Ja feel men’s fashion label: corporate sexual predator promoting non-consensual sex acts
Ja feel men’s fashion label: corporate sexual predator promoting non-consensual sex acts.
Australian company, Ja feel, promotes the sexual abuse and degradation of women and girls (as well as pornographic imagery and racist stereotypes) all in the name of marketing their “lifestyle brand.”
The Perth-based retail company, which promotes itself as a clubbing and music festival label and ships its misogyny worldwide, is, in reality, a corporate sexual predator.
You can see how committed they are to promoting rape culture based on images from their social media accounts. Read more
We feel you need to be shut down
Just when you think it can’t get worse…
How is this Australian company allowed to promote the sexual abuse and degradation of women and girls in this way? Perth-based Ja feel, which promotes itself as a clubbing and music festival label and ships its misogyny worldwide, is, in reality, a corporate sexual predator.
Here are some images from their social media accounts.
See how committed they are to promoting rape culture (if the meaning is unclear, the reference below is to a man shifting from vaginal to anal penetration without consent then pretending to be sorry about it).
See how they love giving women the pornified treatment and teaching boys they are entitled to women’s bodies. (#TittyTuesday and #ThongThursday are among their popular hashtags).
See how they feature even a young girl in a sexually suggestive way, with the elephant’s trunk as phallic symbol (there’s a popular porn- themed racist stereotype in this one too).
And, here are stickers, complete with instructions on sticking them on a woman’s breasts.
Echoing rape culture slogans, migrating porn images into every day advertising, grooming a whole generation of boys to prey upon women because that’s what ‘men’s lifestyle’ means now, Ja feel is building the scaffolding which reinforces sexist attitudes creating an environment where violence against women is flourishing. We feel your hate.
Australia is in the midst of a public health crisis. Men’s violence against women and children has reached epidemic proportions. It manifests in rape, battering, abuse and even murder.
White Ribbon statistics indicate that up to one in three women will be a victim of physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. In 2012 Victoria Police Commissioner Ken Lay revealed that officers respond to domestic violence calls every ten minutes.
A woman is murdered by a current or former partner in Australia every week. Domestic Violence NSW has made an impassioned plea via a petition to Prime Minister Tony Abbott “to recognise domestic and family violence as a national emergency” and take action.
Despite the prevalence of men’s violence against women, there is little if any discussion about why some men beat, rape, abuse and murder them. Instead, the national dialogue surrounding the issue shifts attention from male perpetrators and onto female victims.
We ask, ‘Why don’t they leave?’ instead of ‘Why do some men kill women?’ In focusing on the behavior of victims rather than male perpetrators, the burden of responsibility for men’s violence- and for stopping it- is placed on women.
The language commonly used to describe male violence is itself watered down- named domestic violence, family violence- terms that fail to identify the gendered nature of this violence. This glosses over the reality that perpetrators are overwhelmingly men and victims primarily women and children. Read more
Another example of the abuse women receive for speaking out
By Caitlin Roper
Last week, The Australian newspaper reported that Channel Seven’s 7mate would be broadcasting the Lingerie Football. To all those who are unfamiliar with this spectacle, yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. While many accomplished women’s sporting leagues in Australia are both competitive and successful, media coverage is reserved for those women’s leagues where the uniforms consist of lingerie.
Some supporters of the Lingerie Football League, including players and men who didn’t like their access to sweaty, lingerie clad women challenged, referred to my petition on various pages on Facebook. They googled me looking for something they could use against me. I was labeled a “jealous bitch”, obviously fat and ugly, and most likely bitter that my husband was fan of Lingerie Football. I was too ugly to land a partner. I should be sent to “Guantanimo (sic) Bay” (an overreaction I thought, but still) and I probably think “walking to the kitchen for another jam donut counts as exercise” (that last one is true.)
