Porn’s distortions need addressing in schools say educators
The ABC filmed me addressing students at Healthdale Christian College in Melbourne last Wednesday. Some of the students were interviewed – hear how well they articulate the issues! (click on image below for link to video)
MELINDA TANKARD REIST, AUTHOR, ADVOCATE FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS: Our boys are looking at porn not only before they’ve had sex, before they’ve even had their first kiss and they think what they’re seeing is normal. …
… Girls tell us that boys expect them to provide what’s known as PSE, the porn star experience. Boys expect that girls will provide for them everything they’ve seen in pornography and that the girls want that.
‘I am more than my body, don’t treat me like a piece of meat’: one young woman’s response to naked selfie ask
Received this Facebook message from Tiffany. Tiffany, hearing from girls like you makes this work all worthwhile. Thank you.
Hi Melinda. I was really touched by what you had to say and you opened my eyes to what sort of world we live in and as a 16 I’m disgusted and amazed and what girls my age have to go through. You said something about being asked for nudes and that and personally I didn’t know what you meant by that as I haven’t been asked to do that… Until today. To tell you the truth I wouldn’t of known what to do about it if you didn’t speak about it and I’m very grateful to you. The boy asked me for a photo or video and I said no that’s when he called me lame but I immediately told him I am more than just my body and you shouldn’t treat me like a piece of meat and instantly blocked him. Thank you for telling me that and I hope I have done the right thing and myself and other girls are taking part in taking action on this case and we want to make a difference. I want to help girls feel like they are worth something. So thanks again you are an inspiration to us all and I hope to join your cause.
How sexualised behaviour has become the new normal
While the content was disturbing, it was encouraging to wake up to the front page of The Australian on the weekend and see the issues myself and my colleagues write and speak about most days, reflected on the front page.
Source: The Australian
A news piece titled ‘Click bait: kids at risk as sexualised behaviour becomes “new normal”‘ by National Education Correspondent Natasha Bita, described how unsupervised internet access was spawning a generation of hypersexualised children who mimicked the adult porn they saw online. It cited warnings from psychiatrists, police and child welfare expects that the scourge of ‘sexting’, ‘selfies’ and social media was endangering children’s physical and mental health.
My colleagues, Melbourne child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg, managing director of the Young and Well Co-operative Research Centre, and federal government cyber safety adviser Susan McLean, expressed their concerns about the impacts on children of early porn exposure. “There is overt and covert pressure on children to behave in a sexualised way,” Ms McLean says. “This shouldn’t be the new normal. The No. 1 issue I deal with in high schools is the enormous pressure from boys to girls to put out sexually through images. ”
Michael Carr-Gregg said online pornography was skewing the way teenagers viewed sex, love and intimacy. “Boys see girls as sexual service stations for their pleasure…I’m seeing it virtually every single time I have a clinic. Their idea of sex is porn sex — it’s a terrible distortion of one of the most precious and important parts of their lives, which is love and intimacy.’’
Central to the piece was the example of a selfie of a 13-year-old girl posed on Instagram last week, with the words ‘Boner Garage’ scrawled on her bare tummy. Australian author and columnist Nikki Gemmell wrote a profound and incisive response, directly to the teen girl. She has kindly given permission for me to re-print her commentary in full here.
‘Boner Garage’ girls, my heart breaks for you
Dear 13-year-old Instagrammer,
“Boner Garage.” Oh, right. So that’s what you’ve just written on your bare tummy, in your child’s scrawl, in black marking pen. You’ve helpfully added an arrow pointing downwards so we get exactly what you’re referring to. That’s what you’ve artfully photographed in your child’s bedroom as your celebratory birthday selfie. You’ve deliberately, proudly, made those two dispiriting words the focus of your shot.
Your glossy blonde hair is across your face so no one can see your features. The room behind you looks utterly normal, middle class; just like any teen’s cherished and girlie private space. I don’t know you, but you have hundreds of followers, boys and girls, and you’ve not locked your account to strangers. Happy 13th birthday. My heart breaks for you.
That you define turning 13 — that wonderful, releasing cusp in a woman’s life — by those two bleak little words. Boner garage. That you somehow get pride out of them. It’s an age marinated in symbolism, a fulcrum into growing up; a time where everything should seem celebratory and wondrous, with the world deepening around you. Symbolically, in many cultures, you become morally responsible for your actions around this age — but I just want to protect you right now.
It’s readily available on a ¬mobile phone and most teenage boys have one. They look at what their mates are looking at. That can mean anal sex, group sex, oral sex — women servicing men in the ugliest, most disempowering of ways.
Porn, of course, is sex with no light in it and the best sex is bursting with light and life. Teens need to be told this bleak and reductive world is not what normal, loving relationships are about; sex should never be violent or degrading and woman are not just sexual objects.
Doctors are seeing teenage girls presenting to them — highly embarrassed — with bowel problems because of traumatic anal sex. Because it’s what they’re ¬assuming they’re meant to do.
