The education secretary Nicky Morgan is proposing a “curriculum for life” to help young people deal with what the Guardian calls “modern social issues brought on by the internet age.” These are, we are led to believe, new issues. Brand new, never-been-seen-before, state-of-the-art sources of teenage angst, such as sexting and revenge porn.
True, there was nothing like that in my day. We just had boring, hands-on sexism – sorry, did I just say sexism? It seems we’re not supposed to mention that. It might be the driving force behind this particular misuse of communication technology but no one seems willing to say. Looking for a hierarchy? Nothing to see here. We are meant to think this stuff is just happening at random because “modern times.” There’s no link between rampant individualism and Tory policies, and absolutely no connection between a form of abuse which targets women in particular and sexism at large. It’s just that smartphones were invented before we had time to work out what to do with them. Right? Or are we just finding another way to talk around misogyny because to actually confront it would be more than we could bear?
Morgan mentions NSPCC research showing that “six in 10 teenagers have been asked for sexual images or videos online.” What she does not mention is the very clearly gendered nature of the NSPCC findings. Indeed, the researchers explicitly state that “no understanding of sexting would be complete without an appreciation of the extent to which an often completely normalised sexism constitutes the context for all relationships–both on and off-line”:
As researchers going into the schools to meet with young people, we were distressed by the levels of sexist abuse and physical harassment–even violence–to which the girls were subject on a regular basis. […] Perhaps the broadest level at which sexism operates in the young people’s lives is to be found in the deeply rooted notion that girls and young women’s bodies are somehow the property of boys and young men.
This is not some gender neutral trend. It is young men seeking to claim ownership of young women’s bodies. What’s more, this is nothing mordern at all.
It is utterly pointless to talk in vague terms, as Morgan does, about “peer pressure or coercion” (pressure from whom? who is being coerced?). Pointless, too, to suggest that “the internet and the advance of the digital age […] bring new pressures”; what they bring are new weapons for men to use in their age-old war on women. You can complain about the weapons, sure, but it’s a morally vacuous complaint if you’ve no interest in ending the actual war.