CONTENT WARNING: Mention of sexual assault/rape and misogyny
You know that feel-good feeling you get when you’ve just finished a really great movie?
It just makes you want to share it with someone else. One of the most fun experiences of parenthood is when you get to share an old favourite with your child for the first time.
But then there’s that awful moment when you put on an old fave and suddenly realise it’s not appropriate for an 8-year-old or that the story-line is incredibly problematic.
My latest indulgence whilst I clean and do chores has been to watch movies. I watch something I know I will get a little bit of a warm and fuzzy feeling from but that I know my husband won’t be fussed about. Often, this means they are real guilty-pleasure movies and never the high-brow stuff you know I would rather watch (haha).
In the last couple of weeks I have watched 17 Again (yes… inspired by The Greatest Showman), The Kissing Booth (which Netflix kept spitting at me despite my high-brow tastes) and an old favourite, Whatever It Takes.
These three movies alone each have 9 years between them starting from 2000-2018. Sadly, they don’t have a lot of differences. Each present the idea that all the guys want and need is sex and that that’s their number one priority and yet, they are always so attracted to the one girl who “doesn’t put out”. Meanwhile, this girl is the unpopular one and her popularity always gets a boost when she is more sexualised or engages in what is presented as “risky behaviour”. The existing popular girls are the ones who are already the most sexual and often have very little else going on except looks.
The misogyny is rife with boys violating girls at every turn in the name of fun or as certain people might refer to it “locker room behaviour” including paid peek-holes to the girl’s locker rooms. It’s incredibly disturbing and it’s not a wonder we still live in a society where toxic masculinity is causing damage and still rampant. What messages are we giving impressionable youth?
The above titles are too old for my kids but I’m sure stuff such as The Kissing Booth are being presented to many teens of today and I’m sure not a lot of them will not realise all the issues that are so blaringly obvious to me as a grown woman who has finally embraced her femininity (a long journey, much to do with media such as this) and is healing from the damage done to me in the past.
So what’s the answer? Do we try and ban movies and shows we deem inappropriate? That seems somewhat unlikely to be enforceable and will probably create some more desire for forbidden fruit.
I think we need to keep lines of communication open and do our best to maintain and boost our connection with empathic child-rearing tools such as this. I think we also need to watch these movies and shows with our children and talk about what’s wrong with them and how these messages make them feel.
A common thread that still exists and has existed for long time throughout film is this race to save the “pure” girl from her loss of virginity, almost always at “prom”. The girl has been duped into believing the head jock has fallen for her whilst it’s known and assumed by all the other males that he is just making a play to have sex with her. The “good guy” and mates then get in a race against time to save this girl from this inevitable “bad luck” which will destroy her virtue… I mean, really?! Basically, these guys KNOW that a jock will rape this girl if they don’t make it in time… how sick is that?! What kind of message is that to be selling? Why does it seem like such a given? From my perspective now it just seems so baffling and disheartening yet we have been consuming story-lines like this for decades!
I won’t even go into the problematic conclusions drawn about what is most important to girls and most important to boys, whose pleasure is paramount and how easily a girl’s reputation can be sullied despite the fact the opposite type of reputation declares her an outcast.
It’s a long, tough journey to navigate the territory of fostering positive sexuality for our children. I have found Anya Manes to be a great source of wisdom in this area and (in researching how to approach this with my children) I have also had my eyes open to many of my own issues and I am on my own healing journey.
It’s not an easy area to traverse and the wounds can be deeply painful. So it’s about being honest, about doing your research, about identifying where your issues lie and seeking support and I don’t think we can monitor everything our children consume without creating even more problems but I think we definitely need to have these conversations right from the beginning and keep checking in with what our children are watching, joining them often and reviewing and unpacking issues with a very open-mind and allowing our children to discuss how they feel first and foremost. Also, making sure consent is something you model and discuss throughout their lives beginning with not forcing affection.
It’s also about raising boys into “humans” rather than “men”. Not putting them into boxes and shutting down their emotions and making sure we model respectful relationships as parents towards each other and towards our children.
Let’s create a generation of young people who immediately balk against these stereotypes and have as visceral a reaction as I do when it comes to such messaging. Let them be strong in what they want and need and feel no shame in however they want to express that and let them feel strong in their convictions so much so that they can stand up to their peers and partners and demand to be treated with respect.
Your warrior friend,
Aunty Ask xx