As for you, my birthday girl, I just wish there’d been an adult or responsible friend around to stop you posting that Insta pic. Because your electronic footprint lasts, and can be disseminated. People may well be seeing what your 13-year-old self wrote, so proudly and stupidly, in years to come. Parents see the accounts of their children’s mates; as well as friends of friends you have no idea about; teachers and principals trawl; and so, of course, does the dark side of the net, those dubious adults beyond your world.
By scrawling those ugly words on your midriff you’ve already flipped yourself into the dark side of femininity and I don’t think you even realise it. Boys won’t admire you for doing this. They’ll disrespect you, disparage you.
Source: The Australian
But that won’t stop them using you as their so-called Boner ¬Garage. And I guarantee the ¬experience will be bleak, and ¬lonely. You will not feel empowered afterwards, or cherished. You will not feel what you want more than anything in this world — loved. You will feel cheap, and used, and ugly, and alone.
And at the end of that reducing little ¬experience you will ask yourself, is that it? Is that how I’m meant to feel? And that’s why my heart breaks for you. Because I’ve been there. And I can tell you, it’s not what empowering, exhilarating and tender sex is about. Often you have to wait a long, long time to discover that. With someone you love. Where respect is mutual. Where you’re having sex on your terms; talking, laughing, working things out together; saying what you like — and what you don’t. And being listened to.
“Boner Garage” implies none of those things. How passive and inert you make a woman’s wondrous sexual organs sound. Do you think so little of your body that you view it mainly as a receptacle for males to be in? The most common web definition of Boner Garage: “A vagina that has been pounded so much by erect penises that it has become a resting place for said penises.” Pretty ugly, eh?
I wish you courage, whoever you are. Not to dim your light among men; because that light is about so much more than the garage, as you call it, between your legs. It’s about your mind, your spirit, your vividness, your strength and your voice. There are only two ways to live in this world: as a victim or a courageous fighter, and you’re coming across as a victim right now. Of this rampantly sexualised world we live in. Of its female objectification and trivialisation. And of the voracious demands of teenage social media; the craving to be popular, known, that rampant desire to get more and more precious “likes”.
This isn’t the way to go about it. You’re advocating in the most dispiriting of ways a female sexual experience that’s stripped of mystery, of reverence and transcendence and, most of all, tenderness. As Iris Murdoch said: “There is nothing like early promiscuous sex for dispelling life’s bright mysterious expectations.”
Teenage girls and boys no longer seek sex education from textbooks with anatomical diagrams, giggling friends or flustered parents; they can get it from films with titles like Teen Ass 2, which they can access on the smartphones that they carry with them at all times. This week new figures revealed that sexualised images of women on social media have led to an increase in emotional problems among young girls. Researchers from University College London believe the rise in girls aged between 11 and 13 suffering from emotional problems such as anxiety may be linked to stress brought on by seeing images of women portrayed as sex objects on Facebook, Twitter and other websites. Teenagers rarely measure self-esteem or self-worth against personal and scholastic achievements, however brilliant they are, but increasingly by how many people tell them they are ‘hot’ on the photo-sharing website, Instagram, or other forms of social media…
I’m quoted in this article by Kasey Edwards in Daily Life today:
…This is symptomatic of a broader attitude where sex is regarded as solely about male pleasure and male desires. The man decides and the woman provides.
Women having sex for their own pleasure is rarely portrayed in popular culture, porn or even sex education. For many young women, acknowledging that they even have sexual desires, let alone seeing them as a priority, is a foreign concept.
Author and co-founder of Collective ShoutMelinda Tankard Reist, who regularly speaks to girls in schools, says that girls can talk about how their male partners enjoyed their sexual experience but they are completely estranged from their own bodies and sense of pleasure or enjoyment.
‘I recall one female student saying, “I think my body looked okay, he seemed to enjoy it”,’ Tankard Reist says. ‘She didn’t seem to know how to articulate how she herself felt. The important thing was that he “got off” and that she thought she looked okay.’
This is about the neatest, most succinct expression of self-objectification I’ve ever heard. This young woman has internalised a kind of double objectification: that she is an object to be looked at and, not unlike a toy, an object for someone else’ pleasure. She is so external to the whole episode that her experience is refracted through her partner.
Rather than exploring their own sexuality, many young women see themselves as little more than service providers. And sexual service is the admittance price for male company. Read article
The Pornification of Girlhood: my book Getting Real extracted on Everyday Sunday blog
We haven’t come a long way baby
In 2009, former Hi-5 children’s entertainer Kellie Crawford posed for a lingerie photo shoot for men’s magazine Ralph. The Ralph cover for April features Kellie in tiny knickers and black bra, and shouts ‘It’s Hi5 Hottie Kellie!’ with the subtitle ‘Busting out some bedtime stories.’ It includes another smaller picture of Kellie in her Hi5 costume.