A small sample below:
I considered responding with some facts- that I am happily married, that I work out several times a week and that I am not ugly. Then I recalled this was a classic silencing tactic I had experienced many times before– tearing women down by criticizing their physical appearance.
Women in our hyper-sexualised culture are valued for their physical attractiveness and their ability to please men sexually. Conforming to limited, stereotypical, pornified ideals of beauty and sexuality, we learn, is where our power lies. As Gail Dines writes in Pornland:
“In a porn culture, our power lies, we are told, not in our ability to shape the institutions that determine our life chances, but in having a hot body that men desire and women envy.”
In a porn culture, women can be either “f*ckable” or “invisible”. With this in mind, being regarded as an undesirable woman with nothing to offer could be potentially upsetting.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been subjected to abuse for speaking out against sexism and misogyny.
It is telling that my opponents’ first course of action was to call me fat and ugly, and that these were perceived as the most stinging insults they could unleash. What if I was fat or ugly? What if I am? If my face and body are not sufficiently pleasing to the male gaze should I be rendered voiceless?
I have more to offer than my body and I have more to offer than being pretty, as do all women and girls. Our obsession with being hot is merely a distraction.
Women are more and should be viewed as more. Unfortunately, from my experiences, the day women are recognized for their contributions and not their bodies still seems a long way off.
Lingerie Football: An open response to an open letter
An open letter “To those who oppose the LFL in Australia” was posted on our [Collective Shout] Facebook page yesterday.
Elise – an athlete who has recently joined an LFL team – asked us to read and consider her views on the LFL.
You can read Elise’s open letter here. (Opens PDF)
Thanks so much for writing to share your views on the Lingerie Football League.
Firstly, we do understand that the owner of the League has changed the name and brand to “Legends Football League” and has very slightly modified the bikini/lingerie style uniform he requires players to wear, by removing some lace and a garter and modifying shoulder pads.
The changes are so minor we don’t understand how anyone could take this seriously. The rebrand is nothing more than a cynical attempt at making the League more appealing to potential sponsors who may be put off by supporting a “Lingerie Football League.” (Readers can view the big announcement here.)
Despite a “rebrand”, the essence of the “sport” remains the same – providing titillation for men at the expense of women’s health and safety. Hence, we’re not buying into this “rebrand” and will continue referring to it as the Lingerie Football League.
Lingerie Football – whatever one chooses to call it – is not a sport. It is not recognized by the Australian Sports Commission. They do not support it.
The LFL has drained the bank accounts of former players in the US by not providing adequate compensation for serious injuries. Players understood that their injuries would be covered when they paid the insurance premiums offered by the LFL, but were instead left thousands of dollars in debt. Players who spoke out publicly about these experiences were threatened with legal action. As you’re probably aware, the US does not have the same healthcare system enjoyed by Australians, so adequate health insurance should be the highest priority for the LFL, particularly when safety equipment is the lowest priority.
Sport can indeed be an expensive pursuit and athletes are not always compensated for participation unless they are sponsored.
Now that the Lingerie Football League has a “contract” with Channel 7 and 7 Mate, will players be paid?
It doesn’t look likely. LFL owner Mitch Mortaza stated just this month to US program Inside Edition (watch below) that the league could not afford to pay players. It has been suggested by a US sports commentator that the Leagues foray into Canada and Australia is motivated in part by our health care system. Mortaza will pocket the profits from these events and Australian Medicare will foot the bill for injuries if private health insurance offered to Australian LFL players turns out to be inadequate.
The athletic skill of the women involved in the Lingerie Football League is not in question. There is no “attack” on the players of the LFL. If there is an “attack” it is directed firmly at the owner of the LFL and any corporation complicit in his exploitation of women for profit.
Some players have commented that they are not “skinny” and therefore promote positive body image. The question is asked “would you rather your daughter look like a Victoria’s Secret model or an LFL player?”
Are those really the only options? And why is physical appearance so important?
