Sophia Valentine is a talented 17 year old writer. She has recently discovered the power of feminism after realising that female sexuality is often expressed and discussed in a highly sexist way. Here are her views on what it’s like to grow up in an overly sexualised society.
As a teenage girl growing up in Britain in 2013, it can be nearly impossible to negotiate the issue of sex. Under constant pressure from the media, society and your peers, the mixed messages you receive can seem overwhelming.
Recently, my mother announced that sexting was “shocking. [It’s] so detrimental, and children are being sexualised so young” And yet, to many teenagers, there is no line between texting and sexting. It’s simply becoming the norm. Most of my friends have experienced sexting in some form or another, and I’ve seen the persistence of teenage boys who want a “photo” – many of them are willing to nag incessantly until they get what they want, or try to guilt trip my friends. They don’t understand the meaning of the word “no.” Our parents are the generation who grew up with Playboy at the extreme end of the scale – now any child with a smartphone can watch pornography with relative ease. And what is the effect of this? Too often, porn is seen as creating over-expectant adolescent boys, who expect all women to be as willing for sex as the porn stars they see.
John Bishop has joked about using porn to instruct his son, claiming he told him: “Actually son, they’re not usually that up for it.” But what about the effect of porn on women? Teenage girls see porn stars behaving in a certain way and feel they must mimic it. We are not objects, to be used and discarded. For me, the idea that a partner’s expectations of me are determined by pornography is ridiculous – real women have feelings and needs, they are not here simply to satisfy but also expect to BE satisfied. And what about when a woman doesn’t meet a man’s sexual expectations?
Rape. The idea that someone will not respect my wishes is terrifying. The idea that someone would deliberately ignore my request to stop, especially in a situation as intimate as sex, is frightening. When I say no, I mean no: it is not a request, it is a command. It means stop. Being aware that almost 80 per cent of rape victims knew their attacker makes me fearful about future relationships. And where are these rapists and prospective rapists learning to behave this way? It can only be because they see women as objects, and they have been taught to prioritise their sexual urges over anything else.
Which situation is “better”, in the eyes of society: sexual assault by an unknown attacker, or by a partner? Is either “better” at all? When I put the question to my friends, they agreed that often, sexual assault by a partner could be perceived as “worse”: each day you must face the person who hurt you, and something previously intimate is now threatening and negative. For me, while I recognise that rape by an unknown attacker may lead to mistrust of strangers, rape by a partner causes something far more severe – mistrust of the ones you love. You cannot recover without the support of those you trust – and yet you cannot trust them either. 85% of rapes go unreported, and often sexual assault by a partner is dismissed by the victim, who may begin to blame themselves. Anyone on the outside of an abusive relationship might wonder why the abused doesn’t leave – but more often than not, the abuse itself has left them without the strength, space and spirit to be able to walk away.
The term “rape” has become an almost empty threat. Often, it is made to seem like an unavoidable destination: “if you dress like a slut, you’ll get raped.” To me, this use of a serious criminal act with severe repercussions as an inevitable concept is shocking. Whilst teenager drivers are often warned not to drink and drive, they are not told “if you drive under the influence, you WILL die.” With all other crimes, there is a degree of possibility indicated in the warning. You might be attacked. It may have serious consequences. With rape, there is no indication of doubt indicated in the language surrounding it – women are taught it will happen.
For my generation, what hope is there? Adults condemn our actions, yet they are the result of a society that is constantly finding new ways to exploit young people. Too often, teenagers feel suffocated by societal pressures. For many teenage girls, feminism is an unknown concept, a “dirty word.” As a friend stated, feminism is often drummed out of us by society or overexposure, until it becomes part of the background, hidden at the back of the social consciousness.
Teenagers, especially young women, need to know that sexism and sexual violence is never OK – and that if they speak out against it, they will be encouraged and supported. We look to so many different sources of information in order to find out how to behave. Will women’s magazines tell us how to get a boyfriend? Will porn tell us how to make him happy? But feminism needs to infiltrate and frame every fact we get given, otherwise it’s irrelevant and dangerous. Finding feminism has filled me with hope for the future. It needs to infiltrate the mainstream so that other teens use it as a source of ideas, answers and comfort.