The Pornification of Mainstream Culture
Or, 'Conversations You Don't Expect to Have with Your 12 Year Old on a Tuesday Morning'.
This morning my extremely fabulous daughter came downstairs for school wearing her school skirt rolled over at the waistband a thousand times until it was hardly a skirt at all and over the knee socks that appear to be all the rage.
I see this look regularly on the school run. Rather than revelling in the cutting edge fashion sense of these young people I am always struck by how vulnerable they are.
I found myself explaining to my daughter this morning that although she should be at liberty to wear whatever the hell she wants and is absolutely not responsible ever for the behaviour of others, wearing a bum skimming skirt and over the knee socks is a look that causes her ancient mother some discomfort.
I explained about how a common theme in mainstream porn is that of the 'sexy', or otherwise, schoolgirl and how female porn actors are infantilised and made to appear as children by the wearing of school uniform. And, yes, she already knows what porn is because we had that conversation a couple of years ago. (Incidentally, NSPCC data suggests the average age a young person encounters porn is aged 11 years old. Therefore some kids will be even younger. She knows that porn isn't real. The sex is real but is in no way representative of real life relationships. She also knows that showing kids porn is a grooming tool for abusers to desensitise their victims. It's sad that these conversations are necessary but knowledge is power, hopefully the power to stay safe) Anyhow, I digress. We went on to discuss how the imagery of the sexualised 'schoolgirl' in mainstream porn legitimises paedophiles. By paedophiles, I include anyone who takes a sexual interest in children not just men in flasher macs who hang around parks offering kids sweets - if only they were that obvious.
I also, mumsplained (possibly even more painful than mansplaining) to her that what passes for a music video nowadays would have been porn in the 70s and 80s. I showed her the Britney Spears video to Hit Me Baby One More Time (didn't think it was appropriate to show my child actual porn in order to make my point) and explained how back in the day that video caused a bit of a kerfuffle. Ground down by the sheer force of my mumsplaining she agreed that the sexualisation of children, whist neither her fault nor her responsibility, was unhelpful. It is a horribly slippery slope and a short hop, skip and a jump to full blown victim blaming and 'well, look at what they were wearing' and 'they were asking for it' territory.
Her clothing options this morning were as follows:
Teeny tiny skirt and tights
Skirt the length it was intended
She opted for 'skirt the length it was intended and socks'. When I dropped her at school I would need to take off my shoes and socks and still not be able to count all the girls I saw rocking the teeny tiny skirt and over the knee socks look. I get that it's important to fit in and it seems to be a uniform within a uniform. Interestingly, her school is doing a rather fabulous 'casual clothes Friday' thing where literally every girl in the school wears leggings or jeans and a hoodie!
The best bit of all this is that she got home from school and declared that she 'hates the stupid socks', they're really uncomfortable. Boom! In our house clothing that has labels or is itchy or that is just plain wrong comes in for very swift judgement.
Prior to this morning's foray into complicated sexual politics, about a week or so ago I had yet another surreal conversation but with my son. My son is 11 but socially and emotionally much younger. The kids' dad has a wonderful carer. I was hiding at the top of the house trying to do some work. I popped down to make a brew or some such and S, the wonderful carer, looked more than a little traumatised. She explained that there had been a situation with my son and that she hadn't been sure how to react and hadn't wanted to embarrass him.
The situation was that they had been in the living room together when he had engaged in some 'sexy dancing' that involved cavorting with the TV remote control and humping the sofa cushions. I resisted the urge to throw myself to the floor sobbing and beg S not to leave because I will die without her and instead aimed for a constructive conversation with my son to try and figure out what the 'sexy dancing' was all about.
This is one of the many respects in which my son is extremely vulnerable, he will confess to literally anything. Especially if he doesn't understand the question or doesn't know what's going on. He kind of guesses because he wants to please whoever is asking the questions.
Using my expert line of questioning (yeah, it wasn't great), I was trying to figure out if he'd watched something inappropriate. We have parental controls on everything but he is an accomplished hacker. I explained to him that he wasn't in trouble and I wasn't cross with him but that I do need to know what he's been watching so that I can help him to stay safe. All drawing a blank or rather eliciting confessions of guilt for an unsolved 1973 bank robbery.
I changed course and began to explain that when people go through puberty they might find that they want to 'explore' themselves and this is completely normal and you just need to do it in your room, not in the living room and it's not a spectator sport so no need for S to be watching. My son was looking more and more horrified by the moment and was very emphatic about not wanting to do puberty. Frankly, I don't blame him.
So, I was no further forward in my quest to uncover the source of the 'sexy dancing'. My daughter had joined us at some point in the proceedings, never one to miss out on something interesting. S meanwhile had a scroll through his browser history on his tablet - Nicki chuffing Minaj. I explained that Nicki Minaj is acting in her music videos and how she dances isn't appropriate dancing for at school, for example. I'm so looking forward to the day the head (who fortunately is wonderful) at his school asks to have a word with me about my son twerking and worse. At this point my daughter chips in with, 'well she is the queen of rap'.
And this is why the pornification of mainstream culture can just get in the bin.