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Porn: the shocking truth

news | Published in TES magazine on 5 October, 2012 | By: Chloe Combi

Slutting, oral sex, sexual violence: hardcore pornography is warping teenagers’ attitude to sex - and it’s getting worse. Teacher Chloe Combi asks what we can do to keep our children safe

I recently came across a 15-year-old pupil of mine absolutely beside herself with grief. After a certain amount of cajoling, she eventually wailed that some boys in her class had called her “brainy”, before bursting into a fresh flood of hysteria.

Fumbling for the Kleenex, and wondering - not for the first time - what the hell had happened with feminism and this generation of teenagers, I attempted to mop up her tears and explain that being described as “brainy” was a Good Thing and something she should be pleased about, even if the idiotic boys were too stupid to recognise that. “I love being called brainy,” I said, soothingly.

These words had the desired effect, or so I thought. She instantly stopped crying and looked at me in astonishment. “But that’s nasty, Miss,” she cried.

It was now my turn to look puzzled. She sighed. “Miss, being brainy means you give head to a lot of people. Giving brain means giving head.”

This conversation crystallised something that had been nagging at me for quite some time.

Language is a powerful signifier for all humans, but perhaps more for teenagers than most. For them, language is not just a tool of communication, but a means of establishing class, race, religion, which part of town they’re from, the music they listen to, the groups to which they are affiliated and myriad other things that adults forgot when they hit 20. This has always been the case, but what is new among the teenagers I work with is the casual appropriation of what were once compliments as insults - invariably targeted at females. If a girl “gives character”, she needs slapping down. If she’s “lively”, she’s slutty.

Teenagers are not particularly thoughtful about their words or actions, so when you spot a trend, worrying or otherwise, the only way to understand it is to ask them why they’re doing it. It is actually surprising how much this question surprises them - but it gets them talking.

“Sex is a way to get girls to do more stuff weirdly. If they do something and you threaten to tell everyone, they do more stuff.”

“I hated giving blow jobs, but didn’t want to look weird. And he said I was a freak if I didn’t. He was my best mate, but sex turned him into someone else.”

If this was a purely linguistic trend we could all sigh with relief, put the kettle on and hope it goes away. But it’s not just a linguistic one. It is manifesting in the thoughts, actions, character and behaviour of teenagers everywhere, and if you think it’s just the bad ones, the naughty ones, the poor ones, the sink estate ones, you are being very naive indeed.

This is, thanks to the internet, the first generation with free, easy and mass exposure to hardcore pornography. These are the first teenagers to have grown up with “sexting”, sex tapes, making their own sex tapes on phones, saucy snaps of classmates on Facebook, MSN orgies and extensive insight into the sex lives of celebrities and politicians - hell, even teachers.

It is impossible to discuss the long-term effect this will have on a generation of teenagers because we’re not there yet, but I can tell you about the short-term effects. I’ve been observing them closely for a couple of years. And some of what I’ve witnessed would be shocking to less seasoned adults.

Take, for example, James Deen - the new big breakout crush in the US who’s also gaining fans over here. I’ve spoken to dozens of girls over the past couple of months who have admitted to watching his films and finding him “hot”. Deen is an unusually pretty-boy porn star. Somewhat belying his rather sweet looks, Deen mostly appears in ultra hardcore films that go under the genres of Everything Butt (extreme anal sex), Bound Gangbangs (gang rape) and Public Disgrace (the previous two combined, but also including women being smacked about).

I don’t necessarily judge the fact that girls (and boys) are watching these films, but I do worry about their responses to them and what it says about the way they view sex, and themselves. Girls’ first crushes were once anodyne, harmless guys (Donny Osmond, New Kids on the Block, Take That) who provided a shark-free way for them to dip their toe into the water of their burgeoning sexuality. While girls still crush on the likes of Justin Bieber and Robert Pattinson, the widening fascination with Deen is telling - and worrying.

Boys emulate the men the girls have crushes on. And if they see (and they will) this porny dreamboat smacking women about, fucking a woman up the arse while someone else does her vagina and simulating rape - and observe that so many girls fantasise about Deen - what sort of message does that send to a teenage boy? Calling women “bitches” will suddenly seem positively polite. To make matters worse, Deen is about to appear in a mainstream film with Lindsay Lohan, so Deen-mania is certain to intensify.

