“It’s an industry that has developed in health care which has nothing to do with health care” – Prof Merrilyn Walton
If you didn’t see 60 Minutes segment ‘The Beauty Trap’ on Sunday night, here it is:
The program tells the tragic story of Lauren James, who died three years ago at the age of 26 following an $8000 liposuction procedure on her thighs in a Melbourne clinic. We hear from her bereft parents and boyfriend.
It also tells the story of Kerry who suffered life-long disfigurement as a result of undergoing a breast lift as part of a $25,000 “Mum’s Makeover”, also in Melbourne. Kerry bravely tells her story and shows the extent of the mutilation of both her breasts. This extract from the transcript:
KERRY MULLINS: I was in there for three months, and each and every other day they’d take me down to theatre and so I had 22 operations all up, and every second day they would cut it away, cut it away, cut it away until it was just a big hole in my chest.
TARA BROWN: How were you coping, mentally?
KERRY MULLINS: Um, all I kept thinking was I just want to live. There was a couple of times I didn’t want to wake up, but I was in so much pain and I did looked so disfigured that I didn’t want to wake up…
KERRY MULLINS: That is my right breast, and that is my left breast and they are the scars I’m left with.
TARA BROWN: This is not easy for you, is it?
KERRY MULLINS: No, it isn’t, it isn’t, but I just want women to be aware that is they’re going to consider having plastic surgery that they look and have a look at me and see what the outcome can be, and this is what you can end up looking like.
TARA BROWN: How do you feel about your body today?
KERRY MULLINS: Um, like a freak. I’m disgusted. Even when I wash myself, I feel disgusted that I even have to even wash that area and touch that area.
TARA BROWN: Do you think you’ll ever lose that feeling?
KERRY MULLINS: No, never, never ever.
Professor Merrilyn Walton, who has investigated Australia’s cosmetic surgery industry in Australia, says it is “an industry that has developed in health care that has nothing to do with health care.” She also says Australia’s industry is less regulated than elsewhere.
It is time the industry was made accountable for preying on women, enticing them with false promises and playing down the risks. There should be a major overhaul of the industry with tighter regulation and accountability.
I was so encouraged to read in the SMH the strong comments of women who rebuked Microsoft for hiring Gold cost meter maids to provide the entertainment at a Tech conference this week.
It’s not easy to take on powerful corporations – especially if your living depends on them. But a number of women did so – and got an apology.
Microsoft says it had no idea the “meter maids” it hired to titillate attendees of its TechEd conference on the Gold Coast would be half naked after the promotional stunt backfired spectacularly.
The company has apologised after it earned a stinging rebuke from its own staff members and a number of the 2700 IT workers it was trying to court at the conference, which is designed to encourage developers to write software for Microsoft platforms.
The meter maids, iconic figures on the Gold Coast with skimpy gold bikinis that leave little to the imagination, were present at the welcoming reception earlier this week. Ironically, a key session at the conference was devoted to “women in IT”.
IT worker Kate Carruthers said:
And Tracy Fellows, Microsoft Australia’s managing director, said on Twitter that she felt the stunt was:
This is what Microsoft did next:
In a statement, Microsoft said it would like to “sincerely apologise for any offense caused by the promotional staff”.
“We were unaware of their exact costuming until the day of the event, at which time it was too late to be addressed,” the company said.
Unaware of their exact costuming? Maybe Microsoft should have googled the words “Meter Maid”? What were they expecting, full body covering?
What can be achieved when women speak out
It’s great when women speak out. Refusing to be silent has resulted in some recent good results in the ongoing struggle against women being seen as merely sexual adornments for entertainment purposes.
Not long ago the AFL had to step in and cancel a deal between restaurant chain Hooters and an U16 football club (also on the Gold Coast). Acting following criticism, the AFL said the arrangement was not in line with its promotion of female equality.
And just a couple of weeks ago, this bus, which women have campaigned against for five years, has finally been removed (great work Julie Gale and all who forced the Advertising Standards Board to act). (Submission here).
There’s no shortage of material documenting the mind numbing levels of violence against women and girls in the world. This blog is in many ways a testament to that, documenting the treatment of women and girls in the 21st century, lest we forget the scale of human rights violations against them.