In the accompanying interview, Kellie explained that as a children’s star, she ‘just forgot I was a woman.’ She did the photo shoot to ‘find the woman in me.’ I responded in media interviews by asking why it was that the Wiggles were not expected to prove their manhood by stripping down to their jocks and having their photos taken for a magazine shoot, yet women were expected to take off most of their clothes to prove their womanhood? Opponents of my position, both men and women, filled my inbox with intellectually challenging arguments.
That I was sad, old and dog-ugly
That I had saggy breasts and a droopy arse
That I needed liposuction
That I was a bitter ugly woman
That my face would break a 60-inch plasma television
And, my personal favourite, that I was ‘as ugly as a hat full of arses’ (obviously not a hat full of Kellie’s arses, because hers was magnificent, according to her fans) (email correspondence, April 2009).
However, one little girl in Victoria who seemed not to care about whether I was bitter or needed cosmetic surgery, wrote (email April 20, 2009, used with permission):
My name is Delaney and I am 10 years old. On Today Tonight I saw a story about Kellie from Hi-5. Of course, you know that she has done a photo shoot for a men’s magazine. I think it is very silly how she feels she has to do it. It sets a horrible example for younger kids like me. When I was little I used to love watching Hi-5 and it makes me feel disappointed [sic] that she has done something like that.
Delaney, and girls like her, receive messages from every level of the media and popular culture that the baring of the female body is what makes you a ‘real woman.’ Very few young girls have Delaney’s courage to distance themselves from this message.
Ideal womanhood is now all about sexual allure; the ability to attract the male gaze has become what is important in life. As Pamela Paul writes in Pornified, ‘being publicly sexual has become the only acceptable way for girls to demonstrate maturity’ (2005,p. xxiv). Putting yourself on show for the sexual gratification of others is what counts. Look at what happened after Susan Boyle’s stunning performance of ‘I have a dream’ on Britain’s Got Talent which had attracted 100 million YouTube hits at time of writing (June 2009). One of her first offers was from a porn film company keen to ‘relieve her of her virginity’—on film of course.
The sexualisation industry has a voracious appetite for appropriating and corrupting people and things deemed ‘innocent,’ and remaking them in their own image. There are thousand of porn sites featuring children’s cartoon characters. And a growing number of sites depicting the ‘defloration’ of young girls.
Lisa Hunt Wotten, the woman behind Everyday Sunday, also interviewed me recently here:
When you see just how bad things are: the global epidemic of violence, rape and sexual abuse, the daily atrocities, the global trafficking in female bodies, ‘honour’ killings, female genital mutilation, dowry deaths, female foeticide, female infanticide, child marriage, the deliberate deprivation of nutrition, education, opportunities, the overall differential suffering of women and girls – and almost daily, here in the supposedly enlightened West, a growing pile of bodies of women murdered by men – only this week, as I write, a pregnant woman killed by her partner. So common we are not even surprised anymore!
But we must not get used to it! There is a war on women! We can’t continue to ignore that fact.
It’s like this when I speak about pornography at schools, conferences, and other events. I’m often hesitant to speak of what I know is really happening. People are often so shocked, so disconcerted by the content of my talks, I start to self-censor. Sometimes I gauge the audience as I speak and hasten past slides which I know will be too much for them.
I am picking up information which is so severe, so hard to hear, that I rarely pass it on. So far, I’ve mostly restricted it to medical audiences. However, this article, by London Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson in The Canberra Times, has caused me to reconsider the holding back: everyone has to know this.
What I’m being told, by medical professionals, is that young girls (many under-age) are increasingly suffering anal tearing as a result of porn-inspired anal sex acts, including group acts. Some end up with rectums so damaged they are rendered incontinent and need colostomy bags. Other girls are contracting the HPV virus through oral sex. Some end up requiring surgery for throat cancer as a result.
Girls have a right to know this is how they could end up. But where do they go for this information? It’s hardly mainstream. And online porn presents these acts as standard. Girls who don’t want to submit to anal sex start to think there is something wrong with them. One of their biggest fears is being labelled a prude, or ‘hung up’. This is what Pearson wrote:
I was having dinner with a group of women when the conversation moved on to how we could raise happy, well-balanced sons and daughters who are capable of forming meaningful relationships when internet pornography has changed the landscape of adolescence beyond recognition…
A GP, let’s call her Sue, said: “I’m afraid things are much worse than people suspect.” In recent years, Sue had treated growing numbers of teenage girls with internal injuries caused by frequent anal sex; not, as Sue found out, because they wanted to, or because they enjoyed it, but because a boy expected them to. “I’ll spare you the gruesome details,” said Sue, “but these girls are very young and slight and their bodies are simply not designed for that.”
Her patients were deeply ashamed at presenting with such injuries. They had lied to their mums about it and felt they couldn’t confide in anyone else, which only added to their distress. When Sue questioned them further, they said they were humiliated by the experience but they had simply not felt they could say no. Anal sex was standard among teenagers now, even though the girls knew it hurt.
… The girls presenting with incontinence were often under the age of consent and from loving, stable homes. Just the sort of kids who, two generations ago, would have been enjoying riding and ballet lessons, and still looking forward to their first kiss, not being coerced into violent sex by some kid who picked up his ideas about physical intimacy from a dogging video on his mobile.