Warped expectations

The hardest conversation I’ve ever had was with a distraught, confused man of about 45. I had to explain to him that we had to exclude from school his seemingly non-abused, non-disturbed, well-loved daughter because she had been caught administering fellatio to a line of young men in the boys’ toilets for cash.

And it wasn’t altogether unusual: there are many schools that have (but don’t advertise) policies and methods for dealing with sex acts taking place on the premises. A friend of mine who teaches at another school (much more posh than mine) said that it had got so bad they had to go on “blow-job patrol” every lunchtime.

When you ask why, the overwhelming conclusion is that, just as teenagers will wear the fashions and drink the drinks they are bombarded with images of, or try the substances their favourite celebrity is dabbling in, they are going to copy the porn images they see several times a day. Parental control locks on family computers are pointless: the kids have smartphones.

The effect that mass exposure to pornography is having on teens’ emotional well-being and self-esteem will take time to gauge properly as it is an unprecedented phenomenon happening in real time. However, the impact it is having on the way they view their bodies and the bodies of the opposite sex is already very evident.

After a recent (completely unrelated) classroom debate on the right to express views on religion without people taking offence, I showed some Year 11 students Monty Python’s Life of Brian. In the scene where Judith leaps out of bed naked to protect the reluctant messiah from his nosy mother, full 1970s bush proudly on display, one of the male students turned to me, eyes wide, and without a trace of knowingness asked: “Miss, is she wearing a merkin on her fanny?”

It was a hilarious question that made me laugh for a week, but it exemplified just how distorted the female form has become in the minds of teenage boys - owing, I believe, to pornography. I think it’s fair to say that Year 11 boys don’t see many “fannies” in real life.

This was consolidated by a discussion a little while later in sex education where most of the boys stated that pubic hair on women was “disgusting” and “should be shaved off” and this of course led me to ask why. After much sniggering, they answered that women in porn don’t have pubic hair. (When I asked them if their penises all looked like the ones on the men in porn films, there was of course a deathly silence.)

So where does this leave the girls - the teenage girls who are represented in pornography as the holy grail, the ultimate fantasy? Nowhere good, that much is certain. There was a time when the biggest body issue for teenage girls was thinness, and the biggest worry was that they might develop eating disorders.

Now, however, this body dysmorphia has extended to plastic surgery and body alteration. I have lost count of the teenage girls who have told me about their desire to have their breasts surgically enlarged. While this is undoubtedly due in part to many female celebrities being cosmetically enhanced, it is also because boys vocally favour the two-doormen-in-a- headlock look over something more natural. And where are boys developing this preference? Porn, of course.

If boys’ pornography-prescribed aesthetic desires are influencing how girls see themselves and what they do with their bodies, what the hell is going to happen to the actual sex lives of teenagers? Boys and girls brought up on a diet of extreme and hardcore pornography are going to have a pretty distorted attitude to their own sexual boundaries, the pressure ever on to keep up with the stuff they see on the internet.

Schools are having to deal with the new phenomenon of pornographic bullying on phones and social media. All too often, I hear of some inappropriately smutty or downright shocking pornographic picture or film of a schoolchild being passed around among students. Girls tell me they suffer enormous pressure from boyfriends/friends/peers to “sext” (send a half or fully nude picture of themselves and/or a sexually explicit explanation of what they are going to do later).

Replicating what they see

When the press expresses concern over the sexualisation of teenagers and shrieks “How and why is this happening?”, the curtain-bitingly obvious answer is that teenagers have not suddenly become wannabe porn stars. They are replicating the attitudes and behaviours of something they see on a daily basis.

As little as 10 years ago, experimenting with sex was considered to be something you gave a great deal of thought to. Pornography has made sex seem more casual, creating a generation of teenagers who are not only au fait with, but have in a way reclaimed as their own, the notion of friends with benefits, no strings attached, sexting, slutting, fishing and a million other acronyms and slang terms I’ll never understand now I’m not a teenager.

This is a generation that has grown up able to access gang bangs, rape, the coprophagic video Two Girls One Cup, the Paris Hilton sex tape 1 Night in Paris, Kim Kardashian, girls who like to be beaten and most of all teens: horny teens, teens get ass-fucked, teen loses virginity, teen gets fucked by older man, teen gets raped, all ad infinitum at the touch of a button.