We would rather our girls not be pressured to look a certain way at all and instead be recognised for their skill and expertise in whatever activities they choose to participate in.The LFL reinforces that physical appearance and conforming to a narrow standard of beauty is what is most important, over and above athletic skill.
If Lingerie Football is about skill, then unfortunately fans didn’t get the memo. The sexist, degrading comments on social media and elsewhere about LFL player’ss bodies and what sort of sexual acts fans would like to perform are absolutely disgusting. (example) The “sport” is marketed in such a way as to invite and allow this behaviour and creates an environment that is hostile and discriminatory to women and girls. This is institutional sexual harassment. No sporting body should promote or allow this behaviour but sexual harassment is built into the business model of the LFL.
Yes, the League exists because it is “marketed well.” There is a huge market demand for pornography, prostitution, stripping and other forms of sexual exploitation. Men have not suddenly decided to embrace women’s sport. Channel 7 and 7Mate has not decided to embrace women’s sport and therefore, the LFL will not encourage other stations to embrace women’s sport. The LFL is not some new cutting edge concept, this is not the “fastest growing sport.” This is not sport at all, this is the same old sexual objectification of women, repackaged and “rebranded.”
To say if “we don’t like it don’t watch simple!” – Yes, that is a very simple statement, but it is a completely ineffective response to sexual objectification in our culture.
I don’t like it, I don’t watch it, but I have to live in a community with people who do. I have to live in a community with people whose sexist attitudes towards women are reinforced by sexploitation events. I have to live in a community with people whose ideas that women are objects of sexual recreation are affirmed by these events.
A culture in which women and girls are seen as sexual objects is one in which relationships between men and women suffer and sexual harassment and violence against women thrives. I and other women and girls are harmed by this toxic culture, even if I have never personally played football in my underwear, participated in a beauty pageant or stripped off my clothes in a nightclub.
Sexual objectification of women and girls harms all women, not just those who say they choose to participate. “Don’t like it, don’t watch it” makes as much sense as saying “don’t like pollution, don’t breathe.”
Elise, we thank you for taking the time to share your views and to provide information about the recent developments in the LFL. These minor changes to the League- if they can be called changes at all – do not change our views on the exploitative nature of the League.
Clearly we disagree on this and will continue challenging the Lingerie Football League’s introduction to Australia. However, we do wish you and your fellow athletes all the very best.
‘I hadn’t anticipated the massive backlash from the boys’
… I started to notice how much the girls at my school suffer because of the pressures associated with our gender. Many of the girls have eating disorders, some have had peers heavily pressure them into sexual acts, others suffer in emotionally abusive relationships where they are constantly told they are worthless…
What I hadn’t anticipated on setting up the feminist society was a massive backlash from the boys in my wider peer circle. They took to Twitter and started a campaign of abuse against me. I was called a “feminist bitch”, accused of “feeding [girls] bullshit”, and in a particularly racist comment was told “all this feminism bull won’t stop uncle Sanjit from marrying you when you leave school”.
Our feminist society was derided with retorts such as, “FemSoc, is that for real? #DPMO” [don't piss me off] and every attempt we made to start a serious debate was met with responses such as “feminism and rape are both ridiculously tiring”.
The more girls started to voice their opinions about gender issues, the more vitriolic the boys’ abuse became. One boy declared that “bitches should keep their bitchiness to their bitch-selves #BITCH” and another smugly quipped, “feminism doesn’t mean they don’t like the D, they just haven’t found one to satisfy them yet.” Any attempt we made to stick up for each other was aggressively shot down with “get in your lane before I par [ridicule] you too”, or belittled with remarks like “cute, they got offended”.
I fear that many boys of my age fundamentally don’t respect women. They want us around for parties, banter and most of all sex. But they don’t think of us as intellectual equals, highlighted by accusations of being hysterical and over sensitive when we attempted to discuss serious issues facing women…
We were told that our “militant vaginas” were “as dry as the Sahara desert”, girls who complained of sexual objectification in their photos were given ratings out of 10, details of the sex lives of some of the girls were posted beside their photos, and others were sent threatening messages warning them that things would soon “get personal”. Read full article here
…So what’s the solution? Zip our lips and refuse to engage with the lowlifes who joke about rape, commodify the female body, and portray women as morons?
