‘This book helps parents understand how we can win back girlhood – happy, wild and free. It’s the core of individuality and self-belief – and is the new feminism that we want for our daughters’
Globally renown psychologist and author Steve Biddulph has been a remarkable support for our movement Collective Shout since the earliest days. He not only cared about the cause, he cared about us, as the individual activists at the forefront of this new grassroots campaigning movement against sexualsation, objectification and pornification. I recall one of our first gatherings as a core team in Sydney, Steve leading us in a session not on how we could change the world, but how to look after ourselves while attempting it. Since that time, eight years ago, Steve has continued to check in, with wise advice and wisdom about self-sustainability for the long haul.
I was honoured when Steve asked me to write a chapter on ‘Girls and the online world’ for his 2013 book Raising Girls, a follow-up to his million-copy best seller Raising Boys. Now Steve has again featured my work in his latest title 10 Things Girls Need Most: And How They Will Help Her Throughout Her Life (Finch Publishing). This new title, available through Booktopia, is already on the best seller lists.
The book is interactive. “These interactive tasks immediately get you thinking about your own life, your family and, of course, your daughter… It provides the very best information that we have about girls growing up today – and, alongside, are interactive tasks and self-exploration practices will help you to put that into practice”, Steve says.
Steve describes the aims of the book:
“Firstly, to help you understand how daughters grow and thrive, and to be confident in raising your own. To lay down the foundations of good mental health early in your daughter’s life, and to keep her strong all the way through. And secondly, to enlist you in the new wave of feminism, fighting against a world that is so toxic to our kids.
We have the potential to change the world our daughters face. Girls are being exploited. We need to challenge the companies worldwide that profit from making girls insecure and compliant through manipulative marketing.
This book helps parents understand how we can win back girlhood – happy, wild and free. It’s the core of individuality and self-belief – and is the new feminism that we want for our daughters.”
Here’s an extract from the chapter describing my work with young people:
A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS
Melinda Tankard Reist is standing before an audience of two hundred girls aged from twelve to eighteen. Neat in their school uniforms, they are seated in curved rows on the floor. Uncharacteristically for this age group, they are utterly silent. Melinda is the founder of Collective Shout, a national network of young women campaigners against the sexual exploitation of women and girls. She will criss-cross to schools across the country giving this talk about ‘sex, porn and love’ dozens of times a year to girls of every ethnicity and demographic. When Melinda finishes speaking, the girls erupt in applause and besiege her with tearful thanks for her message. They will tell stories of their own experience – of being touched or assaulted by boys or men on public transport, of being leered at or spoken to obscenely in the schoolyard. Or, in their relationships with boyfriends, of feeling pressured into doing things they didn’t want to do, and of sexual encounters entered into happily and trustingly, where nice boys that they thought they could trust became aggressive, spoke demeaningly or physically hurt them.
When Melinda talks to boys about these issues, they often express shame and regret, recognizing they have acted in these ways, but not seeing how harmful and disrespectful their behaviour has been. They literally thought this was how you were supposed to treat girls.
The world our kids grow up in today sexually is not a happy place. Sex has been so misused, in advertising, the media and in music videos – and most powerfully of all in the torrent of online pornography – that it has badly distorted what young people think about how it works, and how it can be part of a caring, gradually unfolding relationship.
A recent study by the Burnet Institute in Sydney, Australia, found that 90 per cent of boys and 60 per cent of girls had encountered pornography between the ages of thirteen and sixteen. Thirteen was the average age of first exposure for boys. Forty-four per cent of older teenage boys watch porn weekly, and 37 per cent daily. This indicates a fair bit of exposure. Pornography is a vast and highly profitable industry. Our consumer society is industrializing sexuality, and the kids are its first trial run….
…for the boys who see these depictions, the women in pornography are paid to act as if they like and enjoy this treatment – slapping, strangling, hair-pulling, and being called abusive and demeaning names. For a fourteen-year-old boy the mislearning about what sex is like is bewildering, if not dangerous.
Here is what Melinda (and educators like her) report from talking to adolescent girls:
1. They are being increasingly and persistently pressured into sexual acts that they don’t want or enjoy. This pressure often becomes the central focus of the relationship with boys who they thought liked them or wanted to be with them.