But some corporations don’t seem particularly troubled by this reality. In fact, they’ve appropriated violence against women as a hot new source of creative advertising possibilities. We’ve seen a growth in eroticised violence in advertising and celebrity fashion and promotional shoots, which I’ve written about here before in a piece called ‘You look so good in blood’.
U.S blogger Shelby Knox has written this week about the latest manifestation of this trend, this time by Gucci. She’s given me permission to reprint her blog here. Most of my readers probably can’t afford to buy Gucci anyway, but for those who can, please….don’t.
Hell, if I wore an ostrich motorcycle jacket and velvet pants into the middle of the Moroccan desert, and brought along a $2400 bag instead of a canteen, I’d probably drop dead too. But “dead in the dirt” is creepy and unsettling, no matter how high the heels. In this photo, Raquel Zimmerman and Joan Smalls lie prone and limp while a man circles them like a vulture, taking in the grotesque view.
Same models, same prone poses. Is that their car in the background? Did the expressionless man highjack and kill them? What’s he going to do with them now that they’re sprawled on his hood?
Of course, you can’t do a beautiful corpse ad campaign without at least one picture that expressly hints at violence and rape. In this shot, Nikola Jovanovic is perched upon his golden throne leering down at Raquel Zimmerman, whose skirt is hiked up to her thigh, legs askew. His foot positioned strategically over her throat makes it disgustingly clear he can do, perhaps already has done, whatever he likes to the motionless model.
Gucci certainly isn’t the first to use female dead bodies in their ads. Beautiful corpses are an extension of the almost universal objectification of women in advertising combined with the trope that says helpless, silent women are the best kind. Rendering women dead, or at least disturbingly unconscious, strips them of their agency and sexualizes violence against them. Gucci’s glorification of violence normalizes something that’s already far too prevalent – in the United States, 3 women per day are murdered by their intimate partners. Something tells me those crime scenes are decidedly less picture perfect.
Revolution: a: a sudden, radical, or complete change b: a fundamental change in political organization; especially: the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed c: activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation d: a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something : a change of paradigm…e: a changeover in use or preference…
It’s a big word, revolution. Sudden, radical, or complete change. Overthrow. Fundamental change. A paradigm shift.
It’s a word Girlfriend should never have invoked on the front cover of this month’s issue.
What appears in GF’s pages does not constitues a sudden and radical change to their previous approach to beauty, weight loss, dieting, body size and airbrushing. There’s some tinkering around the edges. But no revolution.
Girlfriend reminds us of its promises, which are part of its “strict body image policy”, flowing from the National Body Image Advisory Code (its editor sat on the board). We can “know when you look at an image in this mag it’s exactly how that person looks…”
But GF has failed to deliver.
Let’s have a good look – just like me and my Collective Shout mates (left) did during a retreat recently on the Gold Coast.
Cover girl is Leighton Meester. “’I’m this way and that’s it.’ Why we heart Leighton” reads the text. On the front we get the one and ‘Reality Check’ disclosures about altered imagery: “Girlfriend received this image of Leighton Meester already retouched.” So, she’s not quite ‘this way and that’s it’ because her image has been doctored.
While it is good to be up front on these things, the disclosure reads as though GF had no choice in the matter. Can’t you request an air-brush free image, consistent with your own announced policy of staying ‘virtually retouch-free’? Did GF commission the image or did it just drop on the editor’s desk? This is important, because Sarah Cornish’s editorial stresses GF’s amazing new approach:
…there’s no doubt that more and more of you are telling us that you don’t feel great about your bodies and taking advertisers and media to task when they alter images to make them look unrealistic. So, we have decided to take a stand and say enough with the hating (of our bodies and each other) and take a positive approach. Girlfriend is committed to being 100 per cent honest when it comes to images in our pages and to staying virtually retouch-free, so you never have to feel that you need to look like a model to look good.
Sarah reiterates GF’s “new commitment to less models and less retouching.”
‘100 per cent honest when it comes to images in our pages…’
OK. Then why is there only one disclosure on retouching when there appear to be many airbrushed images of young women in GF’s August edition? And is advertising excempt from any disclosure at all? Don’t readers look at the ads as well?
GF says that for four years “we’ve been pointing out when an image in Girlfriend has been digitally altered (retouched) or professionally styled”.
