For some it seems, there is a difference between rape, and you know, rape rape.
If the latest debacle involving a UK sports ‘hero’ found guilty of rape can tell us anything, it’s that rape is when a slutty, drunk chick totally has it coming. This kind of rape shouldn’t be taken seriously because, well, she’s drunk and the guy was just having a bit of fun.
Rape rape though is when a sober woman dressed head-to-toe in white is viciously attacked while leaving church by a man with a thick moustache and twitching eye. This man is clearly a rapist, and this woman is clearly innocent (not like that slutty chick, am I right?).
Wales and Sheffield United professional footballer, Ched Evans, was sentenced to five years in jail after being found guilty of rape. The basic premise is that last year in May, a young intoxicated woman went back to a hotel room with Evans’ teammate, Clayton McDonald. She and McDonald had intercourse, and soon after Evans arrived and McDonald left.
This is when Evans is said to have had intercourse with the young woman, while two friends had the audacity to film it through a window.
The victim claimed to have no memory of the night, and with the assistance of CCTV footage showing just how intoxicated she was before the incident, the jury found that the 19-year-old was in no state to be able to consent to sexual intercourse. McDonald was acquitted and Ched was found guilty.
However, sometimes the law is not enough to quench the thirst of a troll; because although the jury found the 19-year-old’s accusation to be legitimate, she is now facing trial by Twitter.
It started with Evans’ teammate, Connor Brown, posting a series of vicious tweets on the micro blogging site. He called her a “money-grabbing little tramp,” and eloquently added, ““If ur a slag ur a slag don’t try get money from being a slag (sic) … Stupid girls… I feel sick.”
This was just the beginning. London Feminist, in a post titled ‘Rape Culture in up to 140 characters’, kept track of the #chedevans Twitter trend and found that a disturbing number people don’t seem to understand exactly what rape is.
Here are just a few.
“Curious to find out more about the #chedevans rape conviction. Not premeditated but locked away for 5 years for lack of consent.”
“Read up on the laws as well now! I change my mind! Seems that it is rape after all! #chedevans”
“Baffled by the #ChedEvans case. You convict both men or neither! How can there be any evidence if the silly bitch can’t remember anything?”
“If nailing a tramp who is too wankered to say no is a crime….. then the old bill need to get down to mine with a set of cuffs. #ChedEvans”
But here’s the thing: rape is non-consensual sex, and a woman being drunk does not and should not exempt rapists from the law. We could question how one man was sentenced to jail and how the other wasn’t, but Senior Crown Prosecutor in Wales, Nita Dowell, lays out the facts.
“Ched Evans took advantage of a vulnerable young woman who was in no fit state to consent to sexual activity. It is a myth that being vulnerable through alcohol consumption means that a victim is somehow responsible for being raped. The law is clear: being vulnerable through drink or drugs does not imply consent.”
Well said. Now if someone could just pass that on to the Twitter trolls.
Jane Hollier is completing a Media degree at Charles Sturt University.
Last month Telstra was exposed for supplying pornography through its BigPond website over video capable mobile phones. Just a few clicks away from ‘Go Diego Go’ and Telstra’s ‘women at work’ page dedicated to women’s equality in the workplace, users could purchase porn videos such as ‘Dirty Housewives’ and ‘Hot Asians Get Wet.’
A Telstra spokeswoman was sent forth to defend the content, stating the ‘glamour content’ was the ‘mildest in the category.’
Melinda Tankard Reist rejected Telstra’s defence and pointed out Playboy’s xxx hardcore productions and the exploitative nature of ‘Girls Gone Wild.’
We have been hearing from Collective Shout supporters for some time about Telstra’s Bigpond site. One Telstra customer contacted us in 2011 saying that she found it disturbing how every time she accessed news or the internet on her prepaid phone, Girls Gone Wild and Playboy was “generally the first thing” she saw.
