Framing Gillard in pornographic terms is part of a concerted backlash against women in power, argues Dr Helen Pringle
This is an edited extract from an essay by Dr Helen Pringle in Bewitched and Bedevilled: Women Write the Gillard Years, a collection of essays published by Hardie Grant and edited by Samantha Trenoweth.This book, write the publishers, “looks at the reasons Julia Gillard, our first female Prime Minister, was so vehemently attacked, the varied reactions to being a female prime minister, her unfortunate position at the receiving end of a barrage of sexism and misogyny and how much this played a part in her political problems, her public perception and her ultimate undoing”.
By Dr Helen Pringle
Picture this: a naked middle-aged woman, her face distorted by a crooked grimace, is sitting with her legs spread wide apart so as to expose her whole body to the world. Her breasts are bare, but her genitals are obscured by two squares, added by the sketcher of the picture as if he wished to avoid accusations of obscenity, while simultaneously humiliating his subject by marking the squares, in a juvenile way, as 1 (her vagina) and 2 (her anus). The caption to this cartoon commands its audience, ‘Tick the Right Box!’.
This picture of Anna Bligh, then Labor Premier of Queensland, was sketched on the side of a hire van during the state election campaign in March 2012. The van belonged to Wicked Campers, a global hire company founded in Queensland by John Webb. A photograph of the van was posted on the ausgamers.com site, along with this note to clarify the political issue at stake: ‘I am not sure if anyone else has seen this van getting around Brisbane but I just had to share. So people, please remember to tick the correct box, otherwise we could end up in the crapper.’
One comment on the picture read: ‘That is an eerily accurate likeness.’ Most posters on the ausgamers site laughed at the picture, writing comments on the thread like ‘rofl’, ‘hahaha!!!!!’, or ‘fucking hilarious though’. Another poster to the thread contributed to the general hilarity by adding a photoshopped picture of a naked Kevin Rudd being spanked by Julia Gillard, with Kristina Keneally looking on, both women wearing black leather and dominatrix boots. The figure of Rudd was posed to suggest he was greatly enjoying his ‘pussywhipping’.
The world to which the cartoon Anna Bligh opens her legs is increasingly shaped by such pornographic motifs and themes. The term ‘pornography’ once referred to artifacts like magazines, books, films and videos — things that were, for the most part, bought masked in special covers and consumed in non-public or intimate spaces. But our public spaces are now increasingly shaped and marked by pornographic traces, through what Linda Williams has called ‘on/scenity’ — that is, ‘the gesture by which a culture brings on to its public arena the very organs, acts, bodies and pleasures that have heretofore been designated ob/scene and kept literally off-scene’ (‘Porn Studies: Proliferating Pornographies On/Scene: An Introduction’ in Porn Studies ed. Linda Williams, 2004). Like many other academics, Williams argues that this appearance of sexual themes and scenarios on the stage of public and political life should be welcomed as indicating a lifting of sexual repression and as heralding a greater openness about sex.
Cartoons like that of Anna Bligh on the Wicked Campers van, however, make such a view of public sex seem simplistic, and suggest instead that pornographic themes and motifs can be effectively used to humiliate women and to shut down their voice in public life. That is, when our culture brings sexual themes on to its public arena, it provides new ways to subordinate women in such spaces. At the same time as women, in increasing numbers, are standing for political roles, ‘on/scenity’ accentuates the character of politics as ‘a man’s world’, in which women’s place remains insecure. Political pornification is striking not only in Australia but also in other countries where women have sought or hold high office. The form taken by derision of Hillary Clinton when she ran for the US Democratic nomination in 2007 is a case in point.
In thinking about how the pornographic is put to work to subordinate women in political life, an analogy with women’s entry into male workplaces is helpful. In some industries, like construction, engineering, and mining, the percentage of women workers still hovers around 10% (Women in NSW 2013). Women’s entry into such segregated industries is often marked by systematically intimidating, hostile and abusive behaviour towards them, such as name-calling and commands to ‘show us your tits’, hostile graffiti, or the display and use of pornographic pin-ups (Helen Pringle, ‘Pornography: The Harm of Discrimination’ OnLine Opinion 10 October 2011). A business that requires employees to work in such ‘an unsought sexually permeated work environment’ is subjecting them to unlawful discrimination.
