Pornography: Promoting the Plight of Women Today

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July 6, 2016

Something you will soon learn from subscribing to the Sabatage is that I am never afraid to discuss touchy topics, but I never want to offend anyone or make anyone feel uncomfortable by writing about certain things. Rather, my aim is to address serious and pressing issues that some people have difficulty bringing up in conversation. Pornography is definitely one of those issues.

Nancy Jo Sales, author of “American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers”, was the one who opened my eyes to the reality of what’s really happening in the lives of teenagers today, in terms of porn. In both her book and a discussion I attended to hear her speak on the topic of sexuality of teens and social media, Sales highlighted the fact that while porn is not new, what’s new is the fact that the porn itself has changed. Both the accessibility and the constancy of porn have changed dramatically in recent years, and the porn teens (and even kids) are watching today is very, very different in nature, when compared to the porn of the past.

If we rewind to the dinosaur times of having no Internet, accessibility was much more limited, and it was very difficult to access any type of hardcore pornography if you were underage. But with the Internet, came the elimination of many barriers, leaving access to all types of pornography at the fingertips of any child with a computer or mobile phone. Now being observed, is the heightened popularity of a type of hardcore porn called “extreme porn”, which can best be defined as exceedingly violent, degrading, and fetishtic pornography. I did some research on my own to learn more about what this porn really encompasses, and my findings were both shocking and deeply disturbing. To paint a clearer picture, some of the tags used on these videos include: “violent”, “brutal”, “extreme hardcore gangbang”, “extreme teen abuse”, “crying”, “puke”, “forced” and “painful”. There are even a number of sites, which cater specifically to the category of “rape porn” (which actually makes me feel nauseous even typing).

My research also led me to confirm that Google Trends analysis supports the reality that many desire watching this type of porn, and searches for “extreme porn” and “teen porn” continue to rise at rapid rates. Obviously this is troublesome for several reasons, but I would like to identify four reasons in particular.

1) Boys now believe that sexual violence, force, and rape is acceptable.

This quote from the introduction of the American Girls book summarizes the severity of this issue perfectly in two lines:

In a study of Canadian teenagers with an average age of 14, there was a correlation between boys’ frequent consumption of pornography and their agreement with the idea that it is acceptable to hold a girl down and force her to have sex…Among U.S. boys and girls aged 11 to 16, greater exposure to R- and X-rated films was related to stronger acceptance of sexual harassment.”

Where do I even begin? The fact that these behaviours are becoming commonplace, and regarded as “acceptable” is so appalling I can’t even find the right words to describe how this makes me feel. This is very, very disturbing evidence. It is so easy to see the connection between extreme porn and the promotion of rape culture, that I am so shocked I never identified this link prior to reading Sales’ work. The quote above reminds me of everything that was wrong with Brock Turner’s verdict, and his father’s statement defending and downplaying non-consensual, forced rape. It is a chilling reminder that this is what reality looks like now, and we can no longer continue to ignore these grim issues, or brush them under the rug.

2) Boys are being taught it is okay to disrespect women.                                                       

This is a no-brainer, and a direct consequence of #1. Constant consumption of this type of pornography, lends a hand to desensitizing boys to violence and disrespect against women, and also encourages the notion that it is okay and acceptable to disrespect women. How horrible is this? Porn works to encourage and instil patriarchal values and attitudes from a young age, rather than encouraging values of respect, and gender equality. Additionally, becoming desensitized to disrespecting  women from a young age, helps foster the likelihood of imitating and mimicking the disrespectful actions they observe pornstars engaging in. This also increases the chances of males behaving in such a way in future intimate relationships. 

3) Pornography dehumanizes women by portraying women as objects.

Extreme pornography aids in dehumanizing women, by sending a message that women are inferior objects designed for being used and abused by males. The dehumanizing nature of porn also ends up turning the act of sex into something that is self-serving for males. “When we encourage males to include dehumanizing acts in sex and teach women to accept various forms of violence against them as a “natural” part of sexual activity, we are condoning violence against women.”

4) Extreme porn is a dangerous form of sexual education.

