sexism in dissent

What a cringe-inducing act of dissent from performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky in Russia recently: see the story on the UK Guardian website. He protested his country’s downward spiral into a police state on the day that celebrates the organization he is criticizing. After being hospitalized (for obvious reasons), he will have his day in court (for public nudity, I’m guessing), and perhaps face up to 15 days in jail.

I’m reminded of the ongoing story of Pussy Riot (see my posts from 8/21/12 and 7/30/13 ), and the recent disappearance from a Russian jail of its ring leader Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (see related CNN news story). These women criticized the government’s increasing ties to the Russian Orthodox church by performing “lewd” acts in a church. Two of them are still incarcerated over a year after their act of dissent — still incarcerated if Tolokonnikova is still alive, that is.

I know, it’s Russia, not the good ol’ U.S. of A., and those Russians do things differently than we do. But to me — all national idiosyncrasies aside — the difference in potential punishment for a man and a group of women reflects global politics. Even in dissent there is inherent sexism. Outspoken women are more of a threat to public order than a man who nails his scrotum to a popular tourist destination. What the *bleep*?

Writing about lewd acts, I’m also reminded of a horrifyingly important article in Vanity Fair that every parent should read. It is about teenagers and online pornography, sex, and social media. It examines how teen and pre-teen girls are hooking up through mobile apps and having sexual encounters with boys who expect certain acts or move on to the next willing girl. These kids post nude photos of themselves and others, and publicly call each other out on their sexual behavior. You could say that it is child-on-child pornography.

In a commentary of the correlation between female power (feminism) and pornography, Princeton professor April Alliston states, as cited by Vanity Fair: “I believe that porn has gone mainstream now because women have been gaining power. The feminist movement was somewhat successful. Rather than being about sexual liberation, porn is a form of control over sex and sexuality.” She points to a similar sea change with the advent of the printing press and simultaneous increase in women’s rights and outspoken activities. Alliston summarizes it bluntly: “I see the spread of porn in part as a backlash to women’s increased independence.”

Camille Paglia may cringe, but pornography is not about women’s liberation. I do not criticize its mere existence, nor judge those who enjoy it. It has its place in human sexuality, and I’m fine with that. But one must admit that the porn industry is controlled by men and largely targeted toward men, and, in many if not most cases of heterosexual porn, the product denigrates women. And yet, women are increasingly complicit in blurring the lines between mainstream entertainment and pornography. See the well-publicized sexual antics of certain young women in Hollywood to understand my point (Britney, Paris, Lindsay, Miley).

Today, with porn easily available on the Internet, the stats regarding viewers under 18 who have seen pornography online should terrify parents everywhere.

“Ninety-three percent of boys and 62 percent of girls have seen Internet porn before they turn 18, according to a 2008 study in CyberPsychology & Behavior. Seventy percent of boys have spent more than 30 minutes looking at porn, as have 23 percent of girls. Eighty-three percent of boys and 57 percent of girls have seen group sex online. Eighteen percent of boys and 10 percent of girls have seen rape or sexual violence.” [as cited in Vanity Fair]

These are children, who do not have the context and maturity of consenting adults, and who glamorize the “role models” in the media (including porn), and construct their identities and behaviors based on what they see on YouTube, in cinemas, via music videos, and through advertising. And, as in the porn industry, it is the boys who are controlling the behavior of girls, due largely to the strong female adolescent motivation to be liked and part of a community. Slut-shaming is just the tip of the iceberg: few girls want to be labeled as prudish, either. Read the article and tell me if your stomach doesn’t turn as mine did. These are the girls in my high school classrooms, and I shudder to think what they are doing in the free time, perhaps even between classes on their mobile phones.

At my school, we have experienced a backlash from girls against a dress code policy instituted this year, that expands on the “must have shoes” liberal policy of the past. Until recently, we didn’t feel the need for a more explicit dress code. But the increase in students’ (especially girls’) inappropriate school attire was making members of the community uncomfortable and distracting from teaching and learning. I’m talking about skintight, leopard-print dresses that leave nothing to the imagination. I’m talking about skirts so short that butt cheeks are visible when a student leans over, midriffs that expose belly piercings, and tiny camisoles that barely (or don’t) cover bras. The policy also addresses boys whose pants reveal underwear or who use the hallway as a locker room, stripping to their six-pack abs to prepare for sports practice.

The girls say the dress code is inhibiting their right to self-expression. I say express your sexual self on your own time, but keep the learning environment to the same kind of professional standards that your future employers will expect of you. I wonder where their parents are? Perhaps students leave the house in jeans and a t-shirt, and roll a tube top and mini-shorts into their backpack to don in the “safety” of campus. The problem is that as soon as they leave campus to walk to public transportation, they are no longer under our protection. And though I do not believe that a woman deserves any kind of sexual advances because of the way she is dressed (I cheered for Jodie Foster’s character in the landmark 1988 film, The Accused), there is such a thing as social messaging. As adults, we must be prepared for the potential consequences (unjustified as they may be) of our public behavior. I’m a grown woman, and I know how to push back on unwanted attention because of a short skirt, which I have every right to wear if I choose (but not to work). It is a fine line, yet where kids are concerned, it is up to the adults to set the boundaries. We must draw the line.

Some may say I have digressed from the original topic of this post, but in my mind it is all interrelated. Sexism is a world politic. Media sexualizes women to sell to men (and women, who are too spellbound to see how they are being used). Pornography disempowers women for the enjoyment of men. And girls today need to become media savvy consumers to navigate this Devil’s Triangle of lust, power, and money.

To borrow from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, we need to teach our children well.

from a GQ.com article on an extra-marital affair app, Oct 2013

from a GQ.com article, Oct 2013

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