Another customer was confronted with ‘Hot babes direct to U’ and ‘Naughty Half Naked girls’ every time she used mobile phone banking:
I just recently swapped my mobile phone provider from Vodafone to Telstra. I didn’t realise going back to Telstra would increase my ability to have ‘Hot new babes direct to U’ and enable me to ‘see naughty girls going wild’. I thought Telstra promoted themselves as being a ‘family sensitive’ business. After all isn’t there a cute young boy travelling around Australia with his dad on the tv ads. I guess the promotion of porn sites on their bigpond website on my mobile phone late at night until about 7am in the morning enables that fun loving caring father to access porn from his mobile phone when he is away from his wife travelling with his son. I know the father and son have been travelling around looking at ‘all things big’. Sounds like the dad might be looking at more than just the Big Pineapple.
Others have shared similar frustrations and were told by Telstra that there was no way to opt out of the porn ads. Complaints to Telstra had fallen on deaf ears.
Following negative media and complaints, Telstra has now announced the removal of pornography from their Big Pond Website.
As reported by Ruth Limkin on her website Bread and Justice, Telstra CEO David Thodey had this to say:
“Recently, I received emails from customers about content promoted on our BigPond website. Those customers thought we shouldn’t promote adult-orientated movies or videos that objectify women.
I have to agree. We have therefore decided that we will no longer promote access to adult-orientated content through our websites.
Let me put this decision in context. The content accessible via BigPond is mild compared to what’s available on the Internet. None of it had an ‘R’ rating. In fact, I’m assured you could find more explicit content at your local DVD shop or elsewhere in cyberspace.
However, this is not the real issue! Why, then, have we made this decision?
The simple answer is that promoting content such as this is just not the Telstra thing to do and we cannot support anything that is sexist or that is inconsistent with our values.
We are, in many ways, Australia’s largest family company. We are owned by more than a million Australian families, many of our customers are Australian families and family businesses. And we have – through the Telstra Foundation and our corporate citizenship efforts – dedicated ourselves to promoting Australia’s cultural diversity, including gender diversity, through initiatives such as the Telstra Business Women’s Awards.
Our decision is consistent with our values of respect and diversity
If our customers want to view adult-orientated content on the Internet, they still can. That’s up to them, not us. This decision is not about censorship, but choice and respecting gender equality.”
Good decision Telstra. We look forward to other Telco’s following your lead.
Well done to all who made their voices heard on this issue. You have made a difference.
Let Telstra know what you think of their decision to no longer profit from the bodies of women and girls. You can submit positive feedback on their website here.
Yesterday dietitian Susie Burrell made the extraordinary claim that obesity is socially contagious in an opinion piece titled ‘Wanna get skinny? Might be time to ditch your fat friends’.
Burrell cited the Framingham Heart Study as evidence that people who have fat friends are more likely to become fat themselves. She called for readers to avoid fat people, lest they become infected with this modern-day social contagion.
This is so messed up I don’t even know where to begin.
The Framingham Heart Study was a decades-long analysis of heart disease that started in 1948 in a Massachusetts town.
Nearly 40 years later, ‘social contagionist’ scientists from Harvard Medical School and the University of California dredged up the old data and performed statistical analysis, concluding that obesity is socially contagious.
The same authors have made claims in the New England Journal of Medicine and various media outlets that everything from obesity to divorce to poor sleep to loneliness is also socially transmissible.
Their conclusions have since met widespread criticism.
In a paper titled ‘The Spread of Evidence-Poor Medicine via Flawed Social Network Analysis’, the mathematician Russell Lyons reported the statistical methods used by lead author Nicolas Christakis and James Fowler to be riddled with statistical errors on many levels.
Lyons’ paper has since passed peer review and was published in the journal Statistics, Politics, and Policy. A PhD candidate at the Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University’s School of Public Health, David Merritt Jones, has been keeping a close eye on the developments as they unfold. He reports:
Two other recent papers raise serious doubts about their conclusions. And now something of a consensus is forming within the statistics and social-networking communities that Christakis and Fowler’s headline-grabbing contagion papers are fatally flawed.
