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May 13, 2008

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Yesterday, MikeD left a comment on the college rape post that I wanted to respond to more fully for a number of reasons other than my usual impulse to be excessively tiresome:

Now, to be fair... while I understand the young men's motivation (I was once a raging pile of hormones myself), someone should really pull these guys aside and have a talk with THEM about self respect.

I think this is something that frequently gets overlooked. We're used to warning the young ladies about the predatory male, and the good news is that some (e.g. Katelyn) are also recognizing that they bear some responsibility for their actions too (didn't we just have a long conversation about women being fully capable of taking care of themselves recently?). But other than pointing fingers at the young men and shouting "RAPIST! J'accuse!" they seem to get a pass on their own behavior.

Basically, all I am saying is that there's some middle ground between being a slavering bestial monster bent on deflowering helpless maidens and being an incompetent fool who is mentally disabled by testosterone flowing through his bloodstream. These guys are NOT idiots. Nor are they monsters. If you lay out to them that sexual conquest is not a game, and that if they don't respect themselves how is anyone else going to (and let's not forget the "would you really want some other dude treating your sister/daughter like that" logic... cause guys hate that), then I suspect the world might be improved.

I'm no Pollyanna... I know what college dorm life is like. I also know that it took me till the ripe old age of 24 to get my head out of my fourth point of contact. But dammit, let's have more respect for guys (and for them to have more respect for themselves) and grant that hormones do not cause men to become Neanderthals.

These are the points I tried, as a mother, to drive home to my young sons. It's not always easy for a woman to talk to teen-aged boys about sex. For one thing, your street cred isn't all that impressive. You can't exactly tell them "When I was your age..." stories since you lack the comparable road gear. In addition, boys are often a bit uneasy when Mom brings up a subject they're intensely curious about, but is also intimately connected with their impending voyage into that great unknown we call the wonderful world of adulthood. Let's face it: who wants to tell his friends, "Yeah, I learned all about birth control from... [not Playboy or Penthouse or a camping trip with Dad in the Adirondack, but... wait for it!] my Mom!" But when Dad is gone most of the time, someone has to do it if you don't find the idea of being the youngest Grandma on the planet even mildly attractive, so you find a way.

What I tried to teach my sons is that there is nothing wrong with sex. It's wonderful and enjoyable, but it isn't the be-all and end-all of life. Adult men and women should have enough respect for themselves that they remain in control of their emotions and impulses: a healthy sense of balance is what distinguishes a mature adult from a child. This is what annoyed me so about some of the arguments on the Military exchanges post. It is almost comically demeaning to seriously contend that the ability to procure skin mags from the local PX is an essential force multiplier, without which we might as well run up the white flag. This obscures the real issue: there are far stronger arguments to be made for not unnecessarily infringing upon the rights of service members.

But the reason I wrote about that issue, and the reasons I continue to bring this (and tangential issues) up here at VC are twofold:

1. It continues to bother me when I see conservatives ostensibly defending freedom of expression by reflexively flinging ad hominems at anyone who dares to raise a point they happen to disagree with. Any time this happens, I'm going to get my back up. I have often urged women to be more assertive about voicing their opinions on the 'Net, but there are valid reasons why many women are reluctant to do so.

One reason is that when certain subjects are raised, some of the very men who would be the first to maintain that women are mean spirited and overly emotional proceed to defend their positions with.... [wait for it] mean spirited personal attacks and essentially emotional arguments. This doesn't mean that women are good and men are bad. It means that both men and women are fallible, and when it's our own ox that's being gored, each sex tends to react with something less than our usual equanimity. The thing is, if your best argument against porn is that "normal men don't enjoy that sort of thing" or that men who do are rapists in training, you've left the realm of the rational.

But if your best argument against women who object to porn is that women "shouldn't object to/feel threatened by it" or that women who do, do so because they are "ugly, fat, and don't like sex" or are "joyless scolds who like to control men", you're not exactly looking like the poster child for reasoned discourse, are you?

