of her and rude comments and the demeened me.

Society that is so obcessed with sex and self gratitifcation is a society that has lost it's way. It's all about I want what I want know and the whole internet porn thing has fed this big time.

It has distorted music - I can't bear some music videos because of what they think works with the music and I die when I think my baby will think that that is what a woman should do.......let alone what my boys will think a woman should do.....

Any way enough of my rant!


Anonymous said...

I'm a bit mixed about this. I know it is out there, and more accessible. I also know that the computer games like Grand Theft Auto compound what's available on the internet(& yes they have an 18, but how can you control your child's access to someone else's house where there is an 18 year old brother, or parents who don't care). So it is easy to be terrified and think there is nothing we parents can do.

But, I think there is a lot we can do. Firstly, we need to do what you've both done and talk to our kids about internet access. We already do this, even though our kids are younger. We have blocks to porn etc, but things can slip through, so we have said to tell us if they ever see anything that makes them uncomfortable, or get on the wrong website by mistake. We have said to them often, that the internet is not the source of every bit of knowledge, that you have to take as much care out there as you do in the street, and that sometimes people use it in unpleasant ways (without specifying). Hopefully as they get older we can add to this message (& I am sure they'll get that from school too). We also monitor internet and computer usage and have the internet linked computer in the living room where it is easier to do.

Similarly, we have had discussions with our children from an early age about what to expect from life. We have emphasised time and time again how important it is to have a full and happy life, that marriage is not the be all and end all, that if you are lucky enough to find a life partner, there are certain things one should look for. As they grow we hopefully can create spaces where they can come to us and ask us questions & we can answer honestly and truthfully. (It was really helpful for no 1 the other day when she thought about her best friend being born into a relationship that was breaking up. She can see the complications this brings her friend, the best sex education lesson I could give her!)As for taking power over their appearance and what parts of the body they want to shave, I intend to give our girls are going to get Our Bodies Our Selves for their 16th birthday (& perhaps to the boy too!)

My other point is that, yes this stuff is out there, and I am terrified about the kind of boys it might breed for our girls, and the kind of pressure it might put our boy under. On the other hand, this is TV. It is in the programme maker's interests to make this as horrific as possible - the participants will have been chosen for their extreme views. We all know that kids exaggerate, particularly teenage boys, for whom sex is a constant and boasting about their attitudes, and supposed conquests is part of the whole thing. I'm not saying there isn't some truth in it, but that it might not be the whole truth.

And finally, on a happier note, despite all this over-sexualisation in the media, in the world, the universe - a recent study on teenage sexual behaviour suggests the average age of sex is still 16, and hasn't changed in decades. I took heart at that!

Mad Twinx

Jane Henry said...

Marie, I agree that women are not necessariy demeaned by porn, but what was clear from the programme was that the girls interviewed felt under terrible pressure to conform to the boys' wildly unreal expectations of the perfect body (mainly with Jordan style boobs, thin waste and that Brazilian). You're probably right about the body hair thing, but I'd feel a bit depressed if no1 at 16 felt she HAD to have a Brazilian to please a man (as Anna wotsit, think I have her name wrong said to the girls, do it to please yourselves, NOT the boys). I don't think Anna Wotsit is against porn itself, just the ease at which we can get hold of it, the fact that internet is so badly policed, and the indsiputable fact also that so many parents are completely ignorant about what they're children are looking at. Like I say, I think I'm quite clued up, but I was shocked by some of what they claimed to have seen.

Liz, I sympathise but am sure your boys will take their cue from you, and also they can see what a loving relationship is, so they have something to aim for. If it's any consolation, Spouse read a lot of stuff he shouldn't have from a ludicrously early age, and it really hasn't skewed his viewpoint.(But then he met me and I've educated him (-:)

Mad Twin, I agree with all you say, and yes of course the programme was sensationalist, but it did have the admirable aim of educating parents (I was relieved when I looked at their check list and realised I do most of it anyway). I think though, undoubtedly she has cherry picked the most shocking examples, it is more common then you think.

Here are some examples from families very similar to our own, that I know of:

The Jordan Porn thing happened to a ten year old (who then told his seven year old sister, who told her friend, who told her five year old brother...)

Two nine year old boys typed in bum without even hoping to look for porn as they didn't know about it to their mothers' knowledge. They came wandering into say they had seen pictures of nipples clamped together with rings.

A teenage boy phoned up a porn site, which then kept tapping into his phone, leaving a picture of two naked women on it which he couldn't shift. The same site swallowed up all the credit on his phone, and his phone company allowed it to access the emergency code which meant he could go into debt on his phone even though he hadn't topped up.

I also know of cases where older children are watching stuff which their younger siblings also view.

Maybe the problem is not as dramatic as the programme stated, but it is definitely out there, and while we can be vigilant, I do think the internet companies could be doing a lot more.

Anonymous said...

Point taken. I can see we can't always stop our kids from coming across this stuff &that the internet providers do need to take some moral responsibility. I do think we can help them see this is not how sex should be, and help equip them to deal with their peers...


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