Congratulations to Grace Dent who, this week in Independent Voices, has identified the problem with young women today; discussing the pornification of everyday culture, irresponsible role models for our children and how technology plays a role in the easy distribution of pornography and hastily taken nude photographs. However, having read the article and considered her opinion, I found - as maybe others will - it's all rather more complicated than that.
It's easy to decry the problems of today's youth with a voice of condescension that harks back to the good old days but conversely it's also easy to forget the problems of the past when using this line of debate. Indeed, Dent's article is full of problems symptomatic of the modern age, and rightfully states how technology and it being a vehicle for the distribution of exploitative pornography has indeed caused an irrevocable change in how men view women, and how young women view themselves. That cannot be argued, and it is very true that it is now much easier for people to access hardcore pornography, teaching young men that all women love orally and anally entertaining several men in turns, and that this is expected of young women. This is an irrefutable point to make and to attempt to argue against it would be ridiculous. However, Dent's issue seems to be with the women, and the girls, but not the men, and the boys. She describes Rihanna as a "hero" with an "inability to wear knickers" amongst young women, but also that her highly publicized relationship with Chris Brown is making our teenage sisters and daughters believe they need to be in an abusive relationship.
Indeed, the same people who cried outrage when she released the song S&M (which included the lyrics: "sticks and stones may break my bones / but whips and chains excite me") went so far as to complain that she was promoting abuse (these are of course the same people who believed that 50 Shades of Grey is made all women want to be quite literally chained to the cooker and kicked in the face with a hob-nailed boot whilst having their nipples tweaked because a handsome billionaire might throw them an iPad).
Now, I'm sure there are a lot of women who enjoy the BDSM subculture and even a submissive role in sex, but this doesn't justify abuse within a relationship. In the same respect, I doubt somehow that after seeing those horrific pictures of Rihanna with her face swollen and bruised at the hands of her abusive partner made young girls think: "That's what I want! That's exactly what I want to do with my life!". The press coverage of Rihanna's injuries did not glamourize her struggle, it did not make domestic violence acceptable. It highlighted the evils of it, the lowliness of Chris Brown, but now, apparently, the fault that lies at the hands of Rihanna. In some circles this is known as "slut shaming", and most female popstars have fallen at the hands of it. Remember when Madonna released her infamous book 'Sex', and how slut-shamed she was? I don't believe it made a bit of difference, save for dividing women up again into groups of women who think for themselves, and women who think for other women. It is also known as victim blaming, placing the responsibility in the hands of the victim. Sure, Chris Brown might have knocked her about, but hell, she can't keep her panties on and she sort of did go back to him, so what on earth does she expect if he roughs her up a bit again? Besides, she wrote that song didn't she? Well there you go, then. She probably enjoys it.
Another piece of slut-shaming that occurs in this article is that of Tulisa, who most people will know as a judge on X-Factor, but some (those of you who have The Internet, perhaps) will know as the unfortunate woman who made a consensual, sexual video with her ex-boyfriend, who then leaked it to the general public. Again, Dent shames her and places blame directly into her hands for the problem with women today. This could well be my naïve opinion as I'm only young and only just about remember VHS players and disposable cameras, but is Dent suggesting that if the technology were not around back in them days, more women wouldn't have made a cheeky video to add spice to a relationship with someone with whom they were in love? Did Tulisa at any point say she was forced to do the things she did in that video? Did she tell other young women "I did this to show him I loved him"? No, she didn't. So how is it her fault, that a man betrayed her and made this video public? And how does she now bear the massive burden of responsibility to teach all young women not to make her mistake (that she made long before her sudden rise to fame)? And how does that same responsibility fall to Rihanna? Yes, they are very much in the public eye and interest but does being famous mean you are not allowed to be vulnerable? You are not allowed to fall prey to an abusive partner, and you are not allowed to make any mistakes whatsoever?
So, even if it's not the fault of popstars, surely it's the fault of the modern age. Of course, back in the good old days when we'd never had it so good, there was no such thing as BlackBerry Messenger (an instant message service used on a popular smartphone), there was no Snapchat (a new thing the kids are using whereby one can send a picture to another recipient, and that picture deletes itself shortly after), there was no YouTube (a video streaming service which blocks all pornography) and there was no Tumblr (a blogging platform which does not block any pornography). We had no 'What Happens in Kavos', no 'Sun, Sea and Suspicious Parents'. Dent references a shocked 90s generation, looking at what them kids are getting up to these days in disbelief. One must then assume that booze cruise holidays didn't exist in the 90s, that all of those 18-30 reality shows that were on in the 90s weren't actually on, and maybe we imagined them. 'The Word' didn't actually have a section called The Hopefuls which saw people licking armpits and bathing in cows' urine just to get onto television, and Eurotrash didn't actually caricature the darker and stranger recesses of human experimental sexuality (well, it might have, but it was on past 9pm so there was no way the kids could ever watch it). Sure, the 90s were a chaste and sensible decade.
Now, Dent might accuse me of being "a particular breed of post-feminist numpty who'll scream "I have the right to text my vagina to anyone I want"" but actually, I do, and should I choose to I'm not doing so because Lady Gaga told me to because I read in Smash Hits that Katy Perry does it too (Smash Hits is still a thing, right?). Furthermore, I would grant young women today with rather more credit than to go blindly following things seen on television or The Internet. Sure, there will be followers, but this is no new thing. We are also living in the age of Laurie Penny and Ellie Mae O'Hagan. We have the social platform of Twitter where outrage at shirts or websites that encourage rape culture can be decried and shouted down quicker than ever before, we have blogs such as The F Word and Jezebel. As I said at the beginning of this article, it is very easy to look back onto the past with a great deal of condescension, and it is also very easy to pepper an article with hyperbole and histrionics for the sake of entertainment, but both of these things are also very dangerous, and don't seem to be sending us forward with excellent new knowledge and power, but very far backwards indeed.