Boys Using Porn to Sexually Harass Boys

26 Feb

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Porn is normal. Porn is crazy. Porn is something every boy has on his personal cell phone. Everyone except me of course. Because I’m not sick. Though it’s not entirely perverted. Only sort of.

These were some of the contradictions boys were trying to negotiate in the previous post from ‘Porn and Hookup Culture in a Primary School in Ireland’. Today we move on to exploring the competing discourses that pushed and pulled boys in all sorts of contradictory directions.

On the one hand, the children’s talk helped to normalize ‘porn’. It was constructed as something that has a natural appeal for males, probably within some kind of ‘male sexual drive’ discourse. On the other hand, the boys in the study were still only approaching early adolescence and not securely in this stage. Not quite teenagers but still kind of children, they were expected to display sexual innocence, hence the pathologization of ‘porn’ for them:

Sophie: They [the boys in the class] get caught by their mam [laughing] and they don’t care. They just keep doing it.

Anna: My brother got caught but he’s sixteen so it’s kind of different.

Sophie: [laughs] I caught my brother doing it

Alison: And how old was he?

Sophie: He is thirteen but he was like twelve at the time

Above we witness how it is different if a sixteen-year-old boy watches porn from when the twelve-year-olds of 6th class watch it. Indeed there may even be a difference between being only twelve and not yet thirteen. The first tension therefore arose from the problem of ‘boys will be boys’ sitting uncomfortably alongside ‘but children should be children’. We will consider the harms of both of these discourses below.

If porn is ‘natural’ for boys, then what are the implications for those boys to whom it does not appeal? That depended on whether the boy was positioned as ‘popular’ or not to begin with. For example, Matthew, a ‘popular’ boy was overheard expressing relief that he had deleted some porn that had been sent to his phone. Matthew managed to avoid ridicule when preferring to delete the porn. This was not the case for Anthony, who unlike Matthew, was positioned as unpopular. Instead, Anthony was subjected to homophobic harassment for expressing his objections to porn:

David was watching porn [laughs] and Anthony goes ‘Stop’ and he was like ‘Oh you just don’t want to watch it because you’re gay’ and then he was like ‘You want to watch gay porn’ and all this and then. – Sophie

Even though Matthew was freer to avoid porn than Anthony, he clearly received some material that he did not want to be in possession of. Bypassing his consent and presuming he would want porn on account of being a boy was possibly a form of heterosexual harassment of boys by boy. In sum, porn could be used as a weapon for heterosexual and homophobic harassment of boys by boys. This is why it is dangerous to focus only on the harms of porn for girls as so often happens. 

Furthermore, the fact that the boys ran the risk of being pathologized if discovered to have knowledge of porn prevented them from reporting the various types of sexual harassment that they were subjected to at school. The bullying thrived off of the notion that ‘boys while be boys’ and it was kept invisible by the demands of ‘but children should be children’. This again raises serious issues with efforts to protect children in the name of ‘childhood innocence’. The more we insist that it is unnatural for them to display knowledge of sexuality, the more we alienate them from the possibility of adult support.

A second complicating factor was the social construction of porn as ‘sexist’. For example, it was claimed that boys “are so rude. They have no respect for girls”. The porn consumer could also be positioned as a “dirty pig” and “dirty animal”:

I slapped the phone out of his hand and told him he was a dirty pig and (walked away) [laughs] [overlapping and indecipherable speech involving the words ‘dirty animal’ with laughter]. -Anna

Of course a large selection of porn is ‘sexist’ (though not all of it all of the time). It is important to note, however, that the shaming subject positions arising from the sexist discourse further compounded the silence surrounding the boys’ experiences of porn including sexual harassment. Even where viewing naked women was not necessarily seen as sexist, it was still seen as at least embarrassing:

Ashley asked Mikey why boobs are so interesting for boys and Mikey was blushing and he was like ‘I don’t know. They just are.’ – Katie

Embarrassing and shaming discourses need to be critiqued for their consequential exacerbation of the boys’ forced silence around their experiences, a consequence given scant regard in the panic surrounding our sexualized culture.

That wraps up the ‘porn’ findings from my research, ‘porn and hookup culture in an Irish primary school’. Next month we begin with hooking up, or as they say in Dublin, ‘meeting’!

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