Much as I sometimes would like to, I don’t believe that’s the answer. Taking the high road can’t mean simply ignoring what’s going on in our culture.
Sexism and misogyny have become joke-worthy subjects in such an insidious way that people are now failing to even identify them any more. Imagine if racist or anti-semitic ads were popping up online every other day and were defended by those calling protesters “oversensitive,” labeling any objections “political correctness gone mad’ and telling them to “get over it.” Would we be told just to turn a blind eye and not give such companies the oxygen of publicity? More likely, we’d be calling for the heads of the responsible marketing executives on a plate.
Sexists’ favored method of shutting down feminists is to call them humorless, and accuse the men who support them of being emasculated and brainwashed. Well, it’s time to stand up and say that there’s nothing deficient about not having your laughter button pressed by the degradation of women. Anyone offended by misogyny needs to keep speaking out about it, even if it runs the risk of giving the perpetrator free advertising. Plus, there is such a thing as bad publicity-or Rush Limbaugh wouldn’t have shed 50+ advertising sponsors after recent online outrage at his misogyny.
Reputations can certainly be tarnished, and refusing to keep quiet about sexist advertising can achieve that. Read full article here
THIS much Nina Funnell knows about the man who held a box-cutter blade to her throat on an autumn’s evening in May 2007.
She knows he had an olive complexion. She knows he had bushy eyebrows and a five o’clock shadow. She knows – although she cringes at the stereotype it encourages – that he spoke with a thick, Middle Eastern accent. He attacked from behind, she remembers that, and dragged her into a park opposite a girls’ high school in an affluent Sydney suburb. She knows there was not just the threat of violence; this man was quite prepared to deliver it. He threw her to the ground, straddled her and punched her repeatedly in the face as he indecently assaulted her.
She knows the police have his DNA, captured in the shreds of skin she clawed from him as she fought him off in what she describes as “an adrenalin-fuelled fit”. And she knows they have not caught him yet. Maybe they never will. This frustrates and saddens her, but she holds on to those tiny nuggets of certainty about that otherwise nightmare-ish blur of events.
As for what has happened since, this much Nina Funnell doesn’t know. Why, after she wrote about the assault, would anonymous contributors to different websites attack her and threaten her? And why would that story, first told in a Sydney newspaper, prompt one website to run a public discussion, inviting guests to assess how “rape-able” she is? And why did one man read of her trauma and feel compelled to announce to the world: “what a conceited bitch for thinking she is even worthy of being raped. The guy just probably wanted to give her a good bashing in which case job well done.”
She does not know why there are some who, years later, still monitor her words and turn up in online forums to spread rumours that she lied about her experience, and to demand she provide intimate details or release police photos of the injuries she suffered.
She does not know when they might strike again, for they seem to work around the clock, and she cannot know whether they target her – “She’s so fugly, I wouldn’t even bother raping her from behind with a box cutter” – from the next continent or the next cubicle. She does not know what they look like and she does not know why they do it, whether it is for fun or boredom, or to humiliate her and encourage others to do the same – or worse. She doesn’t know how many people are doing this to her; trawling the web, looking for opportunities to strike. And she does not know when they will stop.
Which is precisely why Nina Funnell, who now works as an anti-violence campaigner and writes regularly about social issues and the media, believes passionately that there are some things we all need to know about communication in the modern age.