I think this image below, illustrating the Love2Shop ‘bonus mag’ is one of the most questionable. No airbrushing/retouching/professional styling at all GF?
Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps these women are naturally flawless. Perhaps they have just carried that pure newborn skin through to their adult years?
These are flaws?
In a section about loving your ‘quirks’, we are presented with four girls in a section headed ‘Perfection is boring’, which suggests they are imperfect. One has a gap between her front teeth. One has “curves”. One has red hair (though more strawberry than carroty in appearance) and the last girl has freckles. It seems to me that these are acceptable ‘flaws’. Actually young women tell me they think a gap between the front teeth is quite cute. I wonder where girls with acne or scars or facial deformities would fit in this lineup? Or maybe they wouldn’t?
177 thin girls. 4 not.
Positive body image ambassador Stephanie Rice is interviewed by GF. She says it’s “really important for teenage girls to know there isn’t just one stereotyped image for them to live up to.”
But apart from four non-normative, slightly larger girls, GF has pages of stereotyped girls, illustrating and supporting the thin ideal. A quick count came up with 177 images which would fit the normative, standard thin dominant ideal, a common feature of all women’s mags.
She may not be a model. But she can be made model-like.
It’s one thing to use readers, not models. GF discloses use of readers in photo shoots seven times. But are these girls your average readers? How are they selected? (and who isn’t selected?). How many hours has the girl spent in hair and makeup, were special lighting and soft focus lenses used? Because those things alter appearance as well. She may not be a professional model. But she can be made model-like.
I’m not saying they shouldn’t wear makeup and have their hair done for a GF photo shoot. What I am saying is how does selecting traditionally understood attractive girls and beautifying them radical?
To be positive for a moment, there’s an article, ‘7 ways to make friends with you body’, which is good. There are a couple of inspiring stories about troubled young women made good, and another wanting to end poverty through her work with World Vision. It would be worth expanding the ‘real story’ section, because it’s the only real counterpoint to the pages and pages of beauty, fashion and advertising. There’s a piece on ending bad friendships, an anti-bullying focus and assessing online relationships. There are no dieting articles. And adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg’s provides helpful advice to readers.
But I can’t get away from what is the bulk of the content.
The featured clothes are pretty much all for skinny girls. Take these jeans for example, clearly shot with someone’s legs in them. Has this image been doctored?
And I’d also like to know if this is the same girl because if so, her body shape appears to have changed between p 74 and 75. If they are not same girl, has anything been done to alter girl 2?
All GF girls ‘love to shop’, which helps cement them into consumerist culture. They also like to check out ‘hot celeb boys’ and ‘eye candy’, including Justin Bieber, whose boyish self features in a poster for their walls.
How is all this “busting bad body image”?
While GF promotes a ‘Think. Do. Be Positive’ philosophy, there is significant emphasis on beautification, beauty preparation and being pretty. At this stage I’m not sure the positive messages will outway the standard messages about beauty, looks and grooming, as reflected in editoral and advertising which is designed to sell mass dissatisfaction. I suppose you could say GF is making an effort. But revolutionary it’s not.
I see that last year Girlfriend joined forces with Supre to promote a new initiative, national compliments day, to help cultivate positive self-image. I wonder if GF thinks Supre’s t.shirts for tweens, including ‘Santa’s Bitch’, ‘Pussy Power’ and ‘High Beams’ help girls feel good about themselves? (see earlier blog).
The editor asks for reader input: “Let me know what you think about your body and whether our campaign will make a difference to you: Email me at: GF_editor@pacificmags.com.au”.
Why not do that? And let me know too. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
Female singers ‘flogging themselves as sex objects’: even music industry figure says it’s gone too far
When a leading music industry figure says things have gone too far regarding pornography imagery in music video clips, then you know things have really gone too far.
Mike Stock, formerly of Stock Aitken Waterman records and best known as Kylie Minogue’s former producer, has gone public against the music industry trend towards pornographic music videos and the way it has become pretty much normal for female artists to allow themselves to be depicted in highly sexualised ways. “Ninety-nine per cent of the charts is R n B and 99 percent of that is soft pornography”, Stock said.