Andrew Gelman, a professor of statistics at Columbia, wrote a delicately worded blog post in June noting that he’d ‘have to go with Lyons’ and say that the claims of contagious obesity, divorce and the like ‘have not been convincingly demonstrated’.
Another highly respected social-networking expert, Tom Snijders of Oxford, called the mathematical model used by Christakis and Fowler “not coherent.” And just a few days ago, Cosma Shalizi, a statistician at Carnegie Mellon, declared, ‘I agree with pretty much everything Snijders says’.
Gelman argues that the papers might not have been accepted by top journals if these technical criticisms had been aired earlier. Indeed, Lyons posted damning quotes from two anonymous reviewers of his own work. “[Christakis and Fowler's] errors are in some places so egregious that a critique of their work cannot exist without also calling into question the rigor of review process,” one of them wrote.
Christakis and Fowler have since been invited to provide an explanation of their statistical methods in the journal Annals of Applied Statistics. However, as of July 2011, this was reportedly still being revised.
It is difficult to understand why Burrell would rehash such a highly contested study and use its dubious findings to call for the hysterical and widespread discrimination against fat people.
The title of Burrell’s piece is alarming. It assumes that being skinny is what readers of The Punch either already desire or should desire to achieve.
Burrell goes on to promote stereotypes, associating ‘overweight’ with morally deficient characteristics such as laziness, while encouraging readers to seek out “thin, fit and healthy” people and “do what they do”.
Does it really need to be spelled out that not all fat people are automatically lazy, gluttonous slobs? That being “fit and healthy” is not exclusively synonymous with being thin? That we cannot assume that just because as person is thin they are engaging in healthy behaviours, or because they are fat, they are eating cheese puffs all day?
With approximately 70 per cent of our DNA contributing to our weight, why does Burrell assume everyone should – and can be – thin?
Burrell concludes that if a fat person expresses concern about their friend’s gym habits, the friend should ‘defriend’ the fat person and tell them they are ‘disappointed’ with them.
What if the fat person’s friend engages in compulsive exercise? Or is suffering from an eating disorder and really should not be exercising four hours a day? Does it really make sense to make these broad sweeping generalisations and recommendations?
Burrell’s claim that “dieting is frowned upon by those who know they too need to lose weight, but are currently making the choice not to” is grossly misleading. It is absurd to suggest that only fat people who need to lose weight are against dieting.
Numerous studies since 1959 have shown diets for weight loss carry a failure rate of 95-98 per cent after 2-5 years.
Health writer Paula Goodyer attempted to demonstrate weight loss as sustainable in an article titled ‘The Exercise Myth’ last week in The Sydney Morning Herald by citing The National Weight Control Registry which supposedly proves people can lose weight and keep it off over the long term.
Yet this registry was discredited by dietitian Joanne Ikeda and her team of researchers as far back as 2005.*
Diets don’t work, and carry unintended consequences that put a person’s health at risk. These include food and body preoccupation, weight cycling, higher than pre-diet starting weight, eating disorders, weight stigmatisation, and binge eating.
It is unethical for a health professional to recommend the discrimination and stigmatisation of fat people. It goes against the very spirit of health to promote anything that actively harms a population of people. Research has shown that shame does not lead to health-giving behaviours.
The best thing we can do for our health is focus on health-giving behaviours, and allow our weight to fall where it will.
Already a global shift away from a weight-based approach to a health-centred paradigm is happening – with the key principles including finding pleasurable physical activity, engaging in intuitive eating, and viewing health as a multi-dimensional, ongoing process including physical, intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, and occupational aspects.
*see Ikeda et. al. (2005). The National Weight Control Registry: A Critique. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 37(4): 203-205.