I am not in the least surprised that girls are going starry-eyed over Deen. He’s doing what they see all the time, but he’s handsome and probably does what he does well. My job as a teacher is not to judge. It is to see and, I hope, sometimes to impart. So I’ve seen this - and there isn’t enough space to tell you all I have seen on this front. I am not a parent, but I do often speak to terrified parents about such things and if a parent was to read this and ask “What can I do about it?”, I’d impart the following.

You cannot stop your teenager looking at and getting off on porn. And so you have to be brave enough to have an honest dialogue with your kids. Explain to your sons why slapping women during sex, or calling them bitches or expecting them to give “brain” is not cool. Explain to your daughters why sending sexy snaps on their phones is a bad idea and just plain wrong. Consider this conversation the Green Cross Code of their minds and bodies. Because if you don’t, you leave their sexuality, sexual well-being and sexual identity in the hands of the sex industry. It would be nice if we got back to a place where boys describe girls as brainy, lively and full of character in the real sense.

I want teenagers to snog and grope and play safely, lovingly and willingly. Because that’s what teenagers should be doing. But the fact of the matter is that adults created pornography and it has become an attractive aspiration for teenagers. And we cannot blame them or judge them for their reaction to this extremely questionable legacy. We can only help them to manage it as best they can.

What next?

Lay out the ground rules for the classroom before introducing sex and relationships education.

Address the issue of pornography with the help of this guide from SexEdUKation.

Use this presentation to teach your students about the moral and legal implications of “sexting”.

A Teachers TV video focusing on the pressure to have sex is useful for key stage 3-4 PSHE lessons.

This thought-provoking worksheet gets pupils to consider who is affected by underage sex.

Live webchat

The author of this article, Chloe Combi, and PSHE expert Alice Hoyle, who is also a teacher, will be taking part in a live webchat on Wednesday 17 October at 6pm on the TES website.

The pair will discuss this article’s conclusions about the impact of widespread access to pornography among today’s pupils and how schools and teachers can or should manage the consequences. They will answer your questions as submitted by email or on Twitter.

For more information, please visit

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Comment (14)

  • I agree completly with the author, as a teacher and a parent I am amazed about what my children know as well as the conversations of a sexually nature you hear young people having in the street and on public transport. i was recently travelling on a bus in a city of aprox 250,000 people in the UK with my 8 year old duaghter and had to move due to the conversation (which I did not want my daughter to hear of two 10 -12 year old about the mother of one of them who was angry that her boyfirend had not wanted to indulge in anal sex the previous evening. I would like to think I am not old fashioned and am fairly liberal and enlightened but even as someone who served in the armed forces reserves for 15 years i had not heard so graphic a conversation among drunk service maen in a single sex all over 18 environment. We need action now in terms of making internet service providers block sites on an opt in for pornography and sexual content basis and not allowing people to access it in in private browsing.

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    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5 October, 2012


  • I'm not a historian but I get the impression from what I do know, that increasing sexual licence and a spiralling downwards of sexual morality is a mark of the progression of many civilisations - I suspect that the Roman Empire could still shock us today. However, I can't get away from the belief that we adults are actually in the position to stop what seems an inevitable, downwards slide into an increasingly horrible mess. Consequently, the situation is not hopeless as we can do something about it if we want to. What we have to overcome first is the belief that our behaviour doesn't matter if it doesn't immediately involve anyone else - the internet records things forever and has only accelerated the potential decline in standards by making anything available.

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    5 October, 2012


  • At iTeachingResources we completely agree with this article - teachers should never underestimate the influence of pornography on young people, with no apparent limit on its content however extreme. With such easy access to these sources, we believe the best approach is try and manage how young people react to what they see, rather than try to restrict access.

    With this mind, we have devised lesson plans which specifically deal with the depiction of sex in pornography. Crucially, they aim to differentiate real sexual relationships from sexual encounters in pornography. By carefully considering multiple topics such as STIs, contraception and consent, we hope that young peoples' sexual behaviour will begin to change.

