In this time I’ve written about issues affecting women and girls, from body image, to eating disorders, to harmful cultural and media messages, to the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls in the media and popular culture. I’ve written about the global subordination of women, the worldwide trade in their bodies, about the sister industries of prostitution and pornography.
I’ve wanted to show just how bad things are for most of the world’s women and girls.
But I’ve also tried to point to rays of hope and ways forward.
I hope this blog has helped galvanise advocates for women and girls and strengthen their resolve to act to make a difference.
It has taken me amazing places and led me to remarkable people.
I’ve published the work of other women whose contributions have given substance and strength to this blog. I am so thankful to all of them for always saying yes to my requests. I have especially enjoyed publishing some younger women for the first time.
I’ve also so appreciated all who have posted comments. There have been some outstanding contributions here. Your decision to engage in this space has given life to this blog. Thank you again and I hope you will continue to post comments in the New Year.
I’ve learnt a lot. I was always a fairly traditional media kind of girl, having written for mainstream media, along with three books (a fourth on the way). But I’ve seen the power of blogging and of engaging in other forms of new media. I’m a convert (some would say addict!).
I’m taking some time off. But the blog should be up and running again probably late January. Look forward to seeing you here again then.
Do have a lovely Christmas, some down time, and be strengthened for all that lies ahead in the New Year.
Support Sharni Montgomery’s campaign for Afghani women
Australian woman Sharni Montgomery is giving her all to help women writers in Afghanistan, through a fund-raising run next month to raise money for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.
Sharni , who describes herself as living with a cowboy and her son in a one-horse town (Hay , NSW) and who has been training in the midst of a locust plague, explains the project here:
Sharni asked me to lend my support to her efforts. I was happy to join Jane Kennedy, Sarah Wilson and Wil Anderson in doing so. Here’s the endorsement I wrote for her:
I am a writer. I have been a writer for many years. I love working with words. I express myself in writing. I am free to write pretty much whatever I want. It is a freedom I have probably taken for granted – the freedom to convey my opinions forthrightly and passionately, without anticipating silencing or punishment. But many women in the world are not so fortunate. They are not given this opportunity. They are denied the tools of the writing trade and modern methods of communication.
Sharni Montgomery is doing something about that, though her self-initiated fund-raising run to help the women of Afghanistan access, enjoy, and be empowered by writing. As one Afghani woman who has taken part in the women’s writing project says: “I began to write whatever was in my heart. The writing project gave me a voice…gave me the courage to appear as a woman. I wonder how big the change in my destiny is because of this project?”
Please support Sharni so that women like this can have the opportunity to change not only their destinies but the destinies of women like them – and perhaps the destinies of their country.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to lend my support to this vital project.
Ruby Who? Delightful, charming film about a little girl who discovers she’s OK just the way she is
Feeling the need to go out on a positive note at the end of the year, here’s a wonderful project by my friend, filmmaker and photographer Hailey Bartholomew. I’ve been a fan of the work of this young Brisbane woman for some years now – that’s why I commissioned an image from her for the cover my book Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls. What she gave me was perfect for the book.
Hailey has just launched the ‘I like to be me’ project to help children recognise their value and worth. Central to the project is her short film ‘Ruby Who?’ which is supported by quality worksheets, ‘I Like to be Me’ badges, stickers and more. She asked me for a testimonial. I wrote this:
“Your quest to be the perfect bride has ended. Your wedding will still go on, it just won’t be perfect”.
In the latest in a long-line degrading reality shows which both generate then prey on female insecurity comes Bridalplasty, billed as “The only reality show where the winner gets cut!”
Fodder for the expansion of the global cosmetic surgery, 12 bridal contestants compete in wedding-related challenges to win cosmetic surgery, so they can have the ‘perfect wedding’.
This gut-churning exercise is further evidence for the case that the cause of women is rapidly moving – in a backwards direction.
The show is screening on “E!” TV. Liz, writing for Feministing this week, has watched the show. Here’s what she reports:
Brides to be…are living in a house together and competing in wedding related challenges (dress, food etc) to win plastic surgery. Each woman has a list of surgeries and each time she wins a challenge, or is the “top bride”, she gets some work done. At the end of each week the three women who scored the lowest on the challenge are summoned to an RSVP ceremony where one of them, the “bottom bride”, is voted off. Eventually there will be one “top bride” who will have received all the surgeries on her list, and wins prizes/money design her dream wedding.
The set is a decked out banquet hall, as though it were actually someone’s wedding. Each of the 3 “bottom brides” sit at their own table, and the other brides stand across the dance floor from them. The hostess calls each bride forward and she must cross the dance floor and chose which table she will sit at. The “bottom bride” is the one with the least amount of people at her table, and is then sent home, with these parting words: “Your quest to be the perfect bride has ended. Your wedding will still go on, it just won’t be perfect”.
Bottom bride, you are a loser. You have lost the popularity contest, your cake-making skills (so essential to a happy marriage) suck, and your wedding can never be perfect. Because you don’t make the cut (literally).
Isn’t it ironic that a so-called ‘reality show’ is actually centered on how to get rid of reality by employing knives, breast implants, botox, veneers and fat suctioning devices?
What pressure on women. What ugly competitiveness. What a view of how to launch a life-long partnership.
The groom doesn’t get to see his re-made (artificial) bride until the wedding day. What if he preferred her how she was when he proposed? What if PlasticBarbieBride isn’t quite the look he was after?
And what of the woman who perhaps had considered getting one procedure done, but with the combination of peer pressure – and being persuaded she should to ‘cash in’ on all the free surgery on offer – ends up getting a lot more done than she’d originally planned? It’s not hard to imagine this happening.
The names, addresses and phone numbers of the two women at the centre of sexual assault claims against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange have been published.
