If there were ever a human phenomenon in need of serious objective investigation, Internet porn use is surely it. Never has the youthful human brain been battered with so much erotic novelty during such a critical window of sexual development, and cracks are definitely appearing. However, judging from the board of the upcoming Porn Studies Journal, this particular publication will lack the detachment and expertise to fulfill this critical role.
The journal, which is being published by Routledge starting in 2014, will welcome submissions from fields as diverse as criminology, sociology, labor studies and media studies. According to the New York Times, Porn Studies will focus on pornography as it relates to “the intersection of sexuality, gender, race, class, age and ability.” This is definitely XXX-content for the scholarly set.
There is nothing in the list of proposed topics about the adverse effects of Internet porn on users. In fact, all of the 32 board members for the new journal appear to think porn’s benefits far outweigh its costs.
Imagine a “Dietetics Studies Journal” in the Land of the Obese, whose board consists only of the Chairman of the Board of PepsiCo, the CEOs of Nestle and Pillsbury, and a marketing exec from Kraft, and you have a good feel for the bias of the upcoming journal. Read more here
It appeared on Huffington Post last month but I’ve only just read it. It is the kind of piece which needs to be read slowly, and a few times, it contains so much to absorb. Here’s an extract:
The problem is determining at what stage she started to cede her self and becomes, in her own eyes, mainly some (bright, young) thing other people see and use. This process begins much earlier than when a girl is 15 and maybe buying thongs.
In general, parents, schools, counselors, “concerned” adults aren’t openly confronting the unrelenting pressure girls feel to base their self worth on being beautiful, perfect creatures idealized for the sexual and breeding purposes of others. For many people, girls and women are biologically meant to be available to boys and men in these ways. Our default is “Yes!” and “Of course!” You know the kind of being I’m talking about — females whose purpose, abstracted, divine or biological, is to look out for boys and men and guide them to ultimate pleasure and eternal happiness. Hey, aren’t Victoria’s Secret’s models called ANGELS? What a visually pleasing, totally random and meaningless coincidence.
Once a self is ceded it’s hard to get back. Regardless of a girl’s or woman’s age, this kind of objectification and “sexualization” results in a performance. It’s not about being a sexual person, it’s about acting out someone else’s idea of a sex object. And… what girls and women want, feel, need and experience are irrelevant unless they help fulfill the dreams of boys and men. The impact is real, meaningful and measurable. It’s also serious and not at all entertaining.
Girls who conform well and internalize their “thing-ness” don’t miraculously stop doing it when get their driver’s licenses. It NEVER ends. Read the full article here.
When I speak in schools, I’m often asked for advice on how to help a friend with an eating disorder (and not just girls – a male student ask me in a school in regional NSW recently). So I was really pleased to see the piece ‘Help! My BFF is wasting away before my eyes: How to deal when your bestie has an eating disorder’. Lydia Turner, co-director of BodyMatters , says one in five diagnosed with anorexia nervosa will die from the illness, while other types of ED’s like bulimia nervosa are linked to high rates of self-harm and suicidal thoughts. While alarming, it is important for girls to know these harsh facts, especially in light of the raft of on-line pro-ana (anorexia) and pro-mia (bulimia) communities which encourage self-starvation as a life-style choice and post skeletal images as ‘inspiration’ for thinness.
While girls are advised to show patience and compassion, not centering conversations on food and appearance, it is imperative the need for professional help is stressed and GF does this. If the friend with disordered eating refuses to seek help, readers are encouraged to disclose to a trusted adult (such as a school counsellor) regardless – it could save her life. “It is extremely distressing to watch a friend deteriorate before your eyes, but it’s not your responsibility to save her and you don’t have to shoulder this burden alone. You need to let the experts take charge…remember that this is a complicated illness and you cannot deal with it yourself,” GF wisely advises.
Related is ‘Why diets are dumb’ about how fad diets compromise nutrition and health. Deprivation is discouraged in favour of learning to eat in a balanced, healthy way. Specifically addressed is carb cutting (some girls won’t even breathe around carbs let alone eat them) and informed of the benefits of carbs for health. Body detoxing is described as “completely unnecessary and bad for you.” Liver and kidneys perform that job. Skipping meals messes with metabolism and can lead to binging afterwards. Meal replacements are also discouraged, as they don’t allow the full range of foods for long term health. Read more here.