Women’s equal standing in and enjoyment of political life is corrupted by the acceptance of similar forms of behaviour as those that qualify as discriminatory intimidation in workplaces, even where not legally actionable. When men at work display sexual cartoons or photographs of naked men or women, or call women obscene names and epithets, it is not merely rude, offensive and inappropriate behavior. It is a form of gendered power that creates and sustains a hostile environment that puts women in their (proper) place, the place of inferiority. It is also a sign, to both men and women, that women are not assured of equality of treatment.
The abuse and ridicule targeted at Julia Gillard after she became Prime Minister in June 2010 often took this gendered form. The most extreme exponent of pornographic imagery and themes as a form of political criticism and satire is the cartoonist, Larry Pickering, notorious in the 1970s for his ‘Jungle’ series and ‘Playmates’ cartoons, which depicted male politicians with strangely-shaped penises, accompanied by smutty captions. Pickering claims that he came out of retirement specifically to combat Gillard’s Prime Ministership. The full range of his post-retirement cartoons was displayed on his website, The Pickering Post, with all designs available to be printed on t-shirts and purchased from his website shop ($38, or $48 with collar).
Pickering’s characteristic style of satirizing Gillard was as a cartoon figure with a strap-on dildo. His websites also feature vicious diatribes against Gillard and other women in politics, or women commenting on politics, such as Anne Summers. ‘Understand this, Summers, it’s obnoxious vermin like you who emboldened Gillard to take the misogynist road,’ Pickering ranted after Gillard lost office (‘A vile piece of trash called Summers’ The Pickering Post, 28 June 2013, ).
Pickering’s cartoons remind women in politics, like Julia Gillard, that they are not men, and that women can only play at doing politics. The cartoons make clear that being a woman and being politically competent are out of alignment. They also make clear that a woman who attempts to ‘play the game’ as if she were a man opens herself to derision. Pickering uses his own pen to discipline such women by showing them as out of place and as thus inviting mocking laughter. The cartoons also function as a sort of ‘Virility Monologues’, a shout out to men about what is at risk or threatened by powerful women, and a warning to men about what happens when they do not successfully play the man part of the political script.
Men like Pickering who use, or rather wield, such brutal language against women are thereby marked as properly masculine — they have the capacity and power to police the world of politics to ensure that those who enter it know that its structure and its script are defined in male terms. Femininity and democratic competence are made to part ways.
It is crucial to add that Pickering’s cartoons of Julia Gillard are pornographic not because their intention is to produce sexual arousal or to incite desire for the subject of the cartoon, as is the traditional understanding of pornography. Rather, to call them pornographic is to draw attention to the way in which they incite a cruel laughter that takes delight in humiliation and that finds subordination funny. In fact, perhaps the most effective form in which sexual hierarchies are policed today is pornographic laughter, which has become the stock in trade of unrepentant discrimination.
Pornographic laughter is also used against those who voice concerns about any kind of demeaning treatment of women, whether in entertainment, advertising or political discourse. That is, the response is that pornography is all just one big joke — and that women, in particular, need to stop taking things so seriously.
Chiding women for lacking a sense of humour in regard to pornography crosses party lines. The self-styled humourist, Ben Pobjie, for example, wrote in the left-wing magazine, The King’s Tribune: ‘There are many reasons a person might be weird enough to not like pornography. For example, that person may be suffering from nervous hysteria and just need a good finger massage or fire-hose-induced orgasm to set things right’ (‘Porn. Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it’ The King’s Tribune, 5 January 2012). Complaints about the pornographic depiction of women become the occasion for further mocking laughter and derision.
Images and themes drawn from pornography are increasingly used to belittle women and denigrate their standing through making them figures of fun. This is not entirely new: the cartoons and rape jokes in Playboy and Hustler, for example, have been standard features since the magazines’ inception, and were not just ‘filler’ for the nude pictures. What is new is that the use of the pornography to incite laughter against women has migrated into the heart of political discourse, as a way of humiliating those who do not know their proper place.