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  • Scandinavians have had access to full, uncensored porn since the 60's. Few of us would argue they are a nasty, affected people.

    We are never going to be able to ban porn on the net and yes, net porn is increasingly graphic. That means it is time to talk freely.

    One thing the article does not appear to consider with any seriousness is how boys ALSO can be affected confidence wise and in fact the smart arse teacher backs up his/her own silliness by asking if the boys had the same size penis as those on film. I am sure that will make them feel good about themselves.

    Saying boys demand breast implants on girls because of porn is incredibly naive. Ever heard boys or men demand wafer thin girls? No - women compete with other women here, it has little to do with men. We must get away from this negative spin and keep making it appear women have no feelings or brains to make their own decisions and accept that like all of us, they can get it wrong all by themselves.

    There is also the usual and oh so tiring (and totally wrong) message that girls/women are themselves not interested in sexual pleasure or pushing boundaries. Utter nonsense and no doubt part of why the British have one of the very highest teenage pregnancy rates in the Western world.

    A sad statistic the British had way before internet porn - something that MUST be considered before we think we can pat ourselves on the back for banning net porn.We just won't allow debate. We prefer censorship and it just does not work. We know that.

    Teaching resources UK talk about approaching this from the same negative stance we have had throughout our history. All the diseases and links to 'nasty behaviour' you can have. Telling kids what is 'normal' sexual behaviour. Which of course, a hormone mad teen just cannot deal with - they do not want to be made to feel guilty about sex.

    My advice - turn to Scandinavia. Talk freely and openly about sex, do not deny it is pleasurable to both sexes - and remove the guilt.

    The internet is hated by many as it is the last true bastion of free speech. We cannot play thought police anymore and all we can do is as the Scandinavians back in the 60's.....accept it is out there and be open about it.

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    Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
    10 October, 2012


  • I think this lady sounds incredibly compassionate and seems to have a real understanding of what is going on. A brave piece and one that has shocked me. Will look out for her other stuff

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    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    11 October, 2012


  • Some of my students were on newsnight in July about this, expressing mature and insightful views. I think that teaching about this is massively important and well worth it because students value the opportunity to discuss it

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    16 October, 2012


  • Thank you Chloe, for a great article and the hard work you do daily dealing with these issues with teenagers.

    My response is to dumpty's comment above:

    Having lived in various Scandinavian countries for years and being married to a Scandinavian, your comments are terribly ill-formed.

    This 'liberal Scandinavians example' is a myth perpetuated by those whose support extreme porn and want to prove there's no negatives to it's prolific consumption. Similar to the myth that all Scandinavian women are 'easy' and up for anything sexually - it's a fantasy propagated in the 70's by English men and offends many Scandinavian people.

    Whilst technical legislation on porn may have differed, the average Scandinavian person has had no different access to porn than people in the UK since the 60's. In fact, as much of Scandinavia is extremal rural and shut off from mainstream culture (much more so than in the UK) until the internet they likely had less access to porn than in the UK. A dirty mag or blue movie purchased under the counter in a brown paper bag would have been it.

    However, If you want to use the Scandinavian example as a social model we should all aspire to I totally support you.
    One interesting thing you may want to note is that Scandinavian counties are extremely equal and feminist societies. With men enjoying equal rights to paternity leave for example and schools practising gender neutrality. The only countries I have ever lived and not felt discriminated against at work as a woman is Sweden, Norway and Denmark. There are more women on the boards of companies in Sweden and Denmark than any other countries in Europe. Maybe this is why few of us would argue they're not nasty and affected people?

    In general pornographic content and sexuality explicit imagery is not as blatant and prevalent in the mainstream as it is in the UK. Swedes are actually quite conservative to it's exposure to children and feminist concerns aren't trivialised as they are in the UK. Interesting enough, they have very healthy attitudes to nudity and sex. Of course porn is available but attitudes are generally more moderate, appropriate and it's kept prominently out of mainstream culture, interesting it's much the same with consumption of class A drugs of which usage is also significantly lower than in the UK.

    In comparison though I have often had the embarrassment of having to explain to my husband, his family, and Scandinavian friends that things like page 3 still exist in the UK's biggest selling national news paper. Scandi's are appalled by this and think our society is backward, and say things like "What, children see it everyday? Why don't you do more to protect children in the UK" to which I have no response.