… more than four in 10 girls between 13 and 17 in England say they have been coerced into sex acts, according to one of the largest European polls on teenage experiences. Research by the universities of Bristol and Central Lancashire concluded that a fifth of girls had suffered violence or intimidation from teenage boyfriends, a high proportion of whom regularly viewed pornography, with one in five harbouring “extremely negative attitudes towards women”.
The end result is what Sue sees as a GP. Young girls – children, really – who abase themselves to pass for normal in a grim, pornified culture. According to another study of British teenagers, most youngsters’ first experience of anal sex occurred within a relationship, but it was “rarely under circumstances of mutual exploration of sexual pleasure”. Instead, it was boys who pushed the girls to try it, with boys reporting that they felt “expected” to take that role. Moreover, both genders expected males to find pleasure in the act whereas females were mostly expected to “endure the negative aspects such as pain or a damaged reputation”. Read full article here.
‘The pornographic vocabulary of sex as the violent debasement of the female body had seeped out from screens and into the lives of women’
There’s a shift happening. Perhaps not quite enough yet to call it a tipping point. But something is going on. When my colleagues and I were working on ‘Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry’ in 2010-11, concerns about the way porn was shaping sexual attitudes and behaviours in new and harmful ways were barely a whisper. But now the ill effects of the pornographic experiment on relationships and sexuality are being named out loud.
This personal piece on Twitlonger by Rosie Redstockings is one of the most potent I’ve read describing a woman’s experience of porn-conditioned men. I reprint it with permission. And below it, Sarah Ditum’s remarkable confession in New Statesman last week. You must read the whole thing. “The pornographic vocabulary of sex as the violent debasement of the female body had seeped out from screens and into the lives of the women I knew”, she writes. Rosie’s experience, and Sarah’s frank admission, are a perfect match here on MTR today.
In Response to Owen Jones
I’m 23. Mine is the first generation to be exposed to online porn from a young age. We learnt what sex is from watching strangers on the internet, we don’t know anything else.
Here are some of the things that I have experienced…
- having my head shoved into his crotch, and held down while I sucked him off
- being told that my gag reflex was too strong, couldn’t I work on it?
- bullied into submitting to facials. I didn’t want to. He said (joking?) that he’d ejaculate on my face while I was asleep. He wasn’t joking – I woke up with him wanking over me.
- bullied into trying anal. It hurt so much I begged him to stop. He stopped, then complained that I was being too sensitive and it can’t be *that* bad, he continued to ask for it
- having my hair pulled
- constant requests for threesomes
- constant requests to let him film it
And on every single occasion, I felt guilty for not being a ‘cool girl’. I was letting him down. I was a prude.
THIS IS NOW NORMAL. Every single straight girl I know has had similar experiences. Every. Single. One. Some have experienced far worse. Some have given in, some have resisted, all have felt guilty and awkward for not being “liberated” enough, not giving him what he wants.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I discovered radical feminism, that I realised it was ok to say no. I’m lucky enough to be with a man who respects this and who understands. Even so, it was only recently that I decided I wasn’t going to swallow anymore. I’d never liked it, but always thought I was obliged. I told my boyfriend and he said that was totally fine, he was horrified to hear I hadn’t enjoyed it previously. Why would he think anything else? This is what sex is for the porn generation.
I’m a very privileged woman – I’m middle class, well educated, I come from a very supportive family – and yet I still struggled to muster up the confidence to say no. The men I have had sex with are now lawyers, doctors, management consultants – they’re powerful people, they have influence, and they still think that degrading their sexual partners is normal.
Porn has done this.
When you use your influence to tell thousands of your readers that all men watch porn, this is just what men are like, “why should we care?”, you’re perpetuating this. An entire generation of women have suffered because of porn, and we will all continue to suffer unless men change. This isn’t just an intellectual exercise for us. “Boys will be boys” is not going to change anything, nor will bleating “yeah but porn doesn’t *have* to be misogynistic”. Please start using your influence for good.
You say you’re a feminist ally? Prove it.
Why I changed my mind about porn
….Though it seemed callow to admit it, I’d seen things in my research that shocked and upset me – real penetration of real women causing real pain. And there was one more thing, which happened more gradually: I heard from friends about the boyfriend who wanted to choke them, or the one who slapped them about in bed, or pressured them to do anal, or wanted to film it all. The pornographic vocabulary of sex as the violent debasement of the female body had seeped out from screens and into the lives of the women I knew…
The actions of Craft, Dworkin, Mackinnon and Dines are defined by their urgency. Anti-porn feminism recognises a link between the propaganda of sexual violence and its practice, and stopping porn is understood to be essential in ending the rapes, killings and torture that men practice against women. These campaigners believe that lives are at stake – and even so, they are somehow less censorious, more open to dialogue, more creative than those who now police the “safe spaces.” In these spaces, everyone must be warmly welcomed and intellectually unchallenged, except of course for feminists speaking against male violence. One wonders exactly why Pornland was such an intimidating prospect for supporters of the sex industry in Austin. Perhaps it is a perverse testament to Dines: maybe her opponents know that, if viewers approach with a readiness to debate in good faith, they might, like me, end up changing their minds. Read full article
This year I’ve had the privilege of addressing a few thousand medical professionals at one-day seminars run by Health Ed around the country, most recently in Brisbane. My subject: ‘Is pornography becoming a public health issue?’ I’m finding it interesting that where it seemed only a few of us were once saying this, now there are eminent bodies coming to the same conclusion. This is encouraging – if significant medical bodies are recognising the problem, perhaps it will be taken seriously and more resources provided to address it. The British Medical Journal has just reported on a UK conference on the issue. And there’s also a piece in the Edmonton Journal by a Canadian psychologist of the harms of online pornography and the destructive impact of the sex industry.