It is no longer considered acceptable to bar women from the political world, or to say outright that they do not belong in that world. The primary way to practise exclusion now is through a pornographic laughter at the women who enter the political world. In that world, a woman may still be openly lampooned for being (or being like) a lesbian. A woman may still be ridiculed for having too shrill a voice or for having too manly a voice (in the case of Kerry Chikarovski, for example). A woman may still be derided for being too fat or too thin or for being both at the same time (big bottom and small breasts, say). The infamous menu at the Mal Brough fundraising dinner included ‘Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail – Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & A Big Red Box’. The menu was explained away by the restaurant owner as ‘an in-house joke’, as if it was just a Benny Hill-style prank (Ben Packham, ‘Restaurant owner says demeaning menu mocked up as an “in-house joke,”’ The Australian 12 June 2013).
The criticism of women in politics in the form of crude and often cruel pornographic derision is always ready to mask itself as ‘just a joke’. This peculiar mix of the pornographic and the snigger deploys itself as discrimination, while trying to defuse itself as playful and fun. The use of gender (or racial) stereotypes is often excused in this way, giving the mistaken impression that it can’t be discrimination if it is a sleazy joke.
A flourishing deliberative democracy rests on the equal standing and treatment of its members and, as Jeremy Waldron has argued, it also depends on the recognition and assurance of that equality in society’s ‘signage’ (The harm in hate speech, 2012). My concern here is not what the cartoons might cause someone to do after viewing them. The concern is what the cartoons signal or tell us about ourselves — that we live in a world in which the hatred of women is still acceptable, and still able to be openly spoken, and spoken for. Abusive or hostile remarks and jokes about women (made even to their face) are rarely prefaced by the disclaimer, ‘I’m not a misogynist but…’ Such jokes are rarely introduced by the phrase, ‘You can’t tell this joke any more, but…’ Misogyny still falls within a framework of acceptability and this framework helps to convert the prejudices of individuals into discrimination.
Our world is increasingly shaped by pornographic motifs and themes, as well as by pornographic artifacts like magazines, books, films and videos, and these motifs are no longer quarantined from political culture and public life. The migration of pornographic imagery and discourse from entertainment and commercial arenas into political spaces was accenutuated during Julia Gillard’s tenure as prime minister. Images and narratives from journalism, pop culture and especially cartoons placed Gillard in a pornographic frame, a frame signifying not just political opposition to her and her government, but a concerted backlash against women taking positions of power.
The cartoons I discuss do not merely target specific women in politics, like Anna Bligh or Julia Gillard, but assign women more broadly to a place of inferiority in the political order, and reinforce the picture of politics as a man’s world for which women are ill-suited and in which they do not fit. Pornography in public is not sexual freedom but same old, same old subordination. And despite the sniggers of its proponents, this is actually not a laughing matter.
An article was published in The Guardian today about the campaign calling for Snoop Dogg’s visa to be revoked. Titled ‘White singers deserve the same scrutiny for sexism as Snoop Dogg‘, it implied that Collective Shout’s motivation for the campaign was race, not misogyny, sexism or violence against women. The Guardian declined to publish Dr Caroline Norma’s response. So we did.
Dr Caroline Norma
So often, when women speak against sexism, misogyny and women hating in general, they are accused of having a hidden and secret agenda. They’re ‘anti-sex’, they ‘hate’ men,’ they have other secret agendas. We’ve just witnessed a classic example of this in the framing of Collective Shout’s campaign led by 24-year-old activist Talitha Stone, calling on Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to recall the visa issued to well-know U.S rap artist Snoop Dogg, who is about to land on our shores.
Francis Lockie, writing in The Guardian today, fits within this camp. Collective Shout activists couldn’t possibly believe that women and girls are intrinsically worth enough that they would selflessly spend time, money and energy in their service. Other false claims have been made about this grassroots movement in the past – why not add ‘racist’ to the mix?
In Frances Lockie’s view the female activists of Collective Shout have another agenda – and it’s racist. They find the energy to launch campaigns against sexist male singers not out of a desire to stop hate speech against women, but because deep down they are racists, whether they realise it or not. Their racist impulses allow them to work together. In the absence of agendas like racism, why else would they bother?
Criticising feminists as ‘racists’ is easy, because no-one believes women’s activists are genuine in what they believe or do anyway. Everyone is ready and willing to hear an alternative explanation for why women are getting together to do things on their own behalf. Lockie need cite just a sample size of three campaigns–one against Kanye West, one against Tyler the Creator and one against Snoop Dogg– to successfully persuade every one of the ‘real’ agenda driving the tireless work of Collective Shout supporters. Inevitably there is another agenda, so a little evidence goes a long way. (As an aside, there’s no mention of the success of the Tyler campaign in forcing Twitter to establish a ‘report abuse’ button as a result of rape and death threats against Talitha Stone, no mention that the campaign against Kanye West was global and supported by a coalition of international women’s groups, not just Collective Shout).