2. When once teenagers enjoyed hours of kissing, or had a relationship consisting of talking, laughing, spending time together and snogging, this now doesn’t happen at all. It’s too much a delay in getting to the goal.
3. Sex isn’t really sexy any more. There is no sensuality, no body pleasure, no tenderness. You are meat to be used. The sex girls have with boys is fourth rate.
4. As a result, by sixteen or seventeen, girls are often totally disillusioned about sex, put off it by the dismal lack of skill, awareness or connection offered by the boys in their lives. It becomes a routine, dreary chore to put up with if you want to be in the company of a male. (How progressive and modern!)
5. Sexual relationships that start at fourteen or fifteen rarely last beyond a few weeks, often less. They create a lowered bar, a kind of resignation, and drift into multiple, equally empty relationships.
This doesn’t just affect the girls who are sexually active. The effect on the social world that all our daughters move in – at school, university or going out in public on the street – is that it is constantly sexualized in an invasive and uncomfortable way. A girl finds she is being ranked and compared on sexual criteria on social media or even to her face. Some boys feel that they are entitled to touch or grope girls, harass them or worse. Some men gaze invasively at girls without any sense of respect or protectiveness.
Girls lose a sense of agency or that their needs matter. Melinda hears girls talk about their first sexual experience, being anxious only about how it was for the boy. ’He seemed to like it.’ ‘I hope I looked OK.’ There is nothing about their own enjoyment.
By mid-secondary school, requests for naked ‘selfies’ come thick and fast. Boys expect this from a girl they are friends with. Girls ask: ‘How can I refuse without hurting his feelings?’ But those photos may be traded among boys, used as revenge, or to blackmail them into having sex, then shared anyway. Girls in many countries have taken their own lives because of the humiliation or betrayal they experience, the sense of having their selves taken away.
Another sad side effect, is that non-sexual, actual friendships – once a great part of being young, and a stepping stone to greater confidence – have almost disappeared as everyone thinks they are supposed to be sexual.
SO WHAT TO DO?
In the face of this avalanche of hurt, the answer that educators and activists are giving girls is on multiple fronts, but has a central core. It’s the thing that sends girls at Melinda’s talks into empowered assertion of their own feelings. You Don’t Have To. Your own sexual wishes, enjoyment, values, and choices, are what you have a right to stand up for. You aren’t in this world to satisfy boys.
I’m finding myself drawn and attracted to the actions of ‘older’ women. Perhaps it’s because I’ve now entered my 50’s, perhaps because I have many women friends a decade or more older women have cared for and mentored me, perhaps it’s (hopefully) wisdom gained through the years where you place value on deeper insights into life, on substance over shallow and on what matters. On Saturday night I had the great pleasure of hearing American blues singer-songwriter, musician, and activist, Bonnie Lynn Raitt who is touring Australia currently. Sassy, smart, passionate, she had us in her hand with her silky smooth voice and command of her guitars. She is 67.
It caused me to reflect further on this piece by Lori Day, an educational psychologist, author, consultant and parenting coach in the US. It sparked huge interest when I shared it on my Facebook pages. So many women related. Some urged their daughters to read it. Lori writes:
‘Ageism is a life-altering injustice affecting women in ways that are different than the effects on men — different in age of onset and degree and personal consequence. If we continue to be erased in the second half of our lives, we will remain stuck in a perpetual cycle of conflating youth with greater social relevance in the first half of our lives, and the patriarchal axiom that women are only valuable when they are young, hot and fertile will continue unchallenged’.
Aging while female is not your worst nightmare
by LORI DAY
I’m going to tell you a story that is so common and so troubling it is effectively split off from the emotional lives of young women, tucked away into whatever neural recesses exist for the purpose of shelving information that feels irrelevant yet distantly threatening. I wonder if young women will read this? The irony is that they probably won’t, and the silently nodding heads will be ones that are graying, like mine.
After passing out of childhood and into puberty, I, like most women, entered a three-decade phase of my life that included an adolescence and young adulthood that was peppered with the sexual harassment, sexism in the workplace, mommy wars, pay gaps, and gendered put-downs that few females escape. It was a huge chunk of time. The issues feminism took up during those years were critical, and they continue to be. I am grateful to all of the women and men who fought and continue to fight for women’s equality, reproductive rights, and freedom from violence and harassment. It is brave and necessary work.