2. Grim and I have probably gone at least 50 rounds on this subject, and we seem to have come at last to an understanding (I think) that I have no desire whatsoever to ban pornography. Never have. Never will. What disturbs me is the mainstreaming of porn into everyday culture. The reason this concerns me, frankly, is well illustrated by stories like this:

Time was, when a girl had a crush on a boy, she sent him a note in class.

Today, as at least one local school district has learned, she might use her cell phone to take a naked picture of herself and send the photo to him.

The Pioneer Central School District over the past two months has discovered three cases of teenage girls — ages 13 to 16 — electronically sending nude photos to male classmates.

“All of the situations we’re dealing with, the images are of a girl in a provocative and seductive position, and in the nude,” Pioneer Superintendent Jeffrey Bowen told The Buffalo News.

What I have argued against, repeatedly, is not the existence of porn but the easy access to porn. Pornography has been around for centuries. It will continue to be around as long as human beings enjoy sex. No one is ever going to "get rid" of porn. It's that simple. What you hope to do - what I hope to do - is keep it out of the hands of children who are not nearly old enough to possess the judgment to handle it yet.

When I see young girls having plastic surgery to make themselves look more like porn stars, that really bothers me.

When I see 15 year old girls sending nude photos and movies of themselves over cell phones and email, that bothers me. And the most disturbing thing of all is passages like this:

In the third and most recent case, a female high school student at some point sent a naked photo of herself as a text message to her boyfriend, a fellow high school student.

“That picture then was forwarded somehow from that phone to another phone and was distributed from there,” Schultz said.

...The teens initially didn’t realize the consequences of what they were doing, Bowen said, but now they do and they are upset.

Most of us talk to our children about unprotected sex.

How many of us talk to our children about unprotected email? A single careless email can be forwarded in an instant half-way around the world without your knowledge or consent.
If your child is foolish enough to attach an indiscrete photo, it could end up on the Internet, where it could be found by future employers and colleges, ruining any chance he or she might have of finding employment. In one careless moment, your child's reputation could be utterly ruined.

And the real kicker here is that our don't come up with these ideas on their own. Their behavior reflects the world they see and hear every day: they mimic the values we create and defend.

Think about that for a moment: Monkey see, monkey do. As Mike so perceptively noted, men hate being told, "Would you really want some other dude treating your sister/daughter like that?" And yet it often seems to me that even conservatives, increasingly, just wish away the conflict between their professed values and their own behavior. The truth is that children pay far more attention to what we do than what we say, and they notice far more than we give them credit for.

The problem, as I see it, is not that porn exists at all. It has always existed. The problem is that it has become so mainstream that people's appetites are sated. When you can dial up the most hardcore entertainment right on your home TV set, when even lingerie ads and prime time television shows have become semi-pornographic, nothing is tantalizing or forbidden. And our children are getting that message loud and clear: nothing is off limits anymore. Nothing is unthinkable. Because adults (and many conservatives) ridicule what we used to call modesty or restraint, there is no barrier to keep them from doing things that can and do harm them.

Sex occurs primarily in the mind, and in order to feel that forbidden thrill it's only human nature to push the boundaries farther and farther out. Where once the mere sight of a woman's uncovered ankles was unbearably enticing, now we see nearly naked women on billboards; consequently it takes something truly shocking (how about a 15 year old sporting that freshly f*cked look?) to get our collective juices flowing. But what effect, when adults refuse to rein themselves in, does this have on our children?

Easy. Fifteen year olds are mailing videos of themselves engaging in sex acts over the cell phones their parents gave them so they could 'keep in touch'.

The kids are in touch all right. Nice work.

Posted by Cassandra at May 13, 2008 07:26 AM

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I'm still not quite sure how I got into the position of Defender of the Porn, anyway. Just as you never wanted to ban it, I never wanted it in public.

Posted by: Grim at May 13, 2008 10:05 AM

Before I start, just a clarification. I do NOT think that this is directed at me, and I do think that you were just using my quote to illustrate your point. That said, on with the show:

I am just like anyone else when it comes to getting defensive when (as you say) it's my ox being gored. But you must admit, I'm also willing to stand in the witness box and say "yeah... we guys are dumb sometimes."