“The internet has absolutely changed the nature of public debate,” Funnell, 27, says. “The anonymity and the immediacy it gives people who want to indulge in abuse and hate… I don’t know if it actually makes it more or less dangerous [to have a public profile] but when you’re seeing a whole heap of hate speech written about you in separate forums, targeting you via email or in comments, I do know that it has a profound impact on your sense of safety…
“I had tried to come to terms with the fact that there was a psycho out there who had tried to rape and kill me. But then I realised that it wasn’t just one individual, that there was a whole subculture that found this amusing. It was sport for them.”
Snail-mail to cyber-bile
Nutters and obsessives; lonely hearts and angry pensioners. For as long as there have been commentators in public forums, there have been belligerent hecklers and aggrieved critics shouting from the fringes. Back when the mail would be distributed twice a day around our newsroom by a junior pushing a creaking trolley, the opinion writers of our newspaper ran a weekly competition to determine who had received the craziest correspondence.
Envelopes flecked with grease spots or some other unidentifiable liquid – could it be spittle? – often disgorged one’s own article, indignantly clipped with ragged scissors or torn wholesale in one enraged swipe, bearing contemptuous comments scrawled in capitals.
Of course, there were more sinister threats, particularly during the fevered days of gun control and Hansonism. The police were called when I received a particularly nasty letter detailing very specific plans for harm and some knowledge of where my family lived. Security guards were assigned to accompany me to my car each night for a few weeks, and I was told to take care when I arrived home. “Still, we have evidence,” a young constable said as he tweezered the letter into a ziplock bag, “and in the majority of cases once they’ve sent a letter that’s the last they ever think about it.”
It was precious little comfort at the time. But after studying some of the cyber-bile sent to Nina Funnell, and after spending hours tracking the crazed logic and outright intimidation of her opponents down the shadowy rabbit holes of various internet forums, abuse that takes a day or two arrive, and then with a postcode neatly stamped upon it, seems almost quaint. Strange days, these, when it can appear almost polite to limit your slander to an audience of one – unless it is taken to the boss or the police – and your death threats to a flimsy page that can be sealed away in a plastic bag.
Cyber-bile takes many forms: from people posting pornography or sexually explicit comments on Facebook memorials to murdered children, to the person who set up a Facebook site which promised the return of abducted Queensland schoolboy Daniel Morcombe if the page attracted one million members. To most right-thinking people this sort of stuff is unbelievably cruel, surely the outpourings of a small number of sick minds. Hoaxers regularly hack into Facebook pages, defacing pictures or spreading rumours that can cause untold pain, panic and embarrassment. And then there’s the constant background chatter that eats away at people – mostly women – in the public domain. It seems everyone has an opinion now, and they want to be heard. But when did they become so mean and, in some cases, downright terrifying?
Sydney newsreader Jacinta Tynan calls them the faceless brave. “When people want to give me a compliment, they tend to email me directly,” says the journalist and author. “Those who want to say really horrible things will go online and do it anonymously. They’re suddenly very brave when they don’t have to attach their names or their faces to their comments.”
“Brave” is a generous description of some of those who regularly post vitriolic opinions on the Sky News website, assessing Tynan’s appearance and performance as a presenter:
News reader Jacinta tynon’s [sic] latest botox shots have reduced her face to a skull and make here [sic] sound like daffy duck lmao how stupid is the woman to think botox makes her look professional. Anything but sweetie, you look and sound terrible.
What on earth has Jacinta Tynan done to her lips? She looks like she’s been bitten by a swarm of wasps. The botox job is ok, but those lips!!!
“Public figures are easy targets,” Tynan says, adding she has never had Botox or collagen injections, but suffered a surge in abuse from viewers as her body changed with her pregnancies. “I think they forget you’re human… I do try to respond to all of them, and when I was pregnant I felt particularly protective, like I needed to point out that hey, there’s a baby in here! But most of the time my efforts are wasted because they’ve used a fake email address…
“What you have to keep remembering, as my mother always says, is ‘what they say says more about them than you’. If someone wants to take the time to get on a website and bitch about how you look, that’s their problem.”