Note: In response to readers’ feedback, the source of the 70 per cent statistic can be found here. What this means is that approximately 70 per cent of the outcome in weight variability in a population can be attributed to genetic causes.
The story of most significance to the health and wellbeing of girls this issue is the reporting of results of a survey of 1000 of Girlfriend’s readers who were asked how they felt about their appearance.
Among the findings are:
25% don’t like what they see in the mirror
Only 9% “proud of the way you look” (‘proud’ seems an odd word to use in the survey, given GF a page before tells us genetics means we can’t help how we look)
45% have been on a diet, 56% have skipped meals, 35% have cut out a food group, 19% have thrown up after eating
32% have overexercised
45% know someone who’s been diagnosed with an eating disorder, 5% of readers surveyed have an eating disorder
67% said they feel bad when they compare themselves to their friends
65% said they feel “self-conscious” about their bodies
96% wanted to change a body part (69% wanted to change their stomachs)
94% say there’s room for improvement when it comes to how they feel about their appearance’, 66% of those said losing weight would help.
75% have been victims of negative comments made about their bodies
What strikes me about the three page feature is that there is no critique of the culture which sends girls toxic messages about themselves. There’s no mention of the growing body of research that point to, for example, media representations which objectify women and girls as a significant factor in body image issues.
DO yourself a favour. Stop what you are doing, log on to YouTube and watch a short film called Be My Brother.
Starring Gerard O’Dwyer and created by 20-year-old Genevieve Clay, Be My Brother took out the award for best film at the 2009 Tropfest. Gerard was named best actor.
Gerard is a young man with Down syndrome who takes prejudice by the throat through humour and charm.
He disarms people. The last few seconds of the film are a celebration of unadulterated affection and acceptance.
Now meet Melissa Riggio.
In a National Geographic piece entitled ”I have Down syndrome: Know me before you judge me,” Melissa wrote: “When my mum first told me I had Down syndrome, I worried that people might think I wasn’t as smart as they were, or that I talked or looked different”.
”But having Down syndrome is what makes me ‘me’. And I’m proud of who I am.”
But Melissa knows about prejudice.
She says: “I still have to remind myself all the time that it really is OK to just be myself.
“Sometimes all I see – all I think other people see – is the outside of me, not the inside.
”And I really want people to go in there and see what I’m all about.”
Melissa challenges us: “I can’t change that I have Down syndrome, but one thing I would change is how people think of me.
”I’d tell them: Judge me as a whole person, not just the person you see.
“Treat me with respect, and accept me for who I am. Most important, just be my friend.”
But there are some who think Gerard and Melissa shouldn’t be here at all.
In the British Journal of Medical Ethics recently, Melbourne academics Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva argued for “after-birth abortion”, a euphemism for the killing of newborns.
The killing of infants is legitimate, they wrote, “if a disease has not been detected during the pregnancy, if something went wrong during the delivery, or if economical, social or psychological circumstances change such that taking care of the offspring becomes an unbearable burden”.
Babies with disabilities are obvious first targets of such arguments.
In my book Defiant Birth: Women who Resist Medical Eugenics (Spinifex Press, 2009), I argued we live in a society intolerant of those judged imperfect.
The contributors spoke of how they faced disapproval for having babies with disabilities. But they refused to go along with social prejudice.
The academics’ views, in a prestigious journal providing ethical education to the medical profession, make it harder for those women and for their children.
They fuel the idea that it is a woman’s duty not to “burden” society with their child.
It’s already hard for families with disabled children to find proper help and care in a society backing away from collective responsibility for those who are vulnerable, questioning sharing the costs of healthcare services with those with special needs.
Many more children become disabled at or after birth than those who had a disability before birth. Will utilitarian academics argue they should be done away with as well?
Jay Jeffries is a Melbourne mother of two boys, including Tuscan, aged almost 4.
