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.