My mate Melinda Liszewski, also a founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation has just posted this piece on the Collective Shout website, ‘Soft core porn on Saturday mornings’. The blog post contains some really good ideas about what you can do about this and reminds us that the Government agreed stronger regulation of music videos was required. If they are re-elected, make them act on this. If they aren’t, work on the new one!
‘A scathing examination of pop’s use and abuse of women’
If you want in-your-face, take no prisoners, powerful documentary evidence of the contempt for women in today’s music videos, Dreamworlds is a must see. I saw it last year on a get together of fellow Collective Shout activists and felt shaken by the experience. The scene of Nelly swiping a credit card down a woman’s backside in the clip for ‘Tip drill’ is chilling. So is another of male singers entertaining themselves by throwing chunks of raw meat against a woman’s naked body. A perfect illustration of their view of women as meat, really.
Produced by Media Education Foundation, Dreamworlds 3 is described here:
…the highly anticipated update of Sut Jhally’s groundbreaking Dreamworlds 2 (1995), examines the stories contemporary music videos tell about girls and women, and encourages viewers to consider how these narratives shape individual and cultural attitudes about sexuality.
Illustrated with hundreds of up-to-date images, Dreamworlds 3 offers a unique and powerful tool for understanding both the continuing influence of music videos and how pop culture more generally filters the identities of young men and women through a dangerously narrow set of myths about sexuality and gender. In doing so, it inspires viewers to reflect critically on images that they might otherwise take for granted.
Watch the trailer here:
This is not an industry that values women for their actual talent. We need to demand more of it.
The Miss Universe competition shows us just how far we haven’t come
Miss Universe has come round again. The swimsuit parade is tomorrow. That’s where the competitors – all conforming to unrealistic body types and the thin ideal – get to parade in a swimsuit just before they tell us their plans for world peace and saving starving brown babies.
Despite the fact that this whole thing is about looks over substance and a narrow standard of female beauty, organisers and participants still claim the competition is about ‘personality and intelligence’.
Miss Universe 2008 Laura Dundovic ran this argument on Channel 7′s Morning Show today (see below for video). I wasn’t exactly what you would call convinced, though I did love how she insisted on this as images of lingerie clad contestants flashed across the screen.
Miss Universe – and other pageants of their kind – promote a thin, hot, sexy body (as judged by prevailing beauty standards) as the only real valued quality of women.
Imagine a contestant who had not gone through a punishing beauty/diet/surgery/makeup/hair regime and didn’t fit the beauty pageant norm. But she has a sparkling and vibrant personality and scored ‘A’ for algebra and science all through her school years. She wouldn’t stand a chance.
Get a load of my personality and intelligence!
If it’s abou t’personality and intelligence’, why couldn’t this be determined with the contestant in a three piece suit and not a barely-there piece of fabric across groin and breasts? Check out the ‘intelligence and personality’ of this past contestant below.
While the organisers of these pageants would claim to care about women’s rights, really such events promote body judging, body comparison and surveillance: none of which advance the status of women.
Judging tweens and little girls on their beauty
US-style pageants for teens and children have made their way to Australia unfortunately. Miss Teen Australia also has a swimwear competition. In this section, “marks scored will be based on the Presentation, Cut and Style of the fabric”. So it’s the fabric that is being judged? Then why not just hold it up for the judges to see? Is this an attempt to pretend it’s not really about how a teenage girl’s body looks in a bikini?
Judging women on their beauty has extended to judging even little girls on theirs. We’ve all seen the many scarifying images that show what happens when little girls are seen as mini adult women and forced to conform to an extreme and artificial norm of female attractiveness.
These pageants make it even harder for girls to be valued for qualities other than their physical appearance. Miss Bayside Australia includes a modelling section for children from 0-13.
Have a look at the impact on children in ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’
You can hear my thoughts on the subject on Channel 7’s Morning Show.
Recently, Xinran, the Chinese-English journalist and author of Messages from an Unknown Chinese Mother: the lives of women in contemporary China, visited Australia to talk about her new book. It is a collection of real life stories told by Chinese women forced to abandon their babies for social, political and historical reasons. You can hear an affecting interview with her here on ABC’s The World Today in a piece titled ‘Hidden Brutality of China’s one-child policy’.
Xinran’s documenting and speaking about the true life suffering of uncountable numbers of Chinese women brought to mind the real life sufferings of two Chinese women whose experiences were seared into my mind in the 1990s. I don’t want what happened to them to be forgotten or overlooked.
