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Category: Sexuality Education

Porn crackdown: It’s not an invasion of privacy. It’s parenting

Further to last week’s post on an alarming new type of lewd cyber scavenger hunt, I thought I’d share this Opinion piece by author, columnist, journalist, semi-retired academic and social commentator, Dr Karen Brooks. It was first published by The Courier Mail and is reproduced here with the authors permission. I was pleased to have contributed to to the discussion.  

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According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, over 40 per cent of all sexual assaults in Queensland are perpetrated by school-age children, while the number of young people under 19 committing sex crimes in Australia has almost doubled in five years; 770 are under the age of 15.

Experts believe the shocking increase can be attributed to easy access to online pornography, which is giving young people distorted and unhealthy ideas about sex and relationships.

In the past, for a child to sneak a peek at an adult magazine or movie was risky. These days, all young people need is a smartphone and that world is theirs. Only, it’s changed: it’s more graphic, demeaning, sadistic and brutal — especially towards women.

Currently, 80 per cent of teenagers access porn.

Kids are copying the sexual behaviours they’re viewing — whether the exposure has been accidental, involuntary or deliberate (for example, an older person showing them) — and at a time when they’re naturally curious and wanting to experiment with their sexuality, to test the boundaries.

As a result, they’re developing toxic relationships with sex, their bodies, and each other.

But it’s not only through pornography they’re being exposed to warped ideas about sex. Popular culture inundates them daily (through music, fashion, ads, movies, TV etc), and the idea that sex sells — even acceptance from peers.

When well-known celebrities, such as the Kardashians, Katy Perry, and Madonna willingly share naked pictures of themselves, claiming they’re aspirational, for a political cause or to self-promote, or US congressmen send “dick pics” as a form of flirting, is it any wonder the kids are baffled and the lines between sexuality, acceptability, and pornography are being blurred?

For young people, sending a naked selfie/sexting, has virtually become part of contemporary courtship/friendship and even a rite of sexual passage.

Yet, not only are we seeing confusion around issues of consent and privacy with this, but a growth in predatory behaviours, where young men especially bully and blackmail girls into sending nude pictures, and the girls, believing it’s a way to be noticed and liked, acquiesce.

What often happens is that trust is broken and the image is shown to a wider audience and slut-shaming occurs. The consequences of this can be personally and publicly devastating.

Not only can a young person’s reputation be shredded, the image left in cyberspace in perpetuity, but both the sender and recipient can find themselves facing criminal charges and labelled “sex offenders” (even if what they’ve done is consensual), because they’ve made and distributed child pornography.

So, what are we, as parents, adults, as a society, to do about these and the invidious effect they’re having on young people’s digital and real identities?

Firstly, it’s important to understand and accept that young people exploring their sexuality is perfectly natural and normal.

Sexting has become one of the ways to do this.

In a harrowing article in Qweekend, Frances Whiting cites Detective Inspector Jon Rouse of the Queensland-based Argos Taskforce, who reminds us, “We are not dealing with criminals, what we are dealing with is innocence, naivety, sexual exploration, and using technology to do that.’’

The “Young People and Sexting in Australia Report” (2013), states we need to “recognise that sexting can be an expression of intimacy… Framing sexual expression only as a risk does little to alleviate anxieties or feelings of shame that young people may experience in relation to their sexualities.”

Dannielle Miller, author and CEO of Enlighten Education, who works with thousands of young people across the country, agrees. She warns against moral panic and shaming. She also knows the abstinence approach — with sexuality and technology — doesn’t work.

She argues, “We urgently need to teach all young people about what respectful relationships look, sound and feel like.”

But when we provide them with very little in terms of “relevant, engaging relationships’ education”, we fail them.

We need to rethink sex education, at home and schools, and focus on intimacy, emotions; how we feel as opposed to what (not) to do. We need to have frank discussions about power, control and how pop culture exploits our sexual insecurities as well as entertains. How technology can be both positive and misused — the choice is ours.

But when the adults in a young person’s life and the popular culture in which they’re submerged can’t role-model healthy relationships, with each other, sexuality or technology, then how can we possibly expect our kids to have them?

Rouse says there’s only so much authorities can do. He warns parents, “you’re paying for these devices (phones etc), you’re providing these devices… take some responsibility for what’s happening on them… it’s not an invasion of their privacy, it’s parenting.”

