Early last year I was invited to do a presentation to a class of 15-year-old girls in a North London comprehensive school. It was International Women’s Day, and I chose to focus my talk on the prevalence of and fightback against male violence.
As soon as we got to the Q&A session, the stories immediately began: girls telling me about being flashed at, boys masturbating under the desk at school while staring at them, the tsunami of dick pics flooding into the girls’ iPhones, and rape and sexual assault. I asked what they think was at the root of the escalation of such behaviour, and there was an almost unanimous shout of “porn”.
I am not in the slightest bit surprised, therefore at the Ofsted report released today about the horrific levels of sexual harassment and online sexual abuse that girls (and some boys) experience on a daily basis. The most upsetting thing for me, as a feminist who has campaigned for decades to expose the porn industry, is that so many victims consider such harassment as a routine part of their daily lives and therefore see little point in challenging or reporting it.
As the report highlights, girls suffer sexist name-calling, online abuse, upskirting, unwanted touching in school corridors and rape jokes. Boys share nude pictures on WhatsApp and Snapchat “like a collection game”.
Feminists have been warning about the effects of pornography for some time. Despite the fact that we have long been accused of anti-sex moralism, prudishness, and man-hating, we have the evidence to show that the availability of what used to be called ‘hard-core porn’, and is now just ‘porn’ (none of it fits into the so-called soft-core category these days), can shape the way boys view women.
When I have interviewed boys about their pornography consumption, they have told me that they seek more and more violent forms as they get bored with the more mainstream stuff. Porn is now the new ‘sex education’ in schools, and a number of young men have spoken out about being unable to sexually respond to women because their brains are so full of images of women being choked, urinated on, and damaged in ways probably too graphic for this publication.
In 2010 I interviewed the anti-porn activist and academic Gail Dines, author of ‘Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality’, who told me that:
“We are now bringing up a generation of boys on cruel, violent porn, and given what we know about how images affect people, this is going to have a profound influence on their sexuality, behaviour and attitudes towards women.”
Three years later, an academic journal entitled Porn Studies was launched. This has been heavily criticised by Dines and other experts on sexual exploitation and violence against women for its pro-porn bias. The Porn Studies board appears to be comprised of entirely pro-porn individuals, including Tristan Taormino, who describes herself as a ‘feminist pornographer’ (vegan butcher, anyone?) but who has worked alongside some of the most hard-core porn directors in the industry.
Unless we admit the truth about porn — that it is misogynistic propaganda that teaches boys to hate women — I fear that things will only get worse for girls, and our schools will become training grounds for sexual assault.