Extreme porn does an excellent job of providing misinformation to all those watching it. While adults are better able to differentiate between scenarios that are unrealistic and inappropriate, young, impressionable teens are unable to do so in the same way. It is a known fact that pornography is typically how adolescents are introduced to sex, and where many turn, in order to learn more about sex. Consuming extreme porn from a young age not only provides misinformation of what sex really means and represents, but more concerning, it helps to create an appetite for deviant, violent, sexual relationships and unrealistic expectations of males. Extreme porn programs the brain from a very young age to be attracted to unrealistic sexual deviance and sexual violence, rather than be attracted to healthy, safe, respectful sexual relationships.

Many parents feel uncomfortable talking to their kids about pornography, or neglect to acknowledge the fact that their child may be consuming pornography. This is an issue that requires immediate correction. Just as parents talk to their children about safe sex and the dangers of unprotected sex, it is now necessary for parents to begin engaging in conversations with their children about porn from a younger age than most feel comfortable doing. Parents need to be having these conversations with their kids; educating them on the fact that pornography is not anywhere close to a real representation of sex, and that violence against women inside and outside the bedroom is 110% UNACCEPTABLE…no matter how it is portrayed. While this post primarily focused on how pornography is affecting boys, please stay tuned for a follow up post discussing how pornography affects girls. Has anyone noticed this trend firsthand, by experiencing a male saying or acting in a way that showed he believed it was okay to disrespect a female? Please comment below!

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In Conversation: Nancy Jo Sales

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Heather Reisman and Nancy Jo Sales

July 1, 2016

To be completely honest, I am a terrible reader and I definitely have the track record to prove it. Although I have quite an extensive book collection (covered in cobwebs), I couldn’t tell you the ending of any of them. I have mastered the art of beginning books and never finishing them.

Given my rocky relationship and commitment problems with books, I had never once thought of attending a book talk with an author before. Actually, what’s worse is that I was completely unaware these talks happen all the time, and that some bookstores actually have event calendars! I was exposed to a whole new world when one of my classmates shared an Indigo ‘In Conversation’ event with me and suggested I check it out. After doing a bit of research on the book, I made the decision to attend the event and begin a new chapter (pun intended) of my life…one where I actually finish books. I thought listening to a discussion held in a bookstore, would help breathe some new life into me and give me some inspiration to get cracking on kicking this nasty habit.

The discussion was held on the bottom level of the Bay Bloor Indigo bookstore, and the Chief Booklover of Indigo, Heather Reisman, was the one moderating the conversation with award-winning Vanity Fair writer Nancy Jo Sales. The discussion was on Sales’ newest book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, which details the disturbing truths about the dark side of social media, and how social media platforms are essentially destroying the innocence of children and teens growing up today.

My whole inspiration for starting this blog was based on my personal observations of destructive trends happening on social media. A couple of years ago, I began to notice an alarming increase of hyper-sexualized posts coming from females (especially very young females) on all social media platforms, but I had yet to discover all the external factors that were simultaneously contributing to this trend. This discussion provided me with the answers to all my questions I didn’t know I had.

Did you know that kids are now watching porn as young as the age of six, even though it’s illegal? Did you ever give any thought to the connection between the ‘bro culture’ of Silicon Valley maintaining sexism in the tech industry, and how this works to support the toxic trends currently being observed? Did you know kids are spending an average of 9-11 hours per day on their mobile devices? Are you familiar with the term ‘slut page’, and how these pages are essentially self-generated pornography by children, being shared non-consensually?

I didn’t know any of this.

I was absolutely BLOWN AWAY  listening to Sales discuss certain aspects of her book and her corresponding research. What really mortified me was that I had no idea I was that out of touch with reality. I mean, I’m not that old. I’m a millennial, turning 25 later on this year, and I am someone who uses social media everyday, frequently. I was completely and utterly stunned to find out that I was so oblivious and unaware as to how serious and deeply rooted these issues really are for teens growing up in this day and age. A recurring theme, and what I found particularly fascinating, was how many times the role of porn was mentioned throughout the talk, and how this is one of the huge contributing factors to the disastrous state we are currently experiencing. The discussion also touched on the pressure social media places on girls to produce hyper-sexual content, and how this sexualization of girls has been linked to misery and a wide range of mental health problems in young females.

