Tag Archives: children

“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!

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?

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Debunking the Myth of Childhood Sexual Innocence

8 Jun

Hello again and welcome to the second post from ‘Porn and Hookup Culture in an Irish Primary School’. For those of you unfamiliar with the first post in the series, over the coming months I will be sharing research findings about boys’ sexualities. Last month I mentioned that adults are deeply concerned about the effects of our sexualized culture on children, often claiming that today’s children are being prematurely sexualized. That children can be sexualized before it is developmentally appropriate relies on the idea that childhood is naturally a period of sexual innocence. This month’s post therefore unpacks the very notion that children are naturally innocent.

The fear of premature sexualization is premised on several misguided assumptions. The one we will be debunking today is that children are only pre-sexual (not fully sexual) since sexuality can only ever be triggered by puberty, and children are pre-pubertal.

We see evidence for this in the culture when, for example, textbooks for courses in developmental psychology fail to include sexual development in chapters on childhood. Instead, the topic of sexuality appears only when adolescence comes into focus. Developmental psychology in turn guides everyday popular understandings of children among those involved in teaching or caring for them in Western culture. As such it is shot through with power, in this case the power to discursively normalize the absence of sexuality for children but also to pathologize its presence.

We know that sexual experience among children is commonplace. For example, in the Kinsey studies of the 1940s and 1950s parents reported seeing children aged 2-5 self-manipulating and exhibiting their genitalia, in addition to exploring other children’s. We have also known since the 1960s that it is normative for 10-13 year-olds to engage in heterosexual kissing. Childhood sexual innocence, then, is an adult fabrication more than a natural feature of childhood.

Some psychologists do argue that ‘light’ sexual activities such as those above mark normal stages along the developmental trajectory but are a far cry from the sort of sexuality that is prescribed by children’s cultural milieu. That is, the extent to which our culture is sexualized is ‘too much too soon’ for children. Recognition of children’s sexual behaviors, not to mention the power of consumer capitalism, is preferable over the downright denial of childhood sexuality.

Nevertheless, what constitutes ‘too much too soon’ is in fact contestable when compared across time and space. During the 17th century, for example, the children of the French aristocracy were not shielded from sex but rather regularly encountered references to it in songs, stories and games. Fast forward to the 20th century and the following extract, taken from fieldwork with the !Kung San of the Dobe area of Botswana, further troubles the notion of precocious sexuality:

Like her counterparts in other foraging societies, the !Kung child becomes familiar with sexuality in early life. The youngest children sleep under the same blankets with their parents and are under the blankets during their parents’ lovemaking. From the age of eight or ten, children engage in sex play, which may include intercourse (…). The !Kung have no notion of virginity. I have never been able to come up with a concept or sense of a word that would correspond to our word virgin. Given the early sex play, I will hazard a guess that there are few !Kung virgins, male or female, at puberty.

(Lee, 1985: 39)

In summary, what we deem appropriate or inappropriate for children is historically and culturally contingent with the result that we cannot take it for granted that children are prematurely sexualized by the sexualization of culture.

Another way to see how sexuality is normative for children is to step back from the view of it as an essential, biological force that gives rise to bodily activities. When we see sexuality as a set of social practices, it is easier to recognize it as integral to children’s and adults’ everyday subjectivities and identities. Allow me to explain …

Foucault argued that sexuality induces specific gender effects and we see this eloquently elaborated upon by Judith Butler (1993). Individuals are assigned one of two sexes at birth. They are then expected and encouraged to do a gender in accordance with that sex. But the way to do that gender is guided by the belief that it should be done in opposition to the other sex/gender and that it should ultimately give rise to sexual desire for that opposite sex/gender. Put simply, we are getting our gender right when we are getting heterosexuality right, and vice versa.

People tend to heterosexualize their gender in many arenas and not just when being physically sexual. The same is true for children. In past research (Renold, 2005) primary school boys could successfully heterosexualize their masculinities by being a boyfriend though they could also opt out of the boyfriend/girlfriend culture without penalty by heterosexualizing their future masculinities. This was achieved by making reference to the skills that would one day be needed when the time came to have sex with women, thus consolidating a hegemonic heterosexual masculine identity in the present.

Boys could also heterosexualize their masculinity in the present by merely playing the right sport – soccer – or by fighting with other boys, or even just engaging in fight talk. Indeed those boys failing to display similar interests were marginalized as sissies or, you guessed it, gay.

Clearly then, childhood sexuality is much more than ‘light’ practice for the future but is also experienced seriously in many painful and pleasurable ways in the present.

The sooner we allow the full range of sexuality practices come into view, the sooner we can understand children’s experiences more fully and provide appropriate support. Might the panic over the premature sexualization of childhood be interfering with this goal? This is one question we will be returning to over the course of Porn and Hookup Culture in an Irish Primary School.

Porn and Hookup Culture in an Irish Primary School

13 Apr

Welcome to the first post in a series of monthly posts on masculinities in an Irish primary school. Over the coming months I will be sharing research findings on boys’ experiences of porn and hookup culture. There has been growing concern in recent years over the ‘premature sexualization of childhood’ that is claimed to be caused by the ‘sexualization of culture’. So before actually detailing the aforementioned findings, some of the initial posts will lay out the socio-cultural context in which they were produced.