The ‘outing’ of the women, who say they were sexually assaulted by Assange, is clearly designed to target and punish them. Here’s an extract as reported in the Washington Examiner:
People first started emailing me Ardin and Wilen’s information on Tuesday night, when Assange was arrested. I didn’t post it until after I’d thought carefully about what would happen. I’m not interested in vigilante justice, and I don’t want to see either of them raped or killed. I realize that if either of those things happen to one or both of them, I’ll have played a big role in making it happen. I’m not going to try to evade blame.
Posting their addresses and phone numbers isn’t intended to encourage vigilantism, but to send a bigger message to women like Ardin and Wilen – if you lie about being raped, this is what will happen to you. Your anonymity will be compromised, your life will be laid bare for all to see, and your name will be destroyed. No rape shield law or journalistic ethic can protect you. You will suffer as the man whose name you vindictively dragged through the mud has suffered.
I want women to see that their choices have consequences. If enough false rape accusers have their identities and personal data exposed to the jeering Internet hordes, others will think twice before they accuse men of heinous crimes for petty and selfish reasons.
The author says he is not interested in vigilante justice. But he’s already decided the claims are false. He wants the women to be jeered. By exposing their personal details, he has placed them in danger.
One woman said he used his body weight to hold her woman down in a sexual manner and that he sexually molested her “in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity”. Another claimed he had sex with her while she was asleep in her home.
I’m wondering about the two women. Have they had to leave their homes? Change their phone numbers? Go underground? How much abuse have they received ?
Of course I don’t know if Assange is guilty of these crimes. Of course I don’t know if Britain, Sweden and Interpol have other motives for pursuing Assange. Of course it’s possible the claims may not stand up in a court of law. But these are separate matters.
I do know this. Publishing these women’s names, addresses and phone numbers will make it even more difficult for other women to speak out against sexual assault.
Imagine the horror of a sexual assault survivor thinking that if she reports her assault, this could happen to her too.
It’s hard enough to report assault at all. The fact is the vast majority of sexual assault crimes are never reported. They never see the light of day for a range of reasons. Many women fear being blamed for what happened.
Nina Funnell, an advocate for sexual assault survivors, says that victims delay or avoid coming forward for fear that they will not be believed, that they might be blamed or – as in this case – they fear that they will be publicly humiliated and denigrated.
“This is the exact sort of thing that makes other victims reluctant to come forward. This is a major setback for victims of rape and sexual assault. As it is, sexual assault victims have enough to deal with, without others undermining or interrogating them, let alone, having others post personal details on public forums about them without their knowledge or consent. It’s a gross violation of their privacy”, she told me.
Naming and shaming these women shames all women who have been assaulted and are thinking about whether to take action…or whether it’s just safer to suffer in silence.
On the charges his client was facing in Sweden, Mr Stephens said the original allegation of rape brought against his client had been dropped and that he had now been charged with “sex by surprise”…They are now investigating something called sex by surprise.”
A country like Sweden, having a law relating to “sex by surprise”? How could this be possible?
It reminded me of these rape-proud t.shirts (above, left), which I’ve written about here before. As it turns out “sex by surprise” is not a real law and Assange has not been charged with it. For more on this see here.
Sounds like something invented by rape apologists to me. But how does it end up being treated seriously by the mainstream media?
And what’s with Naomi Wolf?
Wolf wrote in The Huffington Post that Assange had been captured by “the world’s dating police”. She referred to the hurt “personal feelings” of his accusers. In her sarcastic piece, she wrote:
Thank you again, Interpol. I know you will now prioritize the global manhunt for 1.3 million guys I have heard similar complaints about personally in the US alone — there is an entire fraternity at the University of Texas you need to arrest immediately. I also have firsthand information that John Smith in Providence, Rhode Island, went to a stag party — with strippers! — that his girlfriend wanted him to skip, and that Mark Levinson in Corvallis, Oregon, did not notice that his girlfriend got a really cute new haircut — even though it was THREE INCHES SHORTER.
Her mockery of the claims, given her status, was extraordinary.
Without mentioning her first piece and the criticism it evoked, Wolf has now penned this, also in The Huffington Post. While the overview she gives of rape around the world – and the lack of prosecutions on a global scale – is naturally horrific, it doesn’t quite explain the trivialising tone she took in her first piece.
If global justice movements had to rely solely on people of impeccable character to further their cause, we would probably still be trying to end slavery. And yet, now that the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been arrested over rape allegations – just as his organisation happens to be spearheading the biggest revelation of military secrets in history – this has led many on the left to assume his innocence is beyond question.
The substance of the allegations is for the courts to decide. So why does the left-wing logic run that Assange is one of the good guys – and everyone knows that good guys don’t rape, particularly not good guys who are the public face of crusading international whistle-blowing organisations? Full article here
This week, as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was taken into custody by Interpol on charges of sexual assault, and pundits right, left, and center got busy painting the accusations as frivolous and the accusers as lying, scheming sluts, I joined a small but dedicated chorus of feminist voices calling for a serious inquiry into the charges…We did it because once rape charges break into the news cycle, lives depend on what gets said about them.
Here’s how it works: As soon as a rape accusation makes it into the news cycle (most often because the accused is famous), it’s instantly held up against our collective subconscious idea about what Real Rape (or, as Whoopi Goldberg odiously called it, “rape-rape”) looks like. Read full article here
Just before posting this blog, I saw this report from the ABC which has barrister Geoffrey Robertson categorising the claims as “not serious”.
High-profile barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC, representing Mr Assange, argued his client… was not a flight risk.
He told the court the allegations made against his client by two Swedish women should not be taken seriously.
“It was very clear this is not an extremely serious offence. It is arguably not even a rape offence,” Mr Robertson said.
You have a choice, when you speak about rape, any rape.