The time-wasting, body-hating self-objectification proved to go hand-in-hand with such “bold, sexy, powerful” ideals – though ideal for an industry raking in $5 billion a year and expanding across the globe – is not a great pathway to real progress as females or as a culture
You’ve probably heard VS rolled out a line of lingerie for teens called “Bright Young Things.”As part of the PINK brand for all the teenaged “things” across the world, these undies feature polka-dot hipsters with “Feeling Lucky?” printed on them, a lacey thong with the words, “I dare you” on the front, and so much more. This isn’t some conservative “too sexy, too soon!” cry. This is doctoral research into Victoria’s Secret — a company that profits by selling sexually objectifying and limiting messages to all ages and claiming it is “empowering.” This may give words to the feelings you’ve been having about how harmful this brand is, so read on.
From Mindfulness to Masturbation: Girlfriend’s January issue
‘Switched on: Sorting out the small things’ provides readers with 10 things they need to know about 2013, which ranges fascinatingly from the Australian Federal Election and our troops exiting Afghanistan, to One Direction’s World Tour and actors Ryan Gosling and Robert Paterson in Australia.
‘Are you a late bloomer? : That awkward moment when all your friends are talking about boys and you’ve got nothing to say’ looks at why some girls are not into boys yet. Readers are told that girls usually start to think about boys romantically and sexually from the ages of 9-16 but that it’s OK to be a romantic late bloomer – there’s “no shame in that”. Good advice from clinical psychologist Serena Cauchi: Don’t force yourself, because “being an individual and doing things at your own pace is a much healthier option than conforming with others.” Girls are assured it’s fine to be single take note Dolly – see January review and that maturity means she will be better equipped for relationships and setting boundaries later on.” In light of this sensible observation, I’m not sure about the term ‘late bloomers’. Girls might make a rational and considered decision to focus on their education, or engage in causes, rather than pursue dating relationships in their early teens. It doesn’t mean anything is ‘late’, it could be perfectly ‘on time’ when and if it happens. Read more here.
‘The violation of Anne Hathaway’s privacy was repeated by every media outlet and media consumer who circulated or viewed her picture and by every writer or commenter who gave the peeping Tom cameraman a free pass by turning the focus away from his harassment…’
I’d like you to imagine that you have been invited to a party. Not just any party, – a really big deal. Definitely favourite dress, maybe even new dress territory. The evening of the party arrives, and you get ready. Dressed to the nines, feeling great.
Now, let’s push things a little further and imagine that, for whatever reason, you’ve decided not to wear underwear underneath your dress. Perhaps you’re more comfortable that way; maybe you think the dress sits a little better without the cottontails on. It might be a quiet message to a lover, or even just that your favourites are in the wash. It doesn’t really matter anyway, because the cab is here, and shortly you’re arriving at the party.
And then, as you open the door to step out of the car, there’s a moment in which your dress slips up, revealing a glimpse of your underwear-less genitals for the merest fraction of a second. But before you’ve had a chance to react, to adjust your dress and protect yourself, you see a camera flash as somebody standing outside the venue snaps a photo. You are shocked, but go in to enjoy the party, trying not to worry about it.
The next day, you discover that instead of apologising or deleting it, the photographer has sold their picture of you and your exposed vagina to a news outlet. And as your vagina goes viral, they ask: was it an attention-grabbing stunt? An attempt to distract from her ‘hideous outfit’? Or do girls just not wear undies anymore?
This, unfortunately, is where the imaginary journey ends. For the scenario above isn’t a daydream gone awry – it happened, last week, to Oscar-nominated actor Anne Hathaway as she arrived at a red-carpet premiere.
Under the circumstances, Hathaway’s response when questioned on the Today show was remarkably dignified:
“It was obviously an unfortunate incident… It kind of made me sad on two accounts. One was that I was very sad that we live in an age when someone takes a picture of another person in a vulnerable moment and rather than delete it, and do the decent thing, sells it. And I’m sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies sexuality of unwilling participants, which brings us back to Les Mis, that’s what my character is, she is someone who is forced to sell sex to benefit her child because she has nothing and there’s no social safety net.”
Her response strikes to the core of the problem. For we do indeed live in a series of cultures in which the bodies of girls and women are under constant and sustained assault, from individuals and organizations treating them as property and sexual objects. Being a celebrity, Anne Hathaway’s case made headlines worldwide, along with the inevitable lines about how celebrities put their lives in the public sphere and should expect this kind of thing. Which is the weakest of excuses, given how many girls and women suffer or even expect ‘this kind of thing’ daily, not because of their status or wealth but simply for having the impudence to live their lives in possession of female body parts.