Internet Pornography is an urgent public health issue, conference hears
…[Pamela Luna, a governing councillor of the American Public Health Association] who co-chairs the American Public Health Association’s film festival, said that girls who were being systematically recruited by the hard core pornography industry all over the world were discarded and left “mentally and emotionally wrecked,” as highlighted in one of the films, Hot Girls Wanted. She said that public health professionals should do more to prevent this happening, by using the media to exert a positive influence on young people’s behaviour, strengthen resilience, and deter young people from risky behaviours.
“We have to look at the media, we have to understand it, we have to use it in a way that’s powerful, we have to have our voices heard, we need to be advising on films, we need to be there—we can’t sit back,” she said.
Peter Donnelly, professor of public health medicine at St Andrew’s University, Scotland, said that the “very violent and denigrating” nature of much internet pornography was a deep concern. He said, “All males need to think very carefully about their use of pornography, because if there’s no market, you begin to change this. What you hear in the films and from other young men you speak to is they’re not sure what it is to be a young man these days, and they need help in expressing their masculinity in a way that feels constructive and comfortable.” Read full article.
‘Pornification of Culture a Threat’
…The commercialization of human sexuality is pervasive, and I believe the primary force driving this is online pornography, which shapes child and adolescent sexual identity and attitudes toward female and male sexual roles.
In a recent longitudinal study of American youth aged 10 to 15, 19 to 27 per cent reported exposure to X-rated material in the past 12 months. A recent review of the research observed that “consistent findings have emerged linking adolescent use of pornography that depicts violence with increased degrees of sexually aggressive behaviour” and that “research suggests that adolescents who use pornography, especially that found on the Internet, have lower degrees of social integration, increases in conduct problems, higher levels of delinquent behaviour, higher incidence of depressive symptoms and decreased emotional bonding with caregivers.”
This “pornification of culture” — the seepage of pornographic images, language, behaviours and attitudes into popular cultural forms such as advertising, music and films — is rolling through our society like a tsunami. Unless we openly acknowledge, understand and resist this disturbing trend, the issue of where, how and when men pay for sex will simply be an afterthought.
As a psychotherapist, I specialize in supporting women and men as they recover from working on the streets, in body rub parlours, brothels and as escorts. In the 12 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve found the vast majority grow up in desperation and deprivation, and become ensnared as adolescents within an exploitative machine that deepens their degradation and stigmatization. I have yet to meet anyone who truly and freely chose selling sex services as a preferred way of life.” Read full article.
Profound experiences with W.A students on my last roadtrip.
Last month I spoke 27 times in three and a half weeks in the ACT, Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales. I spoke on the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls in media and popular culture, the sexual world of the 21st century adolescent, pornography and young people, and the online life of girls to students, staff and parents at five schools, the Heads of Independent Co-Educational Schools conference, women’s events, a medical conference of 1000 medical professionals and at tour’s end a quick trip to the country to address the Upper Gwydir Landcare Association! (Was great to be out in the bush again, farmer’s daughter as I am).
There were many highlights – the privilege of delivering my message to thousands of people of course, along with runs along rugged coastlines and catching up with friends and colleagues – including Co-editor of Big Porn Inc, Abigail Bray who I hadn’t seen for two years. Every time I do these long trips, I’m reminded again what an honour it is to do this work and engage with so many people, especially young people. I wonder how I got so lucky. A 14-year-old just emailed me to say how much she was impacted by the message and that now she knew the career path she wanted to follow to make a difference in the lives of other girls. And this from a Deputy Head of School in NSW: “I just wanted to say what a profound effect you have had on me today… I intend to return in term three with a renewed determination to build the voice and the rights of our girls and deliver a consistent message to the boys that the values of respect and understanding are not lost.” Messages like these make it all worthwhile.
