YVQ12 | What's Normal?

Monday, 1 August 2016

 Writer Laura Pintur

‘Normal’ can be defined as conforming to the standard that is set around us. But what if the ‘standard’ that is being set around us is harming us more than helping us?

I want to focus on four big topics that I think are right in the heart of today’s culture that don’t receive much critical attention; porn, sex, relationships, and success. Are these things harming us more than helping us?

I’m now 24, but growing up these were four of my biggest struggles. Growing up I had so many questions: is it normal for me to do all the porn-inspired things that boys ask of me during sexual experiences, even though I don’t want to? Is it normal for me to feel like I have to send naked photos of myself? Is it normal for me to feel pressured to be in a relationship because if I do all my problems will be solved? Is it normal for me to think that success means having lots of money, going to parties and getting drunk, taking lots of drugs, and hooking up with lots of boys?

What even is normal?

Well I thought that all of the above was totally normal until I was equipped with the tools to think critically.

About a year ago my Mum dragged me along to a talk on the sexualisation of girls. I was expecting it to be an evening of fluffy talk and attempted empowerment (the ‘you’re beautiful the way you are’ sort) but instead it changed my life. The talk was by a woman called Melinda Tankard Reist, who is a trailblazer in this area. She helped me to see that the culture around me was infused with sexualisation of both girls and boys, and that all the ideas I had built up over the years had been fed to me by a culture that champions success, popularity, and ambition over love, hope, and compassion.

Melinda took the crowd on a journey through media and popular culture and showed us the formative landscape around us that has made so many of us who we are today. From babies’ clothes covered with sexualised slogans, to blatantly sexist billboards, to Dolly magazine (yes, I got a lot of my sex-Ed from the sealed section of Dolly…), to music videos and how porn is affecting our culture, Melinda covered the lot. I was shocked. But what she said gave me the right tools to think critically about the culture around me; to be an actor within it, and not just a subject to it. All my questions as a teenager were thrown down the drain with one big revelation: there’s nothing wrong with me, there’s something wrong with a culture that constantly makes me feel not good enough, not hot enough, not successful enough.

Since attending Melinda’s talk I have had my eyes opened up to how saturated our culture is in these messages about sex, relationships, and success, but most significantly porn. The research and statistics all indicate that we are living in a porn epidemic. But while stats are powerful, it’s the personal stories of real people that are sending up red flags left, right, and centre. It’s the stories of my friends; of the young people who are becoming addicted to porn before they’ve even had their first kiss; of the girls who believe they have to say ‘yes’ to everything sexual they get asked to do; and the boys who think that what they see in porn is normal, who don’t realize that porn is rewiring their brains to see women as sex objects. It’s not the boys’ fault for asking and it’s not the girls’ fault for saying yes. It’s the culture’s fault for allowing it to get this far.

We are all pawns in porn’s game.

I’ve never actually searched for or watched porn. But you don’t have to do that to be affected by porn, as we all are—it’s become so normal we don’t even notice. We live in a pornified world. It’s in the movies, music videos, advertising, social media, video games... it’s everywhere.

And it’s become so normal to think that we should look a certain way, act a certain way, and think a certain way. But just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s healthy. This normal can lead us to be something we don’t want to be.

At the moment, we are losing this battle. Porn usage has accelerated at a lighting-fast pace and grown into a juggernaut that almost seems too big to even bring up. But the fact of the situation is that we need to. We need to engage in a conversation with our friends, with our kids, and within our churches and youth groups, otherwise we are going to be outrun by this beast.

One example of a product that is normalised in our pornified culture is the ‘lads’ mag’, Zoo Magazine. Zoo normalises the objectification of women throughout its printed magazine and social media through use of degrading images and content. It gives advice to boys like, ‘You want to pick the loosest, skankiest one of the lot, fetch her a drink and separate her from the flock’. Not only is the language used to describe women demeaning, but Zoo seems to be actively encouraging its readers to get a girl drunk and take advantage of her.

A British university study compared the language and content in lads’ mags (including Zoo), with statements from convicted rapists. Shockingly (or perhaps not so shockingly) it found that many people couldn't distinguish the source of the comments. That is, Zoo uses language practically indecipherable from that of sex offenders.

When 1 in 3 girls are sexually abused in their life, we have the duty to ask ourselves what the cultural drivers behind this are. I believe it is in mainstream media, and Zoo is just one example of this. Is this something we want to be normal in our society today? Or is there another way? 

These facts and figures are shocking on paper. But they’re so ‘normal’ and ingrained in our culture that we can often not notice the prevalence of this kind of material and how easily accessible it is to even young children. Magazines like Zoo were widely available on the shelves of family stores such as Coles and Woolworths. These supermarkets were contributing to the normalisation of these things by selling these magazines.

Struck by this, I partnered with grassroots campaign movement Collective Shout and ran a campaign to get Zoo Magazine off Coles and Woolwoths’ shelves. In just a short few weeks the online petition on had gained momentum and gathered over 40,000 signatures from other people who wanted to challenge what culture had made normal. It inspired one Coles employee, a 20-year-old girl from Melbourne, to take action with her union and ask for them to take the magazine off the shelves. Her one complaint, along with the 40,000 other voices of those who signed the petition led to Zoo Magazine being taken of the shelves. One week later, reported that because of “catastrophic” sales from Coles taking out Zoo, the entire magazine had closed down.

This was more than what I could have ever expected, especially having had no experience running a campaign. I was blown away by the response from the media and the general public who were very interested in the conversation that had been started through this campaign.

Since then I have now been traveling around Australia, speaking in schools and youth groups challenging what’s normal. Through meeting young people across the country, I have heard the same message again and again. Kids as young as eleven are being exposed to content and images that distort their view of what’s normal. They start to believe that they are not enough—not good enough, hot enough, rich enough, sexy enough… you name it. They are being fed the lie that they are not enough, and it’s coming at them from all angles.

We’ve glorified the inglorious and given ear to voices that mean us harm.

Yet, in the depths of all that culture tells us is normal there is a God wanting to speak truth deep into our hearts.

God longs for us to understand what true love looks like, and to use the voice that he has given us to challenge what’s normal.

Through the grace of Jesus, we are able to come to God just as we are, without needing to prove our worth. We can come with our brokenness, our hurt, our longings and dreams and trust that he is bigger than all of it. He sees you as you are and loves you as you are, no matter what you think you deserve or what you’re worth—he looks at you and calls you worthy.

They say that porn kills love. This is true.  But what if we were able to kill porn with love. What if the very thing we thought had been stolen from us was the only thing strong enough to us to take back control and actually defeat this monster? It’s a David and Goliath battle. It’s big. No army, no great campaign, no great laws, no great person is going to solely take down this beast, but I have hope that the underrated gesture of love—given to us by God—can ultimately defeat this beast.

Because we were created in love. We were created to love. That is what I believe is normal. We are not objects for other people to enjoy, but we are people called to enjoy the richness of God’s love and the wonderful things he has given us in this world. Love has the power to break chains, set people free and transform the world around us. It will take a lot of work, and it might take some time, but love killing porn? That’s what’s normal. 

Originally published in YVQ12: MESSY.

Laura Pintur is a passionate advocate and speaker against the objectification of women and girls, and sexualisation of young people in today's culture. She confidently exposes the rise of pornography and its ramifications on society. Laura currently travels around Australia speaking to young high school students about the increasingly problematic sexualisation of young people. She has recently appeared on ABC2 TV as a panel guest for the live TV discussion 'Australians and porn'.

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