Thursday, April 26, 2012

Manly Thor's Day Special: Boyz Gone Wild

"Boyz gone wild". That, seriously, was the headline on a piece in last weekend's paper. And just that inversion of replacing the girls who go wild with boys tells you that there is a serious attempt at revisionism going on here. I mean, weren't boys already supposed to be wild? The whole point of the "Girls gone wild" soft-core porn franchise was that this was unusual behaviour for girls. If the girls on your campus behaved that way, you wouldn't need to buy the videos 'cause you could see it right outside your dorm room.

To say that boys have gone wild is to make a claim that boys today are acting worse than has been the case in the past. So the obvious question is: What evidence is given for this claim? Answer: None at at all. The article and the various "experts" quoted in it simply assume the thing is true. If you already think men are the problem, then this article is for you.

Here is the teaser the Globe ran at the top of the article:
In a 'raunch culture' where most boys see porn before they're out of grade school, will they end up as disrespectful pigs? Zoisa Bielski reports on a new wave of educators seeking ways to build better men.
You read the question in the first sentence thinking that the article might set out to answer it. But the second sentence already assumes that the answer is "yes". Once again, we are being told that men are the problem.(And notice the casual assumption that educators have any business building "better men".)

Before we go any further, a little reality check is needed. Put yourself in the place of a Martian anthropologist for a moment. You have some background on sex roles in past centuries and you have also studied the ways boys and girls have typically behaved in recent decades. Okay, you arrive on the street in a typical North American town keen to determine the effects of 'raunch culture' on boys and girls. Okay, look around a bit at the way boys and girls dress and act. Which group are you likely to conclude most affected by 'raunch culture'?

Put it that way and the question answers itself. Something about girls in skin-tight leggings, push up bras and deep, plunging necklines makes it all obvious.

By the way, the one "fact" cited in that teaser is wrong. The data cited in the article says that one third of both boys and girls age 10 or younger had seen sexual images online. You don't get most until you get to high school not grade school. And, again the British survey cited says that both boys and girls had seen sexual images on line. So why are we so worried about boys again?

We might also wonder at the terms used. The vast majority of boys and girls had looked at "sexual images" (whatever that means) on line. That means they were curious. Given how easy it is, you'd be more surprised if they hadn't looked. There is no evidence in this article to suggest that they use porn regularly. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. We don't know on the sketchy evidence given here.

The trick here is a classic one for nanny prohibitionists. Anyone who remembers the "war on drugs" will remember how the study that (unsurprisingly for anyone who went to high school) found that most kids had tried marijuana would morph into proof that most kids were regularly using the stuff and ready to move on to heroin at the first opportunity. Similarly, the claim that most kids have done some binge drinking becomes a claim that they are all waking up face down in their own vomit 365 mornings a year. That trying drugs, experimenting with binge drinking and being curious about porn are all normal things for a teenager doesn't seem to cross these busybodies' minds.

Feminism by other means
We get our first hint at the real project in this paragraph:
It's a fine tightrope walk, to discuss these subjects without vilifying men, emasculating or using the dreaded F-word – feminism. That's tricky, given that the new programs for guys only “exist because of feminism,” according to Prof. Messner, author of It's All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sports. He argues that although few young men today would self-identify as feminists (and neither would many of their female peers), a lot of them would agree with feminist positions on issues such as equal pay or violence against women. 
This is just feminism by other means. Having failed with girls, feminists are turning their attention to boys. Most girls are no longer listening to feminists and some are reclaiming traditional sex roles despite feminists' hopes to the contrary so who can they blame*. If you have a penis, they are coming for you: you will either be assimilated or vilified. Good luck!

I love, by the way, the description of opposing "violence against women" as a "feminist position". This gets dropped in as if there was legitimate reason to believe that most boys would have been in favour of violence against women and what a wonderful surprise that they agree with wise feminists on the issue. As if no one in the history of the world had thought that men using violence against women was wrong until feminists came and showed us the light. What a tragedy, then, that the word feminism has become "tainted".

That couldn't have anything to do with actual faults with feminism so boys and men are the problem. Prepare to be "solved" guys.

