Lucy Dunn reflects on the state of gender relations in British schools in the wake of the Georgia Harrison v Stephen Bear revenge porn allegations.
In a conflict which arose in the middle of December last year, reality TV star Georgia Harrison accused her ex-boyfriend Stephen Bear of taking a privately filmed video of himself and Harrison from his CCTV, without her knowledge or consent, and posting it online. Upon finding out, Harrison was understandably devastated and yet Bear denied the allegations. She tweeted: “If this man is allowed to get away with filming private sex acts in a trusted environment then selling the footage online, victims everywhere will feel like it’s not worth pursuing prosecution. I will do everything to get justice for me and all future victims, male or female.”
Comments on Bear’s tweets, some of which have since been deleted, were posted by a number of men on Twitter that appeared to condone his persistent and provocative objectification of women across his online platforms. With supporters of Georgia commenting their disgust on Bears’ posts, there was an alarming number of contrasting male commenters who appeared to uphold Bears’ actions. One tweeted: “I’m sorry, I find bear WAY too damn funny, everyone in this world is so quick to get offended and upset”; another “she aint got much back der”; and others also chimed in asking where they could find the link to the video.
The Georgia-Bear fallout sheds light on just one of a number of similarly distressing stories where men have non-consensually abused women and then flaunted it to gain respect for themselves whilst ruining the woman’s reputation. Whether you can list another example featuring a celebrity, someone you know of, or even yourself, attitudes towards women and the ownership of their bodies haven’t changed in some circles as much as we would have hoped. The roots of these views are entrenched in our culture: internalised misogyny begins in school-age children and works its way up from there.
1990s “lad” culture seeped into the 2000s, and even 15 to 20 years on, I’m sure most of us can pinpoint at least one time during secondary school where some poor girl’s nudes were leaked, before “sending nudes” was deemed acceptable. Whilst boys’ immaturity was regularly being cited as the reason, it doesn’t seem a stretch to consider that the explanation for the indulgence of this behaviour may be a little more malignant than that.
The ingrained view that women are objects of the male gaze is something that most current university students likely embraced growing up, whether consciously or unconsciously. From as young as 10 or 11-years-old, young girls start experimenting with makeup and stuffing socks in their bras, to emulate their “high school” (yet actually 20-something) counterparts they’d seen on TV programmes like Glee or 90210. The obsession with romance that young girls would stereotypically latch onto would mean that in order to try and create their own, they’d watch their fallible TV role models looking airbrushed, skinny-yet-curvy, and all-round flawless, saunter up to their male classmates and magically the pieces would fall into place. Looking “pretty” wasn’t entirely about impressing the boys - there was a certain amount of insecurity and female competitiveness upon which that thrived too - but it definitely played a big part.
Just as girls would try to compete to see who had the best boob-to-waist ratio, high school boys would also filter into the dialogue. I can’t remember how many times I’d heard boys describing girls with “pancake tits” or “saggy boobs”, laughing at how orange and overdone one girl’s makeup was, then simultaneously slagging another for not looking good enough without it. Just as girls would discuss their insecurities, boys would pick up on and join in the conversation, making comments on a girl’s weight, height or body hair. And yet, even though we had started off as equals, we rarely hit back. There are always exceptions to the rule, but when did we comment with the same malice about their bodies, or their hair, or their weight? There definitely was, growing up, and probably still is for those at school now, an unspoken rule that it was completely fine to comment upon girls’ actions and appearances, as though we were catalogue items, waiting to be compared and rated.
As we aged, it became more than just comments about appearances. The word “slut” became commonplace, alongside “slag”, “whore” and “easy”. And when were these words ever directed at boys? From an early age, girls fell into the trap, through no fault of their own but that of society, of changing themselves and overstepping their own boundaries to impress men. Soon enough, this ingrained people-pleasing levelled up to become physical. As girls transitioned through these hoops, boys’ attitudes also became more defined; the impact of the porn industry no doubt bolstering their confidence. It would become a standard part of “lad” talk to discuss the sexual experiences they’d had with different girls either amongst themselves, in group chats or just blatantly, with anyone who’d listen. Girls would be discussed as though they were in some snack ranking competition, and with other girls partaking in these exchanges, a culture was maintained that was almost entirely inescapable.
So, with our upbringings insidiously setting the scene for deeply-entrenched misogyny, is it any surprise that there are still a frightening number of men, and likely women, who continue to subscribe to a discourse that persistently and relentlessly objectifies women? Revenge porn became illegal in 2015, carrying a prison sentence of up to two years and encompassing the “non-consensual sharing of any explicit film or photograph showing people engaged in a sexual activity”. However, with sites such as OnlyFans mainly known for sharing sexual imagery, the use and abuse of online explicit or pornographic images has crossed into arguably murky territory, and there are a number of calls for concern regarding the safety of the subjects of these types of images online. Despite the grey areas, with comments that not only condone Bear’s actions but appear to amplify his own twisted understanding of respect in human relationships, it is clear that there is still a huge lack of understanding of what is moral and immoral surrounding consent and sex. There remains a lot of work to be done in reshaping our understanding of respect, consent and gender equality.
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