You can make victims and survivors hurt more. You can take justice further out of reach. You can encourage the disrespect and objectification of women. You can further silence marginalised victims…and make it ever harder for those who can face the greatest resistance to telling their stories, like male victims, or those raped by celebrities and ‘heroes’.
Or, you can not.
Wikileaks also published child sexual assault material
In case you are not aware, in 2009 Wikileaks published the Australian Communication and Media Authority’s blacklist of banned web content. The list contained child pornography sites. It was leaked to Wikileaks and published, making illegal child rape sites conveniently available to anyone who wanted them.
University of Sydney associate professor Bjorn Landfeldt said at the time that the leaked list “constitutes a condensed encyclopedia of depravity and potentially very dangerous material”.
Think of the victims. Already sexually violated, now they were violated again, with the images of their rape, abuse and torture broadcast to the world in the name of free speech. What about their freedom not to have their images circulated around the world for the sexual gratification of untold numbers of men?
“Muffin-tops turn it on for Oprah”: mocking her female fan base
Why say this: “Thousands of women, aged between 30 to 70, gathered in Federation Square to welcome Oprah Winfrey to Australia”.
When you can say this: “…30-to 70-something women…crammed their muffin-tops into Federation Square”.
And turn it into a heading that says this: “Muffin-tops turn it on for Oprah”.
This heading and muffin-top cramming sentence appeared in a piece on page 4 of The Weekend Australia. It was also online here .
I tweeted about it on the weekend. I said it presented Oprah fans as being all the same, a particular ‘type; that it emphasised and drew attention to their bodies. The only other descriptors were a general age range and that they were “delirious daytime TV fans”. The heading didn’t even depict them as women, just ‘Muffin-tops’.
The Macquarie Dictionary defines muffin-top as “the colloquial for the fold of fat around the midriff which, on an overweight woman, spills out over the top of tight-fitting pants or skirts.”
But it’s more than the fold of fat. It also implies a woman who doesn’t know how to dress appropriately – who deludes herself into thinking that if she squeezes into a size 10 when she is really a sixe 12, this is somehow attractive.
Popularised by ‘Kath & Kim’, the term pokes fun at lower middle class females. The muffin-top stereotype is a feminized term and is is also a class term.
Responses came in rapid fire succession over a couple of hours. Many agreed. The coverage was cheap, snide and sneering. ‘Oprah viewers=fat ergo we can insult them?’, ‘Disdain for women and readers’.
But others thought this response over the top. They described their own muffin tops; Oprah wouldn’t mind – she’d turn it into advice on how to pick the right jeans; I’d had a humour bypass; ‘female body empowerment doesn’t mandate mentally airbrushing muffin tops out of life’. Perhaps I had a ‘fat phobia’ and needed to take a muffin break.
I then started getting weight loss advice (“Hope this helps!).
My reaction isn’t about fat, or individuals being fat, or about the fact that there may well have been some women there who weren’t skinny, or about Oprah and what she was wearing or whether she would mind.
It’s about treating thousands of fans as one homogenous block, all so overweight they had to ‘cram’ their large girths into Federation Square. All that female fandom not knowing how to dress appropriately to greet the “Queen of US daytime television” (Oprah’s show screens in the evening over there, but never mind).
It’s not just the muffin-top depiction on its own. It’s that in combination with the sense of a delirious hysterical mob – a feminised hysterial incapable of critical reasoning.
There are other ways to inject colour into a piece that don’t sound like you are mocking women who don’t fit the thin ideal and who like Oprah.
Michael Bodey, who wrote the piece, responded on twitter:
@michaelbodey: a stupid line written in 20 min I had before deadline. Wish I came up with something better but didn’t. Sorry
@michaelbodey: it’s not hard news but soft colour piece requiring description. & as a fat white male, didn’t think the term derogatory
I appreciated that Bodey appears to recognise he should have done it differently.
But he doesn’t put the paper together. There is a detailed editing process, sub-editors go over every story forensically. One obviously saw fit to highlight ‘Muffin-top’ in the header. In this process was there not one person who thought to say: women shouldn’t be reduced to a description like this? That headlines and commentary like this could be seen as mocking Oprah’s constituency, audience and her power?
Opening up the public square
Here’s a thoughtful piece about Oprah by media lecturer Nina Funnell:
When Oprah hit the scene 25 years ago, she did something considered rather radical: she prioritised the voices of lay individuals, recognising that personal experience is a form of expertise in its own right. This drastically rearranged who had access to public space and the sort of voices that could be heard and valued within that space.
Stories of domestic violence, sexual assault, addiction and mental illness that had previously been discussed in the public sphere only by recognised authorities were now being discussed openly by afflicted individuals who had once been consigned to the private sphere. Read full story here .
With contributions from Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj and Jay-Z, the Monster preview is a mini horror movie – with all the horror suffered by women. The men don’t seem horrified at all by the female corpses littered through the haunted mansion, the apparent victims of a serial killing. In fact, they seem to quite like it. It seems to turn them on.
Some of the descriptions of the sneak preview video mention ‘bodies strewn around’. Yes, there are bodies. But they are all women’s bodies. As far as I could tell, there are no dead men, just dead women.
This is gendered violence. It’s not depicting just any old corpse but a clearly female one and then, clearly eroticised.
Dead women a turn off? Not at all. Kanye West, on the bed with the two young white dead women, shows no hesitation. He moves the lifeless arm of one onto the leg of the other, before cupping the porcelain like face of the first woman to kiss her.
Hanging from the rafters in stiletto heels, standing rigid in lingerie, expired on a bed. The white women in these scenes are depicted as subordinated to the black man, reminiscent of the pornographic representation of black men who love to ravish white women, to tarnish and spoil their ‘pure’ bodies.
Limp, floppy, rendered powerless these doll-like bodies retain their seductive, sexual allure. Sure, they might be dead. Sure they can’t consent. Sure they wanted it.
I wonder who thought of this scene?