She told me that when she saw Down syndrome especially cited as a reason for infanticide, “suddenly I felt a very deep sickening feeling. I wanted to vomit. That’s my boy you’re talking about, that’s my toddler you’d be killing off”.
“When my son was born they placed him on my chest, his eyes were wide open.
”He made a little cry and I kissed him over and over and played with his fingers. My husband wept tears of joy,” Jeffries said.
“We knew from 15 weeks that he had Down syndrome. We knew he had a heart condition and would need surgery in the first three months of life, yet still we wept tears of joy.
”He had survived. He was our little fighter!
“We didn’t see his disability, we just saw the red mop of hair, the little fingers and his innocent eyes.
“When I think that someone in that moment might have suggested killing him, I feel rage! I wanted to protect him from all the bad things in this world. These are a mother’s natural instincts.
”What would become of a society that squished these desires, and moved straight to a cold analytical assessment of the child?”
I wonder if the real disability is not with the child but instead with society’s inability to see its intolerance of imperfection.
Julia Anderson, wife of former deputy prime minister John Anderson, wrote in Defiant Birth of what she learned from their son Andrew, who had Down syndrome and died at six months: “To see that we are all imperfect, just in different ways.”
I’d rather a world with Gerard and Melissa and Andrew and Tuscan in it than a world of powerful people who deny their right to be here.
As published in the Sunday Herald Sun, April 22, 2012
Exciting times await us, comrades! As many of you know, BodyMatters recently launched ‘Endangered Bodies Australia’ – the Australian branch of a global non-profit grassroots movement that challenges visual culture and the multi-billion dollar diet industry. With branches in London, New York, Dublin, Sao Paolo, Buenos Aires and now Sydney, our well-oiled machine is here to wage war against the diet industry for the health and happiness of citizens across the globe!
But WE NEED YOUR HELP. With International No Diet Day just around the corner (May 6), there are 2 things we’re asking fans to do:
Step 1. Engage in guerilla warfare! It’s clear our fight against the multi-billion diet industry is not an even battle ground.
Street artist Banksy, had this to say about advertising:
Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.
You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs. Read more>
I’m often asked for resources for children to help them protect them from possible sexual abuse. There has been nothing I could recommend. Until now.
Melbourne author, primary school teacher and mother, Jayneen Sanders, has filled the gap by publishing a picture book for children titled Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept.
The book is designed to help parents and all who care for children.
I interviewed Jayneen about her book this week.
Jayneen, tell us why you wrote this book?
Three years ago, when I was on my children’s school council, I raised the subject of sexual abuse prevention education. I asked why we didn’t have such program. No-one could give me a good answer. I decided to do something about educating our children and our community about the importance of body safety.
I knew picture books could be a powerful medium when discussing difficult topics with children. As both a mother and a teacher I wanted to write a story that was neither confronting nor frightening for both parents and children.
We teach our children water safety and road safety – we need to also teach body safety from a young age. We know one in four girls and one in seven boys will be sexually interfered with before they reach the age of 18. So body safety needs to become a normal part of our parenting conversation. Remember we are not always there to protect our children so preventative education is the key.
Why do you think so few individuals and schools want to discuss the issue?
I think one of the biggest misconceptions parents and educators have (and I can understand this fear) is that in order to teach body safety to a child, they will need to talk to them about sex and/or the act of sexual abuse. This is just not the case. When we teach road safety to children, we do not show them graphic images of accidents, we simply tell them to look left and then right and then left again, and if the road is clear, walk (don’t run). It is the same with body safety. We simply teach young children a series of rules that can briefly be summarised as: “Your body is your body, no-one has the right to touch your private parts and if someone does, tell and keep telling”. There is no need to talk to the child about sex. This is a topic for another day.
I wrote Some Secrets so parents felt comfortable when teaching body safety and to make sure if a situation like the one Sir Alfred (the main character) encountered were to ever happen to a child they would know what to do. Forewarned is forearmed, and if children know inappropriate touch is wrong, then they are in a much better position to say something about it.
