Changing our Sexually Toxic Environment

2 11 2010

Cordelia Anderson

If you read this blog regularly, you know that Cordelia Anderson recently spoke about our “sexually toxic environment” as part of a discussion here in Hamilton during Child Abuse Prevention Month (October). Her insights and revelations about “porn culture” and what we must do to reverse the hijacking of our sexuality fired up those who were fortunate enough to be present – and I hope that lasts! In the meantime, I took to heart Cordelia’s message about doing what we can, in our own circles of influence, to rid ourselves of the overly sexual (“hypersexualized”) danger zone in which we (and youngsters) live.

While traveling, I now request a “porn free” room when I make hotel reservations. This means insisting on a room that doesn’t have pay-per-view pornography or has blocked the availability of it during my stay. Families as well as individuals can do this easily…and the more who do, the more likely we are to find greater availability of these rooms.

While shopping, I no longer turn away and ignore inappropriate or offensive merchandise. I recently pointed out to a shopkeeper that a particularly sexual t-shirt had no place on display in a store selling children’s clothing. In another, I complained about a line of merchandise called “Porn for Women” that was prominently displayed in the gift shop of a heritage site (go figure). In both cases, I elected to shop elsewhere and let them know why this was my decision.

These individual efforts do pay off. After complaining about a rubber tag for sale in a local dollar store (“On Myspace I’m Legal”) – displayed next to Dora The Explorer and other kids’ items – the store not only removed it from their inventory but also invited me to write to their head office and explain why it’s unacceptable. Pointing out the inappropriateness of sexualized merchandise can lead to an “aha” moment for sales clerks, store managers, buyers and distributors. Community-minded corporations will often respond when made aware of merchandise that might otherwise have slipped through their radar.

There are a host of things we can do, each of us, to change our environment so that these hypersexualized examples are not considered “normal”. First and foremost, remember that money talks. Spend it strategically. If you don’t think dolls for young girls should be dressed in feather boas and miniskirts, don’t buy them. And let store staff know why you won’t spend your money on these items. If you don’t think the lyrics to certain songs are healthy for the sexuality of our young people, point that out to them. Explain what’s degrading or objectifying about the words, and offer empowering messages instead.

Simply starting a conversation can be enough to get the ball rolling. How do you feel about the mainstream TV line-up including shows like “Pimp My Ride”? What about the results you get when you search for “porn” on Google? For an interesting comparison, Cordelia Anderson suggests trying that search and then searching for “healthy sexuality” and seeing the difference in results (and the time it takes).

October was Child Abuse Prevention Month. November is the month set aside to talk about woman abuse and to raise awareness about the problem. If we only address these issues once a year, we can pretty much give up on making any inroads. If we continue to let media and merchandisers degrade and objectify women, we won’t get very far either. So speak up, engage others, and spend strategically. It will take all of us to make a difference in what “normal” consists of and whether messages about healthy sexuality are available to young people.

“The need for change bulldozed road down the center of my mind”.

Maya Angelou

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