Lockie spent hours painstakingly gathering up evidence of white men singing sexist things and brutalising women to show how Collective Shout members had given them a ‘free pass’. She wanted to make the point that racism acts as a decoy in diverting attention away from the sexism of white men, and how Collective Shout members had fallen into this trap. So, whether they realise it or not, the women in Collective Shout are actually working on behalf of the world’s most powerful men–this is the real agenda of the group. Through forming a group that sticks up for white men they probably think they can get themselves a better deal in life, and rise above the downtrodden masses of women.
When feminists and their organisations are imagined to have ‘another agenda’, sexism does not just cause us to doubt their loyalty to other women. It also leads us to think women are incapable of acting in anyone’s interests other than men’s, and especially white ruling class men. Even when women tell themselves they’re trying to get a better deal for women, they’re actually trying to protect men, or push down other women so men can rule more easily with more perks.
Lockie probably thinks she’s done Collective Shout members a favour in pointing out their folly. Without Lockie’s good instruction, these women could have carried on their whole lives running campaigns, lobbying and working together on behalf of women–totally oblivious of the fact they were inadvertently protecting white men and covering up their abuses. Collective Shout has said nothing about Axl Rose! Or John Lennon! Our younger members have no idea who Rose is. And the fact John Lennon is dead seems to have escaped her. She ignores our campaigns against Robin Thicke and Brian McFadden for their rape apologist lyrics.
Luckily, Lockie stands apart from women working hard in feminist organisations, so she can objectively assess their agenda and intentions, and deliver pronouncements to the benefit of all. Her aloof impartiality would have been compromised if she’d joined Collective Shout, and donated the research she did on the sexism of white male singers. Lockie might have found herself leading a campaign on behalf of members to stop one of them coming to spread hate speech in Australia. Perhaps she will join us in our efforts against rapper Eminem who brings his special brand of women hatred to Australia next month?
If Collective Shout isn’t prepared to launch official campaigns against every artist who profits from misogyny does that mean we shouldn’t campaign against any?
This debate on violence against women, as glamourised by the music industry, isn’t about colour. Collective Shout (in the face of limited resources and its volunteer nature) addresses this where it can. Two high profile rap artists have toured recently. That they were black was irrelevant. Eminem will receive the same welcome from us when he lands next month. To turn this into a debate about race and not misogyny is to wilfully miss the point and, in a rape culture in which all women and girls have to live, this is something we cannot allow to happen.
Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University
“The attempt to dress this up as black v white issue is beneath contempt”
Here are a selection of comments on The Guardian site which condemn attempts to turn our campaign into an issue of race.
OneManIsAnIsland: The objection to Snoop Dogg, presumably, is that ALL of his songs seem to be extensions of his own persona, and ALL seems to include a casual misogyny which is not contextualised. And finally, before you make it a race thing, remember that Robin Thicke is very, very white.
Jahlion: The attempt to dress this up as black v white issue is beneath contempt.
SidusVitae: Many rap songs that feature violence and misogyny are not figurative – that’s the problem, isn’t it? People have politely tried to point out above, under the guise of ‘context’. Snoop Dogg/Lion actually does have a history of problematic dealings with women.
WinstonThatcher: Have you ever listened to the lyrics on ‘Doggystyle’, Frances? I suggest you do so. They’re astoundingly disgusting (on a whole other level of disgusting), and Collective Shout, if anything, should be admired for not letting the big bad wolf that is accusations of racism cloud their judgement.
SamBeckett2: Are Cave, Dylan, Pink Floyd et al ex-pimps who’ve made porn videos? The vast majority of lyrics you quote are clearly telling stories representing misogyny rather than promoting it.
Timcw: So if a black singer refers to a woman as a ‘ho’ or a ‘bitch’ then anyone who complains at the content of the song is being racist if they don’t research every past instance of a white singer using misogynist lyrics and complain about that at the same time? This article is nonsense even in its own terms. Look at the criticism Robin Thicke rightly attracted recently. More seriously, it reflects a type of thinking that implies any criticism of men who aren’t white over the way they treat women is racist.