Rouse believes we’ve let kids down.

It’s time we step up.

Dangerous games: ‘Girl on girl porn score the most points’

The following post was the lead Opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph 30/0/16.

In it, I discuss a game teens in the Newcastle area are playing. It may shock you. It certainly shocked me. In an OpEd piece like this you don’t have enough space to unpack in any detail what needs to be done ( 700 words doesn’t begin to cover explaining what is happening AND presenting a plan for moving beyond this stuff).

But we can do the latter here.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and brainstorm solutions.

I’ve been working with teens for over 22 years. I thought nothing could shock me. I was wrong.

Earlier this week NXFM radio hosts Nick and Sophie contacted me to discuss something they’d seen while out for dinner with friends in Newcastle. They’d spotted a young man running through the streets naked. Moments later, they saw two teen girls streaking too.Sophie’s friend, a social worker, later saw the girls (now covered up in robes) and asked them what it was all about.

Cash.

Apparently, a number of schools in the area are engaged in a scavenger hunt (organised via a closed Facebook group) as part of their end of Year 12 celebrations. The object of the game is to post increasingly risqué images online in order to score points.

Entrants pay to compete and the winner of the competition earns the prize pool, currently reported to be $2,000.

The girls explained they were going home to film themselves engaging in explicit sex with each other and upload this as “Girl on girl porn score the most points. We just want the prize money.”

End of school high jinks and nudie runs may seem like harmless rites of passage in Australia.

Viewing explicit porn is sadly also a rite of passage for this generation who have grown up with it; the average age of first exposure to pornography is 11.

Watching p#rn is common for teens. (Pic: iStock)

Almost one in five young people aged 16-17 say they, or a friend, have received sexually explicit images of someone else.

But teens producing and uploading their own naked and sexually explicit images to a social media site in order to win a competition is a recent phenomena fraught with the potential for deep regret.

If participants are under 18, sharing naked images online may see them in trouble with the law (while the age of sexual consent is 16, anyone who produces, possesses or distributes images of anyone under the age of 18 may be convicted on child pornography charges and placed on the child sex offenders registry — even if the image is of themselves).

 Regardless of the age of those involved, as we have recently in the news with the revelation that there are Australian web sites aimed at collecting sexually explicit images of teen schoolgirls (images often taken without these girls consent) once such images are uploaded, it is virtually impossible to delete these should those pictured later wish to do so.

While news of a sexually charged online competition may have shocked me and the colleagues I discussed this with, police and educators in the area have seen this type of game raise its ugly head before.

Back in 2013 local news reports warned of teens filming themselves performing lewd acts as part of a scavenger hunt competition held that year. Alleged incidents brought to the attention of authorities then included vision of young people engaged in group sex, and a film of a student with a mobile phone vibrating in their anus.

Yet despite stern warnings from police and school administrators, it seems the stakes have only been raised higher.

Our challenge is to look beyond a “just say no” plea for restraint; an approach we know is rarely effective in changing behaviour. It is to look beyond our own shock and instead to examine a culture that tells young people that sex sells. A culture that tells them fame (or indeed infamy) is aspirational, regardless of the price paid for the social media hits.

Hollywood film Nerve, a current favourite with teens, explores what happens when young people compete to post outrageous videos. The movie unpacks the complex psychology behind this kind of dangerous risk taking and the impact it can have on real life.

The movie argues that the only way to win in a game that encourages you to be a social conformist is not to play in the first place.

It takes real courage to not be a player, or a voyeur.

And it takes real courage to realise that although some of the conversations we need to have with our teens may be uncomfortable and confronting, the need to have these is urgent.

Sleazy pick up lines now available in a size 000


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“Hide your daughters.”

“I’m only here for the ladies.”

“Stud Muffin.”

You might expect to see these kind of slogans brandished across a T-shirt worn by Benny Hill or Hugh Hefner; by a bloke who hasn’t yet got the memo that being viewed as a player is no longer fashionable.

But thanks to Best & Less, these very slogans are being offered up for babies in its latest catalogue. Heteronormative stereotyping and sexism sold from a tiny size 000.