In the ‘Behind the Scenes’ youtube clip for Monster, another rap artist, Rick Ross, is seated at the head of a table. Before him is a plate laden with large slabs of raw red meat.
Also on the table, a dead woman, in underwear, her stockinged legs spread-eagled on either side of the plate. Perfect viewing for the royal Ross as he tucks into the meat and wine (her flesh and blood?).
In another scene, Ross reclines on a long couch, nonchalantly smoking a cigar while women hang dead and slightly swaying, from chains around their neck.
The only two living women seem to be a maid and the black female rapper (often likened to a black Barbie doll) Nicki Minaj. They may be alive. But they are still subordinated.
The maid genuflects to Ross as she serves him. Minaj is on all fours baring her teeth like an animal about to be attacked. Her backside, swathed in black lace, is in the ‘presenting position’. As one of the youtube preview clips describes it: “This is a 30 second sneak peak of Nicki Minaj’s HUGE ass.”
This representation continues the legacy of the fetishization of black women’s ‘booty’.
As to the lyrics, there’s the usual repetition of ‘muthaf-ucker’ and bitches and the obligatory references to oral sex (‘Head of the class and she just want a swallowship’).
Then there’s these lines: “I put the p-ssy in the sarcophagus” (which, in case you’re wondering, is a flesh eating coffin) and “rape and pillage a village, women and children”.
The clip is not only interested in fetishizing female bodies – it revels in fetishizing female pain, female passivity, female suffering and female silence. The ultimate female is the quiet, passive female – a mannequin – who accepts violence, abuse and suffering while remaining hot and sexy.
Expect to hear boys singing along to it soon. This is the message they are imbibing:
Women are slaves and bitches who can service a man’s sexual needs, even in death. Men are brutal and dominant, and have no empathy for women. Men enjoy dead women as sex and entertainment. The female body is to be devoured, reduced to the same status as meat. Female bodies should be displayed before men as a great feast for their consumption.
And the creators of this feast of violence will probably win a ton of awards and commendations and sponsorship deals from major companies.
On Monday I wrote this piece calling on Myer to get rid of Betsy the ‘sexy’ and ‘hilarious’ bottle opening doll. Betsy obligingly screws open bottle tops – with her backside.
Twenty-four hours later Myer told complainants the product was being recalled.
Here’s one response forwarded to me.
Subject: Reference No: 3608150
Date: Tue, 7 Dec 2010 14:39:18 +1100
Thank you for writing to us regarding ‘Betsy the Bottle Opener’ available from Myer. We appreciate the time you have taken to share your concerns. At Myer we value customer feedback as it helps us improve both the services and products that we offer our customers.
We wish to assure you that it was not our intention to offend anyone by offering this item for sale in our stores. We are pleased to advise that Myer is currently taking steps to withdraw this item from sale.
Once again, thank you for contacting us and giving us the opportunity to respond to you.
Carolyn White | Customer Service Centre Representative
See also the explanation given by Ben from Myer’s merchandising department to Jacqui, in blog comments at the end of Monday’s blog post, about how the wrong product was supplied. Nicole responds:
I would like to ask Ben if it is standard Myer practice to sell mistakenly delivered stock? When you think about that process, an awful lot of decisions had to be made in order for 400 bottle openers to be sold – first, the warehouse manager didn’t bring to anyone’s attention that these products hadn’t been ordered, or attempt to return them. Then, somebody entered them into the system – they got bar codes, price tags, etc. Then, a visual merchandiser made sure there was space for them on the shelves. And a few hundred sales assistants didn’t say anything about any of it. That’s one shaky system for a major retailer!!
It’s certainly good to raise questions about how a major department store allowed a product like this to make it to the shelves. Having said that, I congratulate Myer for responding so quickly to complaints.
This is another great example of how we can remind companies of the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility. Myer’s action has meant its name is now off the ‘Cross ‘em off your Christmas List’ roll of companies engaging in sexploitation practices.
If you don’t think this is the sort of product Myer should be adding its good name to, let them know. You can find a feedback form here.
Or drop the Board of Directors a note. They’re listed here.
Myer: Follow Harvey Norman’s Lead
Harvey Norman has demonstrated that if you do the right thing and rectify stuff-ups, you can attract consumer commendation and positive media. Here’s some of it.
Tweets kills Harvey Norman ‘Santa lapdance’ ad
IT took a series of critical tweets for Harvey Norman to realise that a radio ad which asked customers if they wanted to “give Santa a lap dance” might not be the best idea.
Harvey Norman’s radio ad for its Christmas family portraits special first aired on Sydney’s Nova 969 station on Saturday with the question: “Do you want to give Santa a lap dance?”
The ads were pulled four hours after feminist author Melinda Tankard Reist wrote a series of tweets criticising the radio promotions.
She said the ad was offensive because it objectified the women it was directed at and implied they would happily perform sexual favours for Santa Claus.
“We’re seeing sexualised messaging at every level of popular culture – even an ad about family photos for children has to involve sexual connotations, it’s a combination that’s all wrong.”
…”What I hope is that corporations particularly those that ignore us now realise there is a benefit to responding to customer complaints because if we work with them we can minimise the damage,” she said.
Harvey Norman avoids PR disaster, pulls offensive radio ad after four hours
…The entire Harvey Norman exchange is documented on activist Melinda Reist’s blog. Reist says she was sent a Facebook alert about the Harvey Norman advertisement, which reportedly promoted the ability to have in-store photos with Santa but used the line “Do you want to give Santa a lap dance?”
Immediately, Reist sent out some tweets about the incident calling for a boycott. Soon after, several other Twitter users joined in the chorus until the official Harvey Norman Twitter account stepped into the fray.
Soon after, Harvey Norman social media head Gary Wheelhouse sent Reist an email, stating that he would “absolutely make sure this goes to the right people”. Forty-five minutes later, the company confirmed the radio ad had been pulled – about four hours after Reist sent her first tweet.
