A few years ago Stella Young interviewed me for a TV program on disability, following the release of my book Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics. I found her intelligent, articulate, feisty, charming, with a wild sense of humour. We had to keep stopping the interview because she made me laugh so much.
Here’s a powerful and poignant piece she wrote only a month before her passing.
Dying with dignity: let’s focus more on the latter
By Stella Young
And so when people ask me why I am opposed to legalising assisted suicide, this is what I tell them: The medical industrial complex has an inaccurate, but incredibly powerful, view on my life. Disability is often framed, in medical terms, as the ultimate disaster and certainly as a deficit.
Indeed, some of my most profound experiences of ableism have taken place in the context of a hostile hospital environment…
Death is not treatment, even if it’s medically facilitated.
Doctors are not fortune tellers and neither am I. Having lived with disability since birth does not afford me immunity from illness. Of course, when the time comes, I would like a dignified death. But while I’m alive, I also want a medical profession that is just as willing to keep me alive as they are to assist me to die….
Conversations about dying with dignity are important. But we must first ensure we’re all able to live with dignity. Read full article
And this, Stella’s letter to her 80-year-old self
“… Mum and Dad, who never wanted me to be anything other than what I am. Who never expressed a scrap of disappointment that I wasn’t quite what they were told to expect. Who, despite being told not to have any more children because of the risk they’d have my condition, went on to have my two beautiful sisters. I think that’s the thing I love them for the most; that they didn’t see disaster, when those around them could speak of little else.” Read full article
In Grand Theft Auto V, an R-rated video game that allows players to attack and kill women in the sex trade, I would have been the character who gets left by the sidewalk, bleeding and unconscious. Or hit with bats, run down, set alight still screaming and graphically murdered – for game points, or maybe just ‘for fun.’
I was in the sex industry in my early 20s. But instead of the virtual world of GTA V – the abuse I suffered, while not as extreme as those in the game, was terrifyingly real.
It has taken me almost ten years to get my life back on track and to recover from the sexual violence and abuse I faced. I still live with flashbacks, nightmares, and crippling depression and anxiety.
Last week, together with two other women, I started a change.org petition requesting Target to pull GTA V from its shelves. The reason behind the campaign is simple: that a game exists which makes ‘enjoyment’ out of the kind of abuse I lived through in real life is sickening. For survivors of abuse, it adds insult to injury to think someone could get a thrill out of violence against women, even if it was in a ‘virtual world’.
In GTA V, a new ‘first-person player mode’ feels more realistic than ever. This includes a more realistic depiction of sex acts with women (who are largely represented as prostitutes) – and the options that follow of being able to kill them with machetes, guns or bats to get their virtual money back.
Making it all the more disturbing was having a retailer I shop at which sells and promotes this kind of game. As recently as last week, Target was advertising Grand Theft Auto next to Peppa Pig. This was being marketed at parents buying Christmas toys.
It sent a terrifying message. This is a game that has ingrained misogyny and graphic violence against women. It breeds an acceptance of abuse in our world; abuse from which I’ve been trying desperately to recover – and by stocking this game, major retailers are lending their credibility to it.
Despite potential backlash, I couldn’t stay silent about this. The fact that over 40,000 parents, customers, and advocates got behind our change.org petition showed we weren’t the only ones. The response to our campaign exceeded our wildest expectations – and forced Target to listen to their customers.
Since then, gamers have launched vicious and violent attack on myself and other women who dared to speak up. We’ve had threats of rape and torture. To mutilate us and set us on fire.
One gamer has threatened to locate us and publicise where we live. Another has superimposed the face of a friend onto the body of a murdered woman lying in blood, in a scene from the game.
“I’m going on GTA V right now and pretending every ugly c—t is you”, tweeted another hater to her.
Ironically, these abusers claim this game does not perpetuate violence, and yet they continue to send women horrific violent threats online.
Gamers also argue that games like GTA V have no impact on real life violence, despite research published earlier this year showing violent video games increases aggression, aggression-related variables and decreases pro-social outcomes.
Sadly, many women don’t need studies to tell us that. We know because we’ve lived it. We know how violence can start with ‘playful’ remarks and turn into dangerous, controlling behaviour. We’ve seen the violence implicitly condoned in these games play out in real life.
The ‘thrill and pleasure’ that gamers get off violence against women in GTA V makes the world less safe. Not because every gamer turns into the abuser – but because it breeds a casual acceptance of violence against women.
Stripping GTA V from the shelves of retailers like Target and Kmart won’t change that culture overnight. It’s one step among many — like the recent #takedownjulienblanc campaign – that will help dismantle the culture of violence against women in years to come.
It may not be a popular debate, but it’s one that Australia desperately needs.
1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732): 24 hour, National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault. Lifeline: 131 114
Grand Theft Auto: lesson learned the hard way
By Brendan Keogh
…there is no denying the deeply rooted misogyny and sexism of the series.