Possibly the most affecting experience was with students in W.A. I was moved by how openly they shared their struggles. Girls revealing mistreatment and pressure to adopt pornified roles and behaviours. The issue of girls being threatened with blackmail to send sexual images was raised with me a number of times. At one co-ed private school, girls didn’t want to leave the session, and continued to talk through recess and even the next period, insisting they needed longer to discuss the issues concerning them. (Thank you teachers to allowing them to do so). A group of 30 Yr 12 boys chose to skip lunch to talk longer – I’ve never seen boys voluntarily choose to do this before! They disclosed some of the pressures they felt in a culture that judges them for their appearance and trains them in callous behavior early on. One boy stood and cried as he shared his experience of being bullied and said he had no friends. It was difficult to keep a grip on my emotions when another boy moved from the front row to the back to comfort him. To see that boy put his arms around the one who was in pain…something else I rarely see, given how this world knocks the empathy out of boys from their earliest days.
When addressing co-ed schools where I’m talking with the girls, then boys separately (which is my preference), I often ask female students what messages they’d like me to pass onto boys. My colleague, W.A Collective Shout co-ordinator, Caitlin Roper, recorded the following messages from the W.A girls in Yrs 9-12 to their male peers. I’m hoping these might become discussion points to kick start conversations in other schools. I found them moving, some even plaintive and sad. What emerged for me overall was that while girls are distressed by the treatment of many (not all) boys, they really wanted to have good relations with them. Many lamented that in a sexualized world, everything had come to have a sexual meaning: they feared healthy friendships with boys might be lost if something didn’t change soon. Here’s what they asked:
• If we reject your request to send a sexual image, please don’t stop talking to us.
• If we are hanging out, don’t expect it is sexual.
• If we say no, accept it, don’t try to persuade us.
• Catcalling/ yelling out of cars/street harassment is not a compliment.
• If we are angry, don’t assume we are on our period.
• Stop commenting on our appearance. Value us for something else.
• Rape jokes are never funny.
• Porn and sex are not the same.
• Feminism is not female domination.
• If we cut our hair short, it doesn’t mean we are lesbians.
• If we have a close female friend, it doesn’t mean we are lesbians.
• We don’t all have the perfect body.
• We weren’t put on the earth for your entertainment.
• Think with your head, not what’s in your pants.
• Respect us more.
• Treat us like humans.
• Stop stereotyping us.
• Be a gentleman.
• Respect our boundaries.
• Don’t call us prudes for saying ‘no’/sluts for saying ‘yes’.
• It is never the victim’s fault.
• Just because we don’t say no doesn’t mean we are saying yes.
• Girls weren’t born to be decorative objects.
• Sex before the age of consent is illegal.
• Don’t make sexual advances based on how we are dressed- sometimes it is hot and we want to wear shorts.
• Stop making ‘kitchen’ jokes.
• We understand the boys are under pressure too.
Briefing on sexualisation, harms of porn with W.A MPs
While in the West, I was invited by the Hon Nick Goiran, W.A Legislative Council Member for South Metropolitan, to address a briefing of interested colleagues on sexualisation and the harms of pornography, and what they as legislators could do about the issue. Also with me were Collective Shout’s W.A coordinator Caitlin Roper and Victorian board member Coralie Pittman. I asked the reason for the hold up in the release of the W.A Children Commissioner’s report into the sexualisation of children, completed 18 months earlier. A week after my visit, it was finally released and tabled. (we are still analyzing the document and will report soon).
In a speech to parliament, Hon Nick Goiran said:
“I feel confident in speaking on behalf of all those who attended to say that we were all impacted by what we were told…We have to recognize that none of us has done enough in this space, and I feel somewhat energized by the briefing today to redouble our efforts. I hope that members who attended this briefing will join in this effort because if we cannot get things right in respect of the children of this state, frankly, I suggest that we should all pack up and go home. There is no more vulnerable group in our society than our children, and they are being continually bombarded with this imagery, which so much research has confirmed is harmful to them. I cannot think of an issue more important.”
I have seen a sixteen-year-old boy weeping in distress after getting a girl’s pube stuck in his teeth, I hear he was unshaven. I have seen boys showing each other porn on their iPhones on the train home from school, in bars and whilst strolling along the Champs-Elyséés. I have had a boy ask me to text him screenshots of porn films because he was on a wifi-free family holiday. One boy turned to kiss his date in the cinema but not before romantically whispering ‘don’t struggle’. One friend drunkenly walked off into a park in the early hours of the morning and when a male friend brought her back without ‘trying anything’, he was heralded as being ‘soo nice!’ rather than ‘soo normal!’. I have friends whose boyfriends have posted naked pictures of them all over the Internet. I have heard consent described as ‘de-romanticizing’. I have had a shockingly sober boy say to me ‘Why can’t I just slap my dick on your arse? Doesn’t cost you anything!’. This just scratches the surface of my store of depressing anecdotes; the most violent of which I won’t go into out of respect for the girls involved.