This is rape culture 101. First, treat a woman and her body as public property, and do to her as you enjoy or see fit. Then, blame her for not doing enough to prevent what happened. Finally, when discussing the incident, be sure to frame it in terms of how the victim was at fault and how what she did or didn’t do contributed to her assault. Never discuss the person who harassed or violated her, or those who circulated the story or image. She and everyone else must know her place, and exactly who is to blame.
And so, for next time – because there will inevitably be a next time – when a man takes a photograph of a woman’s vagina, without her consent, and then circulates that picture, without her consent, if anyone tries to tell you that the “real question” is ‘why wasn’t she wearing any underwear’, tell them to think again.
For women my generation who see a massive magazine heading “The Big O” and think it’s about Roy Orbison, you probably won’t want to read further. The “Big O” in this case refers to orgasm – in fact “your giggle-free guide to orgasms.”
Although if your daughter is a 13-year-old reader of Girlfriend (GF has profiled readers this age in its pages), you may want to see she is being told on the subject. Many mums would consider a girl who may have just entered puberty, too young for the material on offer even if it is in the ‘sealed section’.
In the same issue in which they are given recipes on muffin baking, they’re also being told how to reach climax. “If we were all having regular orgasms, we would be a lot happier,” explains sex therapist Jacqueline Hellyer. “Orgasms release hormones that make us feel happy, relaxed, confident and sexy. Plus, they’re good for your skin, hair and teeth.”
GF stresses a number of times that a girl shouldn’t “rush into sexual activity”, and to have respect for herself. Readers are also reminded of age of consent laws. But I wonder if this advice can complete with ‘happy, relaxed, confident and sexy’ and ‘good for skin, hair teeth’? Who wouldn’t want to rush into that? On the other hand, the article treats orgasm as almost a given (“Clitoral orgasms are the easiest to achieve, and the most intense”). Whereas many women, for a range of reasons, (one being hopeless lovers raised on a diet of porn) do not easily achieve this. Hellyer says: “Good sex is really, really good, but bad sex is really, really bad.” Well isn’t that a nice surprise, given Girlfriend (and Dolly) advertised mobile phone wall paper for girls that read: “Sex, when it’s good it’s really good, when it’s bad it’s still pretty good.” Julie Gale of Kids Free 2b Kids and I condemned this at the time and eventually the teen mags stopped advertising this lie. But it should never have appeared in the pages of magazines allegedly wanting to empower girls in the first place.
Still on the sex theme, GF shares reader’s views on recent advice that teens should read ‘sexy books’ (fantasy, not reality, won’t make us go out and have sex, if you don’t like them don’t read them, doesn’t matter what teenagers read, as long as they are reading, etc.). Only one of the four actually tells us she’s read some of the books in question. I’ve expressed another view in a piece titled ‘Should teens read more porn?’
A measly two ‘Self-respect reality checks’ this issue – it’s like even GF doesn’t think they are all that convincing anymore. (See my comments on these checks previously here). The one on the cover quotes actress Kristen Stewart “I think it’s ridiculous that you need to look a certain way to be conventionally pretty.” Right on, Kristen – we totes agree!” (which is totes funny when on p.58 GF tell us how annoying the word ‘Totes’ is, and says it should be replaced with ‘downright’). Yes, great quote, but was Kristen photo-shopped for the cover either by GF or pre-altered when they received it? Because if it wasn’t, that sure is one flawless face. The ‘Self respect reality’ check is supposed to tell us these things. If it doesn’t, it’s a waste of space.
Speaking of flawless, open to the first page and get Kate Moss and her new lipstick. Photoshop must have been working overtime. The next two pages are the same. Oh and look there’s Kesha advertising Casio and she’s been doctored too. I’ll stop here though there are other ads like it. As I’ve said before, why is advertising’s unreality exempt from the much touted ‘reality’ check?
The second ‘reality check’ tells us ‘Readers, not models were used in this shoot’. Nice to see a young black woman here.
Features include ‘How to break a habit’, ‘Why parents say the things they do’, ‘Is it OK to not have a best friend?’ , ‘Understanding your metabolism’, ‘How to beat a bad day’, ‘5 Reasons to Date the Shy Guy’, then on the next page how to dump him (well any guy who you decide you’re ‘just not into’). ‘Fast & Frenzied Feed: The new eating disorder’ concerns “What happens when a healthy appetite becomes a little too unhealthy for the body and the mind” Sarah Ayoub writes about binge-eating disorder affecting about 20 percent of Australian girls 18-22. This is a binging condition without the purging associated with bulimia (though laxatives are mentioned – isn’t that a form of purging?). Sufferers loathe themselves and have poor self-image. No surprises there.
