Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Porn in Schools?

Denmark is pretty darn liberal when it comes to sex and sex education. But apparently even for them, there's a line that can't be crossed. That line is porn. Danish professor Christian Graugaard caused a furor when he suggested, during an appearance on public television, that children in grade eight and nine should be taught about pornography. It seems porn is just too much.

I've seen several articles about this (it got a lot of play because some pretty salacious titles could be applied to it) and the comments on all of them include a lot of panicked posts about how completely inappropriate, ridiculous, unfeasible, and even illegal it is to show porn to children in schools. What on Earth would they show them? How would the choose what to show? How would this affect the children? They'll be traumatized! That's sexual abuse!

We just really cannot handle this idea.

But here's the thing. I don't think Prof. Graugaard is really proposing that children spend hours in the classroom watching porn. I don't think he's actually talking about showing porn in classrooms at all. What he said to the guardian website is this "“My proposal is to critically discuss pornography with 8th and 9th graders [age 15 – the legal age of consent in Denmark – and 16 respectively] as part of a sensible didactic strategy, carried out by trained teachers.” You don't have to show pornography, or you can show only small bits that are not particularly explicit, or examples of the principles you are taking about, in non sexual films. The idea is to give kids some tools they can use to critically examine the stuff they are watching. You can teach them to ask questions about it such as:
Do I know where and how this was filmed and under what circumstances? Is there anything that shows me that the sex I'm looking at is consensual? Why might they be choosing to portray these particular sex acts or to be in these positions? Do the performers look comfortable and happy doing what they're doing? What are the difference between what's happening here and what sex with a person in real life might be like? How many other people are probably in the room that I cannot see (how many cameras etc.)? Might these people be getting direction on what to do? What types of bodies do you see represented most? What might be the reason for that?

All of those things can be discussed without ever showing any porn at all. There's also some great documentaries about porn that show some scenes of setup before filming begins. That could be used to help students think critically about what kind of instruction and prep is given to people that you don't actually see when you watch it.

Most of this is basic media literacy stuff. These are important skills for kids to have so that they think about the things that they see and don't believe things are real when they're not. It's the same idea for any kind of tv or film as it is for porn. This is just applying it to something a little different. It makes a heck of a lot of sense if you slow down and think about it. But as soon as you mention the word 'porn' people lose their ability to think rationally.

I hope they do this so that they can provide a model for Canadian schools to do it too. If we can get past the teachers and parents who will freak out when we say the word 'porn'.

Monday, March 23, 2015

When Photoshop Gets Out of Control

I noticed this magazine cover at someone's house awhile ago and it made me do a double-take.

If you don't see it yet, take another look. Do the people who created this magazine cover actually expect us to believe that Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting actually looks like this? Look at how small her rib cage and waist are in comparison to her bust! If it is real, her upper-body is twisted in a very strange direction that no human would ever do in real life. It's pretty obvious that they've just taken a big section out of her left side. Why? Why? Why? This woman is gorgeous - even by conventional standards of beauty and she's pretty thin as standards of thinness go as well. Yet they've still felt the need to make her even thinner. Are we not allowed to have actual women with their actual bodies on the covers of magazines?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Blogger Backs Down on Adult Content

A few weeks ago, sex bloggers everywhere were freaking out over google's announcement that they were going to block any blog that had 'sexually explicit pictures' from coming up in searches. They claimed the move was an attempt to keep under-agers from accessing pornographic content through blogger. They probably thought they were being reasonable because they were not threatening to shut anyone down, just to block them from searches. That though, essentially shuts down the majority of traffic that a blog would get. It would mean that any search for anything, even the exact name of the blog or the person who writes it, would not come up in a search. The only way anyone would be able to access these blogs would be if they were invited by the site itself or if they new the exact url. That's just not the way that most people access content on the web.

There was a huge outcry about it and google actually backed down. Sort of. They issued this statement.

Hello everyone,

This week, we announced a change to Blogger’s porn policy. We’ve had a ton of feedback, in particular about the introduction of a retroactive change (some people have had accounts for 10+ years), but also about the negative impact on individuals who post sexually explicit content to express their identities. So rather than implement this change, we’ve decided to step up enforcement around our existing policy prohibiting commercial porn.

Blog owners should continue to mark any blogs containing sexually explicit content as “adult” so that they can be placed behind an “adult content” warning page.

Bloggers whose content is consistent with this and other policies do not need to make any changes to their blogs.

Thank you for your continued feedback.

The Blogger Team

What this means is that they will not block the sites from searches. Anyone who posts any kind of sexual content is asked to tag it with an adult content warning, but it has always been this way (you would have come through an adult content warning to get to this page).

What is unclear to me is what they mean by 'step up enforcement around our existing policy prohibiting commercial porn'. What, exactly, is commercial porn. Does this mean that people are making money from the blogs directly? Does that apply to bloggers who make porn for sale but also have a blog or only to people who sell the porn or link to it through their blog? And what exactly is their issue with commercial porn? Why is it distinct from 'sexually explicit content to express their identities'?

This has always been the problem with the question of porn and sexually explicit content. How do you distinguish between the two? How can you draw a line and say 'that's porn' and 'that's just someone expressing themselves'. There is no reasonable way to do that.

And why do it anyway? What does google have to gain from this? Are they doing this to show that they are not in the porn business, that they want to protect children and teens from inadvertently accessing porn through their sites, or do they just want to cover their butts in case some parent gets upset that their kid saw naked people on blogger? The web is absolutely teeming with nudity and sex. Kids will find it whether they are actively looking for it or not. Does it really matter where they found it?

I was at a college presentation last week and a sociology professor made an excellent point about this fear of porn and attempt to keep kids away from it. She said that in addition to being a great place to get porn, the internet is also an amazing place to learn about sex in general and get answers to questions that you don't want to ask other people or that they won't answer for you. However, because all schools and a lot of parents have blocks on their networks, many kids cannot access any site that has any sexual content or not. Use of this potentially great resource is severely curtailed for a lot of kids because we are afraid of them finding porn.

As well, because of policies like the one google attempted to put in place, adults who have every right in the world to watch and read whatever they want, and could really benefit from the diverse range on information and support available on some of these blogs, might not be able to get find it - again because we are so scared of kids finding porn.

I have always felt a better way to deal with this is to talk to children and teens openly about the kinds of things they might find on the internet and help them to develop skills to understand and critically analyze what they see. I think it's up to not only parents, but also schools to do this. Simply trying to block stuff isn't going to work because there will never be a way to block every possible access without severely limiting the kinds of things adults can share and find on the internet.

I'm glad google listened to their users and backed off this idea. I would love to see them let go of the porn paranoia completely.