Friday, January 25, 2013

What are we doing to our young women?

"Today, women have access to the technological capacity to do anything to our bodies in the struggle for "beauty", but we have yet to evolve a mentality beyond the old rules, to let them imagine that this combat among women is not inevitable. Surgeons can now do anything. We have not yet reached the age in which we can defend ourselves with an unwillingness to have "anything" done. This is a dangerous time. New possibilities for women quickly become new obligations. "
— Naomi Wolf

I can’t believe we’ve got to a point where it’s basically costing us money to have a fanny. They’re making us pay for maintenance and upkeep of our lulus, like they’re a communal garden. It’s a stealth tax. Fanny VAT. This is money we should be spending on THE ELECTRICITY BILL and CHEESE and BERETS. Instead, we’re wasting it on making our Chihuahuas look like a skanky Lidl chicken breast. God DAMN you, mores-of-pornography-that-have-made-it-into-my-pants. GOD DAMN YOU."
— How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

I was asked a little while ago by a 21 year old, at the end of a photographic session, whether I thought (a) she should have her breasts enhanced and (b) if she did have them enhanced would it lead to more work. It was possibly the most depressing pair of questions I was asked last year, my answers were (a) it wasn't the type of question I'd ever been asked and in her case it wasn't the type of question I could answer and (b) she wouldn't get any extra work from me but it might help her with other photographers. About two weeks after that conversation she sent me an e-mail telling me she would be having her boobs enhanced but would be ready for a shoot a few weeks after.

Three of the women I work with have booked up for 'self awareness' courses this year to give themselves more confidence, not only in their working lives but also their personal lives. To the sceptic in me it seems this is simply applying a rather expensive band aid on a more complicated problem - they are paying some slick salesman for the privilege of being told over three days that they need to 'man up' - or whatever the female equivalent this. One of them told me recently that she would prefer it if I did all the face to face interviews with clients because she thinks that whatever I say it will sound more authoritative coming from me - I find that terribly sad.

When I was a teenager young women didn't look at porn at all, in fact very few of my peers did, the only chance we had was when the local newsagent happened to have a clear out of its top shelf collection which somebody would retrieve from the back of the shop. Unfortunately times have changed and as access to the Internet has become more and more of a social 'need' rather than an educational resource or place to exchange opinions so the increase in the availability and access to porn has increased.

I have a female colleague who told me that one of her ex's treated her as a 'porn star', unfortunately I had the self-control but not the balls to ask here what exactly this meant. When Nathalie was rehearsing her pop video as part of her A level project a couple of years ago two female teenagers (aged 14) called out 'are you making lesbian porn?' Where did that come from?

We know that very often male genitalia surgery is the result of gym peer pressure, the chance glimpse in the showers of King Dong whilst changing increases any lack of self worth that Tiny Tim might have, but in females it seems that surgery, in particular the increase in so-called designer vagina's, is directly attributable to access to porn. It's not just us in the porn obsessed west who are guilty of what in my opinion amounts to nothing more than top end body mutilation, the debate about how those in so-called third world countries treat their women is an international neglected disgrace, and yet somehow whilst we acknowledge the inhumanity of genital mutilation for what is basically superstitious reasons we seem to actively encourage young women to change their appearance and bodies as part of their lifestyle choice. women take breast enhancement pills or save for operations to make them look like 'real women' whilst shaving off every hair on their body south of their nose in an effort to make themselves more attractive because they believe that their male partners demand it.

I was on a messageboard recently where a well known glamour model was defending her corner on the subject of her breast enhancement. The basic argument was hers (it was a matter of personal choice) v the male argument that they preferred her with her natural breasts. The big point she seemed to be missing was that she was getting more work with the enhanced breasts regardless of how well she defended her expensive augmentation as personal choice - she was proving the subtext of the Naomi Wolf argument that yes you can have the means but you are still earning a crust at the whim of a man (or many men in the case of the Internet).

A Sunday Times journalist wrote before Christmas about how he and his mates had vowed one boozy Sunday session that they would dump any potential girlfriend if they discovered she had body hair. The misogyny of the situation came home to him when he discovered that his 12 year old daughter was removing all her body hair every Sunday night in preparation for school, male pressure had reached the age of pre-pubescence. Diane Abbott has this week raised the debate a little further with her article and interviews about the pornification of society, she herself raises the designer vagina issues. Claire Perry has also addressed the issue of excessive unregulated internet access which interestingly has been picked up by the Newsbeat team.

As males we have to be careful that we don't get into the whole 'woe is me' situation, taking on all the ills of the world but I think we have to realise that we are as much a part of the problem as the solution. Very few straight men will turn away when they see a physically attractive woman on the street, bus, train etc but it's how we feel about that woman that can colour how we view women generally and how we treat our female colleagues, wives, daughters etc. There are some pretty horrific stories on the web and in mainstream media about what gangs of youths are doing to our young girls, the fact that most of, but not all, of these gangs come from cultural backgrounds where women are treated like objects shouldn't make us lower our guard if we want an inclusive society. Those of us of a certain age grew up in an age where the phrase, "Oi, Darling, show us your tits," wasn't a closing time call to a female ornithologist.

I don't have a problem with nudity and I don't have a problem with pornography, providing the consumption and the product involve consenting adults, what I do have a problem with is the way that we have allowed the situation to slip until young girls see pornography or pornographic acts as their only route to short term happiness.


A Northern Bloke said...

At the heart of all this, for me, is what men think of women. It seems to me that those men who see women as mere objects for their own gratification have so much influence in society when they shouldn't have any at all.

My guess would be that those places where female circumcision is practised are places where pornography is not readiliy avaiable so I don't think "pornification" is the right diagnosis.

Was it Aretha Franklin who sang about respect? More respect for women is needed and that can only come as men change their minds.

Paul said...

Thanks Shy.

I wasn't really suggesting that religious practices were pornification, I was trying to point out that whilst they are barbaric and unneccessary we allow young girls to undergo surgery in the UK for purely cosmetic reasons. I can see on reading it again though how it might have come across like that.

Span Ows said...

They are victims (as you point out) not just of the internet but of better communication in general. And it isn't just the girls, boys too although it is certainly more overt with girls. Decades ago (not that many really) they would have the radio and a Saturday night out; other than that their growing up came from what their family told them (if anything!) and what they read in novels and Reader's Digest or at a push pulp magazines. Now it is an all day every day live action love sex fashion image sleb reality drug angst fest. Or something...

A Northern Bloke said...

I see what you mean, Paul. I was thinking of Diane Abbot's comments and what I ought to have gone on to say was that I don't think banning or restricting porn will do much, if anything. there needs to be more respect for women.

Span's made a good point too : the "explosion" of communication has meant that there's more of everything readily available, not just the good stuff but the shite as well.

The splitting of the atom brought unexpected results : in a different way, so has the revolution in information technology.

Paul said...

I agree Span, Communication is at the heart of it leading to greater exposure.

Funnily enough I met a model today who had been a cover girl for Health & Efficiency, I can remember when the only nudes you saw in W.H Smith were in H & E or National Geographic.

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