But then something happened, and if not for the mirrors in my house, I would be very confused about what changed and why. Young women, you’ll experience this too, some day. You’ll catch your reflection and your breath at the same time and be abruptly reminded that your exterior no longer matches how you feel inside, and that it now undermines the power of your voice, the voice that took decades to build up. I was talking about this to a friend recently who is 50, one year younger than I am. She said, “Oh wow. I remember my grandmother telling me the exact same thing about being shocked by her reflection in the mirror because she still felt like a young woman inside, and she was 80.” So this probably will not end for me, nor for any of us given the gift of not dying young. It bears remembering.
Men do not catcall me anymore, and I’m happy to have aged out of that, although some of my friends are not. My daughter is grown, so the mommy wars rage on without me. I’m now happy to be self-employed—an escape hatch from workplace sexism that is not available to all women, and one that I fully appreciate. I charge what I want as a consultant and will never again stumble across information at the office that a male co-worker who is younger, less educated and less experienced than me makes more money than me simply because he belongs to the penis-owning gender. I am not free of the physical and sexual dangers all women live with, but they have receded somewhat for me at this stage of my life.
All of this liberation, however, is not entirely freeing. I have simply been transported into the next phase of sexism that comes with middle age, and it’s a dramatic change well illustrated metaphorically by the female body that is ogled and objectified transforming into the female body that is invisible. If the loudest and most heralded voices of contemporary feminism most often belong to the youngest and most sexually appealing women, is this not a hypocritical replication within feminism of what happens in our patriarchal society at large?
I’m looking at perhaps three more decades of my life that will be shaped to some degree by not only misogyny, but by the intersection of misogyny and ageism. That’s a whole bunch of years I never gave the slightest thought to when I was younger. No older woman ever demanded that I think about the fact that it would eventually happen to me. No one asked that I care about it, respond to it, and recognize the unfairness of what can sometimes feel like a one-way feminist street. I temporarily stopped the oncoming freight train of ageism right in its tracks with my indifference, like everyone else my age did. Even in my late-30’s, middle age seemed light years away. I did not read articles like this. They were not about me.
When I recall how I thought about middle-aged and older women when I was younger, I realize I bought into American stereotypes and did so mindlessly. I ascribed to older women a lack of relevance and an inability to contribute meaningfully to a world and a dialogue that was no longer “theirs,” as if ownership of culture rationally belongs to any particular age group over others. My ideas came from where? Television? Movies? Magazines? How silly.
Must this lesson only be learned woman by woman, with the passage of time, and not by the perspicacious use of ones eyes and ears? Because women like me are writing and talking. Trees in the forest are falling. I ask that young women hear. Elective deafness will not stop the train. It will keep rolling down the track, silently and dispassionately. It always arrives.
For me, aging as a woman in America is less about injustices done to me than it is about a subtle undermining of my place within this society and a not-so-subtle disrespect that pops up more with each passing year. For example, if I condemn pornography as systemically damaging to women, it is my age that provokes my labeling as a prude and a pearl-clutcher. It cannot be that I base my opinion on studies and statistics and the understanding that feminism is a movement—one that supports the liberation of all women, not to be confused with individual women who choose to reduce their identities to the sexual uses and abuses of their bodies, calling that empowerment. My age sets me up for a kind of disdain only partially experienced by younger women with the same views. The wisdom that comes with age has little value to anyone but those possessing it, because wisdom is another word for old, and old is what no one wants to be.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I can tell you what it isn’t, at least for me. It isn’t to try to look or act younger. It isn’t to write blog posts about how hot/thin/beautiful/sexy middle-aged women are. They are, but wasting my written voice on championing shallow efforts at continued conformity to what is expected of women in a patriarchal society does not feel productive. It is an insidious capitulation. It entices women my age to trade away opportunities to weigh in on important matters for a chance to be among the “seen” again. I won’t play a game I despise, and that I did not create and cannot win.
To be an aging woman in America is to be constantly bombarded by imagery and media that distance your younger feminist sisters from you, because the idea of no longer resembling those youthful images of femininity and becoming invisible terrifies them. I look like a typical 51-year-old, and it is just bizarre realizing that my appearance is something many young women dread.
Ageism is a life-altering injustice affecting women in ways that are different than the effects on men — different in age of onset and degree and personal consequence. If we continue to be erased in the second half of our lives, we will remain stuck in a perpetual cycle of conflating youth with greater social relevance in the first half of our lives, and the patriarchal axiom that women are only valuable when they are young, hot and fertile will continue unchallenged.