It would be tempting to dismiss these baby rompers as nothing more than a bit of harmless fun. But why must we impose limiting gender stereotypes on little boys and encourage others to view them as having one-track minds, or more bizarrely still, as the type we need to protect our daughters from?

Messages like these sow the seeds for stereotypes that harm both men and women.

And while much has rightly been made on how viewing girls and women as mere prey harms them, there has not been as much discussion on how these type of attitudes harm boys too.

Dr Andrew Smiler, author of Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Stereotype of the Promiscuous Young Male, argues that stereotypes that view boys and young men as being barely able to control their sex drive risk becoming a destructive self-fulfilling prophecy. These beliefs may lead to destructive hyper-sexuality, unwanted pregnancy, and less fulfilling relationships.

He argues too that despite the cultural assumption that boys only ever want one thing, the reality is that many young men yearn for far more than a mere conquest when they are dating. They want companionship, connection and emotional support.

In the course of my work with young men in schools through the Goodfellas program, I have found that when we first introduce the topic of male sexuality there is initially much chuckling and bravado in the room. But once my male presenters start to unpack the stereotypes, they see shoulders drop in relief and there is always a respectful, genuine interest in having a different conversation.

The boys we talk to report feeling cultural pressure to date and to be promiscuous. Those who don’t conform to the message that all boys just want one thing start to question whether in fact they are normal.

This from 15-year-old James: “I have lots of girls as friends but that doesn’t mean I only like them as I want to do something to them. To be honest, they (girls) are sometimes easier to talk to than my mates. It’s insulting to me, and to them, to imply otherwise.”

Indeed it is. And it’s vital we give all our young people the skills they need to critically assess culture in this way.

As an educator and mother to a daughter, I have given her the skills she needs to question and talk back to marketing messages and media portrayals of women that would limit her.

And I’ve given the same gift to my son too.

Because messages that would reduce baby boys to their penises? They’re for dummies.

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This post was originally published in the Daily Telegraph and posted online at RendezView 2/6/16

“Sprouting” a new internet safety concern you need to consider

I was pleased to have had the opportunity to provide a context for why young girls might chose to send their images to online Instagram pages that invite others to rate their desirability, termed “sprouter” sites as they promise to highlight those who will sprout into dateable adults, on channel 10’s The Project.

Seeking the approval of others as a way of assessing one’s own value is, as I say during this interview, nothing new. A colleague made the point that when she first started High School, the older boys at her school would refer to the “hot” new girls as being on “lay-by”; to be labelled in this way was considered a status symbol by her peers. What is new, however, is the technology being used to facilitate this phenomena.

Why might girls be complicit in this process? I’d argue they are groomed from a very young age by society to see their looks as their currency. Think child beauty pageants, magazines aimed at tweens that ask readers to rate particular looks, or consider who is “hot” who is “not”, beauty products and services marketed directly at children, the language we use with young girls in comparison to young boys (“pretty” versus “powerful”) etc etc.

So rather than panic, let’s aim to empower young people to know their real value, and educate them so that they make safe choices online. It’s important that we do not shame, nor seek to simply ban. There is a wide body of research that shows the number one reason young people do not tell trusted adults about things that happen in cyber space that concern them is that they fear their access will be removed and that they will be judged. The digital world is their playground and an important source of social connection.

Let’s keep in mind too that most young people do make great choices when on-line and can see platforms like this as both potentially dangerous and as sexist nonsense ( it’s interesting to note that despite this being a major news story, if you look at the visual shown in the segment of the actual sprouter site, there were only actually 85 followers of this page).

“Pink is for girlie girls” – more things we should never say to girls.

Last week I shared three of the five things I, and the other noted Feminists I asked to contribute, believe we need to stop saying to girls now. You can read this post here: “That skirt is sending out the wrong message” and 5 other things we should never say to girls.  It’s now time to share the other messages that, even though they may be well intentioned, do in fact have the potential to harm.

4. “She is only interested in exploring her sexuality as she’s troubled.”