Of Grand Theft Auto V’s three playable characters, all are men. The vast majority of the women depicted by the game’s narrative are either passive victims to be killed or rescued, or sex workers to be killed or used. While the series’ supporters have long used the excuse of “satire” to justify the story lines, there is no critique of the social attitudes depicted; it simply perpetuates them…
The petition signers are completely right: Grand Theft Auto V’s treatment of women is terrible. That they would want to complain about this, and that Target and now K-Mart might listen to them is neither shocking nor outrageous.
… it is not a case of censorship, and it is not a case of an ignorant mainstream being paranoid about a medium they do not understand. Rather, it is a group of people with legitimate concerns about an incredibly popular cultural work perpetuating toxic politics, and taking the reasonable approach of directing their valid concerns to retailers who often explicitly market such adult products directly to children. If videogames want cultural relevancy, they need to deal with cultural responsibility… Videogames no longer exist on the margins of popular culture, and if they are going to uncritically present problematic material, they need to be ready to face the consequences. Read full article
The Video Game Industry Has Only itself to Blame for Misogyny and Harassment
The thing is, it’s not just a vocal minority. It’s a vocal minority that actually participates in the cruelest harassment, but we’re kidding ourselves to think they are somehow separate from a culture characterized by video games. Just play a match of more or less any competitive online game and listen to the number of times you hear the word “rape:” despite what we may think, this is not normal or inevitable. What it is, however, is a natural byproduct of the games we play.
We all know, at least on some level, that games have a massive problem with depictions of women…
It’s not a tremendous leap to assume that a community of consumers and producers is going to develop some intensely dysfunctional aggression and misogyny when this is the cultural background that we’re interacting with… It all comes from somewhere. If the “gamer” community is defined by playing certain games, then it will inevitably be colored by the content of those games. This recent virulent hatred directed towards women in the industry should serve as some proof. Read full article
The petition win is all over the media right now: on ABC News, news.com.au, Sunrise, Guardian Australia, Herald Sun, even reaching international outlets like AP, Forbes, UK’s Telegraph newspaper and others!
This is a huge win. For years, games like Grand Theft Auto have got away with this in-game misogyny and sexual violence.
It’s games like this that normalise rape and sexual violence. You’ve helped send a message to family retailers and brands that their consumers have had enough, and they’ve started listening.
We’re now asking outlets like Big W and Woolworths whether they’re going to stand up against Grand Theft Auto’s violence against women as well.
Yesterday on its Facebook page, White Ribbon wrote: “Target & Kmart have taken Grand Theft Auto V off the shelves. What are your thoughts?” With the question they posted a negative piece from a gaming site about the response of these corporates to our campaign (they posted no neutral or positive pieces). This was my response late last night:
Melinda Tankard Reist: What are OUR thoughts? Like you can’t actually take a stand on this yourselves? And you post a negative piece about the Change.org petition written by three women survivors of violence? You have nothing to say about the mainstreaming and normalising of violence against women, about treating the abuse of women as a game and as entertainment, about the importance of corporate social responsibility and ethical business leadership? We have often asked your support on campaigns and get nothing. Why are you in this for? What do you actually represent? Many of us – including women survivors of violence – are asking this question.
This morning White Ribbon has posted this:
White Ribbon believes that all forms of violence are wrong and we do not condone any form of entertainment that features violence against women. Thank you for sharing your opinions with us about Grand Theft Auto V – open conversation is the first step to raising awareness of men’s violence against women and changing people’s attitudes and behaviours.
We are in discussion with leaders in the games industry about this issue, and the broader issues of violence against women and the representation of women, as we have with the sports industry. This is an ongoing and long-term discussion that we have been engaged in for a while now. Achieving change is a long process and is most effective when we work together.
GTAV ‘discourages violence against women’ claims SMH journalist on The Drum.
Very disappointed with the coverage of GTAV, Change.org petition of 45,000 signatures and Target and Kmart response on ABC The Drum last night. (view from 18:00).
Did you see it? SMH journalist Kate McClymont quoting gamers against actual survivors of violence against women who wrote the petition. She said of the game “It’s actually discouraging violence against women.” And Paul Bongiorno saying it may have been a “stunt” and commenting on the“amazing graphics”. Couldn’t the producers find someone who actually knew what they were talking about? I expected more than this poor quality coverage.
This is how GTAV discourages violence against women
‘They referred to their abuse as a game’
Anita Sarkeesian speaks about her experience of online harassment and cyber mobs. It’s two years old but a must see.
People power forces Wicked Campers to withdraw misogynistic marketing
Wicked Campers withdraws sexist slogans from vans after 110,000-strong change.org petition; petition starter Paula Orbea says it’s a “people powered win against sexism”
The campervan company at the centre of a people-powered revolt over sexist van slogans has today issued an apology and committed to reviewing and removing sexist or misogynistic marketing from all vans in the next six months.
