By Alie Benge
I went to a talk the other day by the queen of Australia – Melinda Tankard Reist. The topic sounds so grim that I didn’t even want to tell people where I was going, but it was about the sexualisation of children in Western society, and how the normalisation of images of children as sexually interesting and sexually available is fuelling the market for the global sex trade – of which over 1.8 million children are victims.
It was nice being an audience member for once. I’m usually a stressed out organiser of the event, or an incredibly nervous speaker. The talk was so good – by which I mean horribly upsetting but really informative. But I was distracted for the same reason I’m distracted at all these events, including my own ones. The room was full of women with a handful of men. The first event I ran had quite a few guys come along, but at every event since then, the male turn out has been about one or two percent of the crowd. In trying to think why this is the case, the only answer I can think of is that sex trafficking and the objectification of women and children has been relegated to a ‘woman’s problem’.
If anything, these issues are a men’s problem. Just because you have never been on a sex tour doesn’t mean this isn’t your issue. The global sex trade is targeted at you. It is customised for male sexuality. Without male customers there would be no sex trade. And yet, Destiny Rescue funding nations are fuelled by women. The majority of sponsors and advocates are women, as is the majority of the crowd at events. But women aren’t buying 12 year olds for sex. Men are. The men who commit these crimes are men who don’t respect the voices or intelligence of women. So a nearly all female army of voices is falling on deaf ears. We need men to reach these guys.
If that sounds simplistic it’s because it is. I don’t expect you to go up to a paedophile, tell him what he’s doing is wrong and have him change his ways. That will never work. What we need guys to do is change the western culture that panders to male desire and encourages the objectification of women. Glove slap that culture in the face. Challenge it to a duel. Wrestle it to the ground until it stops wriggling. Women like myself, my friends, and fabulous Melinda are working to empower women to take a stand for their own rights and their own safety, but in the meantime advertisements normalise our sexualisation. Ads show children in clothes or positions that invite us to view them as sexually mature. Boys are playing games like Grand Theft Auto where they can have sex with a prostitute and then select from a cache of weapons, kill her and get their money back. These things all lead to a diminished view of women’s capabilities and value.
If you are male and you’re starting to tune out at this point, I am genuinely interested in where I lost your attention. Seriously, write in the comments. Is it when I started talking about women, or is it embarrassment? Do you perhaps think I’m blaming you or man hating? Because I’m not doing any of those things. I’m blaming companies that want to make money. You’re a victim of a global marketing scheme that both men and women suffer under. So many people are working to encourage women to stand their ground under this onslaught of images and indoctrination and keep themselves safe, but who can reach the men?
For a semester last year I taught sex education once a week at a Catholic all boys school. The course wasn’t about the logistics of sex, but about consent and keeping yourself safe – how to say no and how to respect another person’s no, and about respecting all humans. The boys had to fill out a feedback form at the end of the course and despite everything I’d been teaching about respecting women, I got comments like ‘should have done tits out for the boys’ or ‘don’t wear a long dress next time’. The female teachers at this school told me they can’t walk across the playground without earphones in because of the horrible comments that are yelled at them. Yet, when a male rescue agent from Destiny Rescue spoke at the same school, he got an amazing response. Boys were tearing up, and they all wanted to know how to become rescue agents. Why is this? It’s because men will listen to other men. They’re not going to listen to a woman that they don’t respect telling them to respect women. But if a man says it, maybe there’s a chance. Please get on board, guys. We’re all waiting for you.
In your response to this post, please don’t tell me about a guy you know who is an advocate for these issues. Good on him, but he doesn’t disprove my point. I once told someone a statistic about how few women are lead roles in mainstream movies. She pointed to a DVD with a woman in the lead. I’m so tired of people pointing to one exception thinking it disproves my points. I’m talking about men and women fighting together. The guy you know who’s doing something is probably awesome, but his actions hardly equal a global partnership. If you are male and have been to one of my events, then I was probably stoked to see you there, but where are the rest of you? I’m not being facetious in asking. I genuinely want to know. Let’s turn this into a dialogue. If you have a theory about why men aren’t engaging in social issues, please write in the comments. I don’t know the gender split in our readership, but ask the guys around you and tell me what you find.