Let’s stick together. Let’s make a conscious effort to stop putting down older women to set oneself apart from them and from an inevitable form of bigotry that cannot presently be escaped. Whatever you think of Madonna at 56, or Jamie Lee Curtis at 56, let’s acknowledge that most of us will one day be 56, if we aren’t already, and we’ll want to define for ourselves what that means.
Surely it will involve relevance and influence, whether we are singers, actors, writers, activists, or any other identity we have chosen and loved. As feminists we are stronger together than apart—women of all races, of all gender expressions, of all sexual orientations, of all socioeconomic classes, of all religions, of all ethnicities, and yes, of all ages, too.
And how a pornified world harms our ability to achieve gender equality
“Pornified messages are bombarding our young people and giving them distorted ideas about their bodies, about relationships, and about sexuality,” says Melinda Tankard Reist, in this podcast interview, “According to global research, (this is) making our kids very unwell.”
We are seeing a rise in negative physical and mental health outcomes, eating disorders, anxiety and depression, self harm, low self-esteem and poor academic performance.
“I believe we are facing a significant crisis amongst our girls,” says Melinda.
Girls are experiencing increasingly negative attitudes towards their bodies, describing themselves as fat, disgusting and unworthy (even to live). Boys are comparing girls’ bodies with porn star bodies on the basis of whether or not they match up.
“And we wonder why girls are anxious and depressed,” says Melinda, “to me the mystery is that any girls make it through unscathed.”
Boys start seeing porn at an average age of 11, often viewing pornography that eroticises and glamorises violence against women.
“We’re teaching boys that violence is sexy,” says Melinda, “We have these national campaigns to address violence against women but we are doing nothing to address the cultural drivers of that very same violence.”
Drivers such as the normative, permission-giving beliefs to boys that girls’ bodies exist for their sexual gratification and pleasure.
“Boys are learning a sense of entitlement to the bodies of women and girls,” says Melinda, “and girls are learning that they exist primarily as sexual service stations for men and boys.”
Girls are so disconnected from their own sense of pleasure, intimacy, and authentic human connection, says Melinda, that when she asked a 15-year-old girl about her first sexual experience, the girl responded, “I think my body looked okay. He seemed to enjoy it.” [Italics, mine]
“Girls shouldn’t have to be navigating sexual requests at 11 and 12 and be assessed on the basis of their bodies,” says Melinda, “they are not being valued for their gifts, their talents, their abilities, their desire to change the world, to be a loving sibling, a devoted friend, their spirituality…they are not being valued for anything other than whether they look hot or not.”
This is making our girls very unwell.
Change is difficult but possible…and every voice counts.
This is the premise behind Collective Shout for a World Free of Sexploitation, a grass roots organisation co-founded by Melinda, that works to address the toxic messages of pornography that give our young people distorted ideas about their bodies, about their relationships, and about sexuality.
Melinda speaks to girls and boys across the country, empowering girls to say no to unwanted sexual intrusions and encouraging boys and girls to seek respect-based relationships.
“It’s difficult and it takes guts,” she says but change is possible and evident in the stories she shares in this interview.
Collective Shout is active politically and also works with corporations that want to take a responsible approach by agreeing not to sexualise women and objectify girls to sell products and services. It’s a big job but Melinda and her team are proof that when voices join together for the common good, they can indeed make a collective SHOUT!
MTR on pornography and gender equality (and a plug for Collective Shout!): Eternity interview
Last year Western Australian Tavern The Sixty30 made an application to vary existing trading conditions to allow topless waitresses. Along with other members of the community and the Commissioner of Police, we lodged an objection on the basis that:
The use of women’s bodies in sexual entertainment and services is a form of prostitution
Sexual trade in women’s bodies both causes and contributes to gender inequality by reducing women to mere objects for men’s use and enjoyment, with adverse impacts on women who are directly involved as well as women as a whole
A significant body of research links sexual objectification of women with violence against women
Sexploitation venues pose a threat to women, with women reporting increased incidents of sexual harassment, abuse and violence in areas in close proximity to strip clubs
After months of deliberating, we are pleased to report that the taverns’ application was denied, after Liquor Licensing found there was insufficient evidence it would be in the public interest. Read the report here.