2014 is not a good year to be a teenage girl. The last of the 90’s kids are growing up and we are starting to see the effects of being raised with the Internet. For generations before us, hormonal teenage boys looking for sexy images of women had limited options; they could brave the embarrassment of going to the counter and buying Playboy, they could look through their sister’s Cosmo or they could use their imagination. Porn today has rid itself of the embarrassment-factor by embracing the anonymity of the World Wide Web; Playboy isn’t really considered to be porn anymore, the real stuff lives in your phone, on your laptop, your tablet; it is available anywhere, anytime at the touch of a button. In fact this very website receives a steady stream of hits that result from someone googling some combination of ‘housekeeping porn’ + ‘sex’, ‘lesbian’ and/or ‘rape’. As you read this, somewhere there is an eleven-year-old boy curiously typing ‘porn’ into Google, probably hoping to see some big boobies. Fast forward a couple of years and he is masturbating to a video of a crying woman who is being tied down, simultaneously penetrated by three men, spanked, and being called a whore. Young boys are being de-sensitized to violence and the more they consume, the more abusive, the more graphic the porn has to be to excite them.
The most popular type of porn is called ‘Gonzo’ which is essentially wall-to-wall abusive sex. There is no foreplay or romance; it is literally hardcore sex from the first to the last frame. The sex is almost always violent; spanking, gagging, anal fisting and choking are commonplace. A very popular image is a close-up of the woman’s face with tears streaming down caused by her being choked whilst performing oral sex, directors like to make this obvious by making her wear lots of mascara; for dramatic effect. There is no way that this could not have a profound effect on the consumer’s psyche specifically on their attitude towards women. Most boys make no secret of the fact that they watch and enjoy such porn, watching it in groups in the presence of girls or brashly and explicitly describing their fantasies. Girls know boys watch porn and girls know what porn stars are; they are hairless, they have hourglass figures and they never say no. And so a massive amount of pressure is placed on girls to live up to this. Shaving pubic hair is painful and unsanitary (it leaves hundreds of minute cuts which increases the risk of STDs). And yet girls as young as 11 are doing it. The porn industry is the primary source of sex ed for the boys who will grow up to be the decision-makers, thinkers, writers, husbands and fathers of tomorrow. A brief overview of what they are being taught/brainwashed to believe;
That it is their birthright as males to have sex with whichever female they want when they want regardless of consent or age.
That the only way to have good sex and the only way to be masculine is to be aggressive, forceful and violent
That they must always be in control and always want to be in control
That their pleasure comes first and foremost
It hardly needs stating what kind of pressures and expectations this puts on girls and women. They have to be living breathing sex dolls and they have to love it. The porn industry is women abuse.
Molly, 16, (at their request, only first names are used) was asleep in the home of a friend after a party a year ago when a boy snuck into the room.
The schoolgirl from regional NSW says she felt powerless. ”I felt threatened. I guess I knew he wasn’t going to take no for an answer, that all he wanted was sex.
”I do think he knew I didn’t want to do it, but he also knew he would be able to force me to anyway, and I do believe he had power over me.”
When others heard about it they called Molly – a virgin until then – an ”attention seeking slut” who was ”asking for it”.
Aurora, 16, was at a party where a drunk boy tried to assault her. If not for her friend’s intervention, she would have been raped.
”A friend had to pull him off me so I could get away. If she hadn’t been there I don’t know what might have happened. I am, petite, 5’6′, he was at least 6’4. He could have easily overpowered me.” She was shaken and distressed for days. Neither girl reported what happened.
This is the reality for so many girls in their sexual experiences. And the pressure isn’t just from strangers.
An idea floats around that girls are sexually freer than ever. That they are exercising ”agency” in their sexual decisions and having great sex lives. That’s not what I’m hearing as I talk to girls all over the country.
For so many girls it appears the boy calls the shots. It’s submission disguised as freedom. Many feel they are not allowed to say ”no”.
And the stories girls used to tell me at 16 and 17, they are now telling me at 13 and 14.
Somehow, despite the women’s movement, despite ”Girl Power” sloganeering, girls have become disempowered.
Shannon is bright, articulate and confident. I met her at a Tasmanian school recently. She is a leader among her peers. Yet she captured what so many girls are experiencing: a struggle to assert themselves in relationships with males.
”I felt this overwhelming feeling of being lower than my boyfriend,” she said. ”I felt as though he was the male therefore he was dominant over me and I was there purely to fulfil his physical needs.
”I feel my needs, both sexually and emotionally, come second to my partner’s.”
At a private girls’ school in Melbourne, girls shared their experiences. Jen, 16, said: ”When you are in love they are allowed to treat you however.”
”If you say you want to wait, you are asked ‘why?”’ said Marly, 16.
”Girls want love and they are willing to compromise themselves to get it,” said Marina, 16. ”They need that validation. Boys feel they have more worth. They often think when they are in love, even when he treats you badly, they think this is meant to happen, I deserve this, this is how relationships are meant to be.”
”We are stuck in mindset of them having power over us,” said 16-year-old Micaela. Samantha, 16, believes girls are taught by media and popular culture that having sex will give them a sense of worth. ”If you don’t have sex he will leave for someone else.”
A 15-year-old Tasmanian student, teased for being a virgin, was planning to ”get it over and done with” with a 19-year-old she had met twice. He was happy to oblige, telling her feelings didn’t have to come into it. She told me this with tears streaming down her face. It was clear she wasn’t ready.
