Two weeks ago, a speaker at the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers voiced a need to teach pupils about the dangers of internet porn. A few days later, deputy children’s commissioner Sue Berelowitz announced the launch of new research to find out if boys understood the meaning of girls consenting to sex after another report found that 100% of 14-year-old boys in one school had accessed porn on the web, and that 50% of girls had seen it, too – usually at the boys’ behest.
I might dismiss this as scaremongering if I didn’t know that my mother retired from a long and varied career in community sexual health three years ago, just as her colleagues who went into schools started reporting a rise in STD outbreaks concomitant in the rise of boys coaxing (cajoling, bullying, forcing – draw the line where you will) girls to service the lot of them in turn so they could film it on their phones.
And I might still hope there was more smoke than fire if I hadn’t been told a story by a friend about teaching sex ed classes in a big west London comprehensive – for which the otherwise mixed school was separated into gender groups; she took the girls. She was halfway through her planned lesson and ground to a halt when she saw a roomful of faces gazing blankly, where she had expected giggling and ribald commentary at least. She questioned them and then light dawned. “You do realise,” she said hesitantly, “that you’re supposed to enjoy it, don’t you?” Incredulity and a buzz of interest broke out. She threw away her lesson plan and they talked for the rest of the time about this new and fascinating idea. Then she came home and cried.
Girls’ nascent sexuality, their needs, their rights, have always been subordinated to those of boys. The only way to change that is to ensure that they are born into a world that is truly fair and equal, and grow up with an inviolate sense of selfhood, asserting themselves as naturally and painlessly as breathing.
Alas, the only advantage this strategy has is that it is still easier than clearing the internet of porn. Until then, we can only follow the example of my early adviser and my teacher friend, and speak truth to the disempowered.