It can be confronting for us to accept that our children will grow up and become sexual beings. However, self-motivated sexual exploration and age-appropriate information about sexuality are vital to our daughters emerging as healthy, whole women. Given that for many girls puberty will start in their early teen years, we should start having conversations with them about sex and sexuality while they are young. We need to offer them alternative voices and role models of sexuality to those they are exposed to in the media and in pornography. This is especially important given that advertisers and broadcasters certainly will be targeting them with messages about sexuality long before their early teen years; to me it seems damaging for girls who are just developing their own sexuality to be influenced largely by porn-inspired examples of sexuality. I am concerned not just because there are too many hyper-sexualised messages bombarding our girls, but because the ideal being presented to them of female sexuality is so narrow. Just as we are told that only a leggy size-8 model can be truly beautiful, we are now being told that only a busty, wet and wild blonde (who is solely focused on male pleasure) can be truly sexy. Women’s (and men’s) sexuality is, in reality, so much more diverse and complicated.

But before we can begin having truly meaningful conversations around our girls’ sexuality, we need to also establish a positive and non-judgemental attitude because in my experience, a negative or stigmatising attitude towards girls’ sexual development may cause harm, particularly when it comes from parents, teachers or other trusted figures. 

Writer Emily Maguire offered an important caution against pathologizing female sexuality:

The idea that teen girls are asexual unless ‘activated’ by some external force. This is so common – this denial of the fact that teenage girls might be into sex (doing it, talking about it, imagining it, whatever) because they’re sexually developing human beings. It’s like, a boy who is distracted by lust, eager to gain sexual experience and proud of himself when he does so, is normal. A girl who acts this way is a dupe with low-self-esteem, a cautionary tale. Yes, there are external pressures on girls to look and behave in particular ways related to their sexuality, but more acknowledgement that not all sexually active/interested teenage girls have had their sexuality imposed on them by advertisers, pop culture or predatory men would be good. In fact, a lot of them, a lot of the time, are simply doing what feels good. (Or what they think might feel good, getting better at figuring out what that might be as they go along).

Nina Funnell, who co-wrote Loveability: An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships, with me, also warned against shaming:

We still teach girls to equate promiscuity with low self-esteem and poor self-respect. Meanwhile boys are told that it’s only natural that they would want to sow their wild oats. The reality is that both boys and girls have sexual urges, libidos, pumping hormones and a desire for physical intimacy, pleasure, arousal and connection. So why do we shame girls, and teach them that they must have low self-esteem if they crave the exact same thing boys crave?

5.  “Pink is for girlie girls!”

Emily Maguire in her essay  “Letter to the Girls I misjudged” laments the fact that as a young girl she associated all things traditionally girly with weakness and took great pride in being seen as “one of the blokes.” This idea was extended by Clementine Ford in her post “Betraying Our Girlhood”;

Taking up arms against the demonisation of girlhood isn’t about reclaiming our right to love lipstick or dresses or have the occasional conversation about Ryan Gosling’s bottom – although those things are all perfectly fine. The fierce determination to distance ourselves from anything perceptibly “girlie” only furthers the stereotype that women who like “girlie” things are stupid and one-dimensional – and indeed that girlieness itself is stupid and one-dimensional. Some girls – like me – rejected boys’ toys entirely as children, loved pink and watched movies about high-school girls falling in love, yet they still grew up to be strident feminists. We’re all different.

As adult women, Nina Funnell and I have both admitted to each other (almost tentatively for fear of losing some feminist credibility) that as little girls we were bower-bird like in our pursuit for all that was shiny, pretty and pink. We adored our Barbies, were besotted by anything princess-like and suspect that were they around back then — we would have sold our little glittered-up souls for a Bratz. And yet like Clementine, we somehow managed to turn out just fine ( we explored this idea in a piece published by the Sydney Morning Herald: Barbie’s not an issue if girls can think for themselves). Raising healthy, well-adjusted girls has less to do with the toys they play with ( or the colours they chose to wear) and more to do with the values we instill in them. By teaching our children to think critically about cultural goods and by equipping them with skills to navigate complex cultural messages we will be empowering them for life. Education — not panic — enables girls to see clearly, think critically, and reinvent their worlds.