This issue’s real life stories include a 20-year-old whose feet were amputated as a result of blood clots, a 17-year-old who started her own charity, an 18-year-old bullied for three years and a 19-year-old with lymphoedema, resulting in permanently swollen limbs. I like this section because it cuts through the fashion and beauty pages, grounded as it is in the real lived experience of real girls.
Here’s a piece which should be read by all mothers: ‘Does my mum look big in this?’ which cites research that mums can pass on their own negative messages about body image to their daughters. “If a mum has an unhappy relationship with her own body, her daughter can pick up on this dissatisfaction and internalise it,” says clinical psychologist Louise Adams. “Many of my clients with eating disorders report having mothers who were always dieting and criticising their own bodies. Daughters take this negative self-talk on board and start to talk about their own bodies in the same negative terms.” I remember a girl telling me about her mother who had purchased her a size 10 end of year formal dress, telling her “You will get into this by the end of the year”. The girl was a size 14.
The advice is helpful so I’m reprinting it for mothers whose daughters don’t read Girlfriend (or for Roy Orbison fans who got a shock):
1. When you hear your mum criticise her body, tell her how it’s making you feel about your own body. Try saying “Mum, when you talk about your weight in front of me and put yourself down, it makes me worry about my own weight and it makes me feel bad about myself.”
2. Ask your mum to please stop devaluing and criticising her body, and to stop unhealthy practices like dieting, food restriction or over-exercising.
3. Make a deal with her and promise each other that neither of you will talk badly about your bodies anymore – no exceptions.
4. Remind each other to think about your self-worth in broader terms than just appearance. Think about what you both like about yourselves as people (I’m kind, you’re funny) and focus on developing those aspects.
If this reader’s comment doesn’t get mums to change the negative self-talk, then I’m not sure what will: “My mum always asks me if she looks fat. This depresses me because I know I’m not skinny, and I feel that she is putting pressure on me because of my weight. When mum says she is fat, I feel fat. She affects the way I feel about myself.”- Christina, 14.
‘Encouraging teens to wait until they feel ready for sex is not to promote oppression. It is to promote empowerment’
By Dr Emma Rush
Clueless, to say the least. Michelle Griffin’s claim (‘Why teens should read raunchy novels and straight-up smut’) that “teens should read more porn”, not to mention her implied claim that more Year 10 students should be having sex, are the flashpoints of a piece which lacks anything vaguely resembling a clearly structured argument. The lumping together of a ‘reality bites’ book specifically pitched at adolescents, such as Judy Blume’s Forever, with the porn-fest of Nicholson Baker’s “surreally explicit new title”, House of Holes, should alert us to that.
The apparent spur for Griffin’s piece is a recent La Trobe University study finding that despite much talk about the importance of sex education in schools that locates discussion of the biological facts about sex within a broader understanding of healthy relationships, not all Year 9 and 10 students have access to this.
Only one in four hear that “experimenting with sexualities and pleasure is OK”, something particularly important given the potential impacts of homophobia. (At the same time, the research does suggest that at least some teachers are rising to the challenge, and we should all congratulate them for that.)
The socio-emotionally disconnected version of sex provided by parts of the education system gives rise to the question: how do teens link this school-based information with their actual lives? The ubiquity of porn may well fill the gap. And researchers like Alan McKee, whom Griffin cites approvingly, seem to believe that the pornography industry is well prepared to fill that gap, a pornography industry that promotes cruelty, brutality and inequality.
Griffin is to her credit concerned about the resulting “shackles of banal commercialised sexuality”. She advocates reading more books over watching YouPorn. That’s great, but she avoids a much more challenging question: precisely which books?
Teens, like the rest of us, are whole people, with rich socio-emotional lives. Some books do justice to the location of sex within a broader socio-emotional context, some do not. But Griffin, apparently relying on a ‘consent makes any kind of sex ok’ philosophy, makes no such distinction (there’s no problem with ‘brutal’ porn, apparently), and in doing so, she sells us all short.
The value of consent rests on the possibility of free and rational choice. The idea that either perfect freedom or perfect rationality applies in messy sexual contexts is a fantasy. All the more so for the adolescent context, where the psychological literature clearly shows that teens are more impulsive and more prone to extreme highs and lows than more mature adults.