“I was surprised,” she says. “I’ve never seen a corporation respond to quickly. It was the fastest response I’ve ever seen, particularly for a Sunday afternoon.”
“I think they recognised the need to address the issue quickly, especially as people were threatening to stop purchasing, and with Christmas being their busiest period, the timing wasn’t good for them.”
Reist says the incident is a good example of how businesses can use social media to quash scandals before they cost sales.
“Harvey Norman is engaging in social media, and not all companies are doing that yet. The medium makes everything so much more instant, and it’s a great tool for people like myself…
“We’d love to see other companies move just as quickly.”
The message is clear: if you’re a company engaging in inappropriate, objectified and sexualised advertising, you will be targeted. You will find yourself on Collective Shout’s Cross ‘Em Off Your Christmas List campaign. See: Don’t give sexploitation companies your Xmas dollar. Myer, you’ll find your name on this list today.
Girls’ Mag Watch: More Stereotyped and Limiting Messages for Girls
This is the second installment of my review of magazines for girls and young women, published by Generation Next.
For many girls, the magazines they read are their lifestyle bibles. How should they look, dress, act and relate? What’s important in life? Who should they look up to? My analysis of the November issues of Girlfriend, Dolly, Girlpower, Disney Girl, Little Angel and the October and November issues of TotalGirl shows that girls are being delivered a mostly one-dimensional, generic and limited view of girl/young womanhood. The emphasis is on looks, fashion, beauty practices, consumerism, gossip, and celebrity culture. The little girls’ magazines provide early socialisation into the popularised teen world of clothing, make-up, sex and celebrities. I’m especially disturbed by the encouragement given to very young girls, through the advice sections, to have boyfriends.
GF’s ‘Self Respect REALITY CHECKS’ are just getting weird. They seem to be dropped in at random, even when not all that relevant. In this issue there’s one on the front for Emma Watson. Emma’s image, we are told, was purchased before Emma cut her hair. So what? How does that address body image dissatisfaction and provide a ‘Self Respect REALITY CHECK’?
An inside feature, “I believe…”, about girls with a variety of religious beliefs, also has a ‘reality check’. The magazine declares that ‘we did an online call-out for readers of different religions to participate in this story and these are the girls who stepped forward.’ Perhaps that’s worth stating. But is it about self-respect? There’s three other ‘reality checks’: ‘Readers, not models, were used in this shoot’ (x2) and a ‘check’ showing the time that models spent in hair and make-up. So that’s five checks, only two which have any relevance to GF’s originally stated intention of getting real about body image.
And why is the advertising exempt from ‘reality checks’? This is where we see the bulk of skinny, air-brushed, flawless women.
The Billabong ads are a paean to summer body perfection. The advertised bikinis may as well be marked size T – for tiny. There’s virtually no body diversity in GF’s advertising. Advertising should not be treated as somehow exempt from the magazine’s stated intention that it is ‘getting real’ about body image.
We meet the winners of the ‘Face of Fing’rs 2010’ competition. Kharla is 14, Jessica 15. For some reason the stylists have plastered them in fire-engine red lipstick, the intensity of which would make a clown’s mouth look pale. It makes them look much more adult than they are.
Speaking of models, we also meet past winners of ‘Girlfriend of the Year’. I’m not a fan of modelling competitions, but at least new applicants are asked to write about their dreams and how they want to achieve them. This year’s winner was fashion designer Iman Krayem, who is wearing a head covering (and, somewhat in contrast, holding what appears to be lingerie). Perhaps GF wants to show it does want to represent a range of women. Having said that, most of the women in the magazine are standard-bodied white anglo females.
Advertisers must be aware that very young girls are reading Girlfriend. There’s an ad (here and in the other mags reviewed) for ‘Fashion Paradise’, inviting girls to ‘become the ultimate fashion expert’ and organise fashion shows and open glamorous boutiques. There are figurines available for this product, which look to me like they would appeal to girls around 8-11.
Other advertising, for example for Garnier, was presented as a four-page feature when it was really an advertorial.
The Good Bits
I was very pleased to see the piece ‘Dying to Drink’ which discusses the rise of Vodka as the drink of choice for teenage girls. The article confronts young women with the risks and harms of Vodka consumption and shatters the myth that it is less risky than other alcoholic drinks. Paul Dillon, Director of Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia – and one of Generation Next’s speaking team – makes a sobering statement: “The last five deaths that I’ve been involved with were all female school students aged 16 and 17 and all fatalities were vodka related.” Now that’s a reality check. If GF ran more articles like this, I would commend it publicly and loudly.
Other positive and helpful articles: one on how to save money (a welcome inclusion would have been ‘reduce spending on hair, cosmetics and other grooming products which you mostly don’t need’!); a recommendation to volunteer your time, how to manage family stress caused by financial pressures and how you can help ease the load at home (assist around the house, look after your belongings, earn your own money). I like that girls are situated within their families, and are encouraged to contribute positively, especially when times are tough.
A piece on safe driving features a short video created by 14-year-old Maddy Frahm.
The ‘Get Real’ section contains true stories which will hopefully inspire girls towards empathy (‘I was bullied by thousands’, ‘I’ve had 101 operations’) and making a difference in developing countries (‘We volunteered overseas’).
Then it’s back to hot boys and crushes and how girls and boys aren’t from different planets, ‘just different hemispheres’.
Jessica Mauboy is here too – she was featured as a fresh-faced teenager on Australian Idol and has now been rebranded as the new ‘It girl’, having returned from a trip to the United States where she was made-over by some of the most misogynist male rap artists in the industry (that fact isn’t mentioned). GF describes Mauboy’s new single as ‘a flirty tribute to every girl’s number one love – shoes!’. Oh please, every girl?
Not so good: Why is mental health in the sealed section?