In 1995 a lawyer friend introduced a Chinese woman to me. She had failed in her original attempt to get asylum in Australia and was appealing. My friend, who worked for the Refugee Advice and Casework Service in Melbourne, was trying to stop her deportation.
I called her ‘Dr Wong’ in the pieces I went on to write about her, including in The Age (‘China’s children of the damned’, March 31, 1995) and here.
Dr Wong was a Chinese gynaecologist forced to carry out abortions almost up to birth, against her will, at a hospital in Jiangsu province.
She told me about how heavily pregnant women were brought to her kicking and screaming. They were tied by their hands and feet to the table for the abortion. Dr Wong estimated she performed at least 10,000 abortions in her seven years at the hospital. She was forced to kill almost full-term babies in the womb by lethal injection and put babies who survived abortion into rubbish bins to die. She showed me photos. I still have them. They are unbearable to look at. Fully formed babies in kidney dishes, covered with blood.
Dr Wong won her appeal on religious freedom grounds. A Christian, my friend successfully argued that being forced to perform abortions was a violation of her religious freedom. She was granted asylum.
On February 6, 1995, Dr Wong testified before a Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee (fearing reprisal, she would not use her real name and the hearing was closed). Part of her testimony appears here:
In the hospital, you can see the women suffer and have pain for this one-child policy. It is only for this one-child policy that they came to the hospital; like they are coming to jail. They kill her baby, and they make her suffer. They make your heart break. This happens every day in China – every day. You can see the bodies of the babies – like a mountain of rubbish. Every day you see babies who want to try to get breath and who want to live. They did not die at first. They want to live. You saw miles of blood go out, and the mother crying. Every day mothers saw dead babies. The mothers catch the bare babies and cry.
We stayed in touch for a few years. While settled in Melbourne, she was not at peace. She was tormented by what she had done and hated herself. Despite her faith, she could not find forgiveness. She said to me:
Every year at Christmas time we have a show for the birth of Jesus. When I saw the baby (who was playing the part of) Jesus, I think: “I kill this baby”…I don’t think I’m really Christian. I think I’m opposite to a Christian because I do so many bad things. I didn’t try and do something for Chinese women. I’m not a very brave woman, I’m weak. In my heart I know Christian always brave, the Christian dies for God, for human rights, for life, for the right things. These things I cannot do, so I am not a Christian. I am evil. I think if I say I am a Christian, no one believe me.
The last time I saw her she was contemplating plastic surgery to change her face. She could not look at herself in the mirror.
Only four years after this, Australia witnessed the shocking case of Zhu Quing Ping, deported from Australia after begging to be allowed to stay to deliver her “unauthorised” baby, due in 10 days.
“We have no obligation”, said then Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock about Zhu Quing Ping, on 60 Minutes, June 6, 1999 (though it was the then acting Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, now Australia’s ambassador to Italy, who authorised the deportation).
Zhu Quing Ping had arrived by boat in 1994 and sought asylum. During three years detention at the Port Hedland detention centre in WA, she gave birth to a daughter. Requests to be allowed to marry the child’s father were refused. Ms Zhu conceived a second baby in November 1996. All avenues of appeal were exhausted. The pregnancy was dismissed by a departmental official as irrelevant in a claim for refugee status. The department took advice that the risk of abortion was “low”.
Ms Zhu pleaded not to be returned, at least not until her baby was safely delivered: her only request was to go home with a live baby. “The manager said I couldn’t. He said you must go back to China, all the procedures have been arranged. [He said] You won’t be persecuted when you return to China,” she said in a video interview.
The manager was wrong. Ms Zhu’s baby was returned to a State-sanctioned death sentence.
Seven days after deportation she was subjected to an injection through her abdomen to destroy the baby’s nervous system. Labour was induced, and the baby delivered. Some reports said the baby had been born alive and was strangled.
A video interview, the written order by family planning authorities to security officers to apprehend the woman on arrival, a medical certificate (“On July 21, 1997 the second pregnancy eight months plus has been induced to be terminated in our hospital”) and the bill for the abortion were smuggled out of China and exposed at a Senate committee hearing by (then) Senator Brian Harradine. I have this material.