It is also important to distinguish between the public interest and private interests… the application is primarily concerned with the private financial interests of the Applicant and the operators of Perths Best Girls. Accordingly, I reiterate that the onus remains on the Applicant to demonstrate that the grant of the application is in the public interest, and this onus cannot be discharged by simply pointing to a desire to provide additional services at the licensed premises.
The Applicant has failed to produce sufficient, probative evidence to satisfy me that the grant of the application is in the public interest.
The tavern had attempted to argue there was demand for topless waitresses (with statements of support, the Commissioner noted, predominantly from male respondents). The Commission responded:
The evidence fell well short of establishing that the variation of the licence was in the public interest. Whilst “Dan the Man”, “Show me pussy”, “Robbo”, “Marshy”, “Bob”, “Jacko”, “Swanny”, “Fido”, and others may want to see strippers at the hotel based on their signing of the questionnaire, there is nothing before the Commission that is capable of establishing that the variation of the licence is in the public interest.
As always, we are grateful for your support and participation throughout the course of this campaign. Without it, we would not have achieved this victory.
It’s time pornography was included in discussion of factors contributing to violence against women
I’ve just a released a new DVD!
It’s based on an address I gave to civic leaders, community groups, educators and those at the frontline of addressing domestic violence, in Queensland late last year. I think it’s safe to say it is the first DVD of its kind, unpacking the research on the relationship between pornography and violence as well as drawing from personal experiences shared with me. The back cover reads:
There is renewed debate on the national scourge of violence against women. This debate is to be welcomed. However the role of pornography as a driver of violence has not been properly considered.
In this new 35-minute video, author of Big Porn Inc Melinda Tankard Reist explores the latest research on how porn influences men and boys and eroticises and legitimises violence. She shares young women’s experiences of sexual assault, physical and mental injury, unwanted sexual advances and demands for sexual ’selfies’.
Melinda’s message will help inform you and equip you to join the growing movement against porn and advocate for relationships built on respect.
With Di Macleod after I addressed a conference on pornography and violence against women on the Gold Coast last year.
I am grateful for the support of frontline workers such as Di Macleod, Director, Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence, who wrote this endorsement:
In the past few years we have had a huge increase in intimate partner rape of women from 14 to 80+. The biggest common denominator reported by the victims is consumption of porn by the offender. We have seen a rise in deprivation of liberty, physical injuries, torture, drugging, filming and sharing footage without consent. Melinda Tankard Reist is at the forefront of helping frontline services like ours educate the public on the link between pornography and violence – and the urgent action needed to address it.
I really hope this new DVD will help expand the debate on violence against women to incorporate the role of pornography.
Collective Shout welcomes new laws: calls for other states for follow QLD lead
We at Collective Shout have been protesting Wicked Camper’s misogynist, sexist, violent and rapey car slogans for almost nine years. At a time when we are ‘Counting Dead Women’ here and globally, the boys at Wicked come up with slogans like this:
So naturally we welcome the Queensland Parliament’s passage of laws against offensive slogans last night. This is the first action of its kind by any parliament. It recognises that attitudes shape behaviours. If you sexualise and objectify women and girls in these ways, there are outcomes in the real world. What is needed now is for all states to follow Queensland’s lead. Without this, a vehicle registered in NSW which is covered in offensive slogans can cross the border into Queensland and not be subject to QLD laws. And, after that, a complete overhaul of our advertising standards self-regulatory system. Advertiser’s code of ethics don’t even include ‘objectification’, and ads don’t have to comply with our anti-discrimination laws. There are no fines or penalties for non compliance with an Advertising Standards Board ruling and no powers of enforcement – which is why the QLD Government has had to act at all. If legislators want to get serious about addressing the way women are reduced to sexual objects and how violence against women is legitimized in advertising and marketing, they need to acknowledge that self-regulation has failed. As we wrote in this submission to a NSW Parliamentary last year: ”Despite a number of state and federal inquiries demonstrating the need for systemic reform, media classification and self-regulatory schemes have failed to halt or even slow the proliferation of imagery and messaging through electronic, print and social media and marketing that demeans women, reduces them to sexual objects, fosters a culture which condones sexual violence, and pressures young girls to act in prematurely sexual ways”.