The National Safe Schools Framework states that protective behaviours (including sexual abuse prevention education) should be taught in schools — but, unfortunately, it is not mandatory. I hope that this will change in the 2013 Australian Curriculum.
Sexual abuse prevention is also the community’s responsibility. Parents should ask their child’s kinder, day-care centre or school if they are running such a program. If not, lobby for it. Child wise run excellent programs. There really is no excuse not to run a program in every school.
So children won’t be upset by the information?
I’d like to reassure parents that by reading Some Secrets to their children they will in no way upset, harm or unsettle their child. To children it is simply a storybook. They feel empathy for the little boy, but let me again assure parents that if anyone does ever touch their child inappropriately he or she will have the skills to know what to do. Children are very visual learners and they will remember this story.
You question the focus on ‘stranger danger’ and say it only perpetuates dangerous myths. Can you explain?
Only five percent of child sex offenders will be caught and convicted for their crimes. The shadowy figures that may be hanging around public toilets and anonymous paedophilies grooming our children on-line are statistically not where the majority of the threat lies. Ninety three percent of children will know their perpetrator and only three percent of abused children will ever tell of their abuse. It is important to remember that offenders always plan their abuse of children and rarely target confident kids. If it is likely a child will tell, the perpetrator will not risk their secret being revealed and is more likely to not target that child.
What has been the response to the book so far?
The response has been extremely positive and I know we have already done what we set out to do: provide children with the knowledge of what to do if they are ever touched inappropriately. Craig Smith’s sensitive, non-threatening and beautifully-drawn illustrations make the book perfect to use with young children (the book can be read to children from 3 to 12 years). The Teacher’s Pack has been selling strongly which is very gratifying as it suggests the message is going to reach many children.
Body safety tips for children
Jayneen recommends the following tips to help keep your child safe.
1. As soon as your child begins to talk and is aware of their body parts, begin to name them correctly, e.g. toes, nose, eyes, etc. Children should also know the correct names for their genitals from a young age. Try not to use ‘pet names’. This way, if a child is touched inappropriately, they can clearly state to you or a trusted adult where they have been touched.
2. Teach your child that their penis, vagina, bottom, breasts and nipples are called their ‘private parts’ and that these are their body parts that go under their swimsuit.
3. Teach your child that no-one has the right to touch their private parts/private zones and if someone does, they must tell you or a trusted adult (or older teenager) straight away. As your child becomes older (4+) help them to identify five people they could tell.
4. At the same time as you are discussing inappropriate touch, talk about feelings. Discuss what it feels like to be happy, sad, angry, excited, etc. Encourage your child in daily activities to talk about their feelings. This way your child will be more able to verbalise how they are feeling if someone does touch them inappropriately.
5. Talk with your child about feeling ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’. Discuss times when your child might feel ‘unsafe’ or ‘safe’. For example, when feeling ‘safe’, they may feel happy and have a warm feeling inside; when feeling ‘unsafe’ they may feel scared and have a sick feeling in their tummy.
6. Discuss with your child their ‘early warning signs’ when feeling unsafe, i.e. heart racing, feeling sick in the tummy, sweaty palms, feeling like crying. Let them come up with some ideas of their own. Tell your child that they must tell you if any of their ‘early warning signs’ happen in any situation. Reinforce that you will always believe them and that they can tell you anything.
7. As your child grows, try as much as possible to discourage the keeping of secrets. Talk about happy surprises such as not telling Granny about her surprise birthday party and ‘bad’ secrets such as someone touching your private parts. Make sure your child knows that if someone does ask them to keep an inappropriate secret that they must tell you or someone in their network straight away.
8. Discuss with your child when it is appropriate for someone to touch their private parts, e.g. a doctor if they are sick. Discuss with your child that if someone does touch their private parts (without you there) they have the right to say: ‘No!’ or ‘Stop!’
