Sex & Love: Sex Ed and The Screen

My latest episode of Spectrum, part of our series on Sex and Love:

Spectrum Podcast

Take a listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnlaCOdLD2Q

‘Sex Ed and The Screen’ – partly a generous pun on ‘Sex and the City’ (which is mentioned here), but mostly, these are the two things I had in mind when thinking about this episode.

That’s because I think these are the two things that – for better or worse – have a profound influence on how we come to learn about love, sex, and relationships. With that in mind, this episode is split into two parts:

1. ‘We were explicitly told that we were not allowed to touch the condoms.’

The National Union of Students recently found that just 32% of young people rated the sex education they received in school as ‘good’. I asked a group of fellow students about their experiences and what they thought could be done differently.

2. ‘There was nothing macho about him…’

How have the representations of…

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On (a) Spectrum

spectrum face

In March this year, I joined Spectrum, a podcast that looks at the various surrounding gender equality.

I came on board just in time to join their episode on intersectionality, and looked at class. It impacts so much that Jo (who worked on the segment with me) and I found plenty to talk about. To me, St Andrews feels very different to other universities across the UK, but we’re not immune to ‘lad culture’. I wanted to find out just what that is, and what it means to St Andrews students – what do they think it means? Have they experienced it?

Being a history student, I was also curious about how class and gender feed into historical representation – or lack thereof. While historians themselves have worked hard to pick apart the complexities of the past, there’s still very much a stereotype of ‘the Victorian woman’, a domesticated ideal. Scottish history and its diversity is also skimmed over in a wider British narrative. I spoke to my great aunt, whose mother’s experiences as a herring gutter challenge both of these narratives.

Fast forward to October, and our team has grown! We lost two of our members who were studying abroad here, so recruited some newbies to put together our episode on Birth. Kara and I were interested in how birth and motherhood has been represented throughout history. We spoke to art historians, a film scholar and the producer of Downton Abbey to trace how people have tackled anxieties surrounding childbirth and parenting.

You can listen to all of Spectrum’s episodes on our Spreaker page.

And if you’re interested, like our Facebook page to stay posted on the next episode – Love & Sex.

New venture: scotspolitics.com

I recently wrote my first post for what will be a regular blog on scotspolitics.com, an online magazine which started last year – but it’s about more than party politics, or the referendum.

In fact, I wrote about Kate Nash and the power of words (sounds a bit like a 60s girl group…) which doesn’t, in a strict sense, have anything to do with Scottish politics.

I’m chuffed to have joined their fantastic lineup of contributors and look forward to sharing my posts with you all in future.

If you’re not familiar with the site already, I particularly recommend Talat Yaqoob’s writing on women’s issues, Gavin Marshall’s music-centric articles, and Andy Davis’s coverage of politics at Hollyrood and further afield.

Guiding girls to awareness

This article features on The Huffington Post.

In a true display of girl power, Girlguiding UK now officially backs the ‘No More Page 3’ campaign, a testament to an adaptable, forward-thinking youth organisation. Despite my own short fling with Guiding, I think this demonstrates the enduring potential for the group to give a solid grounding for young women in the UK.

A quick skim of their website proves that they’re not stuck in 1910. They offer peer education schemescovering issues like alcohol and sexual health, and have developed ‘Give Yourself a Chance’, an interactive tool confronting the pressure girls feel to look good. They also conduct the Girls’ Attitude Survey, and this coupled with signing up to No More Page 3 only emphasises the wish to stay in touch with girls growing up in the 21st century. As ‘Give Yourself a Chance’ says, ‘If an issue worries girls, it worries us’.

In engaging with issues like No More Page 3, they’re not becoming ‘politicised’. In this context, endorsement should not equal indiscriminate endorsement: it should, however, encourage discussion and debate amongst Guides UK-wide, leading them to form their own opinions on the issue, something which surely falls under their rubric:

We give the girls the confidence, skills and information to make informed decisions. We show girls how they can speak out and take positive action to improve their lives and the lives of others.