All television presenters have to learn to live with brutal feedback about their looks, Tynan, 41, says. But the internet has made it much ¬easier for critics – and, occasionally, unhinged admirers – to torment celebrities and other public figures who catch their attention. In Tynan’s case, this includes a woman who assumed her Facebook identity, creating a page in her name complete with an array of work and family “snapshots” copied from existing publicity pictures already posted on the Web. Fake Jacinta managed to “friend” many of Tynan’s real friends, who were unaware of the ruse, and apparently even began a relationship online, before dying suddenly. The “tragedy” was announced on Facebook by her “sister”, who thoughtfully posted a picture of her coffin. As unnerving as it sounds, Tynan says she was unruffled by the incident, “although it does show just how easy it is to create a false identity on Facebook.”
Much closer to home – and therefore much more personally devastating – was the avalanche of hostility unleashed after she wrote a newspaper column revelling in the joys of caring for her first son, Jasper, in the months after he was born. “I honestly thought I was writing a positive story about motherhood that would uplift people on a Sunday,” she says of the column, which attracted a record amount of feedback when blogger Mia Freedman reposted it on her popular website Mamamia and prompted vehement talkback sessions on radio around the country. “It was the first time I had been exposed to the level of anger and vitriol that is allowed to breed online through blogs and websites. All the really nasty stuff was personal and so vitriolic. There were people wishing illness on my child and infertility on me.”
The internet’s ability to amplify rumours and thus cement them into facts is what most shocked and, for a while, threatened to overwhelm Tynan. “I tried to keep my head above it, but when it was still going after a few months, it got a bit tough,” she recalls. “It became a bit like a witch hunt. There were people getting whipped up into a frenzy and I realise many of them hadn’t even read what I’d written. But they’d dedicate their own blog to [discussing] it and then people would read that…”
What continues to disturb her is how those malicious “facts” linger long after the debate has died. Google “Jacinta Tynan” and “nanny”, for example, and the search engine takes 0.20 seconds to deliver links to several sites where readers are informed authoritatively that Tynan is unqualified to talk about motherhood because she has a full-time nanny. Tynan, now the mother of two, has never employed a nanny, but that may not be enough to sate anonymous critics.
The question remains: what drives this level of anger? Dr Stephen Harrington, who lectures in media and communication at QUT’s Creative Industries Faculty, says much of the aggression comes from people’s disappointment that the online world still appears to favour professionals and experts, rather than levelling the playing field of public opinion as anticipated.
“That gap between the promise [of the internet] and the reality has generated anger and resentment among some people, and they really let that anger fly when they are given even the most tiny chance to have their voice heard,” Harrington says. “The comments section of a news article is a good example. I think some people use those forums to attack everyone who disagrees with them because they have been told that their opinion is equally valid to everyone else’s, and they feel they have the right to say whatever they want to, no matter how tangential it is to the actual item under discussion.”
But if the internet has been likened to the Wild West, a new frontier where law and order is regularly tested in the rush to stake a claim in the new world, then Harrington urges users to embrace the opportunities rather than freeze for fear of outlaws. “Whenever there is a debate about new communication technology, we tend to blame any downsides or negative uses on the technology itself, rather than the people using it,” he observes. “When someone dies in a car accident, we generally don’t blame the vehicle itself, or car companies. Fatal accidents only serve as a reminder that people should be careful on the roads. I think we should approach new media technologies in the same rational way.”
Driven to despair
But what if a responsible commuter on the information superhighway is forced off the road by other reckless or aggressive drivers whose licence plates are obscured? Paul Tilley, 40, may have been one such fatality. On a bitterly cold night in February 2008, the father-of-two stepped out onto the roof of a swank hotel in downtown Chicago and jumped to his death. That a successful advertising executive for DDB Chicago would take his own life at the apparent peak of his career might pass as strange to industry outsiders. But within days of the news breaking – even before Chicago police had ruled the death a suicide – an online flame war had erupted about whether vicious industry gossip spread by anonymous bloggers had driven Tilley to this final act of despair. Regardless of the reasons it is testament to the power of the internet that much of the mud-slinging can still be tracked online by a stranger in Australia, three years later.
