Let’s talk about porn – and sexual violence in computer games, for that matter

The internet is a fantastically liberal idea – easy to access and gives a voice to anybody who wants it to say pretty much what they like.

You would hope that freedom would encourage live and let live, but anyone who has ever been on any internet forum will realise what a cauldron of intolerance and anger it can be at times. 
Most of the time, though, it’s a great force for good, connecting people, promoting discussion and ideas.
Sometimes, though, it can be a really sinister and nasty place to be. Look at the abuse Californian blogger Anita Sarkeesian took, just for doing some research into female stereotypes in computer games. The racist, sexist threats and intimidation haven’t put her off, and, in fact, she’s raised a lot more financial backing for her project but she should not have had to endure these threats.

And then we have the controversy over the new Lara Croft game. The developers of the game were caused some headaches by the Executive Producer’s comments that an attempted rape scene encourages Lara to evolve as a character. The developers were quick to deny there was any sexual violence, but the website which interviewed the Executive Producer is standing by his comments. What’s quite scary, though, is that Helen Lewis’ article on the New Statesman about it has attracted comments that this kind of stuff is ok.

There was a scene in one of the Grand Theft Auto games where the character can go with a prostitute and then get his money back if he shot her. That’s pretty despicable.

I know that these games are played by children much younger than they are certified for – and sometimes I’ve found parents can be less vigilant about games than films and television. That’s why all this stuff about opting in to access pornographic sites on the internet is utterly meaningless. You might not have them in your house, but what about all your child’s friends’ houses?

There are some who believe that the solution to all of this is restriction of access and banning things. That’s the sort of approach that’s worked really well with drugs, hasn’t it? The easy access of internet pornography showing women as mere receptacles, combined with their portrayal in video games and even Page 3 of the Sun all combine to tell young boys and men that women are mere objects to do their bidding, their playthings rather than equals. It’s hard to imagine that we’ve actually gone backwards since the ’70s and the days of Benny Hill. A ban, though is unworkable. It’s much worse to hand over control of what I consider acceptable for my daughter (or me to that matter) to see to the likes of BT or Orange. When I think that sites like Mark Pack’s blog have been blocked for having pornographic content by some providers, you see how easily mistakes can be made. While that’s a humourous example, I also would not like to think that a teenager looking for advice on safe sex or maybe coming to terms with their own sexuality would not be able to find what they need. I know that there are some things that my daughter would find way too exruciating to talk to me about, so inobtrusively providing her with access to accurate, reliable information is important to me.

As mother of a 13 year old girl, I’m naturally concerned that any boys she may form a relationship with might, because of all this stuff, have expectations that are pretty much abusive. I thought, hoped that I was making too much of it but conversations with people who work in the field and worrying claims by the Children’s Commissioner in England show that we have to do something.

But what?

It’s actually not possible to “protect” everyone from the pernicious influence of this stuff by restricting access to it. I was discussing the issue with some Liberal Youth activists a few months ago and the solution we came up with was, in part at least, better quality in the pornographic genre, where there was a bit more equality in the way it was portrayed.  I might not go as far as former Lib Dem candidate Anna Arrowsmith who argued in the Guardian that porn was good for society but creating this veneer of prudishness about it is damaging. Nobody would ever admit to using it, but we do, given that almost a third of teenagers apparently access it, even if porn sites account for only 4% of the top million sites, that’s still quite a lot of people.

I think the answer is, rather than banning, is to talk about it more – rather along the lines of that scary but informative Channel 4 series, Sex Education vs Porn from a few years ago. We also need to encourage kids from an early age to develop healthy expectations of a relationship and to feel relaxed about how their own bodies and feelings are changing during adolescence. If we can’t get rid of easily accessed online porn, we can at least try to get some decent information and mythbusting in first. Part of the reason we have the problems we have is that we’re not open enough about these issues. I’m not suggesting that families should discuss the merits of various positions over dinner, nothing so coarse, just that we need to be a bit more open about discussing the availability of porn and put it through a critical filter.

This is one of those blog posts that looks very different at the end than I’d imagined it when I started – it was simply meant to briefly highlight the gaming issues and by now I was supposed to have my feet up in the conservatory reading a trashy novel with the occasional well written racy scene…… It’s turned into something that’s been in my mind for a while and I’ve never yet got round to getting on virtual paper. 

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About caronlindsay

Scottish Lib Dem pro UK activist, mum, Doctor Who, Strictly, F1 and trashy tv addict and blogger.
This entry was posted in gaming, helen lewis, lara croft, Pornography, Sex education. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Let’s talk about porn – and sexual violence in computer games, for that matter

  1. Left Lib says:

    I was hoping to organise a breakout session on porn and body image at the SLF conference but my view was a minority one. The session is now about “well being through the generations” where we are looking at issues around body image, the obesity epidemic, anorexia and similar issues. I hope the matter of porn gets raised as well, teenagers today have easy access to porn, and it would be interesting to know what impact this will have on them. Probably not a good one, although for a long time now we have lived in a highly sexualised culture. The reason why this is the case is because of commercial exploitation. There is a lot of money to be made from this.

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  2. I'm told that my blog can't be accessed from Glasgow schools.

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