Girls too need to be told that there are many ways in which they can chose to be a girl and a woman. Enlighten Education Presenter, and Manager for WA, Nikki Davis agreed:

When I work with teen girls I tell them upfront that I have always been attracted to very traditionally “girlie” things – I demanded to choose my own (usually pink) clothes from age 3, dressed up as a Princess at every available opportunity and I still love high heels and make up. I then go on to tell them how important feminism is to me and how powerful I believe we all can be as women.  I love to see the relief on the faces of a number of girls in the room as they realize that they don’t have to trade in their nail polish or love of clothes to be strong and independent with opinions that matter. I think telling girls that they have to fit into any sort of “mould” is incredibly limiting and we risk perpetuating age-old ideas around women having labels like ‘sporty’,  ‘girlie’ or ‘tough’. There’s no reason why a woman can’t be all of those things if she chooses to be!

Once again, I’d love to hear from you. What messages do you think we deliver to young women that are harmful? 

 

Relationship Education – beyond the birds and bees banter

Did you know that:

*24% of 14 to 17 year-olds know at least one student who has been the victim of dating violence, yet 81% of parents are either unaware of it, or turn a blind eye. What’s more, 33% of teenagers report knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked or physically hurt by their partner.

*72% of teens say boyfriend/girlfriend relationships usually begin at 14 or younger. That’s younger than things used to be, and of those in a tween relationship (11-14 year olds) 20% report that it is conducted with secrecy so that their parents don’t know.

*Of tweens who have been in a relationship, surveys indicate that 62% said they know friends who have been verbally abused and only half of those surveyed claim to know the warning signs of a bad/hurtful relationship.

* As adolescents become more autonomous from their parents, their romantic relationships increasingly become a key source of emotional support. In fact, one study found that, amongst Tenth graders, only close friends provide more support than romantic partners.

*Young people spend a great deal of time thinking about, talking about, and being in romantic relationships yet adults typically dismiss adolescent dating relationships as superficial. The quality of adolescent romantic relationships can have long lasting effects on self-esteem and shape personal values regarding romance, intimate relationships, and sexuality.

* Within the school environment, students may get sex education – but they rarely get relationship education. The crowded education curriculum, and the pressures placed on educators due to external examinations, make the delivery of comprehensive, effective relationship education very challenging.

I had the opportunity to discuss why statistics like these prompted me to partner up with Nina Funnell and write Loveability – An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships recently on radio 4Bc  in Brisbane. You may listen to this very comprehensive interview here: MediaClips_EED69_EnlightenEducation_4BC_23Feb2013_Miller-2

I was thrilled then when the excellent team at Harper Collins chose to produce Teacher’s Notes with a particular focus on how Loveability could be used in the classroom for the subject Personal Development, Health and Physical Education to achieve the following learning outcomes:

•Stage 4 Personal Development, Health and Physical Education

•Strand 1: Self and Relationships

•Stage 5 Personal Development, Health and Physical Education

•Strand 1: Self and Relationships.

The package may be downloaded here: Teachers Notes Loveability-2

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I’ve also been thrilled at the early uptake from our client schools for Enlighten Education’s new one hour “Loveability” in-school workshop. You may download the flyer for this here: Loveability – EE in-school program flyer

Let’s ensure our girls know how to navigate the often complex world of relationships and receive advice that is smart, warm, engaging and never judgemental.

At what age should girls start dating?

My writing buddy Nina Funnell and I have spent a busy week doing media for our new book Loveability – An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships. A highlight for me was speaking to the exceptional Natasha Mitchell on ABC’s Life Matters – you may listen to the interview here. 

Interestingly, the majority of the interviews we did seemed focused on determining at what age parents should allow their children to date. Case in point – this segment on channel 9’s Mornings:

 

The facts? Whether we like it or not, as I state in the interview above ( and teen Jordie confirms) young people are forming relationships at a younger and younger age and trying to ban these only contributes to secrecy. Further, young people spend an inordinate amount of time thinking and talking about relationships so we must ensure warm, wise, realistic and accessible advice is offered early.

Nina recently explained why setting blanket bans and stigmatising all relationships as being potentially dangerous is unhelpful:

“Instead of treating the sexuality of children as something to be either feared or controlled, we need to encourage open conversations about intimacy and relationships. It is also important not to demonise young people’s sexuality or interest in these topics, as this can create stigma, anxiety and shame.

It is deeply unhelpful (for example) to teach young people that the only reason why a girl might seek out intimacy or connection is due to low self esteem and a lack of self worth. This view totally disregards the desires and natural sexual urges of young women as well as the legitimate and positive experiences they may draw from relationships.”