“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” is used as a source of ‘thinspiration’ for girls. It features prominently on pro-anorexia websites. The slogan is cited to strengthen the resolve of an eating disorders sufferer, to help them exercise ‘willpower’ in their quest for ultra-thinness. It is a slogan contributing to suffering and death.
But does substituting the word ‘fit’ for the word ‘skinny’ really make much difference?
Of course it’s good to be fit. I support and encourage fitness for girls. But the slightly edited slogan is still too reminiscent of the original, still too enmeshed in eating, and the taste of food, to be harmless. “Nothing tastes as good…” implies a sacrifice of the enjoyment of food for the sake of ‘fitness’ which in the minds of many girls is easily interchangeable with ‘skinniness’.
This is not new – a previous ‘inspirational’ Lorna Jane t.shirt stated “I earn my chocolate one step at a time”. These messages are blatantly irresponsible for any company, especially one which is part of the fitness industry, when we know that eating disorder populations are over- represented in women who exercise regularly. It sends the message that food must be “earnt” or “deserved”, which is a belief underlying the onset of eating disorders and the mechanism that maintains them.
This is a very intentional hijacking of this harmful phrase. It sends a double meaning as it capitalises on wording familiar to those who have been exposed to pro-ana material. It’s quite sickening for a company like this to be capitalising on diseased thought patterns.
However these messages aren’t just dangerous for a clinical population, they send the message to anyone that it is OK not to eat and contributes to our existing confusion about what “health” actually is.
As my Collective Shout colleague Nicole Jameson write on Lorna Jane’s FB page: “I guess ‘nothing feels as good as accepting your body and enjoying food’ isn’t going to sell much overpriced gym wear”.
Some other comments which perfectly capture what’s happening here:
Canberra has ‘mum and bub’ movie session times, women-only ‘Chicks at the flicks’ sessions, single-sex schools, women’s magazines, targeted programs and services for women, award-winning women-only gyms. Yet we are faced with barriers when it comes to accessing women-only swimming sessions at our local pools.
We all understand and value the wider benefits of pool access for our children and adult swim squads, water polo and swimming lessons. So why should a few sessions a week for Canberra women to swim be a problem?
Melbourne and Sydney have successful women-only swimming pool sessions. NSW. McIvers Baths between Coogee beach and Wiley’s Baths have ocean views and remain a popular spot for women since before 1876. Despite a court challenge in 1995, the area was granted an exception under the Anti-Discrimination Act to continue operating as a women-only venue.
Support for this initiative in Canberra is widespread and includes, Life Saving Australia’s Sean Hodges, Labor’s John Hargreaves, ACT Greens Meredith Hunter, Gungahlin advocates Alan Kerlin and Bill Reid, executive director of Canberra YWCA, Rebecca Vassarotti, ACT Multicultural Ambassador, Sam Wong, Canberra Rape Crisis Centre’s Tanya Wiseman and writer and women’s advocate Melinda Tankard Reist. We also have support from some of our women- only gyms in the ACT.
With International Women’s Day celebrated recently, it is a reminder that while we honour the advances that our women have made throughout time, we still face struggles. Our request to Canberra pool owners for women only swimming sessions is about upholding women’s choices.
Women of all ages have reported various reasons why they prefer to exercise and swim in a women-only setting. Some of the reasons include modesty, feeling more confident trying new things in a women-only space, wearing what they feel comfortable swimming in and not feel that men are watching them, enjoying the social aspects of exercise and the support network provided in a women-only space. Others have stated their discomfort is due to body image concerns, some older women feel more comfortable in a women-only setting, others recovering from surgery, women who want to breastfeed openly but are conscious of male gazes, cultural or religious reasons, and many based on personal preference and choice.
As a clinical psychologist I see women who have experienced sexual, physical or emotional abuse. Some of these women prefer to be supported by females, needing a women-only space at times to feel safe and until they feel more confident. Tanya Wiseman from the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre reported that they have had requests for women-only programs such as self-defence classes etc. for similar reasons.