A 60 Minutes team tracked Ms Zhu down and compiled a harrowing piece about her experience (aired June 6, 1999). She wept inconsolably as she spoke of the death of her almost-born son.
They forced me into a car and took me to the hospital. I told the doctors I am already more than eight months pregnant. I was begging them to wait for my husband to come and help me but they said no and they gave me the injection anyway and I went into labour. After the baby was born I couldn’t get out of bed. I asked the nurse what sex the baby was and she said he was a boy. A baby boy. The boy weighed three and a half kilos. When I heard this I just burst out crying and I cried so hard I actually passed out.
Concerned for her wellbeing, the journalists took her to the Australian consulate in Guangzhou, seeking protection for her and her three-year- old daughter Joycie. Efforts by refugee advocates and Senator Brian Harradine to secure Ms Zhu a visa by which she could leave China and by which Australia could make amends, failed. Attempts to bring her here to give evidence to two inquiries failed. So fearful was she of being forced to leave the consulate’s protection, she tried to harm herself, according to Australian Susan Murphy, who cared for her for almost two weeks.
It emerged that other pregnant Chinese women had been deported as well and were mostly likely aborted on arrival.
China perpetuates violence against women through the most barbaric fertility control plan in the world. Its policy has resulted in forced sterilisation, forced abortion, forced fitting of IUDs, female foeticide and infanticide and prenatal sex selection. A Chinese woman’s right to bodily integrity and her freedom of conscience are forfeited daily.
The Nuremberg Trials defined forcing a pregnant woman to submit to the killing of her unborn child as a crime against humanity.
Two recent and deeply disturbing ABC Four Corners documentaries have me thinking about how much women suffer. About how common, even normalised, their suffering is, and how little is done to address it.
Late last month, Four Corners broadcast the documentary ‘Heart of Darkness’ about the systematic rape of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their rape is commonly accompanied by genital mutilation. So many women – and even little girls – require surgery to repair what was done to them. And even then, many are raped again. Justice stands at a distance: most of the violated women can never access it.
The Democractic Republic of Congo is the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman. It’s a place where rape has become a weapon of war. Now a BBC film crew follows Judith Wanga as she meets the survivors of the conflict. She talks to women, children, and child soldiers who’ve been forced to kill so that they themselves will not be killed. To her horror, she discovers that the violence is fuelled, in part, by the need to mine the minerals that go into the manufacture of mobile phones and laptops.
Twenty-three-year-old Judith Wanga grew up in London and is proud to be British. But Judith was born thousands of miles away in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Twenty years ago, with the country in turmoil and fearing for their daughter’s safety, her parents sent her to live with relatives in Britain.
Now Judith is going back to Congo for the first time. She wants to understand the childhood she missed and find the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle of her life.
Judith quickly discovers two things: despite the fact the civil war in Congo has officially ended, in the east of the country a bitter conflict between Congolese troops and rebels continues. She also discovers that women across Congo have a very different status to women in Western countries.
After the reunion with her parents, Judith visits eastern Congo, an area that has been devastated by conflict. There she learns that rape is an epidemic. Judith meets a radio journalist who conducts a one person campaign to expose the extent of the violence directed at women. She hears the stories of those who have been attacked and meets the children who are born as a result of the rapes.
As well as meeting the victims of this conflict, Judith also talks to some of the perpetrators. She meets a young woman who was forced to join the military to survive. The woman reveals how she was forced to kill and how she fled the armed forces only to find herself without money to support her child. Now she supports herself by working as a prostitute.
Amidst all the horror, Judith also glimpses a few signs of hope. She visits a centre that has been built to provide a sanctuary for women who have been assaulted, called ‘City of Joy’. In another part of Congo she meets the young men and women who carry out dramatic performances exposing the brutality they have seen and experienced.
On discovering the harsh realities of her homeland, Judith begins to understand why her parents sent her away as a child. Her experience also makes her determined to return home to Britain and encourage awareness of the plight of her country, and the women forced to endure unimaginable suffering.
You can see Heart of Darkness here:
If you survive that experience, and to get a bigger picture of the fate of women in this part of the world, have a look at ‘South Africa’s Lost Innocence’. It is a vision from hell. The ABC describes it as:
The story of three young girls living in modern day South Africa. Each of them has been raped, each lives in fear. Meanwhile, the authorities do little to protect them or punish their attackers.