    Why don't we do more to protect our children dumpty? Maybe because of attitudes like yours? Certain people seem to get very angry about any suggestion that porn could have any detrimental affects on people or that access should be controlled, so like you they pull out the free speech and 'you all hate the internet' argument. These types get incredibly protective over their divine right (as they see it) to access porn regardless of any negative impact it may have on children and society.

    The author isn't advocating 'not talking about sex' or teaching kids 'sex is dirty' either - attitudes changed on that a long time ago so that's not the cause here. Equally, no-one is saying all porn is bad and can never be viewed again or the entire internet is to blame. However we have to face the very real truth that the combination of extremely hard core/abusive/aggressive porn and ease of online access is having a negative impact on our children and young adults and we can't just stick our heads in the sand and deny it.

    The teachers response to the boys pubic hair question was absolutely superb and correct - making the boy reflect on his comment and think about how he would feel to be physically objectified. And btw yes I have heard men and boys contribute and buy in to the female waif aesthetic - I've heard it from blokes at work, in the pub and my 16 year old niece hears it on the playground daily, so I ask you who is being naive?

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    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    27 November, 2012


  • You can't deal with the problem until you identify the source.

    "Jewish involvement in porn, by this argument, is the result of an atavistic hatred of Christian authority: they are trying to weaken the dominant culture in America by moral subversion."

    This isn't just about making money. The next generation of our children won't be able to reduce our society. We have been disarmed.

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    3 February, 2013


  • I can't help wondering what is the relationship between people who watch or are exposed to rape porn, and their views about rape and coerced sex. Or indeed the relationship between people who feel entitled to watch porn (like dumpy), and their feelings of entitlement to sex by any means.

    In the article there's a quote (presumably from a teenager) about threatening girls in order to get them to do more sex things. I can imagine it would be rather difficult to educate a boy about the importance of consent when there is a daily diet of porn that says rape is normal, ok, and fun. On the other hand, if all the girls in the class could be specifically taught at a young enough age, that being asked for sexting is an insult and a danger, and to unite in refusing and rejecting the boys who do it, maybe said boys might, just might be able to learn a bit of respect, and realise that porn and abuse is not an acceptable norm for daily life.

    Frankly, I think sharing intimate photos or video without the person's provable consent should be illegal, as it is a form of rape. But with people like dumpy around, I can see that's unlikely. People like dumpy don't *want* to protect girls - why would they, when they get off on people abusing them?

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    15 April, 2013


  • And I don't think it's guilt that needs to be removed, it's shame. Men need to stop shaming women about sex. But again, when the shame is a powerful tool for coercion, why would they?

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    15 April, 2013


  • Your opinions are useless. An open, continuing conversation with young people so that everyone can THINK about why porn damages us. Andrea Dworkin was way ahead then and now. Porn is an ice cold toxic industry. Our only power is in acquiring understanding which can influence behaviour. That's one of the goals of education isn't it?
    I recommend 'Pornography plays a big part in normalizing the ways in which we are demeaned and attacked, in how humiliating and insulting us is made to look natural and inevitable.' ANDREA DWORKIN Pornography Happens to Women 1993

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    15 April, 2013


  • The girl who was mentioned in the article, the one who was excluded from school for giving blow-jobs to a line-up of boys.. Were the boys excluded too? I think we should be told. The answer to that question really matters.

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    15 April, 2013


  • We don't ban horror movies in the fear that people will start brutally murdering each other... So why ban porn movies? If a girl doesn't want to have sex there's no force that can make her (except in the case of rape which is obviously illegal). And the whole pubic hair thing, it's not really a big deal and it goes both ways, so many men wax their chests, backs, legs and most trim or shave their pubic region, it's not harmful and even if it was it's their choice. People just need to stand up for themselves, if you consent to sleeping with someone who you don't want to sleep with then that's your fault not theirs, that's how a liberal society works.

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  • Firstly given those boys consider female pubic hair to be 'disgusting' I wonder if these boys feel the same way concerning their male public hair? I very much doubt it.

    The usual excuse/denial is being uttered wherein the claim is made 'not all porn is bad.' Wrong - malestream porn is not just filmed sexual interaction between two autonomous indivduals but is overwhelmingly filmed male sexual violence being committed against women and girls. Pornography tells the truth about men and their social construction of male sexuality and pornography lies about women.