I generally don't hold truck with the ad hominems because all it does is show the weakness of your argument. If the best you can manage is "you're a poopyhead," chances are you're losing the discussion. Not to say I'm above doing so. Far from it, I've got quite a temper on me, and I don't always manage to keep it under control.

On the porn... I'll admit it. I like seeing naked ladies. What can I say. I don't seek it out (though in my younger days, of course I did), but in the few times I have (bachalor parties and the like) it was with my wife's full knowledge. Her attitude is best described as "you may read the menu, but you eat at home." And Lord knows she likes looking at men. In fact, during the Atlanta Olympics, she got us tickets to see the men's crew races (she likes backs, go figure). And I know she's got a thing for Jude Law. No skin off my nose, I know who she's going home with. And if she wanted to look at naked men, it honestly wouldn't bother me.

But I completely agree with you Cass. Much like other "adult materials", children are not emotionally equipped to handle it. And we (as an adult society) have let them down. Seeing as I do not have children, this is much more philosophical for me, and not visceral as it is for the parents here, but as a member of this society I am concerned. The problem I have is that I don't have the answer to this problem. How do you keep something legally available but out of the hands of minors? History has shown we can't. But then again, history has also shown that banning something doesn't keep it out of their hands either, and generally increases crime in the process.

What's the solution? Personally, since we cannot legislate good parenting, I think all you can do is raise your children to the best of your ability and try to instill good values into them. Ultimately, they become their own responsibility, but you can only do your best.

Posted by: MikeD at May 13, 2008 10:13 AM

Oh yeah, and I did forget to add what an honor it is that the hostess chose to quote me! :)

I'll be grinning for a while today.

Posted by: MikeD at May 13, 2008 10:14 AM

I understand that :)

I think it was all part of the imprecision of Internet communication (and there may have been a bit of Devil's advocacy going on there in the beginning, too). As I recall, at least a part of your argument in the beginning was, "How can you limit a thing without suppressing it entirely?", which I found unconvincing since (as many people noted) this stuff has been around since the dawn of time, yet there have also historically been severe limits on what could and could not be said and done in public.

Now, of course, almost all of the limits are gone.

I'm not arguing that we need to go back to the 15th Century. I just think it's equally nonsensical to argue that any limit at all is a de facto ban. I think there are competing rights (including the rights of parents to protect children and those who are offending not to have this stuff in their faces 24/7) and therefore, in a crowded society some intelligent compromises might be merited.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 13, 2008 10:15 AM

Mike, I think reasonable adults should be allowed to enjoy adult activities. Several weeks ago, my husband and I were having a conversation about something else (I think it may have been Elliot Spitzer) and he said something that I thought was pretty smart.

The difference between many liberals and conservatives is not always about our actual mores. And many liberals don't really get this. They think conservatives are 'uptight' because we want PUBLIC limits on what we consider to be PRIVATE behaviors for public policy reasons. We draw a line firmly between the two, and liberals see this as hypocrisy.

The thing is, you can do it with two goats and Helen Thomas for all I care. So long as the goat is having a good time, I don't want to stop you. But I don't want to be forced to watch when I go to the Mall, either. Some things are gratuitously offensive to most people. They just are. You can engage in them privately if you wish, but don't force your private values on others. Enjoy private things (and sex is essentially a private activity) privately.

I prefer to keep the legislation of morality for those instances where we see that public behavior gets waaaay out of whack (and we know, from centuries of human interaction, that wherever you draw a line, people will push against it).

It is about intelligently balancing things: how important is your desire to have completely unfettered access to porn relative to my need to protect my kids from influences they're not ready for, yet and society's interest in protecting kids whose parents don't supervise them at all? Can you be reasonably asked to compromise a little? (perhaps you just tone it down a bit in the recognition that kids are watching). And in return, I won't try to take away your Caged Women vids :p

This is how we manage competing interests.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 13, 2008 10:29 AM

In fairness, I could write you up some 15th-17th century ballads that would curl your hair. People have a sense that sexuality was repressed in those days; but it really wasn't. They just knew how to separate the sacred from the profane.

