I’ve never been very good with “What if” or “If I were you” scenarios.
For example, I get my back up when individuals without children casually tell parents how they “should” feel about a particular situation when they’ve never actually had the benefit of having children. I know, shocking, but I’m here to tell you it happens, All. The. Time.
The most recent case of non-parents telling parents how they should feel involves the case of Sasha Grey, the ex-porn star who was discovered to have read to a group of children, without parental consent. That’s right, in an age where any adult who wishes to spend time with children needs to undergo a thorough background check including a police character assessment interview, Ms Grey was somehow able to circumvent the process and, gasp!, read to children.
The issue of course, is not whether a porn star qualifies as a “suitable” candidate to read to children (go figure, some porn stars actually have children of their own!), but rather, whether it’s appropriate for a group of impressionably young school-aged children to have conduct with an individual who once made a career of performing extremely explicit, aggressively sexual acts for the entertainment of adults.
The argument in favour of Ms. Grey’s newfound love of reading to children is that her porn star career is in the “past,” -- does a porn star ever escape the tag, “porn star?” -- and therefore parents should relax their puritanical mores and, you know, lighten up, it’s only reading.
My problem with this argument stems from the way in which it was presented by non-parent Amanda Marcotte in her Double XX Slate column, called “The Inescapability of Porn: What Does It Take To Put A Past in Porn Completely To Bed?”
In her opinion piece, which comes dangerously close to shaming parents because she believes that parents are shaming the porn star, Marcotte makes sarcastic remarks that “irate parents... freak out just from the fear that porn star-ness is catching.” She then goes on to make the flip remark that “the probability verges on 100 percent that one of the irate parents in this situation has orgasmed while watching Grey penetrated in various orifices. (She's just that famous.) But they probably don't feel remotely bad joining in the shunning efforts.”
Marcotte, by the way, is exactly right.
And her point perfectly illustrates the parental creed: “Do as I say, and not as I do.” Because as any child of a parent will tell you, parents often get to be rule-makers and rule-breakers as they see fit -- parents with a more egalitarian view of the child/parent relationship notwithstanding.
The Imaginary Parent Manual states that parents get to flex their parental muscles according to what they believe is in the best interest of their children. If a parent is unaware that a former famous porn star would be reading to her child, and that same parent didn’t have prior knowledge of a surprise visit in order to give consent, then that parent has every right to be upset.
It should be noted, that parents aren’t arguing whether it’s OK for adults to engage with pornography either directly or indirectly. “Parents” are saying that it’s absolutely NOT OK for their children to have exposure to pornography and/or its messenger in any way, shape or form. And herein lies the difference.
The Sasha Grey Reading Issue is not about the “stigma” of former sex workers not being able to find mainstream employment or whether parents en masse find sex workers socially unacceptable, it’s about parents navigating the slippery slope of “what are the future implications of my child’s Absorbent Mind absorbing materials delivered by an individual who has no previous educational expertise with children?”
Parents are “irate” because protecting young children is parent-business. And if we cannot extend parents the courtesy of a little outrage or so-called “irate” behaviour when they feel that the welfare of their children is being compromised, then who?
Unfortunately, we’re now living in a culture where pop culture sees nothing wrong with sexualizing young children, primarily girls, for adult gratification. And make no mistake, this is exactly what the early sexualization of children does. Children do not primp, pout and dress “sexily” in order to vie for other children’s attention, and if they are inclined do so, it is because of adult exposure to same. [And yes, many of these adults are parents themselves, Toddlers & Tiaras, anyone?]
When we begin to blur the boundaries between adult behavior and child behavior, we enter dangerous territory. Children are NOT mini-adults and have no experience or business processing adult materials or behaviour.
If we know nothing else, it’s that exposing children to sexual influence early on in life has serious, life-long repercussions. In her memoir, "All That Is Bitter And Sweet," Ashley Judd recalls being inappropriately exposed to sex at a young age, when she often overheard her Mother and step father having loud sex. Through therapy she discovered that the term for this is called Covert Sexual Abuse. As a teenager, Judd was also later raped by an adult.
Now of course Sasha Grey reading to children does not mean that these children will “catch porn star-ness” nor will they be directly victimized by being read to, but the argument itself is double-edged.
It is precisely because of Grey’s past as a famous porn star that it’s impossible to separate her from her previous work. We’re a visually-based culture that privileges The Image, Bodies and Looking. It is precisely because of Grey’s former work that she has and will forever capture media headlines and tabloid-like attention. Like former child stars who try to have careers as adults, Grey brand identity and market cache is based on her inescapable previous body of work. She’s been immortalized in Porn, and if image-culture has anything to do with it that will never change.
And this is why it is inappropriate for Grey to be reading to young children. Not because parents believe that sex workers are “bad people” or that parents are misinformed, naive and random discriminators, but because parents must be granted the right to limit and vet the adults who come in contact with their children and the message they carry at all costs. We absolutely have to trust parents and allow them to take the lead in protecting their children. That’s called Child Advocacy.