It isn't on the curriculum, but perhaps it's time it was. Perhaps it's time that teenage girls, who are taught the themes in Of Mice and Men, are also taught what to say or do when a boy they don't like puts his penis in their mouth. Perhaps girls should be taught that a penis isn't something you have to have in your mouth if you don't want to. And that a bag of chips isn't a fee for sex.
Perhaps someone is telling teenagers that sex can be very nice, but only if you want it, and usually only if it's with someone you like. Perhaps they're telling teenage boys that if you put your penis into the mouth of someone who doesn't want a penis in their mouth, or into the vagina of someone who doesn't want it there either, then what you're doing isn't just nasty, or rough, or rude. What you're doing is rape.
If someone is telling teenagers this, they don't seem to be listening. A third of teenage girls, according to a new report from the NSPCC, have experienced sexual violence. More than one in five, according to another survey, think that if a boy spends money on a girl, he has a right to expect sex. Some even think that if a girl has sex with one boy, she should also have it with his friends. They think, according to a young woman called Isha Nembhard, who recently talked about her time in a gang in South London, that having sex with a lot of boys, even when girls don't actually want it, is a good way of getting "status." And the police think so many teenagers think like this that they have called it a "mainstream issue."
How did this happen? How did it happen that so many of our children are going to school, and studying math, and science, and history, and design, and deciding that the best way to get on in the world is to let boys use their bodies? How did it happen that so many of the young people who will be shaping the future structures of our society looked at half the population and decided that what it was good for was sex?
Maybe it happened because, whatever they're taught at school, these children listen, and look, and learn. Some of them listen to music that talks about pimps and guns and "hos," and think that these are the things that will make a boy feel like a man. And if they listen to this kind of music, they might also see that the people who make it like to be photographed with women who aren't wearing many clothes. But they wouldn't need to listen to this kind of music to see women who aren't wearing all that many clothes. All they need to do is not shut their eyes.
They could, for example, look up the article about the girl who used to be in gangs, as I did on Monday, and see that next to it, there are a lot of women's nearly naked bottoms, and a lot of women's nearly naked breasts. They'd see a woman "showing off her curves" in "a sexy polka-dot bikini," and another "showing off" hers in a "barely-there animal-print bikini" and another who "sizzles" as she "ditches her catsuit for lingerie.. They'd see that these photos were in a section called "Femail," which is meant to be for women, on one of the most popular newspaper websites in the world.
They'd see these photos in lots of other newspapers, too, and if they wanted to buy the newspaper that used to be edited by a woman (a woman who seems to be in a lot of trouble about a horse) they'd see that it didn't even bother with the bikini. Instead, they'd see nipples and "news in briefs."
If they looked in "celebrity magazines," which are a special kind of magazine without any news, or if they looked on billboards, or switched on the telly, and looked at programmes about models, and plastic surgery, and looking younger, they'd see lots of women without many clothes on, too. They could also look at programs about politics, and business, and world affairs, but if they did, they wouldn't see many women, and they might wonder why the few women they are seeing are wearing so many clothes.
If they had studied any history, and learnt about something called "feminism," which was trying to give women some of the rights and opportunities that men had always taken for granted, they might be quite surprised. They might, for example, watch a new series called White Heat, which starts on British TV tomorrow, and shows a woman in 1965 sticking a sticker on a poster saying that it "degraded" women, and wonder what had happened. They might think that that poster looked quite modest next to the ones they saw now.
They might wonder what had happened to those women who had tried to fight those battles, and why the women who had followed didn't seem to have tried to fight them, too. They might wonder why so many women seemed to want to talk about things like handbags, and high heels, and cupcakes, and not about the best way to run a business, or a country, or a world. They might think that what those women really seemed to want was the sexual attention of a man.
They might see that today is International Women's Day. They might notice that this is a day that's meant to be about "celebrating women's achievement." They might wonder why on earth you'd want to celebrate something that didn't seem to be going all that well.
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