This is something that (in another context than sexuality) Chesterton talks about: how Christian society was able to free all parts of human nature to assume their full scale. He wrote:

"Any one might say, 'Neither swagger nor grovel;' and it would have been a limit. But to say, 'Here you can swagger and there you can grovel' — that was an emancipation.'"

So, you know, there are songs from the 15th century that are beautifully sacred. And there are some ballads, to be sung in a different context, that are ribald. Both the sacred songs and the ribald songs are joyful, because both are celebrations.

Posted by: Grim at May 13, 2008 10:29 AM

You can take advantage of your "skills" without exposing them. Even "the green dress" covered all the naughty parts. That is my theory.

Posted by: J. Lo's Butt at May 13, 2008 10:43 AM

Well, and there is a lot of sublimated sexual humor that got right by the censors in 1960s and 1950s TV movies and comedy too. Some of it is really pretty spicy stuff.

And it's really more titillating (IMO) for being 'snuck past the censors'. There are a few scenes in old movies where the sexual chemistry between the actors will scorch your drawers right off :p

And yet you never see any skin. Go figure. As I said, sex is mainly in the mind.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 13, 2008 10:45 AM

You go, girl! :)

Posted by: Cassandra at May 13, 2008 10:46 AM

Yeah, that is my problem with the VF photo of the 15 year old. It's not sexually explicit, You see more skin on teenagers at the beach.

But the context is different.

The context of the photo was sexually suggestive. And I believe viewing children in a sexual context is rightfully disconcerting.

Was I personally "offended". No, but I was rather uncomfortable.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 13, 2008 10:52 AM

I agree.

I found it vaguely disturbing rather than offensive. But what I find funnier than almost anything else is Hugh Hefner on his high horse about how Americans are "schizophrenic" to be disturbed by photo shoot (get your minds out of the gutter, you sickos - clearly this is Art with a capital 'A'!) at the same time he's offering her the opportunity to pose nude :p


Posted by: Cassandra at May 13, 2008 11:10 AM

Granted, some parents (how many, as a percentage of the whole, I haven't a clue) will not even make an attempt to set the proper example for their children.

More may try, but are conflicted due to their own history. Take for instance the boomers that indulged in drug usage back in the day. I have known a few who had to wrestle with their own history, their guilt and feelings of hypocrisy when they try to tell their kids of the dangers of drug usage or morality with regard to sexuality.

And on top of that many others will try, but given that in most young families today, both parents seem to be forced to work full time in order to make ends meet. This cuts down on the time, and IMO, influence that those parents can exert upon their children.

Couple all of the above with normal peer pressure and the usual drain-brammaged syndrome that many young teens seem to go through, especially when they are herded together, and you wind up with unfortunate incidents just like the ones you cite, regardless of the examples and guidance that the parental units might have tried to instill.

I'll not go into how Walkin' Boss and I both agreed that she would devote her years to raising our daughters instead of working on a career. How we did without the yuppie accouterments which seemed to be so desired during the 80's and 90's when we were raising our daughters. Nor how we were as consistent in our example and instruction as people can be. Nor how many times we had to hear of how mean and strict we were when other cool parents allowed their spawn to yadda yadda yadda... It is just part of the parenting package when you bring young life into the world. Universally understood, or so I imagined in those days.

When kids hit their teen years, it just seems that some are prone to step over boundaries, health, safety, welfare, future prospects, and reputations be damned. Just because...

My little family has been fairly lucky. Other families Walkin' Boss and I know who tried, in good faith to do the right things, have not fared so well. Some children will grow up and bypass all forms of trouble and temptation... Others will not. Some will wind up in deep kimchi for one instance of bad judgment.

All that said, I think that you have placed a pointer on a major factor in the behavior of adolescents and young adults when you point out how the culture tolerates and the entertainment gristmills constantly stretch the boundaries of degrading public decency.