South Africa has the highest incidence of rape in the world, and almost half the victims are children. On average, a child is raped every three minutes and yet there is apparently no concerted effort to stop this epidemic.
True Vision Productions takes us to the city of Port Elizabeth in South Africa to document how this war against women and children is being fought, talking with the victims as they try to go about their daily lives and revealing how little is being done to help them.
Reducing rape to a bureaucratic acronym
My friend and publisher, Susan Hawthorne of Spinifex Press, recorded her feelings while watching Heart of Darkness, on the Spinifex blog. She urges us not to reduce the term ‘Rape’ to a more mild bureaucratic term.
A Civil War against Women
Watching the ABC’s Four Corners programme, Heart of Darkness last night I was struck by the fact that this massive level of rape going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo is really a civil war against women. The DRC has been continuously exploited as a nation for its mineral wealth by Western countries and the minerals that make our mobile phones vibrate are just the latest theft of wealth (background reading on the Congo).
The DRC is not alone in its high levels of rape against women. In Nigeria women fear to use the communal toilets because they fear sexual assault. And what about our own countries where despite laws on the books against rape, it is a crime that occurs daily?
The UN is ineffective. They have reduced the word rape to a bureaucratic acronym that makes you feel nothing: GBSV. I’ve had many a friend scratch their head wondering what this might be short for. Amnesty has put out many press releases about violence against women all around the world. Still nothing happens.
And that acronym: gender based sexual violence. Let’s call it for what it is. A perfectly good and understandable four-letter word: RAPE. It is violence against women. It is a war against women. On every level of civil society: between nations, within nations, within communities and families – it is a civil war against women.
If you want to make a difference in the lives of some of Congo’s physically and mentally traumatised women, here’s a group that could use your donations. I know some of the women involved. They are heroes.
Three alarming reports in News Ltd papers about child on child sexual abuse. More children are exhibiting problem sexual behaviour including assault of other children.
Story 1: Children sexually abusing children ‘ignored and denied’
Teachers and childcare workers have raised the alarm over an increase in children coercing other children into sexual acts.
The widespread increase, with some children involved as young as three, is creating a “hidden population” of abuse victims.
A report by the Australian Crime Commission’s National Indigenous Intelligence Task Force has lifted the lid on a culture of “confusion, denial and non-disclosure” among child protection authorities, which it says have failed to keep pace with increasingly sexualised and sexually abusive behaviour in children.
The report, released this month, estimates that between 40 per cent and 90 per cent of sexual offending against children was committed by other children, “a fact that continues to go largely unknown”…
The report reinforces escalating concern among child protection advocates over an increase in sexually aggressive behaviour in children, as young people become exposed to sexual and pornographic images.
Bernadette McMenamin, the founder of the child protection charity Child Wise, said: “Everyone who works with children will testify that sexualised behaviours in children have definitely increased.
“There are disinhibitors around. We are a much more open society than we were before.”
The report, undertaken by ACC research fellow Wendy O’Brien in the past 18 months and the second in a two-part series, examined the responses of authorities in the health, child protection, education and juvenile justice sectors to sexualised and sexually offending behaviour in children.
It revealed a critical shortage of therapy available for children who exhibit sexually abusive behaviour. Only young people who entered the juvenile justice system were readily able to access social support. Outside the criminal justice system, there was only one therapeutic residential unit in the country – catering for six adolescents.
The report says childcare workers are increasingly concerned about how to respond to sexualised behaviour in very young children, and that there has been a “substantial increase in children coercing other children into sexual acts”…Read story here
Story 2: Rise in calls to experts about child-on-child sex abuse
CHILD protection advocates are being inundated with requests for advice on how to handle sexually abusive behaviour in children.
Responding to an Australian Crime Commission report that lifted the lid on a culture of “confusion, denial and non-disclosure” of sexualised and sexually abusive behaviour in children, the Australian Childhood Foundation said there had been a tenfold increase in demand for its therapeutic services.
The foundation runs a program in Victoria for children aged between seven and 12 years that exhibit problem sexual behaviour, in which social workers and psychologists work with the families and carers of the children.
Ten years ago, when the program started, it was attracting about 10 referrals a year. Now it attracts more than 150.
