What is portrayed in the popular media makes a big difference. Not a profound statement, but most people- even those who agree- often don’t wonder how big of an impression popular media has on our self conception.
Forensic science, like most science fields used to be dominated by men. In the past 15 years however, women have taken over this field to the amazing statistic of 90 percent of grad students in 2009 were women. A statistic that is not even close to any other hard science field. This is largely attributed to the massive growth in the portrayal of women as forensic scientists on television.
That is only corollary evidence shout educated masses!
Women were early computer coders. They worked in the field at rates pretty equal to men until the early 1980s. Then, the number of women going into computer coding dropped precipitously. What happened? Some studies suggest that when computers entered the home (around 1983) they were marketed almost exclusively as “boy’s toys.” Girls learned that computers were not “girly” and that they were not supposed to play with them. We still have not come back to female representation in computer coding.
You still have not convinced me that popular media makes any real difference!
In 1992, the U.S. government allowed drug companies to start advertising directly to consumers. In a recent study, the FDA reported that a large majority of doctors say their patients request brand name drugs they have seen advertised. This was not a regular occurrence prior to 1990.
You can argue that the public is now more informed about their treatment options. However, the FDA also reports that doctors felt most patients requesting a brand name drug did not understand the risks of the drug or exactly what it would do.
What do this have to do with sex or anything I am really interested in?
We need healthy representations of lots of different genders and sexualities on television precisely because representation makes a difference.
Kink and BDSM are often portrayed as “weird” and “unhealthy.” Most portrayals link an interest in fetishes or BDSM to mental illness. Even one of my favorite kink movies, The Secretary, is marred by making both characters mentally ill.
I, like most OG BDSM practitioners, found 50 Shades to be a poor portrayal of the lifestyle. However, I was listing to the Masocast with Mistress Morgana about a year ago. She rightly pointed out that however bad 50 Shades was at portraying healthy kink, it was still important. It allowed people all over the world who had kink fantasies but were too ashamed or afraid to talk about them a route to begin to explore who they were in this dimension.
The same is true with genders and sexualities. I came out years ago (30 years ago, to be precise). This was pre-Ellen, pre- Modern Family, it was so long ago we were still reading rumors in the gossip rags that suggested Melissa Etheridge and Ellen MIGHT be gay. Good gawd I’m old…
I had a few role models to choose from, but none were in the popular media. What I saw on television were exclusively gay men. Lesbian was a word, a concept, but not something I saw on television. The gay men I saw were flaming queens in San Francisco and New York and they were dying of AIDS. I had to go underground and under skirts to figure out what it meant to be a baby dyke. My world was limited to the women I could contact.
I was lucky. I found not only lesbians, but leather dykes. OMG, I love Leather Dykes!!! When I was 17, my mother told me her greatest fear was that a big, butch woman with tattoos and a motorcycle would sweep me away and make me her sex slave (YES PLEASE!!!!). That never happened, but I found my way. Too many others did not survive the journey.
Not everyone lives in a place where they can connect with community safely. Not everyone is adventurous to go out and find an alternative community. Sometimes we need to pave the way. Popular media helps make that less scary.
Why Bring This Up Now?
I bring this up because I had not realized how deeply some popular culture beliefs affected me. Most of my life I have been aware that what I saw on television and in the movies did not reflect my world. I learned early how to critically evaluate the messages of the media and to critique them (I hold a minor in Rhetoric and Communication). I understand cultural subtext, norming, and the rest.
What I didn’t realize is how much that media still effected my sexuality.
I know that some men enjoy foreplay. I know that some men really enjoy oral sex. I know that some men like to go slow. I know that some men can bring me to orgasm. I know this intellectually. I have encountered very few of these men in reality.
I also have been exposed to a lot of feminist media. I know that women are support to take control of their own orgasms. We are not suppose to rely on men to do this. If we opt to surrender control of an orgasm, it is done in a power exchange relationship with a realization that this is part of play and at some point I will come and will probably make myself come.
I have been fine being the person who makes me come most of the time. Even with male partners, they often have me bring about my own orgasm (or at least lend a hand).
Not long ago, my partner (a man) told me he wanted to be the one to bring me to climax. Okay, I was fine with that. But no, beyond just that, he told me I was not to aid in bringing on my own climax. That was terrifying to me.
Honestly, I was on the verge of tears at the thought of this. I worried I would take too long. I worried I would need something, mostly lots of foreplay, that he would get bored with. I worried that giving me what I needed to come, without me aiding him, would be boring sex for him. I worried about all of this even though he has, in the past, achieved this feat.
My worry is rooted in the beliefs I have about men in general. When I could step back and think about it, my partner is not your average guy. He never has been. He has always been patient and kind and really likes the foreplay that makes me hot and bothered. He has made me come before without me stepping in. But the part of my brain tied to the cultural understanding of men and sex kicked in and I was terrified.
If someone like me, someone educated about media, who watches it critically, who seeks out alternative media and actively avoids most popular media and has done all this for decades, can be paranoid about sex because of what I absorb, then it must really do a number on anyone less aware of media effects and more attracted to popular media.
The queer community has been good about pushing for adequate representation. We are not there yet, but there is a ton of progress. The kink community needs to do the same. There are kids in Ohio who think wanting to get tied up and spanked is weird and wrong. Do it for the children!