Minister for Main Roads, Road Safety and Ports and Minister for Energy, Biofuels and Water Supply
The Honourable Mark Bailey
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Vile vans vilify no more – it’s the law
Commercial operators who refuse to remove offensive slogans from their vehicles will have their registrations cancelled under new laws coming into force next month.
Main Roads and Road Safety Minister Mark Bailey said legislative changes passed with bipartisan support by the Parliament tonight on the second anniversary of the Palaszczuk Government, showed the government had listened and acted on long-standing community concerns about inappropriate advertising on vehicles.
“With this legislation, vehicles registered in Queensland displaying sexist, obscene or otherwise offensive advertising may face having their registration cancelled,” Mr Bailey said.
“These plans were announced in July last year and were supported by RACQ, Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) and the peak advertising industry body, the Australian Association of National Advertisers.
“This strikes the right balance between firm and fair – if the Advertising Standards Board (the Board) determines that an ad on a Queensland registered vehicle needs to be removed or modified, the registration holder will have a chance to make those changes.
“If those changes aren’t made, the registration of the offending vehicle will be cancelled, simple as that.
“Rather than ignore Board determinations, as has sometimes been the case in the past, registered operators now have a good reason to make the required changes and fall in line with community expectations.”
Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Yvette D’Ath said the Palaszczuk Government had acted on community concerns.
“Many people across the community have been concerned for some time about the derogatory, sexist and outright offensive slogans and cartoons on the side of some commercial Queensland vehicles but previous governments have put this in the too-hard basket,” Mrs D’Ath said.
“The Palaszczuk Government is leading the country in taking action on this issue and we’re working closely with other states and territories to promote a nationally consistent approach to vehicle registration laws on this issue.”
Mr Bailey added that after three years of inaction by the Newman-Nicholls government with their record majority, the Palaszczuk Government has passed this legislation on its second anniversary in government.
The Transport Operations (Road Use Management) (Offensive Advertising) Amendment Bill 2016 came about after extensive co-operation between the Department of Justice and the Attorney-General, the Department of Transport and Main Roads, and the ASB.
The new laws are expected to be in force by 31 March 2017.
That’s the motto of the just released film Fifty Shades Darker, the second in the trilogy of films adapted from E.L. James’s Fifty Shades pulp fiction series.
James’s books have become a global sensation, drawing in everything from hardware stores selling rope to retail fashion outlets selling themed lingerie to pre-schools hosting screenings for fundraisers.
But if, as the promotion claims, this second instalment is the “dark side” of the “fairy tale” does this mean that every little girl secretly desires to be whipped, choked, harassed, stalked, manipulated and made to suffer physical and emotional injury at the hands of her prince?
After all, Anastasia is subject to this and more in the first instalment, which I saw – along with a cinema full of schoolgirls in uniform.
And herein lies the problem.
Abuse is served up to young women as romance: the first film was released on Valentine’s Day two years ago; the second in the lead up. Why say it with roses when you can say it with whips? In Fifty Shades of Grey Christian tells Anastasia that if she were his she wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week (because of the damage he would do).
This is a fairy tale in which the female lead is beaten with a belt and covered in bruises as tears stream down her face. Soothed only by his strong jaw, his baby grand, sports car and helicopter.
The film’s trailers pose the question: “Can love survive?” – meaning, of course, that Fifty Shades of Grey was about just that. Because nothings says true love like being controlled and stalked.
Fifty Shades is part of a wider culture in which women are taught their greatest power comes from being an object of male desire. We see a powerful man, corporate power player Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) prey on a naive university student, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) whose virginity is a problem to be rectified. He proceeds to groom her for his sadistic pleasure. Sexual violence and emotional abuse – including threats, stalking and isolation – are represented as sexy and romantic.
What is in reality intimate partner violence becomes something women secretly desire – which puts all women at risk.
The first film depicted sexual violence – forced sex acts, contact against Anastasia’s will (stalking) and the use of alcohol to compromise consent. Anastasia Steele signs a contract in which she agrees to be submissive and meet Christian Grey’s every wish – and not just for the sex acts he wants. His specifications include what she can eat, how much she can drink and how she behaves at all times.
When unequal power relations and female submission are presented, not only as somehow romantic and desirable but as actually liberating and empowering, you know you’ve got a serious problem.
