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Editorial: An honest assessment is needed of how pornography and social media fuel misogyny and rape culture

WITH our schools facing a “Me Too” moment it is time for some serious thinking about the kind of education system that seems increasingly symbolic of late capitalism’s moral degeneracy.

And it is past time time for all generations, and most particularly the left, to think through the relationship between the dominant values of our social system and its reflection in the minds of young people.

It is no good trying to understand the world in which our young people live through the prism of a past that no longer exists.

But it is not simply the pervasive presence of social media that has conditioned several generations of schoolchildren in the ways they might regard members of the opposite sex.

Recognising that a cult of toxic masculinity pervades the moral universe many young people are forced — independent of their will — to inhabit is the starting point for any serious attempt to remedy the deep problems revealed the tsunami of testimonials appearing on Soma Sara’s Everyone’s Invited website.

We owe a debt of gratitude to this 22-year-old former school student and sex abuse survivor for opening up to scrutiny these disturbing accounts — testimonials in their thousands have appeared on this site which, in its first days, seemed focused on London’s private school sector.

Latymer Upper, Dulwich College and Westminster — posh schools all — appear to head the league table of offensive behaviour while hundreds of Highgate School students have signed a protest petition that challenges staff complicity in covering up sexual assault.

While it is instructive that fee-paying “independent” schools figure prominently in these revelations, we should not be complacent that the problem is not more generalised throughout schools.

It is true that private schools, by their very nature, inculcate a sense of entitlement in the relatively privileged children whose family wealth enables access to these exclusive gateways to social advance, and it is not surprising that this adds an extra edge to the social power that is exercised in a nascent “rape culture.” 

But this not a problem of this education sector alone.

About one in 12 children go to private schools but the ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas of any society and it defies experience, logic and materialist thought to imagine that this is not a more general problem.

As this debate develops we will see the broader contours of this systemic problem emerge.

The ways in which the social media explosion has enabled the dissemination of pornography and made it immediately available to every teenager with a mobile phone has pushed the issue to the forefront of current debates about ideology and theory.

We cannot separate out our understanding of how the circulation and consumption of pornography creates the climate for misogyny and rape culture from the material conditions of its entry into the market and its promotion through the private ownership of media and social media channels.

If there was no profit to be made then the availability of pornography would be greatly reduced.

We cannot understand the objectification of women or the dehumanising aspects of pornography without understanding how it exists in an ideological climate that exults war, violence and male violence.

The material foundations of a present-day sexism which presents women as the objects of male gratification or an opportunity to exercise oppressive social power is deserving of more than moral outrage or an improved system of sex education.

This movement of young women is a brave start but beyond this we need an emphatic restatement of human values, a forceful campaign of enlightenment and a real commitment to change the world in which our children reach adulthood.

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