As mentioned, the research in question took place in Ireland. The data were co-produced with eleven- and twelve-year-old girls and boys during their final year of primary school. I spent the academic year of 2009/2010 hanging out with the children a couple of days a week and interviewing them in pairs and groups about my observations. Furthermore, interviewees were invited to introduce topics of their own choice for discussion.

Overall, the themes that emerged ranged from academic performance to religion, from sports, dance and athletics to friendships and family relationships. Clearly, then, the more overtly sexualized themes chosen for analysis were not necessarily central to the children’s lives. Rather I played an active role in determining what to focus on. Nevertheless, porn and hookup culture did emerge and as such warranted exploration.

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#BlackGirlsMatter

16 Feb

We have reported previously on the specific challenges faced by male students of color in the education system and have pointed out some of the flaws in programs designed to help Black boys.

To add another dimension to this debate, we would like to point to a new report released by The African American Policy Forum. In this report the authors show that “girls of color face much harsher school discipline than their white peers but are excluded from current efforts to address the school-to-prison pipeline.”

To read the report, go to AAPF’s website and download it here.

You can also listen to an interview with one of the report’s authors, Prof. Kimberlé Crenshaw, director of the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia Law School and co-founder of the African-American Policy Forum, who was recently interviewed on FAIR‘s radio program Counterspin.

John Jolie-Pitt’s gender and our fear of it

14 Jan

The internet has been abuzz with discussions of John Jolie-Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s eight-year-old child who hit the red carpet in a sharp suit at the premier of Unbroken on December 16. In the weeks since the premier multiple sources have reported that the child, who was designated female at birth and named Shiloh, now wishes to be called John and may identify as a boy. However, information on John is limited and no official statement has been released about his gender identity.

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A Community of Black Dads

15 Dec

The great folks at Colorlines are currently running an extensive, brilliant and insightful series on Black Men: Life Cycles of Inequity. The current topic is Black fatherhood. Please view the related articles ‘The Untold Story of Black Fatherhood’ and ‘A New Image of Black Fatherhood’. Today’s re-blog is a video introduced by Kai Wright, produced by André Robert Lee and edited by Elizabeth Rao. It first appeared on Colorlines on November 19th 2014.

In the video above, our series’ filmmaker André Robert Lee speaks with a pastor in New Haven, Conn., whose life reveals one of the many things about black family that gets overlooked in the constant handwringing about a crisis of black fathers. For centuries, black families have had a tradition of communal parenting. This tradition stretches back to our West African roots and it was among the cultural tools we used to survive slavery in the Americas and the terrorism of 20th century segregation—both of which actively sought to destroy black family units. The tradition continues to buttress black families navigating today’s endemic poverty and the abuses of the criminal justice system. Father Mathis and the men for whom he has been a surrogate father share their stories with Colorlines, and we thank them.

A New Image of Black Fatherhood

8 Dec

All photos by Marcus Franklin.

The great folks at Colorlines are currently running an extensive, brilliant and insightful series on Black Men. This months installments focus on Black fatherhood. Please read the first essay ‘The Untold Story of Black Fatherhood’ by Stacia L. Brown here. Today’s re-blog is a photo essay by Marcus Franklin who refocuses the distorting lens of mainstream media with intimate portraits of black dads and their kids. It first appeared on Colorlines.com on November 19 2014.

In June of 2013 I started photographing black men and their children and created The Fatherhood Project, the online home for photos that capture them in ordinary moments. A single dad helping his daughter with math homework during a break at work. A dad teaching his daughter how to walk as they wait to see a doctor. A father and son chilling on a stoop.

Why photograph black men and their children? What’s extraordinary about these subjects?

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The Untold Story of Black Fatherhood

24 Nov

Photo by Matthew Brown

The great folks at Colorlines are currently running an extensive, brilliant and insightful series on Black Men: Life Cycles of Inequity. This week’s re-blogged article by Stacia L. Brown focuses on Black fatherhood. It first appeared on Colorlines.com on November 18 2014.

Thirty-five-year-old Tyrone Hopkins is like any number of black men I’ve known growing up in Baltimore. Sit down with him for a few minutes and he’ll talk to you like he’s known you forever. Everyone who lives in Baltimore says it’s like a big town, rather than a major urban city. “Smalltimore,” residents sometimes call it, because you can’t go far without finding a link to someone you’ve never met—a shared acquaintance, a common experience or a neighborhood connection. It’s like that with Hopkins, too. Ask him something personal and, if he’s cool with you, he’ll be candid, funny and cordial—even if it’s a difficult topic to discuss, like the ups and downs of life as a single black father.

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Childcare is Key to Workplace Equality

15 Oct

The benefit of paternity leave is more than a few weeks time off.

[This article first appeared at MARC – Men Advocating Real Change]

Image by Catalin Bogdan (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

On August 14th, National Public Radio’s popular news show, All Things Considered, dedicated a significant portion of their airtime to a discussion of paternity leave. They argued that a growing number of fathers desire, or even expect, to be given time off of work to spend with a new child. The vast majority of working fathers already do take time off, but the amount of time that they take off, and at what cost, varies widely. Chief among the various forces determining the amount of paternity leave men utilize is the support, or lack thereof, from their employers. And, while at first glance paternity leave may appear to be a burden to employers, there are numerous benefits that are certainly worth discussing.

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