Girlguiding UK is simply remaining aware of the issues of the day, rightly trying to cater to girls in a Britain worlds apart from when the Guiding movement first began. The group can provide an ideal space for young women to discuss with their peers and adults the issues they face in everyday life, alongside maintaining the more ‘traditional’ obtaining of badges, community work and outdoor activities (which remain important).

They provide the chance for personal and social education in a real-life, extra-curricular environment, in a more comfortable space than a classroom, learning alongside peers and guided by adults not viewed with the same contemptuous label of authority teachers often are.

When you’re dealing with young people there can be a fine line between discussion and indoctrination, but endorsing ‘No More Page 3’ is in no way a slippery slope. ‘Experiencing the great outdoors’ will not become ‘harrassing old ladies in the town centre to sign a petition’ (at least, not on the organisation’s watch). The aim of the Guide movement – at least, by my understanding – is to provide girls with the skills and experience to become active, engaged members of society, and as long as it continues to do this, then it’s doing its job.

Lad culture IS culture

This article appears on The Huffington Post

Let’s talk about lads. Specifically, lad culture.

Call it what you like, say what you want about it, but it doesn’t hide the fact that it’s just plain misogyny and sexism, with stereotypical, age-old notions of masculinity at the core.

A damning critique of a sub-culture, you might think, but consider this: lad culture is not a sub-category. It is the whole. It reaches out to all males, and tries to tell them how to act.

Lad culture is patriarchy, taking its values and making its sons Frankenstein’s monsters of cobbled-together cultural expectations.

In seeking to define themselves so strongly, men oppress women. Like women, men have been socialized to passively accept sexist ideology. The female sex is the most ‘obvious’ abode of feminine traits, all that masculinity does not stand for, therefore women must be suppressed. Similarly, men cannot be anything but masculine, because that would be feminine, weak, ‘gay’.

But ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are not concrete, separable categories. We do not exist independently of one another. What affects one inevitably affects the other, and as such lad culture and the sexism which drives it is degrading to us all.

In many ways, it’s identical to the female stereotype of pink-kitchened housewifery. It is the existence of check-box standards for what it takes to be a man: being a property owner, the breadwinner, a sports fan, enjoying a good pint, owning a suit… from the legal to completely arbitrary, all through history exists a cut-and-dried definition of masculinity and manliness.

It is the other half of the double standard: girls are meant to be alluring, but chaste. Boys are meant to get out there and sleep with every girl they can, as perfectly illustrated by that classic programme, Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents.

In one episode, two of the young men featured were attempting to have sex for the first time. The programme portrayed them as ‘failed lads on tour’ as they didn’t achieve the coveted one night stand. The stepfather interviewed at the end of the holiday said that he was ‘proud’ of his stepson, for being ‘capable of taking part in laddish behaviour’.

This is a prime example of lad culture in action. Individually, the members of the group were nice people, but they seemed consumed by pressure to define themselves by the notches on their bedposts. This is little wonder: the programme and the stepfather’s spiel together exemplify the kinds of attitudes handed down in and by society.

But men aren’t without agency. At any age, they can learn to resist, no longer feel they need to look or act a certain way, and stop displaying the external behaviours. But that doesn’t render lad culture harmless. If left unchallenged, what’s more difficult to change are those internalised notions of how society is structured, the idea that the sexes have different parts to play, and men are on top. It runs much deeper than pet names, groping or sandwiches.

I don’t agree with men’s rights activists, but they are right to a degree in saying that lad culture, masculinity, is oppressive to men. But it’s not just lad culture, and not just men.

The norms of masculinity, dictated by patriarchy, are oppressive to everyone: male, female, gay, straight, cisgender, transgender, young or old. It’s an issue in a world which has no norms but still peddles them to its people and forces them to fit moulds that ultimately don’t exist.