Paula Orbea, the Sydney school teacher who started the 110,000-strong change.org petition against Wicked Campers says it’s a stunning people-power victory against sexism, with the result coming just four days after starting the petition.
In an email from Wicked Campers received by Paula, she says they’ve offered a personal apology, have now removed the sexist slogan Paula’s daughter saw, committed to reviewing and removing insensitive slogans from all vans in the next six months. The statement reads: “Wicked Campers Owner, John Webb wishes to acknowledge the prevailing community opinion by REMOVING the slogan in question and making a commitment over the coming six months to changing slogans of an insensitive nature.”
Wicked Campers have been at the centre of numerous ad watchdog complaints and social media backlashes in the past, and Paula says that it was the change.org petition which gathered more than 110,000 sigantures that made the difference.
“I’m overjoyed at the result, and commend Wicked Campers for eventually listening to consumers that their misogynistic slogans weren’t acceptable.”
“This was a people power win. The change.org petition worked just as it intended, with more than 110,000 people signing, it was an overwhelming show of community support.”
“The kind of sexism and misogyny on those Wicked Campers vans isn’t trivial – it’s degrading to women, harmful for our children to consume, and condones a rape culture that sees one-in-three Australian women sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.
“I’m pleased my daughter said something, and that we stood up against it. It’s important that we call out sexism wherever it exists – and my change.org petition enabled me to actually make a difference and win change.”
Paula is urging those offended by the vans to continue to call out examples of misogynistic and offending vans by contacting the company and posting on social media about them – and she will be monitoring the company’s progress in removing offending slogans.
Karen Skinner, Australian Director of change.org says it’s an example of the growing success womens activism is having through online petitions.
“More than ever before, women are calling out everyday sexism and fighting back through social media and change.org petitions.”
“Online tools are giving women the ability to join together and achieve change incredibly quickly, in stark contrast to the individual complaints processes.”
“Women’s rights issues are among the most popular on change.org, and women make up more than 60% of our most active users. There’s a growing community going online and winning on these once-ignored issues.”
Unanimous vote for Greens anti-Wicked Campers motion in Senate
The Senate has unanimously passed a Greens’ motion condemning the sexist, misogynistic and racist slogans that Wicked Campers have on their hire vans.
“The Senate is sending a strong message that promoting violence against women is completely unacceptable in Australian society,” Senator Larissa Waters, Australian Greens spokesperson for women, said.
“I’m pleased to hear that Wicked Campers have said they will remove the specific slogan that sparked on online petition signed by more than 120 000 people, and have committed to remove more of what they describe as “insensitive” slogans in coming months.
“I wholeheartedly congratulate and thank Paula Orbea, who started the petition after her 11-year-old daughter read the slogan which incited sexual violence against women and girls.
“Paula has shown that by calling out sexism and misogyny, we can put a stop to it, and change the culture that normalises and condones it.
“These sexist slogans promote violence against women, which is sadly a massive problem in Australia.
“One in every three Australian women over the age of 15 have experienced violence and one in every five have experienced sexual violence.
“Most often women know their attacker, with one Australian woman a week killed by her partner or ex-partner.
“Violence against women is certainly no laughing matter – it is a national emergency,” Senator Waters said.
Wicked assigns women and girls to a place of inferiority: Dr Helen Pringle
…Wicked Campers is a serial offender at the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB), which has formally considered dozens of complaints against the company since 2008. What is most striking over that time is that the ASB has completely failed to counter the campaign of derision and intimidation against Australian girls and women by the company. In fact, in the last two years, Wicked Campers has simply not responded in any way to complaints lodged with the ASB, or to determinations against its conduct by the Bureau. And the Bureau is powerless in the face of the company’s contempt for it….
One of the most egregious violations by the company did not even become the subject of a complaint to the ASB. During the 2012 Queensland state election campaign, a company campervan was painted with a garish cartoon of a naked middle-aged woman, with her legs spread wide apart so as to expose her whole body to the world, and her genitals obscured by two squares, marked as 1 (her vagina) and 2 (her anus). The caption to the cartoon shouted out to its audience, “Tick the Right Box!”. The cartoon represented Anna Bligh, then Queensland premier, who had earlier criticised the company’s use of a racist slogan on a van (“Save a Whale – Harpoon a Jap!”)…
In his book The Harm in Hate Speech, Jeremy Waldron argues that a flourishing and fair society rests on the equal standing and treatment of its members – and on the recognition and assurance of that equality in society’s “signage”. The Wicked camper vans assign girls and women to a place of inferiority and frustrate the assurance of equality to which we are entitled, in public places just as in workplaces. Read full article
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“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
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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”
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“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
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“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
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“Melinda Tankard Reist is at the forefront of helping…educate the public on the link between pornography and violence…” – Di Macleod, Director, Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence
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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.