slippery slope

Yesterday, I posted two articles on Facebook. The first, entitled: Can You Tell the Difference Between A Men’s Magazine and a Rapist? reported on a study conducted jointly by researchers from the University of Surrey and the University of Middlesex, found that:

people can’t tell the difference between quotes from British “lad mags” and interviews with convicted rapists. And given the choice, men are actually more likely to agree with the rapists.

The second was a blog post entitled Cover Up by the author, Alison McQueen. She wrote it in response to the “brouhaha” that has arisen since a British supermarket gave Lad Mags like Loaded and Nuts six weeks seal their magazines in modesty bags or risk being taken off the shelves. Then she went on to recount how as an eleven year old girl, she was confronted with the explicit images that objectified women along every step of her way to school.

It made me feel frightened, and vulnerable, and worried about my future. It made me feel like a potential victim without knowing why. It made me look at the ground and walk past quickly when I was barely 11 years old.

Responses on my Facebook page to the first post ranged from “Scary” and “Frightening” to this one:

John One significant trouble with these mags, I think, is the disconnect between appearance and reality. They feed us with fantastic appearances such that we forget what’s real. I fancy that probably many more women than we know just can’t stomach dirty talk, for instance, and upon hearing it, desire shrivels up within them.

Responses to the second post agreeing with the supermarket were not so positive:

  • Lisa I don’t know – I don’t think that offence is a sufficient reason for censorship, otherwise so many things would end up being censored. Freedom of speech is more important than preventing offense. Obviously one has to make sure that kids are not exposed to things that they should be, but adults are different.
  • 16 hours ago · Like
  • Jason Do you really think that nudity, or semi naked women on the cover of a magazine in a shops shelf will corrupt a young mind! I don’t! If children are brought up with a healthy open and educated mind then its no real biggy for them.
    16 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Lisa  Also – why just cover up naked women? What about the women on Cosmopolitan and other women’s mags? They presumably offend a number of devout religious people, who would also, presumably, consider them poor role models for their children. And what about leaders in commerce on the covers of business magazines – their valorisation, presumably, would offend some socialists / communists – and would corrupt their children (on their opinion).
    16 hours ago · Edited · Like

    I have no short answers to these comments, hence this blog.

    Freedom of Expression/Speech is a fundamental ideal and one of the cornerstones of democracy. So it should be.  But it’s an ideal too often trotted out as the be all and end all of what makes us as a society. Restraints on Freedom of Expression operate in every democracy around the world. We censor the things we deem too damaging to our society be allowed into the public sphere. We have rules. We have laws. We decide what we value and we design our democracy accordingly. We set up the ideal, in this case, Freedom of Expression, and then we make exceptions. 

    Child pornography is an exception to freedom of expression. Woah, you cry, the child isn’t of the age of consent. True, but we censor even fake images of child pornography, images where the “child” is an actor over the age of eighteen. Why do that? Why censor the pretense of children having sex? Why ban an animated film depicting sex with children? What’s wrong with pretending to have sex with a child? Or a cartoon child? What’s wrong with getting off on sexual media involving a child if it isn’t real?  In South Africa, the UK and many other countries, owning an image that depicts sex with a child is considered a crime. We allow citizens to engage in sexual fantasies of everything from barnyard porn to rape fantasies, but you just need to look at a picture of child pornography, even a fake one, and we’ll slap the cuffs on you. It’s a thought crime. The most extreme curtailment of freedom of expression. Why? Because we want to protect children from abuse. We worry that if our citizens are allowed to get off on images of children, on thing will lead to another and…

    Hate speech is another curtailment of the Freedom of Expression ideal. We don’t allow expressions of hatred toward someone on account of that person’s colour, race, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation. We do that because there’s a higher value here than Freedom of Expression. We want to create a tolerant society, where people are not free to breed the kinds of hatred that lead to horrible things like apartheid and genocide.

    So am I a prude that thinks images of nudity or semi-naked women will corrupt young minds? That depends. What is the purpose of the image? Does the image objectify women? What does that image say to my daughter/your son about being a woman? Does the image contribute in any way to a culture where young men don’t know that non-conseual sex is rape? 

    I don’t hide my body from daughter. Nudity in our house isn’t taboo. We bath together. She bathes with her dad. She sees us naked and  gets to run around in our back yard sans clothes all summer long. Do I think this corrupts her? Nope. I think this is healthy nudity. It’s a natural kind of nakedness and I think it shows her that there is no shame in her body.  I’m happy for her to see images of naked people that make her feel unashamed. But I’ve got to ask, does an image of a woman peeling off her sexy underwear while sticking her breasts or backside out, licking her lips and lowering her eyelids imprint a healthy attitude onto my daughter’s mind about her body and sexuality? What does it tell my daughter or your son about the role of women in society?  It’s an image that’s pretty much de rigueur for the cover of Loaded, FHM, Nuts, Playboy, Hustler and every other Lad Mag out there. And kids are getting bombarded with those images every time you take them shopping.
    What about the slippery slope eroding civil rights? If we say this kind of content shouldn’t be on display for our kids, what about other kinds of content that offend other groups? No one is asking adults to stop looking at images that turn them on. Go ahead, masturbate away. Download pornography to your hearts content if that’s what floats your boat. But let’s stop exposing young children to the wholesale objectification of women as sex meat. We’re sexualising our children too young, and in all the wrong ways. 
    Early imprinting creates a neurological blueprint that impacts on behaviour for life. Your young child’s brain is a sponge, sucking in data from every direction. That row of Lad Mags in the supermarket contributes to the gender perceptions of our sons and daughters. You’re deluded if you believe that your influence as a parent negates the bombardment of material objectifying women. The Strubenville foot ball players that raped a sixteen year old girl, urinated on her and then circulated the video of the crime, weren’t taught to behave that way by their parents. Allegedly, they were good kids, normal kids, not much different from their peers. They didn’t even think that what they were doing was very wrong. It’s considered normal for teenage girls to circulate selfies in which they try to look like the sex meat on the cover of Lad Mags. Did their mother’s teach them to stick out their butt while peeling down the straps of their lacy bra, or did they get it from someplace else? 
    I want to be able to choose to look at sexual images or pornography. I want you to be able to choose. But I don’t want those images forced upon my four year old daughter because she isn’t yet able to contextualise them. These images are damaging. I’m tired of it being considered normal to objectify women and treat them like pieces of meat to be flipped over for a good rogering. I’m tired of rape jokes. I’m tired of the rhetoric that degrades women. We live in a world where we think this is normal and we’re imprinting these perceptions of “normal” on our kids by over exposure to media that objectifies women and contributes to a culture of sexual violence. Slippery slope? Rape culture has become the norm. We’ve been sliding down that particular slippery slope for decades. These magazines contribute to that. 

What do you think?

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