"yet there have also historically been severe limits on what could and could not be said and done in public."
"The difference between many liberals and conservatives is not always about our actual mores. And many liberals don't really get this. They think conservatives are 'uptight' because we want PUBLIC limits on what we consider to be PRIVATE behaviors for public policy reasons. We draw a line firmly between the two, and liberals see this as hypocrisy."
Merits a hearty HARRUMPH!!

This was a major reason why our television received its signal from rabbit ears until the youngest was in her late teens. And it may be why I think that there should be a Parenting for Dummies course of study along with economics 101 in the high schools, with testing because some parents seem to have overlooked passing down these skills or they missed out on learning them too. Further, I think that parental licensing should be administered at the marriage license bureaucracy *I say in half-jest*. Along with the admission that I'm thankful that I'm not in my twenties, raising children today.

I wonder if I have any left-over Woverine's in A1&mushroom sauce?

Posted by: bthun at May 13, 2008 11:14 AM

The photos, actually, were beautiful.

She's a lovely young woman. It's just that they were also overtly sexual and moreover, the entire point of those photos was that it was clearly a young girl and not a full grown woman being offered for public consumption: a little 'forbidden fruit' for an anything goes audience. I don't think I'd want my daughter posing like that for Vanity Fair at 15, but I'll guarantee you there are scads of people out there who'll argue there's nothing wrong with it... just not in their personal back yard, mind you.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 13, 2008 11:19 AM

I, too, limited what my boys saw and heard, bthun.

It wasn't b/c I realistically thought I could totally shield them from everything in life. When I was in middle school I was visiting a friend after school and found her Mom's stash of (essentially) pornographic novels. Manischewitz, did I get an education!

And I can read as fast as... well, spd rdr. So every time I was over there, you'd best believe Little Miss Curiosity found an opportunity to do a little skimming.

But the point was this: as my parents had before me, I wanted to convey to my boys that whatever the rest of the world might say or do, we had clear limits in our house. Kids have to develop 'filters' - the ability to shut out things that will cause them to betray their own best interests. And I talked to them about this. They were allowed to hang out with kids who I didn't necessarily approve of... until they showed me that I couldn't trust them. In return, I relied on them to walk away if something was going on that was out of bounds.

And my boys actually did call me a few times in JHS and HS to come get them, or they came home.

I am also quite sure there were times when they did not, and should have. But that is part of growing up. You just hope that your kids will apply some reasonable judgment. Mine never got into any trouble, so I think we were OK on that score.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 13, 2008 11:33 AM

"This was a major reason why our television received its signal from rabbit ears until the youngest was in her late teens."

This was a valid way at one time, but it is irresponsible today if you goal is to control children's TV habits. If you want to control your household's TV watching, get a satelite or hi-tech cable box. You can block every channel but Noggin if you want-- require PIN codes for every channel and everything. There is much over the air TV I don't want my kid seeing.

Posted by: Hummer at May 13, 2008 11:36 AM

One nit I will pick with you Cass:

The thing is, you can do it with two goats and Helen Thomas for all I care. So long as the goat is having a good time, I don't want to stop you.

Animals and children are off limits. They cannot make adult decisions and therefore are out of bounds.

And the Helen Thomas thing... *shudder* I owe you a beating with a stuffed marmoset for that image.

Posted by: MikeD at May 13, 2008 11:45 AM

The photos, actually, were beautiful.

And if she were 21, I would have been completely OK with it. I probably would have even appreciated the beauty of it. But knowing that it was a 15 year old...

It just breaks one of the major commandments of the "Man Code" :-) :Thou shalt not sexualize children.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 13, 2008 11:49 AM

"But the point was this: as my parents had before me, I wanted to convey to my boys that whatever the rest of the world might say or do, we had clear limits in our house."
Yup. That was the exercise.
"This was a valid way at one time...
Again, yup it was effective 10 to almost 27 years ago now... That was why we did without a cable feed, not to mention that living on one income meant doing without nonessentials. And to Walkin' Boss and me, TV was about as nonessential as it got. =8^|

Posted by: bthun at May 13, 2008 11:49 AM

Well Mike, I will admit that the "two goats and Helen Thomas" was a bit redundant :p

Posted by: Cassandra at May 13, 2008 12:56 PM

"...you can do it with two goats and Helen Thomas..."