Going into the discussion, I had no intention of purchasing the book. But after listening to Sales talk about her findings and some of the topics covered in her book, I was so mind blown and I realized there was no way I could leave without purchasing a copy of American Girls ($40 CAD).

imageThe discussion left my head spinning, and left me feeling all types of ways. Primarily, I began to feel so sad for all the young teenage girls growing up now, who have to deal with all sorts of added pressure (as if growing up in general isn’t hard enough on its own). The discussion also inspired me to get to work, and try and figure out how on earth we can work towards correcting these trends.

I’m only two chapters into the book so far, and I’m already in love. I don’t want to give too much away, plus, technically I can’t really do that because I’m not finished the book yet. I am confident that this book is definitely what I need to kick my habit of not finishing books, because this book has become my new favourite accessory. I carry it around with me everywhere, and I kind of feel like one of those annoyingly proud parents who never misses a chance to bring up their kid or show you their kids most recent pictures. I never miss a chance to bring up this book or show people I’m reading it, because I truly feel like EVERYONE needs to read this.

imageSeeing as this book is so closely tied to everything my blog stands for, there are going to be tons of future posts where I delve deeper into the research and important topics this book explores. To learn more about Nancy Jo Sales you can head over to her website. I also suggest checking out this great interview on American Girls that she did with Teen VogueDon’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already, to be sure you don’t miss upcoming posts related to these topics!

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The Best Attitude is Gratitude

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June 9, 2016

Growing up, my mother always instilled the importance of counting your blessings, and doing so especially when nothing seems to be going right in your life. When I was a teenager, none of this made sense to me. I would complain and whine about everything and anything, and my favourite thing to do was throw around the phrase “I hate my life” like it was nobody’s business. Every time I would complain about how horrible my life was or how unfair something was, my mother would pay me no time of day. Her response was always: “you are healthy, you have a roof over your head, there is food on the table, you have all your limbs, you have a family who loves you, and you have the privilege of attending school. There’s a lot to be thankful for Saba”. This line always made me cringe, and instantaneously triggered a dramatic eye roll on my behalf, and the most theatrical exit you could imagine (loud stomping included). But as I grew older, and a wee bit smarter, this idea became ingrained in my DNA, and I am so thankful I have since shifted my mindset to think like my mother.

imageIt is way too easy to get caught up in counting all the things we hate about our lives and all the things we don’t have. This is an extremely toxic practice. Whether it’s money, the latest fashion must-have item, clearer skin, a boyfriend, or your idea of the perfect body, there will never be a shortage of things we don’t have. All of us, myself included, could easily make lists that go on for days of everything we don’t have, and maybe some of you are thinking about these things right now. DON’T!!! The problem with focusing on everything we don’t have is that in this process, we forget about all the things we do have, and all the things we should constantly be thankful for. We might beat ourselves up about our arms not being toned enough, but consider this. Consider a woman who lost one of her arms in a tragic accident, and with each and every day that passes, all she thinks about is what she would give to have her arm back. If you put yourself in her shoes, then those arms of yours that may be a little less toned than you would like, seem pretty darn good don’t they?!

imageGrowing up in such an amazing country like Canada has definitely spoiled me, and sometimes I take my privileges of being a Canadian citizen for granted, without even noticing. I am reminded of this every time I hear about my friends experiences growing up in different parts of the world, where the basic rights and luxuries I take for granted everyday, simply do not exist there. I think we are all guilty of taking certain things for granted, but if we take a step back from our hectic lives and reflect on what we have, we learn how lucky we actually are.

imageNo matter how bad our lives may seem at certain times, we all have so much to be thankful for. The point I’m trying to get across here, is that it is extremely important to remember to be thankful for what you have, because despite what you may think, somewhere around the world there is someone who would die to be in your shoes. From time to time our brains are bound to wander to this negative ungrateful space, and this is natural. When this happens, be mindful of not dwelling in this space, and correct it. Refocus your thoughts on at least one positive thing you have going for you, and start to think about some of the things you are lucky to have. Whether it’s your health, access to food and clean water, supportive friends, a stable job, a talent or skill, or a home, whatever it may be there is certainly something to be grateful for. When you learn to be grateful and appreciative of the things you have, rather than upset over the things you don’t have, you start to live a much happier life.

