I was horrified to hear that Conservative MP Nadine Dorries has tabled a motion for abstinence-only sex education for girls aged 13-16, which has passed its first vote in the House of Commons.
Why does this even happen? In 2011, why do we have adults, members of parliament even, proposing a return to a model of sex-education which is based on shame and fear and which has been proven over and over not to work?
In the bad old days before Feminism, there was a double-standard of sexual morality whose real purpose was to control women and ensure the continued dominance of men. In this double-standard an unmarried woman’s entire value rested with her virginity, and if she got caught having sex she lost all social status, lost the chance to marry in future, and was outcast by her family and friends. In short, her life was ruined. By contrast a man who committed the exact same infraction was considered to have behaved somewhat badly, but did not face any real consequences.
In the days of the double-standard very little distinction was made between consensual sex and rape. Men were considered to be incapable of restraining their sexual urges, and thus the entire responsibility for preventing both sex and rape lay with women. Women who were raped were often blamed for it and punished just the same as if they had had consensual sex. The distinction between sex and rape was further blurred by the fact that women were not supposed to enjoy sex; married women were supposed to see sex as a duty which they were required to perform for their husbands. Women who did enjoy sex were considered to be morally deviant, and had shame and hatred piled upon them.
The consequences of the double-standard were dire: women’s lives were ruined for no good reason, women were denied opportunities for education, women got sick or died as a result of unsafe abortions, all for doing something that men could do anytime they wanted, consequence-free. Women were continually told to feel ashamed of their sexuality, while heterosexual men were taught that their sexuality was healthy and normal, and even a source of pride.
To most people today the ideology of the sexual double-standard sounds laughably old-fashioned. Most people think that women and men should be treated equally, that it is normal to have sex outside of marriage, and that it is normal and desirable for both women and men to enjoy sex. But there are still a few right-wing extremists around who want to bring back the double-standard. They know that their ideas would sound either ludicrous or dangerous to most people if stated baldly, so tone down their message to make it sound more reasonable.
I’m going to quote Dorries’ blog post:
“I am not seeking to diminish sex education as taught at present, but to include the empowering option that young girls can just say no. In school, children are taught to base the decision whether or not to have sex on their feelings and wishes. I don’t believe young girls under the age of 16 have consistent feelings and that they can change from day to day. My bill was about making boys wait being an empowering and cool thing for girls to do and that it should be taught as a viable, if not preferable option for girls aged 16 and under – especially as sex at that age is unlawful.”
This all sounds very reasonable, but the premise is false. She is strongly implying that modern, comprehensive sex-ed doesn’t include “the empowering option that young girls can just say no”, but in fact this is the option that is most stressed in all sex-ed courses.
“…making boys wait being an empowering and cool thing for girls to do and that it should be taught as a viable, if not preferable option for girls aged 16 and under”
This is an eminently reasonable idea that practically anyone would agree with, including, I imagine, most girls under 16. But this very reasonable idea is already being taught in modern courses of comprehensive sex education. It is not a unique innovation being introduced by Dorries, as she seems to imply. Furthermore the use of the words “empowering” and “option” here is dishonest. Giving young people comprehensive sex-ed is “empowering” and gives people “options”. Abstinence-only sex-ed does not “empower” or provide “options”, rather it tells young people that they are only allowed to do one thing. The clue is in the name.
Abstinence-only education is about giving girls fewer choices and less information, and making it harder for them to make their own decisions about relationships, sex, and sexual health. If you read between the lines, it is about telling girls that they should be ashamed of their sexuality. Furthermore, sex-ed aimed at girls only sends the toxic message that boys do not need to learn to make responsible decisions regarding sex, birth control, and contraception.
Teenagers need more comprehensive sex education, not less. They also need access to a variety of methods of birth control and contraception, and high-quality medical care, including abortion. They need to be taught to ask for consent, and to treat their partners with respect. They don’t need to be used as pawns to further a sexist and misogynistic ideology that was already looking dated 100 years ago.
There is a great write-up about this at Abortion Rights.
