Sunday, January 02, 2011

Age Of Consent : Sex And The Media

Here is the question I want you to think about, Emma Watson, pretty young girl ? Or sexy young woman ? And at exactly what age did she change from the former into the latter.

Of course it doesn’t have to be Emma Watson, I am referring to all young girls as they approach their 16th birthday, the exact date that we have decided separates girls from women, at least in a legal sexual sense.

I am very aware in writing this article that a number of issues that I want to discuss around the central point of girl’s sexuality can be misread be some people, as soon as you mention sex and young girls there is bound to be someone thinking about using the p word, paedophile, probably the most vile insult you can throw at someone in today’s society.

Why am I saying girl’s sexuality and not bringing young men into the discussion ? That is because I think we have reached a zenith of hypocrisy with regards to young women which does not seem to apply half so much to young men. On the one hand, we deplore paedophiles, we revile them, they are labelled as the foulest members of our society, their acts evil and repugnant and beyond all measure of decency. On the other hand, we seem to positively encourage the sexualisation of young girls in the media.

Charlotte Church, the singer and presenter, was born on February 21st 1986. In 2002 she was ‘Rear Of The Year’. Although Rear Of The Year is a light hearted award, and has raised money for various charities, it does have at its heart a deeply sexual element. In 2001 then, young Charlotte Church could not have been in the competition as she would have been 15 years of age and you cannot say that 15 year old girls have nice bottoms because that makes you a paedophile, right ? So after the magical defining point of her 16th birthday, Charlotte changed overnight from a pretty young girl into a sexually desirable young woman.

Let me make sure I have got this right, on February 20th 2002 Charlotte Church was 15. She was well known to millions of people who had followed her stellar classical singing career, but not one of those millions of people thought she was sexy. On the following day she became 16, and suddenly she was very sexy indeed. Rubbish, physically she did not change at all on those two days, and changed almost imperceptibly in the weeks either side. So can we really say that we only find woman sexy who are exactly 16 years old or older ? Of course not, but to say that you find a 15 year old attractive is to open yourself to shame and ridicule.

The age of sexual consent varies across the world, would you be surprised to learn that the age of consent in the Vatican City is 12 ? I was, I would personally consider that 12 years of age is far too young an age to be having sex, I do not believe that young people of such an age have sufficient emotional maturity to deal with the problems and risks posed by a sexual relationship. Vatican law states that where there is a degree of dependence between sexual partners (teacher and student for example) then the younger partner must be at least 15 years of age. That still seems young to me, but how much are my views formed and influenced by the media and by the society I inhabit ? Am I just parroting the “must be 16” arbitrary line put forward by our lawmakers ?

It is difficult to say, what is regarded as normal in other countries, the age of consent is 14 in Austria / Bulgaria / Croatia / Bosnia and Herzegovina / Estonia / Germany / Hungary / Italy / Kosovo / Lithuania and others and 13 in Spain, would be regarded as paedophilia in the UK. The lawmakers of other countries seem to place more faith and trust in the actions of their teenagers than we do in the UK. How would parents in the UK feel if their children were legally permitted to have sex at 14 ? There are obviously cultural differences between these nations and the UK, although I cannot claim to be an in depth student of the cultures of Spain and Italy I have travelled in these countries and I cannot see much difference between the teenagers of those parts of Europe and those of the UK.

I must add a coda to the above paragraphs though, the age of consent in those countries applies to those of age having sex with young people of a similar age, they are not laws designed for paedophile access, they are laws designed to decriminalise the actions of consenting young people.

How much does popular culture influence our thoughts on teenage sex ? We seem to be bombarded with images whether we are aware of it or not, on our most popular soaps, Eastenders and Coronation Street, the developing sex lives of young girls and boys have provided a good part of the soap’s staple fare for years. Pop music has always been about sex, and black influenced rap/ hip hop comes in for regular attention from some parts of the media for its alleged misogynistic and sexualising tendencies. Girl’s clothing is influenced to some degree by the clothing worn by pop and rock stars and adult styled clothing on younger girls, by which I mean clothing that deliberately accentuates breasts or exposes skin, is common.

Parts of the tabloid press display an attitude towards young girls that is deeply hypocritical. The same newspapers that often contain much coverage of young women as sex objects are often the same ones that devote a lot of space to reportage of sex crimes and campaigning against paedophiles. A number of British papers published pictures of Emma Watson, before she turned 18, in which she may or may not have been naked (she was posed inside a bathtub which concealed everything below her shoulders).

The popular media became obsessed with the issue of Britney Spears virginity. As Britney made the career move from child Disney star to rising pop icon, the pop media discussed endlessly comments that both her and her mother had made about Britney remaining a virgin until she married. This wave of speculation and interest certainly helped to launch her pop music career and may well have been instigated by a wise PR manager. Spear’s early career, with the phenomenal success of Hit Me Baby One More Time in which she is dressed as a ‘sexy schoolgirl’ played both on rumour of her supposed celibate stance against the very sexualised public persona.

Spears mother later published a book in which she claimed Britney started drinking at 13, lost her virginity at 14 and took drugs at 15. This claim allowed the press a second explosion of interest as Britney, now a mother of two children and who had spent most of her life in the public eye, underwent a very public breakdown.

Often the very same media who complain most loudly about the effects of sex on the young are the ones who write the most about it. The Daily Mail ran the banner headline ‘Put your clothes on - it's a family show! Viewers outraged at Christina Aguilera and Rihanna's racy X Factor performances’ in an article about the two pop stars appearing on X Factor. To show exactly how outraged they were, the Mail then went on to show a large number of close up, full colour photographs of the offending dancers (at the time of writing, these pictures were still online on The Daily Mail website). This is surely hypocrisy of a financial nature, The Daily Mail pretends to be outraged at the sexual nature of an act on a family television program, but then prints numerous pictures because it knows people will buy the newspaper if there is a chance of seeing Rihanna in fishnet tights and a skimpy bra.

Sexy as an adjective has come to be applied more liberally in common use, even quite young children might describe their apparel or look as sexy without the approbation this would have brought about even a generation ago. It is no use when considering this matter to try and pretend to be holier than thou about it. When the then 15 year old Avril Lavigne first appeared in the public eye did some people consider her sexy ? The answer is undoubtedly yes. Here then is one of the most difficult parts of the sexuality problem, you see a young woman in the media, she probably has a dress style and make-up that makes her true age, although obviously still young, impossible to define.

Sexual images in the media are more easily accessible than ever before, from advertising and news articles through to sexual aggressive pop music videos we are bombarded by images of sex every day. Indeed, it can be argued that we have become so inured to these images that it takes something really over the top, such as Rihanna’s almost pornographic bump and grind dancing on X Factor, to wake us up to the fact that perhaps our obsession with sexual imagery might be unhealthy for our children.

In writing this blog for the past 10 years I have regularly posted pictures of attractive, sexy young woman whose look and style appeal to me. I’m a huge fan of music and sex appeal has always sold music. If I’m trawling through album covers on Spotify or listening to Scrobbler radio I am going to be more likely to check out an act with a girl who appeals to me sexually. Sexual appeal is a very personal thing, if you see a photograph of, for example, Taylor Momsen (pictures in post below) what age would you think she is ? In some of the pictures she may well be younger than her current age of 17. Is she therefore sexually unattractive at 16, but the opposite at 17 ? Of course not, and this is where the dilemma is, sex appeal is in the eye of the beholder, and not the pen of the lawmaker or the hollow sounding outrage of The Daily Mail or internet message boards.

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