    Malestream porn commonly features one or more males simultaneously subjecting a woman or a woman appearing to look like a female child, to sadistic male sexual violence. The men sexually penetrate the woman in every way imaginable simultaneously whilst subjecting the woman to male created sexually degrading insults. The woman attempts to smile and/or make pseudo noises supposedly showing how much she enjoys being subjected to male sexual degradation. This is what constitutes malestream pornography. If it was males commonly being subjected to male sexual degradation and humiliation then men would be outraged but because it is women and girls men claim this filmed male sexual violence against women and girls is 'fantasy.' It is not -real women and girls are being filmed as real men subject them to rape and/or other forms of male sexual violence.

    Males are avidly viewing this sadistic male sexual violence because it is erotic and sexually exciting for males. The same cannot be said for women because they are the ones being told by their male partners they too must enact 'the dehumanised female porn model because male sexual pleasure and male eroticised sexual domination is "oh so sexxy and pleasurable to men.'

    Likewise that old misogynistic male created sexual double standard continues ad naseum. Why was the school girl excluded merely because she submitted to boys' demands she sexually service them during breaktimes? Why wasn't this case thoroughly investigated because I doubt the girl decided 'today I am going to suck penises and earn a lot of money!' I have no doubt she was subjected to intense male sexual harassment from her male peers.

    Also, why were not the boys punished for their actions but no instead male accountability continues to be ignored and these boys have learned a valuable lesson. Namely they are entitled to demand/coerce/expect females to suck their penises whenever these boys demand because that is why females exist!

    What needs to happen is for girls and boys to learn media literacy and how to critique malestream media. Pornography is not 'hip/radical/cool/transgressive' rather it is conservative; misogynistic and women hating.' Pornography tells the lie that women are just 'dehumanised sexualised commodities and males have right to subject any woman/girl, any time to sadistic sexual violence because males gain a sexual 'rush' and it reinforces their feelings of male sexual domination and control over women and girls.

    Real sex education would teach girls and boys 'sex' is not 'sex' when the penis is privileged each and every time. Real sex education would teach girls and boys that penetrative sex is reproduction not 'sex' per se and the penis is not the site of male sexuality contrary to mens' claims. Likewise female sexuality is not a commodity for males to exploit but is owned by women and girls.

    By the way his tory (meaning mens' history) teaches women that pornography has always been one of the main tenants of males maintaining their male pseudo sex right to dominate and control women's sexuality and bodies. Males have always played the 'morality card' wherein men claim a woman's reputation rests solely on whether or not she is 'sexually moral.' Men of course are above 'sexual morals' because they have always accorded themselves the right of sexual access to female bodies and have always excused their male right. This is why women and girls continue to be shamed for supposedly 'engaging in sexual immorality' whereas boys and men are lauded for their oversexed appetites.

    One need look no further than mens' so-called 'art' because it is rife with images of totally naked women for the sexual pleasure of men. Our male supremacist society is regressing not progressing and as usual it is women and girls who are the ones being dehumanised by men.

    Liberalism is a male concept because liberal ideology makes the false claim all men are equal whereas women are just 'mens' disposable sexual service stations!' Women for centuries were invisible within our male supremacist system and women are still denied their fundamental human rights.

    Malestream media; popular culture and male controlled advertising are the tools of male supremacist system and these 'tools' constantly bombard women and girls with mens' lies that a woman's/girl's sole value lies in her being 'a male's disposable sexualised commodity.' I've yet to read of boys being told being sexually submissive and pliant is an ideal all males should seek to emulate. However, boys and men are enacting their male pseudo right to dehumanise and hold women and girls in contempt because only males are human and valuable.

    I want a world wherein girls don't learn their sole value is being males' disposable sexual service stations. I want a world wherein women and girls own their sexuality and bodies and a world wherein men and boys know they do not have male pseudo sex right to female bodies any time anywhere.

    We don't live in that world but we do live in women-hating world wherein men and boys consider it is their right to subject any female any time to male sexual harassment and it is a male's right to commit sexual violence against any female, any time any where.

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    5 August, 2013


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