What a cruel and inhuman image to inflict upon someone whom you call *friend*. What did I ever do to you?....don't answer that....What ever did I do to you to deserve that?


Posted by: DL Sly at May 13, 2008 01:33 PM

I was on the verge of straining a bottle of Kiwi liquid shoe polish through a loaf of bread as an apertif/anesthetic, but you saved me.

Thanks for that scrubber DL Sly!

Posted by: "Joliet" Jake Blues at May 13, 2008 01:43 PM

But would you put the dusty thong on Helen Thomas or one (not *both* -- that's just sick) of the goats?

Posted by: BillT at May 13, 2008 02:07 PM

I liked what Mathmom called thongs: Butt floss.

Amen on the limits you give children. Home is the best context to learn right from wrong and to make choices.

Miley Cyrus dared to say her pics were arty and not skanky. She is under age and being portrayed provocatively to sell. Sorry, that makes her a skank.

Just my two cents.

I have a daughter that I have a daily battle with regarding bikinis, thongs and everything else.
She sees the hype and she puts herself in that mindset of 'what if?' What if she got this? What if she did that?

She is still talking to me, thanks be to angels who watch over her and me, but she wants to identify with them and belong.

I find that scary. It isn't even peers at school! It is the marketing of sex and the allure of being cool if you have that appeal.

One of the best books I ever read on modesty was
called 'Modesty, the Secret-Keeper.' The woman who wrote it has a background in marketing and is a devout Christian. I found her book informative, friendly and very very necessary.

Posted by: Cricket at May 14, 2008 12:07 AM

I've heard them called anal flossers, but quite frankly, I never knew this was a *high plaque* area in the first place!

SWHNOB and I were discussing the Miley Cyrus pix just yesterday. Fortunately, from her commentary regarding the lack of clothing some women wear on TV, as well as her affirmation (and I believe her - until given reason to think otherwise) that she always thinks about whether or not what someone is trying to get her to do is "right" or "wrong". And then she does what her heart tells her is the "right" thing. I can only hope she holds fast to that mindset as the years pass and peer pressure increases exponentially.

Posted by: DL Sly at May 14, 2008 02:37 AM

Well, either 'high plaque' or 'tartar.'


*running really really fast*

Posted by: Cricket at May 14, 2008 11:24 AM

Tartar? What the heck are the Mongols doing THERE?!?!

Posted by: MikeD at May 14, 2008 11:55 AM

Ummmm............looking for Klingons?

*right behind ya, Cricket*

Posted by: DL Sly at May 14, 2008 12:02 PM

Mmm, yes, I must say I agree. Keep PRIVATE things PRIVATE. And sex is definitely one of those things.

Posted by: Gregory at May 15, 2008 04:24 AM


Get rid of the halo and the brain pounding will go away.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at May 15, 2008 06:18 PM

It's funny how we've moved from porn to sexualized pictures of a 15 year old girl. Given the smarts of the photog ... and assembled make up types ... if you didn't know Miley Cyrus, I doubt you would have easily been able to pick out her true age.

I can't speak for Europe ... but in both our countries, we have embarked on a dangerous and tragic path. We've already seen what the 'kiddie sluts' grew into. As those cute little 8 and 9 year olds reach their mid-teens, it's not too difficult to understand how they get the wrong idea of appropriate behaviour.

My girls' mother did not work continually when they were growing up. As a result, we all did without some things that their ... and our ... peers enjoyed. Frankly, I don't think any of us now feel terribly deprived. As someone has already stated, it's not absolutely necessary for both parents to work. Mind you, how did Michelle and Barak ever get by on $250k? Their poor children.

Finally, as our esteemed host has demonstrated, the genders will never agree on things like porn. But we do seem to be able to agree on misuses and abuses.

May be there's hope?


Posted by: George Smith at May 15, 2008 10:40 PM