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Catherine Marcus: No, Zoe Williams - it is not anti-feminist to be concerned about the effects of pornography on young teenagers

Marcus CatherineCatherine Marcus is a writer.

Growing up is always hard. Growing up today is infinitely more so.

Part of growing up is about learning to deal with the bad stuff. It’s about having chips knocked off you and learning to defend yourself and others when the need arises. There is no way of waving a magic wand, in order to make child’s development as pain-free as possible, and nor should there be, for with pain comes wisdom. Those who are protected from the bumps that come with growing up only postpone learning the lesson that accompanies those scrapes, and the brutal reality is that people are more patient and give young people more leeway, so best get mistakes out of the way then.

I was a teenager, not too long ago. I look back on those years through interlocked fingers, aghast at the litany of misadventures occasioned by a basic lack of common sense, gaucheness and bizarre fashion sense, amplified by faux bravado. I sank gratefully into my twenties, cringing at the humiliations visited by an uncooperative and unfamiliar world, embarrassments keenly through the thinnest of skin, and it is only now, as I approach a birthday that leaves adolescence a faded and distant, if still somewhat awkward, memory, that wisdom and experience accrued over these many years has yielded one of its great and simple truths: it wasn’t just me.

Far from being the most spotty, gangly, clumsy, tongue-tied, fundamentally weird teenager out there, I was probably just in the middle range of awkward teenagedom. There were some unfortunate souls who had it worse and there were the lucky few who glided through the halls of Sixth Form College with the grace of the gods, but I would hazard a guess that all, including the lucky gilded few, were gripped with the same paralysing insecurity and self-consciousness.   This is why I am somewhat surprised to read Chloe Williams’ contention in the Guardian that the recent outcry sexualisation of children is overdone, and simply a Trojan horse for a return to good old-fashioned (read ‘conservative’) family values. It pits the purity of ideology against a painful reality, much like the idea that true feminists shouldn’t protest against the higher rate of abortion in female foetuses, in case this is seen as a valid argument against moral case for termination. 

The last ten years has seen an explosion in mobile technology that means school kids can access porn at the touch of a button, young girls report the need to shave ‘down there’ in order to conform to the pornographic ideal of feminity, and doctors are reporting an unprecedented rise in the number of young girls seeking counselling due to raised anxiety levels and depression. This is not illusory manipulation of statistics, put forward to propagate a conservative agenda, but real, recorded, alarming reports that we need to acknowledge and consider, in light of our brave new dawn.

It is not anti-feminist to be concerned about the effects of pornography on young teenagers, any more than it is adhering to the Conservative Party-line to be concerned about the effects of growing up in a single parent home, when all research points to the fact that this can have a detrimental impact.

Being a feminist is not about defending the against the invading barbarians of conservative thought, it’s about having the courage to speak up when you think women are being humiliated. I applaud Diane Abbott for having the guts to speak up about something that might chime uncomfortable with her party.

It is brave and right that she should acknowledge a reality that we are all waking up to, so that measures can be put in place to protect teenage girls during a difficult period of their development.

In doing so, she has proven to be the true feminist.


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