I start my lesson with, what appears to be, pornography: a naked girl stands provocatively, covered by a meagre sign. No, I haven’t, in a moment of self-sabotage, begun showing inappropriate images to children. What would have been seen as completely unacceptable for teachers to show ten years ago is, now, simply showing the cover of an album to a class of fifteen-year-olds. Rihanna’s ‘Rude Boy’ cover is just one of the many sexual images that confront Western children on a daily basis. This is simply (and worryingly) soft porn that they are used to – they hardly even blinked. My question to the class was, ‘what does this cover tell us about how women are viewed in Western culture?’ Here the class was flummoxed.
It has been two years since I tried to issue a detention to a twelve-year-old for singing ‘Come here rude boy, can you get it up?’ only to find it is, in fact, a lyric to a No. 1 song. Our children are singing about blow jobs and, should they wish to begin early, are able to take up pole dancing as a hobby (Tesco’s were kind enough to produce such a pole in their children’s section, 2006) whilst pushing up their (lack of) cleavage to the full using padded bras, courtesy of Primark. While such items may have now been taken off the market, there is no shortage of overtly-sexualised products in the line-up to take their place. Their removal is an after-thought based on parental complaint, rather than on any sense of moral responsibility from the corporations themselves.
Worse still are the sobering statistics on pornography. Despite David Cameron’s public claims to shield children from early sexualisation (National Action Plan, 2011: DfE), reports suggest that children in the Western world begin consuming hardcore pornography at an average age of 11, with four out of five sixteen-year-olds regularly accessing such material. Thirty per cent of internet traffic is currently pornography and children are at risk of watching it even by accident, with the increase of pop-ups that seem to side-step even strict parental controls. So-called ‘sexting,’ where students actively choose to send pornographic pictures of themselves, is also on the rise, as is the number of young people convicted of distributing child pornography as a result. That young people are being prosecuted for paedophilia is another example of how quick our government is to tackle the symptoms of an epidemic, rather than the underlying cause.
Furthermore, where ministers, such as Liz Truss, have encouraged teachers to present lessons on pornography, little is being done within schools to prepare students for the emotional, rather than merely the physical, aspects involved in sex and relationships. Focusing on relationships as a whole would be inclusive (relevant to heterosexual and homosexual students) and might actually help to tackle our worsening STD and teenage pregnancy rate. While the media teaches women to take pride in their ability to ‘take it, take it’ (Rihanna, 2010), we must surely teach young girls to love themselves. Years since women were given the right to go to university, I wonder why so many teenagers are queuing up to get ‘vajazzled’ rather than go to Oxford or why, even at Oxford, so many take part in the prestigious FHM competition (University Edition). So, whilst Nicky Minaj and Rihanna compete for who can get the closest to nudity without being pushed past the watershed, let us teach children about self-respect. Flummoxed the children may be, but that’s what I go to school for at least.