Try to keep this post in mind, or better yet, keep this page bookmarked for the next time you are feeling down, and revisit it to help inspire some positive thinking! Although I myself am not Muslim, I am aware that the month of Ramadan began four days ago on June 5th, and I think this can be nicely tied into this post. A large part of Ramadan involves fasting, and this month-long practice is to instil and cultivate gratitude for what you have, and to realize what life is like for those less fortunate. Thinking about the lives of those less fortunate than you, or actually experiencing how those less fortunate live, can really help to open your eyes and also teach you to appreciate what you have. To the over 2 billion Muslims celebrating this month around the world, I would like to wish you all Ramadan Mubarak (which translates to a ‘Blessed Ramadan’). Regardless of practicing a religion or not, please stay positive, thankful, and remember to always be appreciative. Gratitude is the best attitude!

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A Nightmare Better Known As The Brock Turner Verdict

June 7, 2016

Incase you haven’t heard anything about the Brock Turner case over the past couple days; I will fill you in on the disgusting and deeply disturbing series of events. Brock Turner is a former Stanford University student, and star swimmer. More than a year ago, two witnesses found him assaulting an intoxicated, unconscious (I repeat, unconscious) female outside of a frat party on campus. Ever since last Thursday, when the judge sentenced Brock to an extremely lenient 6-month sentence and three-year probation period (when he was set to face 14 years), there has been an outrage across all social media channels and news outlets for good reason.

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In a bone chilling 12-page victim impact statement, the victim (who has withheld her name for privacy reasons), provides a detailed description of what this experience and trial has done to her life. What I took away from her statement is that every waking moment of her life since the night of the attack, has been absolute torturous hell (which is me putting it nicely). It was extremely tough to get through all 12 pages, as I felt both my heart aching in agony, and every inch of my body slowly fill with rage.

What I find to be so confusing is that the concept of this whole thing is really quite simple. So I’m sort of stumped as to why many people (including Brock, his father, his best friend, and Judge Aaron Persky) are having difficulty grasping this idea. If you murder someone, you are a murderer. If you steal something, you are a thief. If you rape someone, you are a rapist. Period. Rape is a criminal offence, and Brock doesn’t deserve to get away with a slap on the wrist because of his athletic ‘potential’. He should serve the time he rightfully deserves for committing such a despicable act. For me, it is extremely hard to swallow the fact that people are strongly defending someone who is so indefensible. As the victim impact statement pointed out:

You are guilty. Twelve jurors convicted you guilty of three felony counts beyond reasonable doubt, that’s twelve votes per count, thirty-six yeses confirming guilt, that’s one hundred percent, unanimous guilt.

Aside from what happened on the night of the assault, there are a number of other deeply disturbing instances, which have resulted from this case. One, neither Stanford University nor Brock Turner issued an apology to the victim. Two, Brock Turner’s father, Dan Turner, wrote the most cringe-worthy and jaw dropping letter, which epitomizes and encourages rape culture. The letter details how the verdicts have shattered and broken his son. Hmm. His letter paints a picture of his son being the victim, with no consideration whatsoever of how the real victim’s life has been affected. He also mentions how Brock will never be the same…maybe your parenting should have included that lesson about how it is  explicitly unacceptable to rape an unconscious woman? Most disturbing of all, is this excerpt from the letter: “That [the verdict] is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life”. 20 minutes of action? It is absolutely heinous and downright insulting to classify something as serious as rape as “20 minutes of action”.

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What is extremely infuriating to myself, and the many others expressing outrage over this case, is the fact that if you are a star athlete at a prestigious U.S. university then everyone is quick to hop to your defence and work extremely hard to cover up the case, and get you off the hook. Do we not see that something is wrong here? Brock Turner’s extremely lenient punishment was based on the fact that he has “potential” as an athletic swimmer, rather than the crime he was found guilty of committing.