StVitusGerulaitis: What an utterly absurd article. This is not a race issue, and trying to make it so is disingenuous and rather desperate.
Sexism is more common, widespread and aceptable in modern hip hop….If anything, people give hip hop more of a free pass.”
NewsfromNowhere: I think that this is the problem. Hip hop is used to play by its own rules and black hip hop artists can always play the race card to get a free pass. White hip hop-ers) have to retract and apologize or lose their gigs. I am seriously concerned about this perspective that white feminists (if Collective Shout are white) can’t protest against misogyny from black men or they are racists.
Robthablob: The Prodigy “Smack my bitch up” and Eminem (many early tracks are both misogynistic and homophobic).
However, I remember both of these being heavily criticized at the time, which kind of goes against the author’s contention.
Luxrothchop: A colleague tells me he’s also a pornographer. Is that also true of any of the performers in the author’s list, and don’t you think that makes something of a difference? Seems to me one can’t do right for doing wrong on this question. When I and other posters criticised Robin Thicke on another thread earlier this week those who leapt to Thicke’s defence retorted that “you wouldn’t say that about a black artist for fear of being called a racist”.
ID2099454: Violence against women is an important issue, and this article makes it sound ridiculous. So thanks a bunch for undermining the hard work of lots of people trying to make a difference
DoctorPeppa: I can’t help but wonder if the author actually bothered to get in touch with Collective Shout with her concerns before publicly insinuating that their feminism is a smokescreen for racism. Why does it have to be their job to police the music industry for hate speech against women – if you have noticed other artists contributing to public misogyny, why not pick up your bat and have a swing for yourself? Other women doing feminist work are not an enemy who deserve to be shot down like this.
Why I want to stop Snoop Dog from visiting Australia
I am a 24 year old activist with grassroots organisation Collective Shout. You may know me from my anti-violence campaign against US rapper, Tyler the Creator who verbally abused me at his all ages Sydney show last year.
Just before Christmas I learned that Snoop Dogg (AKA Snoop Lion) would be kicking off a national tour for Big Day Out. Snoop has an extensive criminal history, including convictions for drugs and weapons related offences and involuntary manslaughter, as well as by his own admission, pimping and trafficking women for sex. Snoop also reportedly lured two underage girls into exposing themselves on film by offering them marijuana and ecstasy.
Snoop’s lyrics glorify violence against women. He refers to women as ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’ who ‘suck d****’. His songs include ‘Break a bitch ’til the day i die’ and ‘Can you control yo hoe? where he describes beating women who do not obey him, who need to learn their place. He justifies violence against women because their behaviour ‘forced him’. These are the very cultural attitudes that both excuse and perpetuate actual violence against women. These lyrics trivialise violence against women and they desensitise young men to the real pain and suffering of victims of abuse.
Snoop Dogg performs during the BET Hip Hop Awards 2013 at the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center on September 28, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Prince Williams/FilmMagic) Photo: Prince Williams
The Australian Immigration guidelines on controversial visa applicants says that we can and will reject people “whose presence in Australia may, because of their activities, reputation, known record or the cause they represent and propagate, vilify or incite discord in the Australian community, or represent a danger to the Australian community or a segment of that community.”
Snoop has been refused entry to Australia before because of his criminal history. Britain, Norway and the Netherlands also wouldn’t let him in.
I created a new petition on change.org calling on Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to revoke Snoop Dogg’s (AKA Snoop Lion) visa, as I believe his long criminal record, his insolent admission of sex trafficking (“selling pussy”) and his glorification of violence against women do not meet the character requirements for an Australian Visa. Morrison has declined to revoke Snoop’s visa. Read full article here.
I have seen a sixteen-year-old boy weeping in distress after getting a girl’s pube stuck in his teeth, I hear he was unshaven. I have seen boys showing each other porn on their iPhones on the train home from school, in bars and whilst strolling along the Champs-Elyséés. I have had a boy ask me to text him screenshots of porn films because he was on a wifi-free family holiday. One boy turned to kiss his date in the cinema but not before romantically whispering ‘don’t struggle’. One friend drunkenly walked off into a park in the early hours of the morning and when a male friend brought her back without ‘trying anything’, he was heralded as being ‘soo nice!’ rather than ‘soo normal!’. I have friends whose boyfriends have posted naked pictures of them all over the Internet. I have heard consent described as ‘de-romanticizing’. I have had a shockingly sober boy say to me ‘Why can’t I just slap my dick on your arse? Doesn’t cost you anything!’. This just scratches the surface of my store of depressing anecdotes; the most violent of which I won’t go into out of respect for the girls involved.
