“No one else has porn on the phone. It’s pretty sick”: Stigmatizing porn, shaming and silencing boys?

24 Nov

Adapted from Afra, A. & Quigley, J. (2013). ‘Children’s constructions of ‘porn’ in an Irish primary school: Implications for boys. In M. Leane & E. Kiely (eds.). Sexualities and Irish Society. A Reader. Dublin: Orpen, 321-346.

Today I’d like to get started with presenting some of the findings relating to the porn aspect of ‘porn and hookup culture in an Irish primary school’. Beforehand though I will introduce the participants and then set the context in which ‘porn’ emerged.

Participants

There were twenty-four participants in total, eleven boys and thirteen girls, aged eleven and twelve and all forming one group of sixth class. Two of the boys identified as British and the rest as settled Irish. All eleven boys were white. Of the thirteen girls one was South-East- Asian-Irish, a second was white continental-European-Irish and a third girl was black African-Irish. The remaining ten girls were white and settled Irish. All participants were physically and intellectually normatively abled. The large primary school where fieldwork took place was located in a high-economic-status suburb of Dublin and was under the patronage of the Catholic Church. All names used throughout the presentation of findings are pseudonyms.

Contextualization of Findings

“Porn” had been discovered by school staff as a result of a violent fight between two boys (David and Anthony) that involved an escalation of one boy taunting the other with “gay porn” (Anthony’s words) from a mobile phone to imply that he was “gay” (participants’ word).

It was hoped that raising the topic of an anti-bullying programme during focus group discussions would encourage the children to talk about porn. The decision not to confront participants more directly about the topic was based on previous discussions during the year about kissing (called “meeting”) and the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum that had led some children to feel “awkward”. This short extract exemplifies the necessity to have allowed individual children to take control over whether to talk about porn or not:

AA             What was the talk about?

Ava            About the word in, I don’t like saying it. The word in em

Lily             [laughs]

Ava            [laughs] It’s a bit weird.

Lily             [laughs]

AA             What was the word? ‘Sex’?

Lily            Yeah

Lily            Remember, we’re twelve.

Evidently, sex-related topics could be terribly difficult to discuss for some. Below, I move on to some of the ways that those children who did dare to transgress the norm of ‘childhood innocence’ constructed ‘porn’ with their talk.

Porn as something that shouldn’t be spoken about:

Discussing the recently delivered anti-bullying programme during interviews had prompted some children to talk about the ‘porn fight’ thus leading to an extended discussion of porn. However, one of the ways to construct ‘porn’ was as ‘unspeakable’:

AA            What was the fight about? … Or how did it get started?

Mikey       David just kept on like- like it wasn’t the first time David had ever

Mikey       like annoyed Anthony.

Graham    He just [kept on doing it

Mikey                      [annoying him and annoying him [and annoying him

Graham                                                                                 [and then Anthony just

Graham      acted out. He acted and then just…

Alison        And what exactly was David doing to annoy Anthony do you know? …

Mikey        Calling him names and just … just calling him gay and like all that

Mikey        I think he was texting him stuff, was he?

Graham     Yeah I don’t know

The specific details about how David was “annoying” Anthony, i.e. by watching porn in the classroom and by taunting him with “gay porn”, were omitted from Graham and Mikey’s accounts. When probed, Mikey diverted attention away from porn by emphasising the purpose to which David had been using it as a means, namely to ridicule Anthony as “gay”. The “just” of “just calling him gay” functioned to reassure the researcher, an adult woman, that there was nothing more to know about. Shortly after, Mikey conspires to share the ‘secret’ of porn, “I think he was texting him stuff, was he?” but Graham refuses to take the discussion in this direction by explicitly though ambivalently claiming ignorance, “Yeah I don’t know.”

Five boys in total spoke about porn and even then two out of the five subsequently withdrew the relevant sections from their transcripts. Evidently, it was extremely challenging to try to co-produce verbal data with the boys about it. The extracts below shed some light on the stigma preventing frank discussion.

Porn as “sick” and “sort of perverted”

Alison       Ok. So how do kids your age manage to get pornography?

Brian         Emmm…

Rory         That’s David

Brian        That’s David

Anthony     It’s called-

Brian         No one else has porn on the phone

Alison       Ok

Anthony     It’s pretty sick like literally this is all you have to do [takes his

Anthony     phone out of his pocket]

Alison        Don’t get it now

Rory         [laughs]

Anthony   I’m not. Oh yeah like I’d do that.

Above we witness the marginalization of David as strange at best and “sick” at worst for being the sort of boy who would be in possession of porn on his cell phone. The stigmatization and pathologization of porn continues below:

Anthony:

I remember em one of my friends he was looking it up. And I was like ‘aw stop that’s sort of perverted’ and like he said ‘aw it’s grand’ and I took his phone and … somehow or other I went in. I took the phone for the whole night like off him and I went in to settings and I eh deleted his eh browser so he couldn’t look it up coz I said ‘eventually one day your mam and your dad are going to take your phone  and look at the addresses.’ Like you’re able to enter addresses. Then all of a sudden they’re going to see like porn horn and all this crazy cack so …

The seeming ease with which porn can be accessed along with any desire to do so is obstructed by more than merely getting caught. Anthony has pathologized the downloading of  it on to a phone as “sort of perverted”, as well as describing the actual contents as, “crazy cack”. Through his construction of it as being only “sort of perverted” and not absolutely so, while his friend defines it as not at all perverted , “aw it’s grand”, we are witness to the pushes and pulls of ‘porn’ as produced by overlapping and competing discourses. This is a point of similarity with the existing literature in that it is normative to admit to familiarity with mobile-phone porn whilst simultaneously denying possession of it on one’s own phone (Bond, 2010).

In next month’s post I will present further the discourses that guided the aforementioned constructions of porn in the way that they did. Meanwhile, the main thing to note is that the boys were not free to discuss porn with the researcher because of a stigma attached to it making it shameful and pathological. I recommend that we stop to wonder how discourses on the ‘premature sexualization of childhood’ that are linked to the ‘sexualization of culture’  inadvertently exacerbate the stigma through the panic they stir and anxiety they rouse thus endangering the very children they aim to protect.

Until then,  have a great month!

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