What is sex really like?
I defy anyone to read the article and find anything other than anecdotal evidence that boys are acting any more raunchy than they have in previous decades. There isn't any. And if we read carefully, we will note an admission of this in the quotes Bielski uses:
While that kind of machismo might have been more acute in decades past, “it's not a lot better either” today, Prof. Messner says. “We still contend with sexist hyper-masculinity as a dominant force on campuses.” 
Whoops, you mean it hasn't gotten worse? That it's probably better? That your real complaint is that things haven't moved far enough in the direction you want them to move? That's pretty pathetic.

And we get that sort of dishonesty all the way through. Look at this "expert quote":
“Two clicks away and you're watching people have sex, all kinds of ways of women being degraded,” laments Pam Krause, executive director of the Calgary Sexual Health Centre. “Is there a message in urinating on a woman's face? If your parents aren't talking about sex with you, and you aren't getting good sex ed at school, that might be your first and perhaps only context for sex and sexuality for a while.” 
We haven't even established that kids are watching all that much porn and we are already onto claims that they are watching seriously degrading porn.(And I love the way that first sentence moves from "people have sex" to "women  being degraded"; you begin to wonder if Krause just finds sex degrading.)

How many teenage boys do you suppose go looking for extreme porn of the type Krause describes? I know porn that shows people being urinated upon exists because I saw it in an art gallery once. Yes, in an art gallery. It was gay porn (which probably makes it just fine for some) and it was the work of Robert Maplethorpe. I'm sure that you could find heterosexual porn of that type online if you really wanted to but you'd have to dig for it.

Most porn is of young women getting naked and doing erotic things such as masturbating or having sex. That is what most boys (and men) want to see: nude girls. At no time in his life does any man get to see as many naked teen girls getting aroused as he wants. (The number one search for on-line porn is for teen girls.)

The real rub for Pam Krause and those who think like her is in the last sentence of the paragraph I quote above.
"... If your parents aren't talking about sex with you, and you aren't getting good sex ed at school, that [porn] might be your first and perhaps only context for sex and sexuality for a while.”
 Yes, it probably is. And? Because a sex ed class is going to give us a more accurate representation than porn? In some ways yes but most boys (and girls) can figure that out. The problem is that they also know that they are being lied to in some ways. They are being told that sex is is this wonderfully egalitarian thing where women seek validation, love and respect and nothing else. Meanwhile every teenaged girl in the class secretly fantasizes about scenarios that aren't quite like that.

Here is the thing: Fifty Shades of Grey. It's selling like hotcakes to women. And, contrary to what you may have read, the vast majority of buyers are young, single women not suburban housewives. Why is it selling so well. Part of the answer is that it is available electronically. That young women no longer have to go to a store and actually slap the book with the lurid cover down on the counter to buy it has a lot to do with the sales. But that only explains why women are suddenly buying porn. It doesn't explain why they are buying this porn. It doesn't explain why they are buying mediocre writing about a woman being submissive and then telling all their friends that it will make their sex lives better to read this book.

Of course, it would be wrong to assume that all women are turned on by tales of dominant-submissive sex in which the woman is submissive. But lots of women are. This is not a surprise; a ridiculous amount of research on women's sexual fantasies has shown similar trends there. As I've said before, women who like to be submissive in bed are about as rare as guys who like watching professional sports.

Let's get the false dichotomy out of the way and then reconsider the issues. If we are to believe Pam Krause we have (only) two alternatives: We can either educate boys according to feminist principles or we can let boys watch porn of women being urinated upon. Now what do you think the chances are that there is some territory between those two extremes?

Fans of Monty Python will remember the sketch where a guy makes all sorts of suggestive remarks—"say no more, say no more"—only to reveal that what he really wants is to know what sex is really like. That is what kids want and, unless they are stupid, they will quickly begin to suspect that neither their parents nor their sex ed class is really telling them the truth. Porn won't either but it will give them a powerful hint that there is whole world of sex out there that their teachers and parents aren't telling them about. And there is!

* This sentence has been tweaked because I decided the original missed the point.

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