2014 is not a good year to be a teenage girl. The last of the 90’s kids are growing up and we are starting to see the effects of being raised with the Internet. For generations before us, hormonal teenage boys looking for sexy images of women had limited options; they could brave the embarrassment of going to the counter and buying Playboy, they could look through their sister’s Cosmo or they could use their imagination. Porn today has rid itself of the embarrassment-factor by embracing the anonymity of the World Wide Web; Playboy isn’t really considered to be porn anymore, the real stuff lives in your phone, on your laptop, your tablet; it is available anywhere, anytime at the touch of a button. In fact this very website receives a steady stream of hits that result from someone googling some combination of ‘housekeeping porn’ + ‘sex’, ‘lesbian’ and/or ‘rape’. As you read this, somewhere there is an eleven-year-old boy curiously typing ‘porn’ into Google, probably hoping to see some big boobies. Fast forward a couple of years and he is masturbating to a video of a crying woman who is being tied down, simultaneously penetrated by three men, spanked, and being called a whore. Young boys are being de-sensitized to violence and the more they consume, the more abusive, the more graphic the porn has to be to excite them.
The most popular type of porn is called ‘Gonzo’ which is essentially wall-to-wall abusive sex. There is no foreplay or romance; it is literally hardcore sex from the first to the last frame. The sex is almost always violent; spanking, gagging, anal fisting and choking are commonplace. A very popular image is a close-up of the woman’s face with tears streaming down caused by her being choked whilst performing oral sex, directors like to make this obvious by making her wear lots of mascara; for dramatic effect. There is no way that this could not have a profound effect on the consumer’s psyche specifically on their attitude towards women. Most boys make no secret of the fact that they watch and enjoy such porn, watching it in groups in the presence of girls or brashly and explicitly describing their fantasies. Girls know boys watch porn and girls know what porn stars are; they are hairless, they have hourglass figures and they never say no. And so a massive amount of pressure is placed on girls to live up to this. Shaving pubic hair is painful and unsanitary (it leaves hundreds of minute cuts which increases the risk of STDs). And yet girls as young as 11 are doing it. The porn industry is the primary source of sex ed for the boys who will grow up to be the decision-makers, thinkers, writers, husbands and fathers of tomorrow. A brief overview of what they are being taught/brainwashed to believe;
That it is their birthright as males to have sex with whichever female they want when they want regardless of consent or age.
That the only way to have good sex and the only way to be masculine is to be aggressive, forceful and violent
That they must always be in control and always want to be in control
That their pleasure comes first and foremost
It hardly needs stating what kind of pressures and expectations this puts on girls and women. They have to be living breathing sex dolls and they have to love it. The porn industry is women abuse.
Rosie became pregnant at 17 last year. She was labelled a slut. Melissa, 14, ran away from home so her parents couldn’t force her to have an abortion.
Jackie, 33, had a violent partner who didn’t want their baby. There was no public housing available and refuges were full. She slept in her car.
Kat, 32, was threatened by her boyfriend. She says: ”I decided when I saw my little boy kicking on the screen I was going to keep him. I knew this would make me a single parent – I had been told in no uncertain terms I was on my own unless I ‘toed the line’.”
These are just some of the stories of women I am aware of who decided to have a child in difficult circumstances – even though it meant bearing the label ”single mother”, with all its alienation and stigma.
They wanted their babies. They were determined to be the best mothers they could be. All did it tough. But their love for their child pulled them through. It’s the kind of love you need when you’re being marginalised, told you are a bludger and a leech. Even that you are to blame for the ills of the world.
Senator Cory Bernardi in his book The Conservative Revolution suggests there are higher levels of criminality among boys and promiscuity among girls ”who are brought up in single-parent families, more often than not headed by a single mother”. Read more here
’I just wish that people had more of an open dialogue about what pregnancy really means to you as a woman’
Dear Senator Bernardi,
There has been a lot of talk in the media about your recent comments about abortions. I thought I would share my story with you.
