Padded Bras? Just Say No.

Last month Nadine Dorries had an abstinence bill passed which asks for all 13 -16 year old girls to be given additional sex education on how to ‘say no’. We’ve all been lying awake at night trying to figure out how we can teach only girls to say no to underage sex, when clearly sex involves girls AND boys. Surely Mrs Dorries isn’t suggesting that boys are just pistol-pocketed demons who seek only to de-flower our innocent, rosy-cheeked maidens – mute maidens, who have little or no ability to articulate the word ‘no’?  Can it be possible that in 2011, people are still encouraging the view that sexual desire is owned by men and that poor, sexless women are on a backwards treadmill, trying to avoid their lecherous and uncontrollable advances. That if only teenage girls would say ‘no’ to pressure to put out, learn to dress appropriately and make sure they’re home in their floral nightgowns by 9pm, those nasty boys wouldn’t be able to impregnate them.

Are we not feeding the monster by continuing to tell young women, worse still, telling young men, that this is the case? Shouldn’t we be trying to break these stereotypes down and show a little more respect for teenagers’ sexuality? Boys feel pressure to have sex too. They are continuously fed a media stream (and at times, blokey comments from Dads) which perpetuate the idea that they are the hunters and women are there to be gathered. Teenage boys have admitted that they lie about their conquests to prove their manhood. And under pressure to actually score that notch on their belt, many of them probably do pester girls to have sex before either of them are ready. But failing to address the issues that boys face and leaving the decisions in the girls’ court, simply applies double the pressure to young women and renders young men as nothing more than grunting neanderthals, incapable of responsibility.

Even worse, on Channel 5’s Vanessa show, Nadine Dorries uttered these clangers:

“If a stronger ‘just say no’ message was given to children in school then there might be an impact on sex abuse … if we imbued this message in school we’d probably have less sex abuse.”

This is one of the most dangerous sentiments I have heard espoused by a person with a political platform. The idea that a child should take some responsibility for the sexual invasion of an adult is just plain vulgar. I feel for the victims of abuse out there who may still be battling with their inner child on this issue; people spend many years in therapy trying to come to terms with this fallacy. And what message does it give the abuser who happened to be listening in that day? A total denial of responsibility.

While ‘sexualisation’ and ‘padded bras’ are the words of the week after the Bailey Review was published, we are still not discussing the real issues. While I agree that padded bras (to enhance cleavage) for 11 year olds are an obscenity  and I wouldn’t want my child watching inappropriately sexual music videos, simply removing them from the shelves/television does not stop young people from, for example, finding misogynistic pornography on the internet. A group of 13 year old boys told me that while they had received no sex education at school, they knew everything they needed to about sex because they watched porn. This scares me. And to further prove that we need to alter our approach to dealing with young people’s sexuality, a study just published in the States shows that LGBT youth are far more likely to indulge in risky behaviour or consider suicide. No surprises there. By all means, let’s make adult images and products less accessible to children but let’s also do the other half of the job. We need to talk to them; discuss sexuality, respect for one’s self and others, the benefits of delaying sexual relationships, gender stereotypes and the fact that shops sell padded bras for girls, but not padded jocks for boys. Young people have critical, developing minds. Nadine Dorries wants to empower young women by teaching them to say no. Let’s empower our girls and boys with facts, relationship skills and the ability to say no, or yes, when they are ready.

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  1. #1 by Esther on June 7, 2011 - 10:36 pm

    Great post! Although as a mother to a ‘girl child’ if still horrifies me that a – women are still ‘vunerable’ to men and that men have no accountability in the sexual dynamic (apparently!) and b- that she’s still going to be educated (often by men) about the perfect body and sold items to enhance what she’s got and fake it if she doesn’t. Thankfully there are people like you who lobby to make a difference. The sad thing is that I think I’ll be having to educate her on how to liberate herself further so she can continue the good fight….I wonder if women like Kate Sheppard knew that generations on their work was still not done. In fact, we don’t seem to have come far at all.

  2. #2 by Jen on June 10, 2011 - 2:19 am

    I spent many years working with young people and teenagers around SRE (sex and relationships education) When I took the job with a local authority London Borough my remit was to provide support for agencies such as schools/colleges, youth centres, parents and community organisations; in order to reduce the level of teenage pregnancy. I quickly found out that the role as it was set out would only ever have limited success. The message of ‘just say no’ was favoured by a lot of the partner agencies that I was expected to work with. It honestly took more work to educate the professionals than it did to work with young people. I chaired more than one fiery meeting where I was accused of trying to force the subject of sex and sexuality onto innocent children.

    Gradually, I was able to introduce a curriculum that involved working with children in years 5 – 8 around puberty and development, building healthy relationships (mainly focused on friendships), assertiveness & communication skills, body safety and self esteem/respect. For young people in years 9 and above the additional topics of sexuality and diversity, STI’s (sexually transmitted infections), sex and the law and delaying early sexual activity (which is basically exploring under what young people considered ideal conditions for engaging in sexual acitvity).

    Whereas the work we were doing did have an impact, we were severly hampered by the fact that agencies had to opt in. Some agencies were fully on board and took up the free training we provided to enable work with young people, whilst the majority either were not interested or only interested in palming off the responsibilty to us as the ‘experts’.

    This, I feel is the major drawback to SRE in this country. Instead of working of building up the self esteem and relationship skills of children and young people SRE tends to be reactive. It is usually a response to a ‘problem’ (high teenage pregnancy rates, high STI rates). If we spent more time being proactive and dealing with the emotional well being and intelligence of our young people rather than throwing money at schemes such as ‘just say no’ (you just have to look at the lack of impact this message had on the issue of drug and alcohol education) maybe we would better support our children and young people.

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