So – how to handle this question in a positive, realistic way?

Again, I called on Nina for she answered this question for girls in the Q&A section of our book (with a little help from our go-to psychologist Jacqui Manning)  I think they nailed it:

Q. My parents think I’m too young to start dating. How young is too young?

A. Knowing the right time to start dating isn’t so much about waiting till you turn a specific age. It’s about ‘taking the time to do it right’, according to psychologist Jacqui Manning. ‘Your early relationships can really set the scene for your love future, so having good experiences now will set you up with positive expectations from your partners forever.’

Ask your parents why they think you’re too young. Ask for their advice, and ask whether they’re comfortable to share their own experiences with you. Although some girls find it uncomfortable to talk about relationships with their parents, you can get some good tips by having an honest chat with them.

Relationships can be difficult to manage when you’re still busy learning about yourself, so don’t rush into it just because it’s what other people are doing, says Jacqui. ‘The important thing to remember is to not get swept up in another person’s idea of how the relationship should be, but to establish your own values and boundaries around what’s important to you — before you enter into a relationship. That way, you’ll have a better idea of when something doesn’t feel right.’

Before dating, think about the following questions: what kind of person do I like and what sort of qualities am I looking for in a person? What are my dating boundaries and deal breakers? What would a good relationship look and feel like to me? If, after you have put some effort into thinking about what you want, you feel self-assured enough to set boundaries in your relationships, then you may well be ready to get out there.

Nina and I have also developed a series of shareable images we have been using on Facebook and on Instagram to encourage girls into thinking more about their Relationship Deal Breakers and their Relationship Must-Haves. Feel free to download these and use them too! 

Let’s open up dialogue – not shut it down.

RRPicMonkey Collage

 

 

 

No More Blurring The Lines – I’m Talking To You Mr Bruno Mars

Back in 2008 I blogged about my concern music no longer loved women:

Song lyrics have always been filled with sexual innuendo and pushed societies boundaries but this in-your-face mainstream misogyny is relatively new. And now- thanks to large plasma screens in shopping centers, bowling alleys and bars and night clubs – it is inescapable. It’s hate and porn, all the time.

Obviously nothing has changed – if anything, the lines seem to have become even more blurred. Robin Thicke sings about wanting to tear a girl’s “arse in two” in his song with the telling title “Blurred Lines,” because he know the “bitch” wants it. Yet it was Miley Cyrus’ twerking (suggestive dancing) to this song at the recent VMA’s ( Video Music Awards) that caused outrage – not the song itself. Blogger Matt Walsh nailed the hypocritical nature of many of the “Shame on You Miley” responses in his post “Dear son, don’t let Robin Thicke be a lesson to you”

A 36 year old married man and father, grinding against an intoxicated 20 year old while singing about how she’s an “animal” and the “hottest bitch in this place.” And what happens the next day? We’re all boycotting the 20 year old. The grown man gets a pass.

And so now welcome yet another grown man to the stage, Bruno Mars, with his latest single, “Gorilla.” The lyrics include:

Ooh I got a body full of liquor
With a cocaine kicker
And I’m feeling like I’m thirty feet tall
So lay it down, lay it down

You got your legs up in the sky
With the devil in your eyes
Let me hear you say you want it all
Say it now, say it now…

Yeah, I got a fistful of your hair
But you don’t look like you’re scared
You just smile and tell me, “Daddy, it’s yours.”
‘Cause you know how I like it,
You’s a dirty little lover

If the neighbors call the cops,
Call the sheriff, call the SWAT ‒ we don’t stop,
We keep rocking while they’re knocking on our door
And you’re screaming, “Give it to me baby,
Give it to me motherf*#cker!”

And you know what? I don’t want to hand out anymore free passes. I am calling “Enough!”

The first time I heard this was when I was dropping my two children to school in the morning while tuned to a mainstream commercial radio station. I expressed my dismay on Facebook and soon had many agree with me – the majority of the comments of support were from teen girls I am Friends with. Some of these girls went on to message me to say that it is no wonder the boys around them don’t always respect them, and that they feel a culture that celebrates this type of man-handling of women is making it hard to know what respect in a relationship really looks and feels like.