This issue includes a very important subject: ‘The truth about mental illness’. The article covers anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, bipolar, borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia, along with treatment, recovery and helplines. This is great. But why is it in the sealed section? What does that suggest about being mentally ill? That it is something that should be hidden? I’m at a loss to understand this placement decision.
Dolly has a ‘re-touch free zone’. The problem is, the logo indicating a ‘re-touch free zone’ appears very minimally, despite the ‘amazing response’ Dolly has received about this feature. It is too tokenistic a gesture in my view. The fact that the logo is used so rarely shows just how little re-touching actually does take place. And when it is used, it’s hard to tell if it just applies to the one page it appears on, or to a feature as a whole (e.g swimsuit photo section from p.74). Use of the word ‘zone’ suggests more than an individual page but I’m not sure that’s how Dolly intends it to be interpreted.
A feature on teen pregnancy, clearly designed to portray the reality of having a baby at a young age, is unrelentingly bleak – so much so I wondered if the case study was real. ‘I’m 16…and a mum’ describes what happened when ‘Jessie’ told her parents she was pregnant to her boyfriend: ‘My dad was furious and kicked me out.’ Nice one, dad. In ‘A day in the life of Jessie’ she says that from‘8.30pm-5am: ‘I get up during the night over 20 times to burp, change, feed and sing to Emily.’ Twenty times a night? If this is true I hope Dolly put her in touch with a service that could help. No girl – or woman – should have to manage that without support. Dolly: if she is a real girl, please tell put her in touch with a relevant agency.
And if ‘Jessie’ is not real? It’s one thing to discourage teen pregnancy, it’s quite another to catastrophise it to the point where the litany of horrors become hard to believe.
The Dolly fashion pages feature these shoes (right). Perfect for crippling the feet of Dolly’s tween and barely teen girl readers.
Some tiny bikinis in Dolly though they’ve also included some larger sized swimwear, unlike GF.
The Good Bits
…Are a page on how not to get caught up in gossip, how to handle criticism, unreliable friends and why they are bad for your health, 10 ways to lift your mood, handling period pain, and dealing with death. The ‘Real Reads’ section features a 17-year-old girl whose health was harmed smoking pot, a 14-year-old who had a hip replacement, a 14-year-old who helps to look after her 13-year-old disabled brother, and a 14-year-old survivor of domestic violence who suffered abuse at the hands of her step father.
A section on ‘What’s your ideal career?’ could have been useful, but the series of multiple choice questions results in the limited choice of a mere four ‘ ideal careers’: hospitality, creative arts, IT and fashion. Is that it? (it is bizarre that ‘news reporter’ is included in the fashion section. Perhaps in Dolly’s world, fashion is the only thing worth reporting on?).
The NOT So Good Bits
‘How to rule the (online) universe’ introduces readers to Tumblr, Flickr and Formspring ‘to put you at the top of the social media stratosphere’. According to cyber safety expert Susan McLean – also a Gen Next speaker – Formspring is the number one medium for on-line bullying. This isn’t mentioned in the article.
Dolly gives advice to girls which could be seen as promoting stalking-type behaviours. For example ‘Get insider info on your crush’: ‘Ask your crush a question anonymously…you can get loads of helpful hints about how to snag him – and he’ll never guess it’s you.’ You can even find out what he’s doing on the weekend ‘so you can randomly turn up at the same spot!’ I found this advice creepy.
Also creepy is a six page feature titled ‘Planet Hot’ featuring 13-year-old Australian boy singer, Cody Simpson and 14-year-old US boy actor Kodi Smith (who looks younger)”. Would we want to see 13 and 14-year-old old girls featured in the ‘Planet Hot’ section of a boys’ mag?
Boys are asked about their ‘ultimate dream date’. What message does it send to the average girl reader that teen boys pick women like Angelina Jolie – ‘She’s hot and has big lips’ (Max, 15) and ‘Miranda Kerr is hot! I’d love to take her on a private jet to Canada’ (Lachlan, 16). Seems irrelevant that Kerr is married and pregnant and Jolie lives with Brad Pitt and their large brood.
Then there’s ‘The guy field guide’ with lots of tips to help you know if ‘he is watching you’, ‘top four tips to keep him keen and what to watch out for’, and how to tell if he’s flirting or not. The tips come from The Little Book of Flirting. There’s also places to find boys that readers may not have thought of, and some suggested pick-up lines: Try an electronics store, for example, approach target boy and say: ‘Hi, sorry to bother you but what console would you recommend’. Or a hardware store: ‘Hi. I’m a little lost – can you please tell me where the hammers are?’
Also concerning is that many of the featured men are in their 20’s – one is 27, two are 28. Should Dolly be encouraging crushes on men this age in its (increasingly younger) readership? Is teaching girls to objectify men’s bodies a good thing?
This issue doesn’t seem to have the same body diversity as last month’s issue. There’s an eight-page fashion spread featuring a willowy blond girl.
Dolly Doctor’s advice about obtaining the pill and the ‘morning-after pill’ for under-age girls may be of concern to some parents. The advice says (in part): ‘The chemist won’t require ID and you don’t have to be a certain age. You can also see a doctor confidentially to talk about contraception and to be prescribed the pill – if you’re under age’. If a girl is under-age, and the male is more than two years older, it is possible a crime is being committed. The girl may have been coerced into unwanted sex. It would have been helpful if something along these lines had been flagged to assist girls in this situation.
Dolly Beauty Book
This issue comes with a ‘Beauty Book’: ‘All the advice you’ll ever need!’ While some of the advice may be helpful to girls, it should not be overlooked that the Beauty Book is very much also a product promotion.
Most of the girls featured have impossibly flawless newborn baby skin. That should get girls buying up the products! On the last page (p.146) are some nice words about ‘Beauty wisdom’: the importance of personality, being beautiful on the inside, how we’re all imperfect, you know the kind of thing. Which is good, of course. But it’s the last page page after flogging all the products so ‘essential’ for girls.
