Ever since I've had children, I've worried about the over sexualisation of modern kids, particularly as mine are girls. From the barbies, they get when they're four, to the crop tops & short shorts that they're marketed when they're nine, to the teen mags which promote an image of female beauty which is stick insect thin, and all about encouraging men, girls these days are in some ways worse off then I was in my youth. At least we understood there was a male patriarchy we had to overcome (although I refuse to subscribe to Germaine Greer's idea that women have no idea how much men hate them). But my children? They have vague notions of what feminism, is and think they are equal to men, and yet as they enter their teen years, I think they are more vulnerable to exploitation then we ever were. Depressing but true...
There are a number of reasons for this. First is the prevailing attitude that sex is something you do next. I noted with relief last year that all no 1's friends were quite put off by the notion that they were going to be "legal" on their next birthdays. But inevitably, they have picked up boyfriends since then, and in a rather depressing leap, all appear to have decided that once they are legal, that's what they'll do. Like taking GSCEs, hit 16, tick the Had Sex box. Now I am not saying they are necessarily wrong to do this, if they are in a consensual loving situation, but for a lot of these girls, it's their first boyfriend, who may not be around very long, and I find it a bit sad. Whatever happened to a bit of fumbling and experimentation in the back seat of the cinema? Which, apparently is now the LAST place you would snog your boyfriend, that would be embarrassing. Instead, people seem to get up to all sorts in the bushes in the local park.Sleazy or what?
Now you might say, twas ever thus, teens have and will always experiment with sex at this age, and it is only my innate prudishness and my tiger mother instinct making me uneasy. And to a degree you would be right. But what HAS changed since my day, and not, do I think for the better, is that girls are under more pressure then ever to have sex with boys. At 13/14, I know of girls who have been "fingered", had oral sex, and even in some instances gone the whole way, because the boys they are with expect that that's what they should be doing. Not only that, girls that young are already shaving their pubic hair, because (as I was told in no uncertain terms, it's really gross not to, and everyone else is doing it). Why? I said, because boys want you to? That, and TOWIE, where apparently the majority of the cast, go out to get waxed and get "verjazzled" - ie, have what the urban dictionary defines as giving: " the female genitals a sparkly makeover with crystals so as to enhance their appearance." (gay guys, get perjazzled. Yuk.). At least no 2's response to that is, "ergh, I wouldn't want anyone touching my fanny.", but the overall message that you need to even be thinking about anything like that their age, is one, I frankly find depressing.
The other distinct difference, between now and when I was young, and this is crucial, is the ease at which boys as young as eleven have access to porn via the internet. Now, again, there is nothing new under the sun. At Spouse's school, there was a stack of porn mags stolen by various boys from their dads, hidden in one of the classroom cupboards, and passed round under the desk in lessons. When Spouse got to Epsom College, he was such a fount of knowledge, he made money out of his superior status. The difference now, though is, the sort of mags he was looking at were tame compared to what is available online. Forget parental controls, any savvy techie kid worth their salt can override them, and have access to a world they will barely understand, where women are sex objects, and there just to give pleasure to men. No wonder the 13 year old boys my daughter knows expect the girls they meet to be up for it, and are disappointed when they're not. They have no real understanding of how things develop organically and how sex fits into relationships. Not only are they too immature, and nature is making them want sex all the time anyway, the images they are getting via the computer screen are totally distorting their view of it, and more importantly their view on girls.
I was relieved at the end of this discussion to discover my daughters understand the power of saying no, and I have emphasized it to them again, but jeez, how incredibly sad that at their ages they should have to worry about this stuff, on top of all the other crap that goes on in their lives. I don't want them to be naive, but experiencing an innocent burgeoning of love which doesn't necessarily have to include sex, and does let them keep their self respect isn't too much to ask, surely?
On the upside, no 1 is progressing so slowly with her recently obtained boyfriend, I don't think I need worry about that kind of thing for at least a year, and yesterday no 4 informed me that her older sister has banned her from reading the next book in the Cherub series (her current favourite reading.) Why? I said, is it rude? She looked embarrassed and said yes. Do you not want to find about rude things, yet? I asked. No, she said firmly. I don't EVER want to know about that.
What a relief. At least the ten year olds are still innocent...