The ACC report estimated that between 40 per cent and 90 per cent of sexual offending against children was committed by other children, and called for a drastic increase in therapeutic services for young people displaying sexually aggressive behaviour…Read more.
Story 3: Issue of schoolchildren sexually assaulting each other in Queensland is being ‘ignored’
A DISTURBING trend of Queensland schoolchildren sexually assaulting each other is being swept under the carpet by authorities, a child development expert claims.
Professor Freda Briggs, an adviser to the Federal Government’s Safe School Framework, said she knew of at least 10 cases of sex assaults by children against other children in Queensland schools in 2008-09 and claimed many of the cases were not taken seriously by authorities.
“Five-year-olds just starting school are at risk of violent abuse by older children in school toilets,” she said.
“The cases I am aware of have been swept under the carpet and victims have to leave the schools while the perpetrators remain.” Read more
When a woman makes a joke about sexual harassment and claims she wishes she had been ‘touched up’ by the man at the centre of harassment claims, you see just how entrenched is the idea that harassment is just a bit of fun and that women really want it.
When that woman is leading fashion designer Alannah Hill and she’s making the comments at a fashion show to parade the works of a major department store facing a massive sexual harassment claim, then you see just how far we have to go.
Two days ago, former DJs publicist Kristy Fraser-Kirk launched a record claim against former chief executive Mark McInnes and the company. She alleged McInnes made repeated and unwelcome sexual advances towards her. McInnes resigned mid June and admitted behaving as a manner “unbecoming of a chief executive”.
According to The Australian, three victims of alleged sexual misconduct referred to in Kristy Fraser-Kirks legal action have resolved their claims and still work for the department store.
‘I wish he’d touched me up’
Only a day after lodgement of Fraser-Kirk’s claim, Alannah Hill leapt to McInnes’ defence at the launch of DJs spring/summer 2010/11 collection. She said she had always had a crush on him, that she wished he had touched her up, wished he had invited her to his Bondi apartment, and that she threw herself at him, but he resisted. She claimed to be the brunette McInnes told Fraser-Kirk he could have had, but rejected because he wanted her instead. She described the case as a “glitch”.
But it’s not the first time Hill has gone to McInnes’ defense. In June she told the Daily Telegraph she was “devastated” Mr McInnes had been forced to resign.
“It’s a total overreaction. It seems such a shame that this incident has brought him down,” she said.
“I had utter respect for him and I liked that he liked women.”
I commented on the issue today on Sunrise and The Morning Show (included both because I was more awake in the second one. Some readers might also like to see Alex Perry appear with me on Sunrise, given I’ve had a little bit to say about him recently).
I argued that the comments trivialised sexual harassment and provided permission to those in the community to view women as up for grabs in the workplace. And while Perry tried to argue that David Jones was made up of many people, the fact that Mark McInnes was the Chief Executive Officer (and not the teaboy), is significant. The rot starts at the top.
Now She’s Sorry
Hill has now apologised on Melbourne radio, though I don’t think she’s got the tone quite right.
“I’m here with a priest, I’m on my knees and I’m doing my confession,” she told Melbourne’s Fox FM.
“I’m so gutted … I feel like such an idiot.
“Look, I know they are really serious allegations and I’ve never really worked in the corporate sector, and I understand sexual harassment would be unbearable.
“I know people get so stressed they can’t even go to work. I feel terrible for that girl and I feel stupid for myself and I really, really humbly apologise.”
Hill said her business partner was “so furious” about her comments that she would hold a “sorry sale” on Saturday, and donate half the proceeds “to some sort of a women’s shelter or sexual abuse (charity)”.
Asked what she would do with the other half of the funds, she said: “I might pass them on to the nice girl with the hyphen in her name. I’ve forgotten her name.”
The girl with the hyphen in her name (and I acknowledge the claims have to be proven) reminds us that sexual harassment is unlawful. Sexual harassment contributes to a hostile working environment. I’ve written about this before.
See also: Why didn’t the DJs board act against McInnes Sooner? Amanda Gome in Crikey today.
Clive Hamilton’s opinion piece on the DJ’s case.
This piece by Clive Hamilton in The Drum Unleashed today on the DJs sexual harassment case and his own experiences of being sued by the company, not all that long ago, over the issue of sexualisation of children in advertising.
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