Total Girl (Oct, Nov)
I could just cut and paste everything I said last time. Not much has changed. Total Girl reads like an advertising catalogue for the ‘cutest products’ girls must have. It’s a seemingly endless barrage of pink fairies, clothes, toys, styling aids.
TotalGirl November is the‘100th issue collector’s edition’ (the first issue was launched in 2002).
TG is celebrating with a major party theme, featuring highlights of past issues and most popular cover girls. In 2009, Lady Gaga was the big ticket item for TG: ‘Lady Gaga has got the world hooked on her out-there antics, and we just can’t get enough!’ This once again reinforces Lady Gaga and her porn persona as an appropriate celebrity for little girls.
A feature asks ‘What were the most important issues to TG at the time?’ The response gives us a great insight into what the editors consider ‘issues’. The original editor Sarah Oakes replies: ‘Lip-gloss, ponies, cute things, friends, glitter, music, movies, clothes’.
Total Girl, covering the big issues in girls lives….
The party pages are also used as product placement ‘for all your party needs…’ ‘for beautiful balloons…’, ‘for yummy cupcakes…’. No opportunity is lost to sell something to little girls. ‘For party saving tunes’, TG’s number 1 suggestion is California Gurls by Katy Perry (that’s the one where she shoots cream from her breasts, in case you haven’t seen it).
There is one page of craft (which also promotes the store where the craft gear came from) and a page of cupcake baking.
These headings reinforce the fashion imperative: ‘The uber chic lost girls by minkpink are here to make your wardrobe dreams come true with the ultimate new fashion collection for spring’ (‘lost girls’ is little angsty for 7-8 year-olds, isn’t it?), ‘Make your wardrobe dreams come true’, ‘Get lost in fashion heaven’.
The November issue promotes a$20 notebook for little girls: ‘I’m going to be gorgeous and this is my plan…’ I couldn’t find one that said ‘I’m gonna be smart and this is my plan’.
My hopes rose when I got to the ‘Totally SMART’ section. But science for girls was just an opportunity to promote another product: ‘Secrets of cosmetic science: just like the professionals’ with a free ‘Secrets of cosmetic kit: Be inspired!’ Buried in the wall-to-wall products was a page on Aussie athletes in the Commonwealth games, two pages of reader’s artwork, a page of Halloween craft, a one page recipe, and two pages of quizzes. Then it’s back to ‘Barbie fashionistas: express your fashion personality’.
TotalGirl isn’t a girl’s magazine. It’s an advertising catalogue full of stuff girls don’t need, reinforcing the idea that they have to be cute and gorgeous consumers.
On the front: ‘Brilliant Beauty Tips’. Again cementing the notion that this is what being a girl is all about.
As in the last issue, the Red Carpet Ratings disturb me. ‘Watch out celebrities! The Girl Power fashion police are on duty…and some of you are about to be arrested…’ Celebs are judged on the basis of ‘Best dressed’ and ‘Worst dressed’. Girls can be on the ‘GP fashion panel’ if they ‘know a ‘hot’ look from a ‘not’ look…’ This encourages girls to engage in judgemental behaviour at early ages (one of the judges is aged 10). “EW!” is a commonly used expression.
The ‘friends forever’ pages were sweet in their declaration of love for friends, but the featured pairs – the youngest 11 and 12-years-old – were heavily made up. The 11-year-old with high bun and make-up looked quite adultified.
GirlPower also promotes misogynistic rap artist Snoop Dogg to girls. Jessica Mauboy gushes, ‘I have never met such a beautiful man.’ This may contribute to girls setting the bar very low and assuming that violence against women is normal and acceptable. As noted above, Mauboy’s new release is about the pleasure of wearing stiletto heels, being on display, and how she couldn’t live without them. One of the lyrics says: ‘I’m the shit, you can ask the whole world about me’.
Lady Gaga is here again, this time wearing a dead animal. The editors seem to think it’s OK for little girl readers who love animals to see Lady Gaga in a meat dress. This also normalises the violent themes Lady Gaga employs in her performances.
Cody is here too (see Dolly above) with a love heart and ‘Boy Power’.
Jessica Mauboy features here also. Her new release, ‘Get ‘em girls’, is described as ‘an edgy hip hop track that makes you want to shake your booty.’ Shake your booty nine- year- olds! Get out your stilettos and tell the world ‘I’m the shit!’
The Bad Bits
Here’s some advice for little girls from Brandon Smith (who is, apparently, a ‘celeb’). You want to get together with a boy you like? ‘Just shoot him a little wink, just catch his eye and if he throws you a smile back, you got him.’
In ‘Survival trips for crushes’, Johnny, host of ‘Escape from Scorpion Island’, advises a girl who likes an older boy and asks ‘How do I get him to notice me?’: ‘Ask them out’.
Justin Beiber tells how he once got into trouble after sneaking out of the house at 3am to meet some girls who had texted him. Isn’t that cute? Girls maybe you can arrange to hook up with boys at 3am too!
Girls featured in this issue are aged from 9-13. Because no age is given, primary school age readers might think Brandon and Johnny’s advice applies to them. This is what girls are supposed to be doing – having boyfriends, approaching boys at parties, arranging hook-ups with boys in the middle of the night.
I am angry that Girlpower thinks conditioning little girls to pro-actively seek boyfriends is acceptable – and potentially making those who don’t secure one feel insecure – as well as making risky behaviour seem amusing.
While there are more alternatives to products and fashion than TotalGirl, with greater space given to food, animals, recycling, quizzes and pets (28 out of 83 pages), this does not make up for the damaging messages the magazine sends.
