Young women are facing massive sexualised pressures – they need support and understanding

The ‘sex work is work’ narrative can divide generations, but Phoebe Williams argues that giving younger women a chance to evolve their opinions is key
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In Britain, we like to think of ourselves as a progressive, advanced society where women are treated as equals.

Women can drive, vote, work, own property … what else could we possibly want? Young women have more opportunities than ever! What reason do we have to complain?

The reality is, there are many issues women are still facing, especially young women. Young women today are dealing with the towering threat of social media, grooming tactics we have never seen before, employment discrimination, sexual harassment at school, on the streets and online, deteriorating mental health, racism, eating disorders, extreme exposure to pornography and much more.

Young women are dealing with issues that the revolutionary feminists of the past could not even see in a nightmare. 

I am a young millennial woman, I grew up in the age of new social media sites such as Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, and so on. My experience on those sites was filled with exposure to violent pornography, adults trying to groom me, encouragement of eating disorders, and the glamourisation of so-called ‘sex work.’

I hoped that this era may be over, that maybe parents would take notice of the harm being done to their young girls online, that lawmakers would make changes, but it seems that not much has changed — in fact, it seems to have evolved in a terrible way.

Now there are more sites, such as TikTok, that have pushed the promotion and glamourisation of ‘sex work’, violence against women and eating disorders to the extreme.

On TikTok, successful strippers show off their huge wads of cash. Online cam-girls flaunt the clothes they were able to buy with their money. Girls suffering from anorexia post ‘body checks’ to track how much weight they have lost. Starvation diets and laxatives are promoted by popular influencers. Videos depicting BDSM and sexual violence are highly common across the app. TikTok also has a huge misogyny problem, with adult men spending their time making videos criticising young women.

I wish I could say these videos fade into the background, but they unfortunately get millions of views, and these videos are influencing the youth in terrifying ways.

Teenage girls are counting down the days until they can open an OnlyFans account because they have been sold the idea that it is an easy job with high pay, young boys are harassing their female classmates and even sexually assaulting them, and the casual pornography on these sites is normalising sexual violence for all youth. 

When we talk about pornography, I think that many people may still picture dirty magazines you could find under a male relative’s bed, or the awful cheesy videos with bad camera angles and fuzzy quality.

But today’s pornography is high-definition, up-close, violent and graphic, and it is being viewed at an alarming rate.

As Fight The New Drug states about porn use in the United States: “Today, porn sites receive more website traffic in the US than Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, Pinterest and LinkedIn combined. 

“Pornhub claimed that in 2019 they had 42 billion visitors with 39 billion searches performed. That’s 115 million a day — almost five million an hour, and almost 80,000 a minute — and that’s just one site.” 

It continues: “According to studies analysing the content of popular porn videos, it’s estimated that as few as one in three and as many as nine in 10 scenes show acts of physical aggression or violence, while about half contain verbal aggression. 

“These studies also found that women were the targets of aggression or violence about 97 per cent of the time. And yet another study found that one out of every eight porn titles shown to first-time visitors to porn sites described acts of sexual violence.” 

This is what young people are being exposed to now. It has become so normalised that an estimated 55 per cent of men and 34 per cent of women said that porn had been their main source of sex education, according to a BBC three survey.

It is no wonder that young girls are facing such high rates of sexual harassment and violence at school when their classmates are watching this kind of content casually, often multiple times a day. 

According to Plan International’s The State of Girls Rights in the UK report

“Of female students at mixed-sex schools, 37 per cent have personally experienced some form of sexual harassment at school and 24 per cent have been subjected to unwanted physical touching of a sexual nature while at school.”

And these girls are often not receiving adequate support from adults for these incidents. According to Plan International: “A study in England and Wales found that 27 per cent of secondary school teachers say they would not feel confident tackling a sexist incident if they experienced or witnessed it in school.”

How are young girls supposed to feel safe going to school? Nothing will change until young girls are taken seriously and listened to without judgement. 

Online grooming of young girls has become a bigger issue than ever. The internet is evolving so fast that the law, and parents, cannot keep up.

NSPCC figures show that four in five online grooming victims are girls, with the most common ages being 12-15, and that in the last three years, there has been a 60 per cent increase in the number of sexual communication with a child offences against girls.

The internet has become the perfect place for sex-traffickers and pimps to find new victims, as they can pretend to be someone completely different and abuse, exploit and profit from these young girls without even meeting them, by putting the child sex abuse images online via sites like PornHub, OnlyFans, etc.

There is also a trend of men grooming young women into doing webcam work for them, and even encouraging and teaching other men how to do this via online courses so they can make a profit from exploiting these women.

The normalisation and promotion of online ‘sex work’ is a new frontier in the fight for young women’s rights. In recent years we have not only seen social media encourage young girls into the sex industry, and British universities encouraging student ‘sex work’, but we have also seen a new wave of ‘sex positive’ feminism that claims that “sex work is work” and that prostitution and violent sex is ‘liberating’.

What many people who use this reasoning may not know, is that the term ‘sex work’ was popularised by an organisation that rarely consulted the actual women in the sex industry.

According to Nordic Model Now! “Financed by churches and the porn industry, COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) was founded in the United States in 1973 by a liberal faction of the hippie movement, who believed that prostitution is an expression of sexual freedom.

In spite of the fact that only about 3 per cent of its members were prostituted women, COYOTE has repeatedly been labelled a union of ‘hookers’ or ‘whores.’ It was COYOTE spokesperson Priscilla Alexander who brought the term ‘sex worker’ into mainstream use.

“She realised that to normalise prostitution, they needed to shift the language from the word ‘prostitution,’ which is ugly and does in fact conjure up something of its reality, to a euphemism that obscures that reality and conjures up something wholesome and healthy.”

When you listen to what the actual women in the sex trade want, they overwhelmingly want to exit the trade. Most surveys show a figure of 90 per cent of women want this as a priority.

Yet the current narrative among many young feminist women is that if you are a sex trade abolitionist, you are a woman-hater, you are a prude, and you are not progressive.

I believe these beliefs are the result of an extremely successful propaganda campaign by the sex industry, especially pornography websites. 

This issue causes a lot of conflict between older and younger feminists, especially online.

As a young feminist who was once a ‘sex worker’ and who believed the “sex work is work” narrative for years, I ask for patience from older feminists.

Young women are being exposed to this propaganda left, right and centre on all social media sites constantly.

It is a battle to have your own thoughts and opinions when one narrative is being pushed on you, and when you are treated like a bad person for even questioning it.

Young women need support, education, care and love to fight against this propaganda and evolve their opinions, not to be ridiculed and treated like they are unintelligent. 

The fight for women’s rights is far from over, and the fight for young women’s and girls’ rights especially needs new tactics, more awareness, the abolition of capitalism, the promotion of proletarian feminism and solidarity, from ALL socialists, with young women.

Phoebe Williams, is a member of the YCL’s East of England branch

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