“Anyone who thinks this sort of stuff doesn’t need to be taken seriously, that it doesn’t have a serious impact, doesn’t understand the nature of depression,” says Sean Cummins, 49, a successful Australian ad exec, whose experiences at the hands of vindictive industry bloggers mirror Tilley’s in chilling ways.
Now the head of Cummins Ross in Melbourne, his former agency Cummins Nitro was responsible for the internationally recognised “Best Job In The World” campaign for Tourism Queensland. “That was when the vitriol started pouring in, all anonymous, on industry blogs,” Cummins says. “Everything from ‘he’s a bastard to work for’ to suggestions that I hadn’t done the work I’d claimed credit for, to jibes about my personal life and even my profile photo…
“It’s a form of social terrorism. My kids were being taught at school not to cyber-bully and yet here were these professionals out trying to really hurt people by doing exactly that.
“It was such a personal and outrageous character assassination and the collateral damage was enormous. There was a knock-on effect: when you’re not confident, your creative work suffers because you second-guess yourself. Then I dulled the pain by drinking. I was erratic and my mood swings were inexplicable to my wife and family. Then my wife went on the website and she was shattered.
“Unfortunately, I got to the point where I contemplated topping myself and the ways I might do it. What stopped me was knowing I would leave a lot of people I loved very lost.”
Instead, Cummins has decided to fight back. This week, he will take aim at the “cowards” in his industry – many of whom he claims work for major agencies – in a presentation titled Cummins vs. Anonymous at the Mumbrella360 marketing and media conference in Sydney.
“There is this civil libertarians’ view of the internet that says it promotes a wonderful, open exchange of ideas,” he says. “But it’s not open and it’s not an exchange when someone is deriding someone else’s work or reputation and you can’t respond because you don’t know where it’s come from or who you’re responding to.”
Cummins will argue that all comments on industry blogs should be attributed by name – and that websites should be held accountable if they allow anonymous posters to defame or attack other people. He says ultimately, he is prepared to sue if he has to – and, given he reckons he could mount a case for lost business, when prospective clients are scared off by what they read on the internet, the damages could be enormous. “This is about shutting people down and I’m not going to be shut down,” he declares. “And if I have to stand up before my peers and become the poster boy for good manners, then so be it.”
Ping! One morning, as I am researching this story, an email lobs into my inbox shortly after I’ve logged on to my work computer. I open it to read: Shut the f*ck up you f*cking ugly OLD wowser c*nt. You need a good stiff c*ck shoved down your throat if you ask me. What’s the matter? Were you the ugly fat flat chested girl at school? Why don’t you shut you f*cking c*nt mouth? Live your own f*cking life, raise your own f*cking kids, nobody elected you the arbiter of morality… you’re a do-gooder, a meddling c*nt, who needs to shut the f*ck up. I’m going to a brothel tonight, and I’ll be selecting the whore who most looks your age. Remember c*nt, you’re a wowser c*nt, who needs to shut the f*ck up.
The email has been forwarded to me from Julie Gale, founder of children’s advocacy group Kids Free 2B Kids, who received it after she appeared on The 7pm Project to speak about the sexualisation of children, and particularly reports that increasing numbers of young teenagers were seeking Brazilian waxes.
Ping! Another email arrives. This one is from Melinda Tankard Reist, a Canberra-based author who campaigns on social issues and policy affecting women, most recently the expanding porn industry and “pornification” of pop culture. Bolz says: Melinda quite clearly doesn’t have hot bangable ass…, like Pippa. Jealous much?