‘What song are you loving right now?’ DG’s designer responds that she loves ‘California Gurls’ by Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg (see above re cream shooting from breasts). GF’s production controller prefers ‘Teenage Dream’ also by Katy Perry. It features the lines: ‘Let’s go all the way tonight’, ‘the way you turn me on’, ‘got drunk on the beach’, ‘Let you put your hands on me in my skin-tight jeans’. The film clip depicts some bedroom action suggesting Katy’s bf agreed on going all the way tonight.
Disney Girl helps girls know what’s in and what’s not. ‘What’s hot right now: For an ‘A+ in cool’. For example, who’s the cool boy of the month for our little Disney Girl readers? Jason Desrouleaux – who is 20.
Lady Gaga’s new perfume range is promoted. ‘Wonder what it will smell like’? DG asks (eau de dead animal perhaps?) Gaga is also mentioned in a ‘fun quiz’ to find your ‘inner pop princess’. The options are Miley Cyrus, Beyonce and Lady Gaga.
And what would a little girl’s mag be without more ‘cute crush’ advice? This time from Matthew ‘MDOT’ Finley: ‘If you like a boy at a party, make sure you give him lots of eye contact’. One of the readers is a 10-year-old girl who has submitted art work. Is this advice designed for her?
More Jess Mauboy promotion: ‘We are loving this track in the DG office…make sure you check out the ‘Get ’Em Girls’ video clip…’ Yeah, check it out and see young Jess writhing up against Snoop Dogg.
Making invitations, wordsearch, six pages of DIY clothes and accessories, two pages of art work, and two pages of healthy eating are the only break from the celeb parade (13 out of 83 pages).
Cyber safety experts would be disturbed by this comment in ‘What does your bedroom say about you?’ In question 7, one of the multiple choice options is: ‘Your computer – you’re always emailing friends and blogging’. No computers in bedrooms! Come on DG eds, this is cyber safety 101. You are undermining the efforts of those concerned about on-line child safety to get computers out of bedrooms.
Celebs, gossip, products, entertainment, the usual line-up.
One page costume making, one page craft, an interview with 16-year-old Matilda’s defender, interview with a ballet teacher, facts about the human body, 10 pages of quizzes and an activity book – which opens with facts about Katy Perry and a poster of her taken from California Gurls (in which she’s naked in clouds). There’s no escaping…
Patty Huntington exposes the company’s porn-style approach to women
Patty Huntington over at Frockwriter wrote this blog about American Apparel’s favoured positioning of women in its advertising. Of course American Apparel has a long history of making women’s sexual parts the central focus of its marketing approach. But some of my blog readers may not realise that American Apparel’s porn-style representations of women have been shipped to Australia with its first store opening in Melbourne in 2008. We at Collective Shout are adding American Apparel to our ‘Cross ‘Em off your Xmas list’ campaign. Welcome AA to our (growing) list of sexploitation companies to boycott this Christmas. We hope to bring you just that much closer to bankruptcy.
Apparently even American Apparel’s store mannequins have to spread their legs
While in town for the Adelaide Fashion Festival a fortnight ago, frockwriter couldn’t help notice the front window of the American Apparel boutique on Rundle Street, the city’s busiest shopping strip. The display included one squatting store mannequin who was flashing rather a lot of va-jay-jay. Not literally, as she was wearing a pair of micro utility shorts and of course, most store dummies aren’t that anatomically accurate. But anyone walking past the boutique was confronted by the mannequin’s crotch and it did seem a little in-your-face. Not to mention vulgar.
We were curious if perhaps the artful arrangement of slutty store mannequins might be part of the company’s visual merchandising handbook. A couple of calls to two of American Apparel’s three Australian boutiques bore no fruit. The staff were extremely tight-lipped. All they would tell frockwriter was that everything is managed directly from the American Apparel headquarters in Los Angeles.
But is it all that surprising, really?
This is the very same company that has been responsible for the following genre of advertising imagery:
And after a quick net search, we managed to find several other examples of similarly suggestively-posed American Apparel store dummies.
This one was photographed inside an American Apparel factory in 2008:
And this was photographed in one of American Apparel’s New York stores in the same year:
Here is an almost identical mannequin – let’s call it American Apparel’s “Bend Over and Take It Up The Ass” model – in a Toronto store window display in June this year. With the addition of some faeces, courtesy of the G20 protests.
It’s not the first time that American Apparel and its allegedly notoriously touchy feely founder and ceo Dov Charney have found themselves in the poo.
Charney has been the target of numerous sexual harassment lawsuits – although apparently none of them so far successful – and the company has been targeted by numerous consumer boycotts over its “sexist” advertising.
American Apparel is, moreover, currently being sued by its shareholders and teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
Perhaps sex doesn’t always sell quite as well as they thought.
Conceptuallyand aesthetically slutty
It was interesting to see the twitter debate prompted by Huntington’s use of the term ‘slutty’ in this piece. Some took offense, as though she were applying the term to actual women. She wasn’t. Huntington was referring to the AA’s consistently giving women the slutification treatment.
Huntington provided me this postscript:
This post began as a discussion of American Apparel’s promotional imagery, then segued into a mini debate over slut shaming. I used the term “slutty” twice, referring to American Apparel’s “slutty” ad campaigns and store mannequins – once in a tweet to promote the post and once in the copy.
Some people didn’t like it – one party getting quite worked up over the issue on Twitter on Saturday, urging me to choose an alternative because the word is, she noted, so misogynistic. Others, however, did not seem to have a problem. My original tweet “You’ve seen the slutty ads, now it looks like even american apparel’s shop dummies have to spread ‘em” has been retweeted so far 15 times. When I canvassed opinion specifically about the slut shaming issue on Monday, one reader – a 21 year-old gender studies major [@Alyxg] – noted on Twitter, “I don’t think calling AA’s campaigns slutty shames anyone but AA. Their strategy IS conceptually+aesthetically slutty”.
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