“Our systematic analysis of Fifty Shades of Grey, the first novel in the trilogy, reveals pervasive emotional and sexual violence in Christian and Anastasia’s relationship. Our analysis also shows Anastasia suffers significant harm as a result – including constant perceived threat, managing/altering her behaviors to keep peace in the relationship, lost identity and disempowerment and entrapment as her behaviors become mechanized in response to Christian’s abuse.
“Christian uses an interlocking pattern of emotional abuse strategies – stalking, intimidation, isolation, and humiliation – to manipulate and control every aspect of Anastasia’s behavior. These strategies are consistent with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definitions of intimate partner violence.”
This is borne out by something that Teagan, a survivor of abuse, shared with me: “As someone who has recently gotten out of a abusive bdsm relationship I know what it’s like and this movie represents abuse. Currently reading the books now and actually reading what Anastasia feels really hits deep for me and I understand it all.” Sounds more like a nightmare than a fairy tale.
I think there are a few reasons for this romanticisation of intimate partner violence, each interconnected. The global sex industry is very good at getting its tentacles into everything. It knows how to embed and normalize porn-themed practices and ideas. Thus we have Target selling Fifty Shades of Grey themed lingerie and hardware stores selling Fifty Shades packs including rope, duct tape and other BDSM paraphernalia.
The broader culture effectively grooms women and girls for pornography consumption. Women imbibe a message that adopting pornified roles and behaviours is how they will attract men, keep men interested, stop them “wandering.”
In porn culture, women are sexual objects for male sexual gratification and pleasure. They are always available and willing, and they never say no. They enjoy painful and degrading sex acts done to them. Women are told they should want to be brutalized, to enjoy and welcome male sexual aggression We are encouraged to embrace it and find power in being dominated and brutalized by men. Fifty Shades highlights just how effective pornography has been in infiltrating the mainstream, with women now readily accepting their sexually subordinate position.
Women are supposed to enjoy porn, including violent BDSM inspired sex. The most popular genres of pornography feature violence against women – with women depicted as deriving pleasure from it. A young woman I know asked her new (now ex) husband, “How can I make it more like porn for you?” because he wasn’t interested in a normal (that is, non-pornified) woman. We are offered a commercialized version of sexuality. The latest manifestation of this is of an especially violent variety because everything else has been “done before.” Violence is the new black.
One repercussion is that women start to think there is something wrong with them if they don’t like this stuff. And teen girls think this is what “romance” looks like. So many young women describe coercion and pressure to accept sex acts they neither desire or enjoy. This film just adds to that pressure. I’ve had year 7 girls at an Anglican school ask me questions about BDSM. They want to know if a boy wants to whip them, choke them and tie them up does this mean he must really like them? Stalking comes to be seen as a sign of affection. I’ve read messages from boys on Facebook threads about the film saying how great it is because now they can get girls to do what they’ve always wanted them to do.
How will our young people understand what true intimacy and authentic human connection looks like when porn-based messages about sex dominate their formative environments?
“Girls around the world are born into a pornified culture where consent is rendered irrelevant. In real life, men use the same tactics as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades trilogy to gain and maintain power and control over the women in their lives. This includes isolation, threats, physical and sexual assault. This is not entertainment. This is not sexy. This results in serious harm to women and in the worst case scenario, murder.”
We don’t have to see it. But any depiction of violence as romantic harms us all. As we say in our 50 Myths post: “Fifty Shades is a massively popular cultural phenomenon, perpetuating and reinforcing harmful attitudes about violence against women. Women cannot simply opt out of a culture that exploits or harms them.”
This is about raising awareness of the film and domestic violence. We want people to recognize that Fifty Shades glorifies abuse of women, and to ask themselves whether that is something they really want to support financially.
We are calling for potential cinema goers to put their money toward financially supporting some of the frontline services for women that are so desperate for funding instead. My friends who work in the women’s refuge sector tell me that their refugees are full of the victims of the Christian Grey’s of this world.
To get behind this campaign, you can participate on social media by using the #50dollarsnot50shades and #FiftyShadesIsAbuse hashtags; or for more information, visit the Collective Shout website.
Chocolate slice-shaming: Are we giving kids the wrong messages about food?
By Melinda Tankard Reist
About 15 years ago, a message was sent home from my daughter’s primary school teacher. It wasn’t about chocolate slice. It was about her hair.
My then six-year-old’s head was covered in tight, thick ringlets. While many clucked and cooed about her “gorgeous” hair, they didn’t have to wash it, or try to get a brush through it.