Being in a toxic relationship and discovering you are pregnant is one of the most intense pressure cooker situations a woman can be in. My pregnancy was unplanned – I was taking the pill YAZ and it failed. I am university educated, 32 years old, middle income earner, lived in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, my parents are still married and I have a harmonious family life.
When the two pink lines appeared I was told in no uncertain terms I would be having an abortion- and I was to understand my partner was only looking after himself and I’d “better not try to screw him over”, I was then kicked out of the house in the rain and had to walk home.
He then disappeared into nights of drinking with his best friend under the banner that his best friend needed “support” while his pregnant girlfriend sat on the couch at her house freaking out- oh of course I got the 11pm “ How are you? You will be getting an abortion its nothing, it’s just a process stop looking for attention” message. Great father material wouldn’t you say?
It was a terrifying future would my measly salary cover the cost of a child? Would I be able to maintain my apartment? I’ve never been inside a centrelink office in my life I wouldn’t have a clue where to begin. Would I be able to cope with the stigma narrow minded people – such as you- place on single mothers? It was clear this would be my only option. Would I be able to form another relationship? How would I go about getting external help?
And was it indeed my fault? My ex certainly seemed to think so. Did I make this happen? Should I have done something differently?
If I had an abortion how would I cope? Was I going to be ok? It was more than obvious my sham of a hetero sexual relationship was completely loveless – was it right to bring a child into the world with no father? It may well be my right to choose – how was I to make this life defining choice? Could I cope with the very real very scary physical and psychological side effects of a termination? All the literature told me it was no big deal- but it felt like a big deal and the consequences were enormous.
All this and my hormones were out of control.
You know who supported me? My gay best friend. He was on call with listening to me agonize over what to do, running through all the options offering total unconditional love- as were my parents.
I had my scan – my “partner” refused to attend, my mother held my hand -I decided to keep my son. I take no moral high ground here I made the choice that I felt was right for me.
The terror remained and it was only going to get worse. I lost my son in extremely traumatic circumstances.
Oh the guy? Ran away but not before he abused me one last time advising I was disgusting and deserved what happened to me. But nothing is more sacred than the love between a man and a woman right?
Here’s the true tragedy- my story is not uncommon.
Your remarks show you can’t possibly comprehend what a woman is thinking when there is an ambiguous pregnancy, nor does it offer empathy to my hetero sexual abusive relationship situation.
When I was a little girl I didn’t say “when I grow up I want to have an unplanned child to an abusive manipulative man and terminate it because I feel trapped by the stigma of society, the belief and social assurances that I can’t do it on my own.”
To trivialise abortion as used for “birth control” undermines the difficulty of the decision. I have spent a lot of time with women who have had abortions all, not one or two but all, found it to be an agonizing decision. Your statement shows you haven’t researched correctly and lacks empathy.
I wouldn’t change decision to keep my baby, it was the right one for me. Do I wish things had been different? Absolutely – the loss of my son has been the hardest, most cruel and shocking experience of my life. I actually didn’t know pain like this existed. Even now the shock of it all still affects me, especially coming up to one year since he grew his angel wings.
I just wish that people had more of an open dialogue about what pregnancy really means to you as a woman- and extended empathy rather than sitting in judgement.
Pro life, Pro choice, I’m actually Pro woman.
‘ When I was pregnant at 15 I needed support’
[This to Victorian MP Bernie Finn following a vitriolic debate on one of my Facebook pages which I have been forced to shut down]
Dear Mr Finn,
I am a pro life woman. I believe mothers and babies should be embraced and supported by our community. I believe laws should protect life before and after birth. Please enact the following:
Illegal to pressure girlfriend or wife to have an abortion.
Illegal to harass pregnant mother to the point of physical and mental health breakdown, with stronger penalties applied. (FYI, Maternal stress is linked with future health problems in the unborn child as well as the mother).
Stronger restraining order laws. I was afraid to apply for child support and wrote “father unknown” on the birth certificate to avoid being compelled to do this.
Illegal for mentally ill, depraved and criminal father to come back into child’s life 12 years later, using Legal Aid and the family court (successfully) to harass and intimidate mother, to undermine child’s education, to harass and threaten teachers, to cause depression/anxiety/trauma for mother, to escalate and encourage child to rebel against mother and society, cause mental health issues in child, resulting in psychiatrist paid for by mother. All of this allowed by the court with no penalties.
