Thursday, 22 January 2015

Porn stars and page 3: what a generation of fathers has taught its children

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What they don't see won't harm them, we say as we quickly switch the channel to prevent our children from sex and violence. We rate our films in appropriate age categories, deeming some content too severe or explicit for their little eyes. We create different rules for ourselves because we're mature enough to act appropriately after watching porn or horror, exempt from our heads being screwed up.

In 1970 the Sun newspaper started publishing pictures of topless models on their pages. Most women felt uncomfortable about it, some men too, but as long as you didn't buy the paper, or pause at page three, you weren't endorsing the belief that women were mere objects to be ogled at. Live and let live, many would say, if men wanted to look at that stuff they weren't harming anyone, right? 

Since then our exposure to sexualisation of women has gone up a notch; naked ladies are available online, the porn industry is a multi-million pound business, sex shows and strip clubs are the norm for holidaymakers. But they're still not harming anyone, right? If they want to go to Amsterdam and see a lady do funny things with a banana that's up to them, isn't it?

The problem with all this stuff is that there is a shift from merely appreciating a woman's beauty to sexualising it. There is, of course, nothing wrong with finding a woman attractive, but when you stick her naked body on a national newspaper she becomes nothing else. She is an object to be admired, to be aroused by – she is there for men's gratification, and men's gratification alone. What this public display of sexuality has done over the last few decades is create a culture where it is acceptable for a man to wolf whistle at a lady as she walks by because he feels he has a right not only to judge her body but to bring public attention to it. We live in a culture where it is okay to make jokes about women being less intelligent than men, or pay them less, because they are not known for their brains, just their bodies (and how hard is it to stand there and look pretty?). Men who follow this belief system tell women to take it as a compliment, until it comes to another man treating his daughter as a sex object, and then it's a different story.

We can't have different standards for ourselves and for our children. We can't ogle at a page three model one day and tell our daughters to cover up the next. We can't condone the sexualisation of women and then expect our heterosexual sons to enter into relationships without an expectation of sexual gratification. What page three and the likes have done is to allow this attitude to seep into our culture so that it is the norm to be allowed to look at women as objects. 

I, for one, want to raise sons who give women more credit than just having a pretty face. I want them to appreciate that women have a voice, that they are there to be partnered with, not simply admired for their beauty. I want you to raise your daughters to know that they can have ambition, that they don't have to fit into the gender stereotypes we've created. I want you to tell them they are more than the skin they are in so that they do not choose partners who disrespect them, belittle or abuse them. I want the next generation to know that our differences are to be celebrated, but that it doesn't mean we are not equals. 

So the next time you think it's a good thing to ogle at a bare chested stranger in a magazine, or that going to strip clubs is 'a bit of a laugh', just think about how you would justify your actions to a five year old boy or girl. Sure, you don't have to – you would no doubt think it inappropriate to do so, but think about what your actions say about your attitudes, which are being passed down to the next generation. If you think women are there to be looked at please don't think your children won't pick up on you looking a lady up and down in the queue at Tesco. Don't think if you treat your wife as a trophy, that your daughters will have great ambition, or that they won't struggle with self esteem. Your belief systems cannot be hidden, they don't just apply as you privately read the paper, they are reflected in your everyday lives. Let's hope we can raise the next generation to do a better job than we have. 

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