Young Women and Politics IV

Priscilla.jpgby Priscilla Mensah

There are undoubtedly more than three issues affecting young women in the UK today: education continues to be of increasing importance due to the worry that higher education will become unattainable under a Tory government. Yet, it is the much broader education of female sexual and social rights within youth culture that continues, almost deliberately, to be ignored. However, in the harsh light of the brutal Rochdale grooming case, society is beginning to truly understand that education about female sexuality needs immediate reformation – and this education needs to begin with young people.

Collective sexual coercion of young women living in the UK proves that not only is the young British female in crisis, but the young British male is too. For too long now, sex has presented a dichotomy between being a social taboo and a cultural phenomenon – perpetuating an ambiguous sexual education. This is against the backdrop of hyper-sexualisation of young people in the media, presenting both males and females in such a distorted light that we increasingly see sex separated from emotion, respect and consequence. This idea may at first seem wildly general, yet one glance at emerging rape statistics would suggest otherwise. Particularly in the aftermath of the 2011 London riots, the debate over gang culture in the UK has centred on young men, namely young black and Asian men in inner city areas. Yet studies into gang rape, affiliation by sexual favour and general violence against females within gang culture is difficult to find. Because of this gap in sexual education, it is becoming increasingly common that young women are finding themselves trapped in a male dominated culture where their sexuality is viewed as a free and expendable commodity. Thus, it is vital that we do not separate issues affecting young women from young men – as we can see, when it comes to sex, they are inextricably linked.

As recent as last month, online men’s blog UniLad posted an entry commenting on the merits of rape, considering that conviction was low and thus allowed for “good odds” if charged with a sexual offence. Similar still, online ‘Lad Mags’ such as Nuts and Zoo have sections dedicated to naked photographs of female models and “normal” women who send their pictures into the competition “Assess my Breasts.”

The similarity between the two lies in a consistent pattern within the media where female sexuality is made an entity: available for “free.” It is also important to note that these sexually explicit websites go uncensored and are easily accessible to young men and women. The problem facing young women, if males continue to absorb a sea of unregulated sexual imagery, is that the psychosexual relationships they form with women on a screen shape their expectations of real life relationships: the sense of sexual power that emerges as women present themselves willingly in photographs or videos in a virtual world becomes cognitively dissonant to girls, perhaps in their classrooms or at social events, who appear less sexually available. This is where the problem becomes most apparent: the sexual ideas that have manifested in the minds of young men can trump consent.

This theory could be seen to transcend all cultures and ethnic groups. The Home Office recently commissioned a new campaign that tackles this difficult issue within young relationships. The campaign was founded in response to rape statistics obtained by the NSPCC in a 2009 survey which reported that 66% of sexual abuse experienced by teens was rape perpetrated by other minors. Much from this new campaign should be praised. First and foremost it is bringing rape, particularly rape by someone the attacker knows and believes they can trust, to the fore. However, in terms of sexual development, this campaign seems to enter at the moral cross road rather than at the beginning, which is to teach sexual respect to young men and women so that they can go on to make sexually responsible decisions that respect their own sexual rights and the rights of others.

Looking at current gang rape statistics, it is clear that there is an educational vacuum. According to a mental health blog, Shadowlight8, gang rape is prominent in all-male communities such as in the military, male fraternities or male friendship groups. Sexual exploitation by groups is thought to be founded on a sense of hyper-masculinity, allowing the rapists involved to separate the physical nature of a female from her social, emotional and intellectual aspects. Arguably, this theory links to the fact that every day 33% of internet users access pornographic or other sexual sites, the majority of these being young men. In a recent US study of the top 50 best selling pornographic films, 94% of aggressive acts were against women, thus further indicating that the media continues to promote a sexually passive and controllable image of women, a depiction that must be destroyed in order to target the root of violence against women and young girls steadily increasing in the UK.

This is a problem affecting all young women. The increased sexualisation of females in the media is a two-pronged attack on females: it not only tarnishes female self image and self worth, it also distorts male sexual perceptions which in turn no doubt impacts dramatically on interpersonal relationships. It is inconceivable that the issue of rape amongst all age groups will abate unless the root of this issue is tackled. British education at home, at school, within communities and on a national scale needs to turn in on itself and look seriously at the ideas the portrayal of  sex in the media is “selling” to young people.

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