Illegal to lie to the child support agency about paternity.
Illegal for father to pose as a teenage girl to stalk child on facebook and actively encourage him to defy his mother with this fake female personality.
Illegal for father to then claim child support off mother after successfully encouraging child to run away from home and live with him, even though she was afraid to claim child support for 12 years.
Illegal for father to give child weapons.
Illegal for father to give child drugs, alcohol and pornography.
I could go on and on sadly. The legal correspondence goes on for miles. I became used to my lawyer advising me that the court would do nothing about his behaviour, despite his violent criminal history, prison sentence, numerous stays in mental institutions and his then current mental health forensic order. I visited the police station almost weekly with new information and became used to them literally shrugging their shoulders at me.
I don’t share my story often because I’m afraid it will make girls afraid to have their babies. Who would want to be forever tied to an abuser in this way? When I was 15 and pregnant, the legality of abortion didn’t enter my mind, I had never thought about it. But I did need the law to protect me and my child from the child’s father. Existing laws were and still are, woefully inadequate.
When I was 15 and pregnant, what I needed was genuine support, someone to walk alongside me, a true friend, a mentor. We need to funnel more resources into organisations who provide this support in order to help more women and girls.
I see that women’s stories of unexpected pregnancy have changed very little in the almost two decades since I had a baby. Please change the laws so that no woman or girl – or their child – has to endure what I have endured.
When pictures of the female players with full-forward breasts were splashed everywhere following Legends (aka Lingerie) Football League games in Sydney and Melbourne this month, it underscored what has been a losing year for women.
Little publicity is given to women’s sport in general. Did you even know there are female gridiron teams, where players wear full protective clothing like men? But attention wasn’t a problem in this case. ”It’s far better than watching netball,” wrote Aaron Langmaid in Melbourne’s Herald Sun.
The high ratio of photos to text online was significant. Camera angles captured bikini-topped flesh and skimpy undies in reports that failed to even mention the score. Women’s bodies were on display, treated as a spectacle.
There were few advances for women in other public areas either. Australia now has fewer women in cabinet than the government of Afghanistan.
The Human Rights Commission has shown that sexual harassment remains widespread in Australian workplaces and that attempts to address it have stalled. The Bureau of Statistics presents similar disturbing figures on the harassment and stalking of women.
Victims of sexual harassment and assault continue to be blamed for what is done to them. The Victorian parole board review found that deadly mistakes had been made in the release of women’s assailants, leaving them free to strike again with ferocity. Read more here.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
“As you read, be prepared to feel both grief and rage.” Robert Jensen
“These accounts are among the most unsettling you will ever read.” Steve Biddulph
“This powerful and humane book is a breakthrough…Big Porn Inc shows us we are poisoning our own spirits.” – Steve Biddulph
“A landmark publication” – Clive Hamilton
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It, Men of Honour, Sexts Texts & Selfies, Raising Girls, Raising Boys, MTR DVD, Ruby Who? DVD & book, Girl Wise guide to friends, Girl Wise guide to being you, Girl Wise guide to life and Girl Wise guide to taking care of your body, and the new Wise Guys for the combined discounted price of $250.
‘The foremost authority in Australia cyber safety lays it on the line and challenges parents to find their digital spine.’ – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
Whether it is problems with friends, worrying about how you look or just feeling a bit down in the dumps – these books are written especially for you – to help you in your journey. Purchase all four together and save $18.50 on postage! Author: Sharon Witt
In this DVD, Melinda takes us on a visual tour of popular culture. “Melinda’s presentation leaves audiences reeling. She delivers her message with a clarity and commonsense without peer.” – Steve Biddulph, author, Raising Boys, Raising Girls
In this easy-to-read updated book, Steve Biddulph shares powerful stories and give practical advice about every aspect of boyhood.
“Overflowing with incisive understandings…a comprehensive and in-depth guide.” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychologist
Men of Honour -written by Glen Gerreyn- encourages and inspires young men to take up the challenge to be honourable. Whether at school, in sport, at work or in relationships, we must develp our character to achieve success and experience the thrills life has on offer.
Purchase the Ruby Who? DVD and book together for only $35 saving 10% off the individual price.
“Getting Real contains a treasure trove of information and should be mandatory reading for all workers with young people in health, education and welfare” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Adolescent Psychologist
Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.