Irish boys slut-shamed by parents, victimized by sex-starved girls

14 Oct

Hello and welcome back to ‘Porn and Hookup Culture in an Irish Primary School’ – Part 3. Today I’d like to highlight that the fuss over the ‘sexualization of culture’ and the way it purportedly prematurely sexualizes children is often a fuss that emphasizes the interests and concerns of the more privileged of social groups among us.

At the time of doing the research, for example, media coverage of sexualization in Ireland lamented the loss of childhood innocence but only for children who were cisgendered and showed promise to mature into heterosexual adults. That is, at no point did any journalists object to the systematic exclusion of LGBTQ youth from mainstream visual culture. In other words, commentators did not stop to wonder what it must be like to repeatedly find oneself left out of media representations since they were so embroiled in the question of how the media impacts a very narrowly defined social category of children and young people (CYP). The misguided presumption that everyone is heterosexual and that everyone is content with doing gender according to the conventions of heterosexuality is one meaning sociologists give to the term heteronormative.

Interestingly, the very phrase ‘premature sexualization of children’ obscures how it is really girls over whom we are getting our knickers in a twist. Outrage over the marketing of padded bras to seven-year-olds is arguably outrage over the commercialization of sex for girls. Notwithstanding what might actually be objectionable about the commodification of sexuality, why not just call a spade a spade? Why make it seem like we are equally concerned for girls and boys when there is barely a thought spared for boys beyond how they are encouraged to objectify girls? What is invested in the notions that sexual expression by girls ought to be curtailed and that apart from being sexual predators, boys have otherwise got sexuality all sussed? Aren’t these the very factors – slut-shaming and machismo – that eventually lead to danger and unhappiness in interpersonal sex?

So far I am suggesting that the sexualization panic shores up the concerns of adults who prioritize the wellbeing of cisgendered children who look set to grow up straight, where we can now substitute children for girls. Upon closer examination it is the daughters of white, financially secure families over whom we are concerned. Well at least their able-bodied daughters. When was the last time popular coverage of sexualization was up in arms over the message delivered by visual culture that disabilities are just not sexy? Are we to presume that disabled CYP can thank their lucky stars that, unlike the ‘normals’, they are spared the horrors of being sexualized?

Getting back to race and class, girls growing up in under-resourced neighbourhoods may have to come to rely on their bodies to earn a future living compared to their wealthier counterparts, for whom ‘career choice’ is more likely to be a choice. Since those living in poverty are disproportionately ethnic and racial minority children, reliance upon one’s sex appeal is arguably heavier among racial and ethnic minority girls. Consequently, when a newspaper complains about t-shirt logos for ‘children’ (i.e. girls) that read ‘future porn star’, might it be more about the contamination of upper-middle class spaces with lower-class habitus that the newspaper complains of? Well, not really if the said t-shirt is only to be found in discount stores to begin with. In which case the media are looking down their nose at the sort of merchandise that some parents are constrained to buy if they don’t have the money to shop elsewhere. What if society were to create a stir over racism and poverty instead?

Lest we stray from masculinities altogether, let us pause to think. If the media, government bodies, and some scholars among other commentators are so intent on preserving conservative values in the guise of protecting girls, what becomes of boys within all of this ‘sexualization’ talk? Since boys are incited to objectify girls and women, they are incited to harm them, or so the argument goes. Boys are otherwise able to cope with sexuality without adult intervention … except if they live in Ireland!

Funnily enough, the Irish media have positioned boys as the ones who are at risk of being eaten alive by girl predators thanks to the rise of raunchy discos! Irish research shows that boys are even subjected to a variation of slut-shaming by Irish parents[1] when they are encouraged to have ‘respect’ for self and others. What then will be the fate of the Irish boy in ‘Porn and Hookup Culture in an Irish Primary School’?

Sorry for the cliff-hanger folks but you’ll have to wait until the next post. Until then, have a great month!

[1] My interpretation of the data. The researchers did not put forward this interpretation.