It was an ordeal, one I approached with dread — she’d cry and flail about. And so it wasn’t washed or brushed as often as more patient parents might have done.
(I also had two other children and a baby who needed attention.)
But then came the message from school: I must brush my daughter’s hair. Apparently it was unacceptable to send her to school with hair unkempt.
I felt put down. We might have tried a bit harder. Or we might have gone on as usual until she was old enough to do it herself (which was more likely).
Still, that teacher was lucky I wasn’t on social media in those days.
The story of my daughter’s hair came rushing back to mind this week when my long-time friend posted on Facebook a note her three-year-old’s kindergarten had sent home on the child’s first day.
“Your child has ‘chocolate slice’ from the Red Food category today,” the note, which featured a sad face, said. “Please choose healthier options for Kindy.”
When I reposted her note, along with the message, “I told her to put in two slices tomorrow and tell them to get lost”, I had no idea it would trigger such outrage.
It was shared hundreds of times, and was written up in news media outlets around the world.
Since then, I have been fielding media requests around the clock (will someone get me some bloody chocolate slice, please?!).
When ‘organic, sugarless’ muffins are sent home
The offending hedgehog slice (one mum, who texted in to 2UE, called it “satanic slice”) had been homemade for a birthday celebration and, as per family tradition, leftovers went to school the next day.
I’ve known my friend for a quarter of a century — I know the kind of mum she is. She makes everything from scratch, including bread, and bakes like there’s no tomorrow for her eight children.
Her kids are the kind who read books instead of watch TV. My friend and her husband both have degrees in health science — she is also a writer and researcher.
She felt bad that she had broken the rules.
But the note — and condescending sad face on angry red paper — felt intrusive to me.
It could make children think that mummy and daddy had done something very wrong to receive something like that from their teacher.
Of course, I understand the importance of healthy eating policies. I appreciate that harried teachers are most likely just trying to carry out school policy (while also not being trained dieticians).
But I’m concerned about where this approach to eating takes us.
Since my post went viral, stories from similarly frustrated parents have flooded in.
I’ve been told of cases of children whose food was sent home uneaten — because it was not “approved” — and the child has had nothing to eat all day.
Organic, sugarless zucchini muffins; banana, almond meal and chia muffins; and homemade (nut-free) bliss balls have all been sent home.
Children have been told they were meant to have sandwiches, not muffins — even when their muffin could not have been healthier.
‘I can’t eat cake, Mum, it will make me fat’
Cupcakes — which had less sugar and calories than green-lit muesli bars — have also been sent home uneaten, according to one mum who did the calculations.
Another mother told me of a time when she’d sent her kid to school with a lunch box filled with apples, carrots, raisins and chicken … and a single, tiny chocolate egg, which the teacher promptly confiscated.
“My son was devo,” she said. “Then after school [the teacher] lectured me about healthy lunches. I blew my head off!”
Some parents told of children hiding in the schoolyard to eat homemade cookies, afraid of being discovered. Others said their children were ashamed to eat treats even at home — hiding food and eating it privately away from the family.
Children as young as six are presenting with eating disorders, and anti-obesity messages are partly to blame, the Butterfly Foundation says.
One young girl had reportedly stopped eating chocolate cake in any context. “Mum, I can’t eat chocolate cake because it will make me fat,” she told her mother.
When children see food as “good” or “bad” it can set them up for eating disorders.
Some eating disorder specialists I work with say the bombardment of messages around obesity is causing food anxiety and contributing to disordered eating behaviour in children.
It’s also worth considering the fact that many kids go to school without any food at all.
As Alice, who is training to be a primary teacher, wrote to me privately:
“I’ve seen kids come with no food at all on such a regular basis that every lunch time the teacher would collect uneaten food from other kids’ lunch boxes to put into a snack drawer to feed those kids who came to school without.”
She added: “It’s great this school is concerned about what their students are eating, because it does affect their performance in the classroom.
“But I think they have lost perspective here. Is it necessary to shame parents for what they put in the lunchbox?”
My friend ended up digging out the kindergarten’s food policy, which banned only “processed” cakes and biscuits. She hadn’t broken the rules after all.
But it seems an important discussion has begun.
Hopefully it results in positive outcomes for parents, schools and — most importantly — children.
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