Add to that peer pressure and alcohol and you’ve got a heady mix. That’s not to say that some psychologically mature teens don’t have healthy sexual relationships – the literature clearly shows that they do – but consent is hardly all that is required for this. Consent is necessary but not sufficient for a healthy sexual relationship. And actions need to be more than just acquiescence, more than just ‘going along with’, to count as consent.
Let’s face it, even if sex is entered into in a spirit of ‘all you need is consent and no strings attached’, that doesn’t make us flourish. Physical intimacy can all too easily lead to emotional connection and then significant distress when this is not mutual. Who has not seen this happen, even with mature adults? Who does not know how the headspin of even potential sexual attraction can throw everything else out of perspective, even in a mature adult? Who seriously thinks it’s a good idea to encourage in teens the idea that, provided you’ve got ‘consent’, anything goes?
The very idea that you can just ‘consent’ to physical intimacy with someone you don’t have a caring relationship with, in the goal of mutual pleasure seeking, is bizarre. The kind of psychological separation from your body (not to mention the other human being in the equation) you would have to achieve to do that sounds more like the kind of pathology that results from sexual abuse, than any kind of healthy sexual development.
The psychological task of adolescence is to develop a holistic sense of who you are, and to become over time an independent and autonomous adult. Sexuality is an important part of that, but it’s far from the only part.
Reading material that portrays sex as a part of caring, complex, human relationships is one important way of promoting such holistic development. Another way is to construct a loving sexual life with someone who genuinely cares about you – when you are mature enough to form such a relationship. Encouraging teens to wait until they feel ‘ready’ for sex, and to wait for someone with whom they feel safe, is not to promote oppression. It is to promote empowerment. House of Holes seems unlikely to teach anyone that sort of respect for self or others.
Dr Emma Rush is a lecturer in philosophy and ethics at Charles Sturt University. She was a contributor to Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (ed. Melinda Tankard Reist, Spinifex Press, 2009).
That was the argument put by Age social affairs writer Michelle Griffin in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald this week.
“Steamy airport novels, raunchy teen lit and straight-up smut”, argued Griffin, would help take young people away from “commercialised banal porn”. In her praise of trashy novels and raunchy reads, Griffin recommended ‘House of Holes’ for the school library and family bookshelf.
This is the book described by The Guardian as a ‘wank book’ and ‘porn fest: “Baker’s frogmarches us into an arcade of blaring porn fantasies in which the tropes of triple-X sex movies are celebrated in all their cheerfully gushing banality…” (note to Griffin, porn without pictures can be banal too).
How Judy Blume’s ‘Forever’ and ‘Puberty Blues’ could even appear in the same article commending House of Holes is difficult to fathom.
Especially concerning is Griffin’s comment: “The trouble with much of the porn readily available is not that it’s explicit, or even that it’s brutal, but that it is reductive and samey.”
So because so much of it is similar, that is worse than it being brutal, violent and misogynist? The commercialised women-hating and sadistic brutality that so much of today’s on-line pornographic offerings is less worse than it just being “samey”?
I agree of course with the observations of sex therapists cited by Griffin that “porn is limiting young men’s visions of a good time to mere delivery-man thrusting”. This is well-documented in Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global sex industry (Spinifex Press, 2011), a book I co-edited with Dr Abigail Bray. I agree that young people have a right to know about pleasure and that sex education programs where only biological facts or a disease model of sex are taught, are inadequate.
But it appears to me naïve to think leaving porno-themed books lying around the house “badly hidden” is any kind of “arming” against online pornography, when 70 percent of boys aged 12 have seen porn and 100 percent by age 15. Even if they read one or two books, the bombardment of sexual imagery and porn online will barely be dented. And it seems foolish to treat porn books and porn online as somehow separate and disconnected.
What is urgently needed is explicit content on radical concepts like love, intimacy and authentic human connection. Girls and young women describe cold, soul-less sexual experiences in which they are expected to be service stations for boys, pressured to ‘put out’, with no concern for her emotional wellbeing.
Sex has become more about f***ing and less about loving. Our response should be to equip and empower young people to make positive choices about their sexual lives. Not throw more porn flavoured stuff at them.
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In this DVD, Melinda takes us on a visual tour of popular culture. “Melinda’s presentation leaves audiences reeling. She delivers her message with a clarity and commonsense without peer.” – Steve Biddulph, author, Raising Boys, Raising Girls
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Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
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Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.