Tankard Reist, 48, recently wrote an article, posted on the News Limited website The Punch, decrying the appearance of the Pippa Middleton Arse Appreciation Society page on Facebook as little more than online sexual harassment of the sister of Prince William’s bride, Catherine Middleton. In her article, she quoted comments from the freely accessible Facebook page – “She would need a wheel chair and straw when I’d be finished with it xxbig Matty chambers xxx” – as evidence of the sort of violent and misogynist commentary that flourishes as “fun” on the internet, only to attract the same sort of abuse herself.
Ping! Another one from Tankard Reist, this time a tweet she copied in March targeting News Limited columnist Miranda Devine. @Mighty-Chewbacca: Today screwed Miranda Devine, then penned blog on her soiled panties on bus home.
Ping! And then one from Nina Funnell, recalling the time she wrote about cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil, only to have the online discussion quickly devolve into a slanging match in which she was told she was probably “riddled with STDs” and “just needed a good d*ck up you”.
Ping! Ping! Ping! The messages arrive by email, by text message and via Facebook, after hours and at home, a veritable 24/7 outpouring of sub-intellectual sludge that begins to feel overwhelming in its toxicity, even though I have specifically asked for it. How must it feel when you can’t turn off the tap?
“As a comedy writer and performer, my default mechanism is to see the humour,” says Gale, 48, who somehow juggles a career as a Melbourne-based comedian with her deadly serious Kids Free 2B Kids campaigns to tighten advertising codes for children and restrict their exposure to pornography. “The vitriol is always unexpected, and for a few beats I do have to process the information. But then I take a deep breath and send it straight to my “comedy” file. I know there’s some fabulous material sitting there, and trust me, I intend to use it!”
But she also concedes: “Every now and then, I wonder whether I should be watching my back, but I just shake those thoughts off and get on with it. I’ve never discussed this issue publicly before, because I’m out there encouraging people to speak out – which is paramount to creating change. So I don’t want to put anyone off.”
And therein lies the Catch-22 for women in the cyber-firing line. On the one hand, they believe it is essential to expose the level of abuse and misogyny that has flourished on the largely unregulated new media. On the other, they fear the only effect that would have is to discourage women from participating in public debates.
Says Tankard Reist, who occasionally re-Tweets or posts particularly vile comments: “I want to expose these people so my followers [on Twitter or her website] can see the battle we have, the ingrained hatred and contempt these people have for women… But I already know of young women who say they won’t write their own pieces or contribute to comments pages anymore because of the feedback they get.”
Although she condemns the sort of abuse thrown at men like Cummins and controversial male commentators like News Limited journalist Andrew Bolt, Tankard Reist says it is hard to imagine any man being subjected to the levels of personal intimidation – particularly, threats of sexual violence – that are part of life in the new media age for outspoken women.
Of course, there are still a few things the old and new media have in common, including the truisms that sex sells and so does controversy. So if you build a site where there is heated, colourful debate, the hits will come. And in an era where the media and newsmakers are still grappling with how to build stable, profitable audiences online, few moderators or hosts are willing to shut that down.
“Sure, it drives more traffic to a site,” Tankard Reist says of the sort of no-holds-barred slanging matches that often replace serious debate online. “But editors and moderators need to be more vigilant about not allowing their forums to become platforms for haters and trolls.”
Funnell agrees: “There’s a ‘lighten up squad’ out there where everyone says ‘if it’s too hot, get out of the kitchen’. But perhaps the kitchen shouldn’t be so hot in the first place. This is not just about women. It’s about any sort of hate speech that is systematically directed against any particular group, designed to intimidate them or shut them down. It’s about freedom of speech versus speech that defames, threatens or intimidates.”
Tankard Reist, who has an ear for popular culture, chimes in: “When you ask for moderation or regulation, the people who oppose it claim it’s because they believe in free speech. But they want to shut my speech down. It reminds me of the chorus of that song Ode to Women [by Your Best Friend’s Ex]. They all demand their right to freedom of speech, and yet guys like that are using it to sing: ‘Bitch, shut your mouth’.”
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