The messages these girls sent me are certainly reinforced by the research.Dr Michael Rich, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics Media Matters campaign has gone so far as to state that exposure to misogynist music that portrays violence against women and sexual coercion as normal may effect other areas of young peoples lives and make it more difficult for them to know what is normal in a relationship. And sadly, the statistics on sexual assault clearly indicate there is absolutely a great deal of confusion around the issue of sexual consent. A recent United Nations report shockingly revealed that one in four men surveyed in Asia-pacific admit to rape. Many respondents did not consider the act as rape, however, for they felt it was acceptable to coerce a woman into sex if she was in fact too drunk or drugged to indicate whether she wanted it. Nearly 73%  said they thought  they had an entitlement to sex, these respondents identified with statements like “I wanted her”, “I wanted to have sex”, or “I wanted to show I could do it”.

Colleague and writing partner Nina Funnell, who has worked extensively in the area of sexual assault prevention, offered the following thoughtful response to this study:

Sexual assault is just all too common and in Australia I don’t think the stats wouldn’t be all that different. I know too many women and girls who have had unwanted and non consensual sexual experiences. It is absolutely vital that we start a new conversation in relation to sexual education: we need to move beyond reproduction, puberty and the biology of making babies and start talking about consent and communication. We need to talk about sexual entitlement and its close (read: direct) relationship to sexual assault. We need to help all young people to recognise and respect other people’s boundaries. We need to focus on healthy relationhips, consent, boundaries, fair negotiation and respect. We need to empower young people to know their own bodies, instead of shaming them around their sexualities . We need a new conversation where we are brave enough to talk about the fact that these issues don’t only effect teenagers. And we need to get real about a culture that normalizes and even eroticizes non consensual acts. Most of all, we need to recognise that this is going to take time and hard work.

It is a shame that much of the nuanced discussion around the need for education was missed when the Daily Telegraph ran a story on my concerns over “Gorilla” earlier this week. It is important to note too (as it’s not clear from this article) that I am not saying the song should necessarily be banned per se, but rather there should be some guidelines for commercial radio that determine what song lyrics can be played at what time of the day – similar to what we now have for TV.

I did get the opportunity to have another say on channel 9’s Mornings show:

Surely we can offer a better soundtrack to our kid’s youth than this?

My next book

The Next Big Thing encourages writers to share their work. Participants answer questions on their next big project (usually a book, but not always – one of the nominees listed with me was a playwright) each Wednesday, and pass the baton on to five other writers to continue the project the following week.

Last week, I was tagged by Rachel Hills.

This provides me with the perfect excuse to discuss my next book which I have just completed. I had the pleasure of co-writing this with my dear friend Nina Funnell.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

“Love – An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships”. It must be said though that we are still playing around with a number of titles. Like all expectant parents, we are keen to ensure we get the name for our baby just right. 

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Recently Nina and I met for coffee and found ourselves browsing through the self-help / relationship section at a local bookshop. We noted there was a whole genre of books out there aimed at young women, that would have them believe that landing a man means being less of who they really are. And there didn’t seem to be any books at all that were offering the kind of advice we actually wanted when we were teen girls – how to survive crushes, how to tell if someone likes you, how to cope with heartbreak, how to set relationship boundaries, how to know when it’s time to break up with your partner, and even (shock horror) how to actually enjoy being single (because it can be awesome)!

And while there are hundreds of studies conducted on teenagers and sex every year, there are almost no comprehensive studies (or very few) about teen relationships, in part because teen relationships are often viewed as trivial or unworthy of serious academic study. But the reality is, teen relationships are far from trivial. In fact these early experiences help shape us and lay the foundation for future relationships.  

So we decided that if we didn’t think any of what was out there already was particularly helpful, that we should offer something different.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Relationships – non-fiction. 

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

My initial thoughts were that it is not the type of book that would be made into a film; but I then realised that of course one of the classic guides to relationships, “He’s Just Not That Into You”, was made into a very successful movie. So, should Hollywood call, I would  suggest a cast of young, diverse, interesting actors and actresses. With the soundtrack by Paul Dempsey / Something For Kate. 

Hey, if we are dreaming here…

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

This book is an up –front guide to ethical dating and relationships which will empower young women. 

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The book will be published by Harper Collins, February 2014. 