We saw the exact same thing happen with another high-profile university athlete rape case featuring Jameis Winston. Winston was a star football player and Heisman Trophy winner at Florida State University, when he was accused of violently raping a female in the name of Erica Kinsman. Despite DNA evidence, and Erica filing separate reports with police and the university, the investigation was suspended for no reason. Erica’s case, unfortunately, is the sad reality of what actually goes on when victims try and report sexual assault to their educational institutions. There is a documentary titled The Hunting Ground, which reveals the lengths universities go to, to cover up and lie about rape cases in order to uphold the image of their school, and not deter prospective students.

These two cases, along with hundreds of thousands of others tell an extremely important story. These are not one-off events that happen once in a blue moon. There is an obvious pattern of campus rape, and the severity of this problem cannot continue to be overlooked. We cannot continue to let rape become a cultural norm – this is morally intolerable. Although sexualized violence against women is one of the world’s most common human rights offences, this isn’t an issue about just women. This is a basic human rights issue for males, females and transgenders alike. For all of the people who quickly hopped to the defence of Brock Turner, I personally guarantee your sentiments and statements would tell a much different story if this had happened to your own sister, daughter, or wife. The scary thing is, Brock Turner actually has a sister, Caroline Turner, and she also released a statement in his defence, which speaks volumes to the parenting job Dan Turner and his wife have done. It couldn’t be more crystal clear that the verdict of this case is utterly unacceptable for numerous reasons. The verdict explicitly violates the integrity the U.S. Judicial System is required to uphold, demonstrating privilege and extreme bias in favour of someone who has been proven 100% guilty.

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The grim results of this trial as well as the Jian Ghomeshi trial add more fuel to the rape culture fire. These verdicts aid in discouraging those who want to speak out, for fear of experiencing similar repercussions. This is extremely problematic because this can lead to many victims being more reluctant to report rape. This is not okay, and silencing survivors doesn’t make this issue go away.

Growing up as a female, both my school and my parents taught me how to avoid being raped, and what I should do when a male is attacking me or trying to sexually assault me. What’s ironic is that males are never explicitly taught or educated on why it is wrong to rape women, and this may be the root of the problem. It is something that goes unspoken. Parents talk to their sons about the danger of having unprotected sex, but not about the importance of consent. This is something that needs to change NOW. Because of what I have been taught about rape growing up, I have lived my teenage years and early adulthood somewhat paranoid about ever being in that type of situation, and always thinking about how to avoid it. If young teenage boys are taught that rape is a crime and are educated on the repercussions they would face if they were to rape a girl, perhaps they too would have carried around the same paranoia I did. Perhaps this paranoia would deter them from engaging in rape, or better yet, significantly reduce the number of rapes that occur.

I could honestly go on writing about this forever, and how white privilege plays a huge role in this, and that I find it no coincidence Judge Aaron Persky used to be a Stanford athlete himself. But instead, I would like to end this post on a more positive note. As I mentioned above, this post isn’t just about females. I am here to stand up for all the survivors of sexual assault: transgender, male and female. I want everyone to know that I am on your side, and I stand united in this battle to seek justice and put an end to rape culture and the judicial system’s encouragement of it. Know that I am actively fighting for you, and I will continue to do so everyday. No matter what you are told, or made to believe by your perpetrator(s) or an institution, you and your story ARE important. NEVER let anyone try to silence you, tell you your story is petty, or try and trick you into thinking that what happened is your fault – because it most certainly isn’t. Although you may feel weak at times, you are in fact not weak at all. You are strong, and courageous, because you are a survivor. You are no different than cancer survivors, or those who have survived war…you are just a survivor of a different type of battle, and for that I commend and honour you. Filed under my Sabatage Approved page, you will find some resources I have gathered regarding sexual assault, and reporting sexual assault. I intend to grow the list of links, and will continue to work on developing these resources. If you agree with the unfair verdict, there is a petition against Judge Aaron Persky you can find here, which has been drawing wide support. Please share this post, and feel free to leave a comment regarding other resources you may be aware of!

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