Really, what are we asking for? We are asking for space for women to have fun swimming with other women, is that unreasonable? I don’t believe so, and many would agree with me. If Sydney and Melbourne can have long running successful women-only swimming programs, why can’t we?
I live with, work with, and know the most wonderful men, but I choose to exercise and swim with the sisterhood of women.
Sally Kalek is a clinical psychologist in Canberra. She has had worked in both the private and public sectors. Sally has a long history of community activity, including board membership of the Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services ACT, various school P&C’s, fund raising and community events. Sally has an intimate understanding of the mental health issues impacting on people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Her particular interests are with women, children and family issues and fostering better support services for these groups.
Ever feel like you’re living in a giant porn theme park? Billboards dominate public space with hyper-sexualised messages. Buses are painted with semi-naked women. There are pole-dancing themes in shopfronts, porn mags next to the lollies at the petrol station counter, T-shirts in youth surf shops depicting S&M and Playboy bunnies on everything from girls’ jewellery to doona covers.
Children are absorbing distorted messages about their bodies, sexuality and gender roles because the Advertising Standards Board does not consider objectification of women contrary to prohibitions on discrimination and vilification.
It’s been called the ”adultification” of children, where sexualising messages combine with the commercialisation of childhood to constrict the childhood years.
Now doctors are calling it a public health issue. Their umbrella organisation, the Australian Medical Association, called last week for an inquiry into the premature sexualisation of children in marketing and advertising. Self-regulation by the industry was clearly not working, its president, Steve Hambleton, said, pointing to images and messages that were ”disturbing and sexually exploitative”.
”These are highly sexualised ads that target children, and the advertising industry is getting away with it,” Dr Hambleton said.
”There is strong evidence that premature sexualisation is likely to be detrimental to child health and development, particularly in the areas of body image and sexual health.”
Perhaps his intervention will get the attention of our otherwise negligent leaders. Psychological bodies and adolescent health experts have documented these negative physical and mental health outcomes for years, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, eating disorders, body image dissatisfaction and poor academic performance. Girls especially are affected.
As psychologist Steve Biddulph, who is writing a book on girls, says: ”There is an erosion of self-image by the corporate media sector … the creation of anxiety about physical appearance and sexuality in pre-teen and mid-teen girls.”
The Senate standing committee on environment, communications and the arts examined the issue in 2008, reporting that ”the onus is on broadcasters, publishers, advertisers, retailers and manufacturers to take account of these community concerns”.
It recommended a review 18 months later, to see how industry had responded. So what has happened since? Very little. The recommendations were essentially ignored and the review still hasn’t happened. Meanwhile, the situation has got worse.
Groups continue to campaign against corporations that exploit the bodies of women and girls for profit. But without government and regulatory bodies demanding real change, it’s an advertisers’ free-for-all. Self-regulation continues to mean the industry gets away with whatever it wants.
Inadequacies in the present system include a weak code of ethics, the voluntary nature of the code, a lack of pre-vetting, the Advertising Standards Board’s lack of power to order removal of advertisements and meaningful penalties, and no consultation with child development experts. Even when campaigners get a win, it is meaningless. By the time the ruling is announced, the particular ad campaign is already over.
Last year the House standing committee on social policy and legal affairs put advertisers and marketers on notice, asking them to report back on what they were doing by December this year. In Britain and France, these industries are also under considerable pressure to change their ways following parliamentary inquiries into the sexualisation of children.
We need a regulatory system independent of the vested interests of marketers, and which draws upon the expertise of child health professionals.
It is time for corporate social responsibility in this area. If industry continues to show almost no willingness to be proactive, then someone should step in and make it do the right thing. Corporate profits shouldn’t come before the welfare of children and young people.
As published in the Sydney Morning Herald, April 9,2012
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