Why empowerment double-think is a boon to teenage boys
As anyone who has ever tried to raise one can tell you, teenage boys are a handful. Especially when the hormones kick in, and bath time starts stretching to an hour, with several other furtive disappearances per day to … er, wrestle, so to speak, with awakening urges.
This presents a parental quandry – on the one hand, you don’t want to perpetuate guilt and shame over a perfectly natural, healthy activity, the way your own parents and their contemporaries did.
On the other hand, having to check the bath every day before you dare use it, with a bottle of Handy Andy at the ready, quickly becomes tiresome.
Then there are the magazines that start to show up among the bedroom debris – which are usu- ally brought to my attention by my scandalised 50-year-old Swazi housekeeper.
These precipitate a double quandary – the housekeeper is a church-going old family retainer whom I love like a mother, so she certainly doesn’t deserve to be scandalised; but I’m also aware that the only reliable method of stemming sexual curiosity in a 14-year-old is decapitation, which is generally frowned upon.
So I end up walking a very fine line, involving “keep it tidy” lectures, which I didn’t think I’d have to start using until he began experimenting with drugs.
Of course, you can ban grubby porn rags using that old stand-by, “When you’re 18 you can read what you like, but as long as you live under my roof...”, although I hate myself every time I hear myself turning into my father.
But even if I root out what’s officially smut, the respectable women’s magazines don’t help.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but women’s magazines have become increasingly comfortable with naked bodies, flaunted boobs and starless nipples.
If a self-professed men’s magazine were to show the same amount of flesh, or flash an unabashed areola, there would be an outcry, and respectable “family” supermarkets would refuse to have them on their shelves.
This is not hyperbole for the sake of the column – I know of at least two men’s magazines that have been refused shelf space by the country’s largest retailers when certain issues were deemed too risqué.
Women are being objectified, according to the complaints, and that’s not the sort of thing family brands can be associated with.
Which is a point of view I could see eye-to-eye with quite happily, if one were not able to find a women’s magazine displaying more feminine nakedness than any lad’s mag ever carries, in the very same shop.
Ah, comes the explanation, but those women aren’t being exploited as sex objects. Those women are empowered – and taking a stand against violence against women, or breast cancer, or some other worthy cause dreamed up by a calendar manufacturer.
Those women are happy and free, and in control of their own sexuality.
Again, this is a point I can see the wisdom of. But then, I’m in my 40s, with years of feminism and gender studies under my belt – it’s only natural that I’d be able to see the distinction.
But let’s get back to the 14-yearold. When he pages through a Cosmo or a Marie Claire or whichever women’s mag is showing off the most airbrushed nakedness this month, I’m not convinced that the empowerment of the models is uppermost in his mind.
I suspect that he may not be thinking, “Wow, now here’s a lady confident enough in her own sexuality to display her body on her own terms. How liberating and empowering it must be for her to be so in control of the creation of her self-image – and what a good role model she is for other women struggling to transform the patriarchy.”
He’s 14 – I suspect his thoughts run more along the lines of, “Wow! Titties!”
Again, this is probably not the end of the world for any of us – if he had to resort to small furry animals or bondage fetishes to get his rocks off, I’d be more worried.
But it does raise an interesting question for a certain class of model.
I mean the ones who would, on principle, never strip down for a glamour shoot in a men’s magazine, but who see no problem showing up in their birthday suits if the cause is worthy or empowering enough.
Ladies, you do realise, don’t you, that teenage boys are going to be frantically spanking to those images anyway, no matter how noble your intentions?
So you might as well do it for the lad’s mags, mightn’t you?
If nothing else, the money’s probably better.
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