A lot of the feminist blogs I read are based in the US, which means I have read quite a lot about various forms of anti-choice legislation that are going through there, always with a vaguely smug ‘Oh those poor Americans, they are so fucked, I’m so glad I live in England’ kind of feeling.
The smugness has been waning of late as our Coalition Government of Terrifying Evilness prepares to break our National Health Service into little tiny chunks which will then be sold off to private companies which have no experience of acting as health care providers, in the name of “efficiency”. And now this:
(I’d advise against reading the article, since it is completely disgusting and the title tells you everything you need to know.)
I can’t even write a rebuttal to this because it’s too stupid. In order to rebut this I would have to write painfully obvious and earnest statements like ‘women are human beings’ and ‘women have the right to control their own bodies’ and ‘women are adults who are are capable of independent thought and decision-making’. But I would quickly realize that when you find yourself writing this painfully obvious and earnest stuff you have already lost because the people behind this know they don’t make any sense, they are not trying to make sense, their strategy is not to win through rational arguments. In fact it’s the opposite, their strategy is irrational, misogynistic hatred and deliberate stupidity. Just the fact that they have dragged the discussion of womens’ equality down to the level where we have to try to explain to them (in simple words) that women are grown-ups and not brain-damaged children who need to be told what to do for their own good, means that they have already won.
I no longer feel like the UK is superior to the US. This country is falling into just as fetid a sinkhole of reactionary misoginistic shitfuckery as the Americans are, it’s just that they are slightly further along.
Once upon a time, many years ago, it was acceptable to be blatantly, nakedly racist, sexist, or homophobic. You didn’t have to hide it.
Times changed and naked bigotry ceased to be publicly acceptable. Authors, journalists, directors, and video game creators stopped creating works that were nakedly bigoted, because otherwise they would get fired.
But many members of the public still loved them some bigotry, and some of the writers and directors did as well. So they searched for ways to write bigoted stuff without having to admit that it was bigoted. One way was to tone down the bigotry. They didn’t say outright ‘women are objects’, they just wrote books or screenplays in which the female characters happened to behave like objects. They didn’t say ‘whites are superior’, they just wrote stories in which all the most heroic characters happened to be white. Etc. etc.
But for some the subtle approach didn’t really hit the spot. They wanted their bigotry thick and un-subtle. They wanted to wallow in it, to wriggle around in it, to squeeze big gobs of warm greasy hatred against their skin.
But they didn’t want to think of themselves as ‘bigots’ even though that’s what they were. They wanted to think of themselves as “artists”.
That’s where irony comes in. You can write something that is blatantly, gobsmackingly sexist or racist, as long as you add a layer of irony on top. Then it magically ceases to be hate speech and instead becomes “satire”. Whenever anyone complains you can just say, “Didn’t you realize that I was being ironic?”
This is one of those things where we see it so often that we stop being able to see it at all. A couple of examples come to mind, from things I happen to have seen recently (I focus on misogyny rather than other kinds of prejudice, because that’s the one that jumps out most for me):
Snakes in a plane
I only got through the first 5 minutes of this, I turned it off at the point where a sexy woman asks a rap star for an autograph, he (uninvited) gives her breast a squeeze, and she responds by giggling. Message: women just love being sexually assaulted!
The thing that really fills me with rage is that when I’ve tried to tell my friends how angry this makes me the response is always, ‘well OF COURSE it’s going to be that way, it’s just that kind of film, it’s not meant to be taken seriously’. No, actually, a pro-sexual-assault message is not OK ever, EVEN IF IT IS NOT MEANT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY. Between 5% and 20% of British women will survive rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes, depending which statistics you believe, and even more than that survive other types of sexual assault. There is no situation in which it is OK to portray sexual assault in a positive way, ever. Fuck off. Really. FUCK OFF.
Duke Nukem (and, come to think of it, about 50 other video games)
There is a macho male hero and some sexy babe-objects who even when they wear armor, wear bikinis. Armor bikinis. But it isn’t sexist. OK, yeah, it is sexist, but, it’s not really sexist. It’s not intended to be taken that way. It’s ironic.