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Nina and I had discussed the book concept for some time, but really only began writing 6 months ago. 

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The chapters I wrote are similar in their tone to my other book for teen girls, The Girl With The Butterfly Tattoo. However, the book itself  deliberately parts ways with other guides to relationships that are already on the market for young people.  

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

All the girls Nina and I work with in schools inspired this book. 

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Think of this book as being a little like a “Lonely Planet” guide to Love written specifically for teen girls. We tell them about our travels, what we liked, what we hated, the places we would definitely go again and those they need to avoid… and we invited many other “travelers” to share their experiences too. It is warm and wise – and the teen girls we have shared it with to date absolutely love it! 

Next Wednesday, you’ll see a response from this writer I hereby tag*:

Sharon Witt  

* Technically, I am supposed to tag 5 writers but as as it is the Christmas season, I could only access one willing to participate at this time. Hey – it’s quality,  not quantity that counts.

 

On “targeting” little girls who wear shorts as “trampy”

Do short shorts = trampy? Does a short skirt = slutty?

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines “sexualisation” as  occurring when a person’s value is believed to come only from their sexual appeal; their sexiness is judged according to a narrow ideal of physical attractiveness; or they are sexually objectified (that is, seen simply as an object for others’ sexual use). This may have a serious impact on a child’s cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and on their sexuality.

As a parent and educator, this has concerned me enough to compel me to act.

Back in 2002, I founded a company, Enlighten Education, which now works with over 20,000 girls a year in schools. We encourage girls to be discerning consumers and critical thinkers and to find their own voice and power in a complex world. I’ve taken to the streets to protest against child beauty pageants. I’ve backed boycotts of stores that market Playboy-branded merchandise to kids. Back in 2007, when 60 Minutes did a feature story in response to the Senate’s inquiry into this issue, I was presented as the “poster girl” for parents who were concerned that our culture imposes pressures on girls to be too sexy, too soon. Hell, I have even written two books aimed at supporting parents, and girls, to claim their own power.

So why am I not thrilled at the latest online furor over the mother’s Facebook message to clothing store Target that slammed them for encouraging girls to look “trampy”? After all, over 57,000 people agreed with her. Why too aren’t I elated by the subsequent media storm this has initiated, which has seen two different pairs of denim shorts held up as shocking examples of sexualized clothing we should all be morally outraged by?

A pair of shorts presented by the media as evidence of the sexualisation of girls.

Because short shorts are not evidence of the sexualisation of our children, nor should children ever be labeled as “trampy”. And the really important and valid discussions around the sexualisation of children we need to be having at the moment seem to be being hijacked by those that would have this issue used as an excuse to shame girls and women based on their clothing choices.

This diversion may have serious consequences. History shows us that the natural progression in making moral judgements about an individual based solely on their clothing is to then begin blaming victims for sexual assaults based on what they were wearing at the time. I have already seen a number of comments and posts on Facebook that suggest if little girls are attacked by predators, it would be reasonable for us to then question what they were wearing at the time of the assault. Not only is such thinking deeply offensive, it is misinformed and dangerous. All the research shows that those who would harm girls and women pick targets they perceive as vulnerable; as easy targets. They don’t go around measuring short lengths or skirt hems.

Keep in mind too that sexual assault is a very real issue in our society and when we make statements that are in effect rape-apologist in nature, or that shame women based on clothing choice, the victims of these assaults hear that we think somehow it was their fault. That they asked for it. Their shorts were an invitation to judge them / insult them / harm them.

Truly, where do we think this policing of the length of a pair of shorts might end? Should girls and women be ashamed of their flesh? Do we want to keep them covered up from head to toe?

I absolutely agree that there are many marketers who are selling out on our children by pushing a product that does enforce an artificial, adult version of sexuality upon them. Should the shorts have been brandished with “Flirt”, “Playboy”, “Porn Star” or pouting lips (and make no mistake, I have seen products aimed at children bearing all these slogans) then yes, this would clearly be evidence of sexualisation.

And whilst I support any individual who wishes to speak back to corporates and demand more for children, I know that a path which invites the shaming of girls and women based on clothing choice, and that views garments that seem only to be guilty of perhaps “showing too much leg,” is not a path we should be going down.

* This post was first published by The Hoopla, 15/8/12.

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