Girls say that it’s hard to keep feelings out. ”Girls get affected more, they are more emotionally connected and think they are in love,” said Marly.
”For girls sex is more of a sacred thing with someone you love. With boys it is seen as more of a joke … they have a different mindset. Girls have different attitudes, guys don’t seem to care that much,” said Jen.
Girls describe being touched inappropriately, frequently pushing away unwanted hands.
”At parties boys come up and just touch you,” said Micaela. ”You are there as an object. If you don’t do what they want they call you frigid”.
But girls are growing tired of being reduced and degraded in these ways. They are increasingly demanding respect-based relationships in which their wishes and desires are treated equally, not last. ”I stand up for myself now,” Aurora told me.
The sexual landscape is grim, but let’s hope more girls are empowered to follow Aurora’s lead. Listening to girls’ experiences and supporting them to stand up for themselves – as well as calling boys out on their abusive and too often criminal behaviour – is more helpful to them than persisting with media fantasies about the wonderful and liberated sex lives of Australian girls in the 21st century.
A 15-year-old boy confided in me after I addressed his class at a Sydney school last year. He cried as he told me he had been using porn since the age of nine. He didn’t have a social life, had few friends, had never had a girlfriend. His life revolved around online porn. He wanted to stop, he said, but didn’t know how.
I have had similar conversations with other boys since then.
Girls also share their experiences. Of boys pressuring them to provide porn-inspired acts. Of being expected to put up with things they don’t enjoy. Of seeing sex in terms of performance. Girls as young as 12 show me the text messages they routinely receive requesting naked images.
Pornography is invading the lives of young people – 70 per cent of boys and 53.5 per cent of girls have seen porn by age 12, 100 per cent of boys and 97 per cent of girls by age 16, according to a study behind the book The Sex Lives of Australian Teenagers, by Joan Sauers.
This is an unprecedented experiment on the sexual development of young people. The Australian Medical Association says there is a strong relationship between exposure to sexually explicit material and sexual behaviour that predisposes to adverse sexual and mental health outcomes.cent of girls have seen porn by age 12, 100 per cent of boys and 97 per cent of girls by age 16, according to a study behind the book The Sex Lives of Australian Teenagers, by Joan Sauers.
The 2012 report of Britain’s Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection found that exposure to porn had a negative impact on children’s attitudes to sex, relationships and body image. Cross-country studies link teens’ frequent consumption of porn with acceptance of sexual harassment and forcing someone into sex.
The globalisation of pornographic imagery has led to destructive ideas about sex. This is canvassed in the documentary Love and Sex in an Age of Pornography, which screened on SBS Two on Friday night and will be repeated on August 15 on SBS One). Co-directed by Maree Crabbe and David Corlett, the film draws on interviews with 75 young people.
It shows how healthy sexual exploration is distorted in a pornified world. The importance of consent and respect has become clouded. Boys are imitating what they see online and find that girls don’t always groan with pleasure at porn-styled sexual pounding.
According to a 2010 content analysis of the most popular porn, 88 per cent of scenes included acts of physical aggression and 48 per cent of scenes contained verbal aggression. In 94 per cent of cases, the aggression was directed towards women who were often shown enjoying it.
Jake, 18, says of his first sexual experience at 15: ”First time I had sex, because I’d watched so much porn, I thought all chicks dig this, all chicks want this done to them … all chicks love it there. So I tried all this stuff and, yeah, it turned out bad …
”When a guy watches porn: ‘that’s hot, I want to try that. You, do this, this and this,’ you know what I mean? And they will just keep pressuring and pressuring. I’ve got mates who do it. They will tell you, ‘Yeah, she didn’t want to at first but I just kept hounding her and hounding her and finally she let me …”’
The level of disempowerment in the girls is disheartening. Disconnected from their own sense of pleasure and intimacy, they often pretend to like certain acts to keep a boy happy. Often he doesn’t even ask permission.
Sara, 20, says, ”Girls, they love it in porn, so maybe boys think that girls like that and, you know, when you love someone, you know, you’re always willing to just … make them happy. [if] I’m in love, then I’ll do it for you and I’ll pretend that I like it … And in the end … I just became an object … ”
Porn has also contributed to body-image dissatisfaction. Boys think they need bigger penises. Girls have their pubic hair removed because boys who regularly consume porn think it’s disgusting. Sara says: ”[Porn stars] are really pretty … like they’ve got gigantic breasts and … perfectly moulded vaginas … my body does not look like that.”
Co-director Crabbe says what was most striking to her in making the film was the pressure porn put on young people.
”Young people are receiving very unhelpful messages about what it means to be a man, or a woman, and about sexuality,” she says. ”It’s selling sexuality short. Where do young people find mutually consenting, pleasurable experiences of sexuality in a culture in which the porn industry has such a powerful voice?”
One sign of hope is the young people who want just that. They have a desire for something better than what porn offers, a quest for authentic intimacy and love. As Joel says: ”It is all about being close to that person and showing them how much you love them.”
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