Laura Bates, teenage boys and misogyny

Earlier on I read an interesting interview with Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism website. (The interview itself is behind a paywall but you can register with the Times to get free access to a limited number of articles per month). The interview itself is pretty shocking:

What I do not recognise from the 1980s, however, is a subgenre of sexism that Bates encounters again and again when she visits schools to talk to teenagers. It makes no difference if the school is private or state, co-ed or single sex, in the south or the north; everywhere she goes, boys say the same things. “Rape is a compliment, really,” they tell her. “It’s not rape if she enjoys it.” “It’s normal for girls to cry during sex.” “A girl has to have sex with you if you’re her boyfriend.” Why does Bates even bother talking about consent and assault, they demand, “when everyone knows so many women lie about it”?

I have difficulty believing that boys talk about rape in such casual terms, but it’s not surprising given the access that teenagers now have to pornography. The article explains further:

What happens between 11 and 13, of course, is that most children get smartphones — and by the age of 12, a quarter will have seen online porn. “When parents think about their children seeing porn, quite often they’re thinking about kids seeing an online version of an FHM centrefold or a Playboy spread.” In fact, if you type “porn” or “sex” into Google, “you’re likely to be presented with videos that are specifically about hurting women, degrading women, abusing women, raping women — very young women, schoolgirls; women who are subject to extreme racial stereotypes; women who are categorised as busty Asian sluts or virgin teens. It’s not something that you go looking for. This kind of really misogynistic, extreme stuff is what boys are seeing at the top of the pile. Then we wonder why they’re confused and have these ideas about what sex looks like.”

I quite agree – and this is one of the things I talk about on Friend Zone. I think young boys (and girls too) often have negative or damaging views about sex, which come – in part – from watching pornography. These is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that many teenagers are learning about sex from the internet – and, of course, learning all the wrong things.

So far, so depressing. What interested me about all this is that Laura Bates didn’t really seem to have any solutions. Feminism isn’t really working, because (she says) the boys are being got to by ‘alt-right’ ideological extremism. (She mentions Milo Yiannopoulos, although I wonder whether someone like Jordan Peterson might qualify as well. If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely watch his interview with Cathy Newman which has managed to rack up 14 million views to date – with good reason).

I wonder if the problem isn’t a bit more basic. The problem is the basic message in our society of sexual liberation: people basically want the freedom to have sex with whoever they want, whenever they want – the only real value is consent. The problem is, sexual liberation and consent are in opposition: you can’t have full liberation so long as there is the barrier of consent.

My view is that consent is not, and will never be, enough to stop boys and men from taking advantage of women. You can’t say to young boys “the best thing about life is sex. You need to make sure you have the best sex life possible, because it’s the ultimate thing about life” – and then, in the same breath, tell them: “only… make sure it’s consensual”. It’s a nonsense! In the world of sexual ethics, where consent is the only value, then there are effectively no values.

The solution to the problem is not to try and hammer home the value of consent – you need to question the more fundamental message about sexual liberty.

It seems to me that there is a reason why God designed sex to be within the confines of marriage. As I have already quoted on this blog, talking about #MeToo:

Sex is like fire. In the fireplace it keeps us warm. Outside the fireplace it burns down the house.

Ray Ortlund

If our society stopped trying to promote the one value of consent and started trying to promote marriage instead, I think we would see this problem begin to fade away. Many young women think they must have sex in order for men to like them – they think if they insist on marriage, it will rule them out of the game. But the problem is – and I see this all the time – that young men use this to get what they want without any of the responsibility. It’s why so many mums are raising children on their own. Mark Regnerus talks about this in his book Cheap Sex. If women insisted on the traditional Judeo-Christian ethic of sex – that is, sex should happen only within marriage – then men would be forced to take responsibility, which seems to me to be what Laura Bates is aiming at.

As I was reading the interview, I felt my heart breaking: people have got no idea of which way is up any more. There is a huge problem in society, virtually everyone agrees on that – but no-one seems to be willing to admit that the solution might be dethroning the god of sexual liberation.

You cannot have your cake and eat it. How many more young people will have to be hurt before we realise that?

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