I got through about 30 minutes of this one. All the women in this film are walking-stereotype-beautiful-slut-babe-objects who give blow-jobs to not-particularly-attractive men they don’t know for no apparent reason.
The particularly angry-making thing here is that it’s by Werner Herzog, who is smart and has made lots of good films, and he clearly thinks his over-the-top misogyny is part of some both hilarious and intelligent critique of the action film genre. It isn’t. It’s just plain old misogynistic hatred, it isn’t even particularly clever.
Every Adam Sandler film ever made
I don’t think this needs any explanation.
In all of them the extreme misogyny is clearly intended to be understood as funny or ironic, but at the same time you can “appreciate” the misogyny in a totally straight up way, ignoring the thin and unconvincing veneer of irony. The irony is not really there to thoughtfully examine and criticize misogyny in society, it is just a pretense, a thin veneer whose only purpose is to excuse what lies beneath: a straight-up, old-fashioned, celebration of bigotry and stereotypes.
Well, I’m declaring the concept of irony to be over as of now. It used to be good, but somehow along the way it ceased to be a tool for genuinely sharp and clever criticism of society, and instead became twisted, debased, and evil. I’m very sorry. Many of us will miss irony, but we have to face the truth: it was already gone.
Also being taken out of service: “sarcasm”, “satire”, and “edgy humour”.
Finding Nemo, or, why the universe is so irrevocatively fucked I can’t even find the words to talk about it reason number 500 quatrillionPosted: March 21, 2011
I suffer from insomnia, which makes watching DVD’s basically a necessity for me. I haven’t slept in days, I can’t do any work or even think straight or concentrate on anything, I’m exhausted but I can’t sleep, there’s no-one else around, so I’m going to watch a DVD. No other option.
The only DVD I happen to have that I haven’t watched a billion times is Finding Nemo. Not one I would have chosen myself, it’s one of a stack of DVD’s I borrowed from a friend. But I’m thinking actually in my current sorry state a cute kids’ film is a good idea.
So I’ve just watched the opening scene – the bit before the opening credits. The scene goes like this: there are two cartoon fish, a heterosexual couple. The male fish is showing the female fish their new ‘home’, actually a clump of seaweed, which they have just moved into. The female fish is seeing their home for the first time: apparently the man fish is the one who chose it. The male fish is enthusiastic about the new home while the female fish has reservations about it. It is obvious from their conversation that the male fish has final authority to decide where they will live, and the female fish expresses her reservations in a wheedling, supplicating tone, apparently afraid or unwilling to contradict the male fish in any way. There is a brief flashback to when the couple first got together, which consists of the male fish chasing the female fish saying ‘give me a kiss’ while the female fish swims away from him. All this is clearly intended to be seen as heartwarming.
To sum up, after watching the first approximately 3 minutes of this supposedly heartwarming kids’ film I have absorbed the following patriarchal bullshit messages:
– In a heterosexual relationship the man should get to make all important decisions, and the woman shouldn’t challenge him.
– Women’s opinions are not important and should be ignored.
– If a woman says ‘no’ to a man who who wants to initiate sexual touching, he should attempt to touch her sexually against her will. If she runs away he should pursue her.
– If you want to kiss someone and they say ‘no’ you should sexually assault them: this shows that you’re really interested.
– When women say ‘no’ they really mean ‘yes’.
– Women don’t have agency. In romantic dealings between a man and a woman only the man’s desires are important.
Holy shit that was just the opening scene.
I don’t want to be looking at this shit. I really don’t. I don’t want to absorb all this sexist bullshit. I don’t want to be reminded of all the other sexist bullshit I’ve had to put up with in my life. I just want to watch a freaking film.
Actually, there’s no help for it, even if I watched another film instead it would probably be just as bad, because that is what Patriarchy is like, you never can get away from it, even if you are feeling kind of tired and psychologically broken due to lack of sleep. Oh bloody hell I am going to watch the rest of that film. I’m glad I took a couple of minutes to write an angry rant about it first.