‘The proliferation and globalisation of hypersexualised imagery and pornographic themes has led to destructive ideas about sex and makes healthy sexual exploration almost impossible…the weight of evidence about the trends in online consumption of pornography by children and young people, and the harms associated with online consumption of pornography, point to the urgent need to find effective means to limit or reduce children’s access’
Impact of online consumption of pornography by children on the development of healthy and respectful relationships
Michael Flood in 2009 described the likely effects of children and young people’s exposure to pornography based on a careful analysis of the available evidence as follows:
• children and young people may be disturbed (sick, shocked, embarrassed, repulsed, upset) by unwanted to exposure to Internet pornography;
• girls are more likely than boys to be troubled by sexually explicit images; boys are more likely to report sexual excitement;
• children and young people exposed to pornography that features non-mainstream sexual practices (such as male-female anal intercourse) are more likely to engage in such practices;
• children and young people who view pornography are more likely to have liberal attitudes towards, and to engage in, sex without love, one night stands, same-sex sex, multiple sex partners, more frequent sex, and earlier sexual involvement;
• pornography, much of which offers a decontextualised portrayal of sexual behaviour, a relentless focus on female bodies, and sexist and callous depictions of women contributes to sexually objectifying understandings of and behaviours towards girls and women by boys and young men;
• exposure to pornography is related to male sexual aggression against women. This association is strongest for violent pornography and still reliable for nonviolent pornography, particularly by frequent users. For example, “in a study of Canadian teenagers with an average age of 14, there was a correlation between boys’ frequent consumption of pornography and their agreement with the idea that it is acceptable to hold a girl down and force her to have sex”;
• exposure of girls and young women to pornography may make them more vulnerable to submitting to sexist and sexually objectifying attitudes, including sexual violence; and
• partners of adult pornography users report decreased sexual intimacy, lowered esteem and demands that they participate in activities they find objectionable, so children and young people’s exposure to pornography is making them less able to sustain genuine intimate relationships based on mutual respect.
The 2012 systematic literature review by Owens and colleagues, The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research, found that adolescent consumption of Internet pornography was linked to attitudinal changes such as:
• more permissive sexual attitudes towards casual sex, including viewing sex as “primarily physical and casual rather than affectionate and relational”; and
• acceptance of male dominance and female submission as the primary sexual paradigm, with women viewed as “sexual playthings eager to fulfill male sexual desires”.
The review also founds that frequency of consumption of Internet pornography was linked to behaviour such as:
• first oral sex at a younger age;
• first sexual intercourse at a younger age; and
• casual sex, group sex, male-female anal intercourse.
Furthermore, “adolescents who are intentionally exposed to violent sexually explicit material were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive than those who were not exposed”.
In a very recent meta-analysis examining the link between pornography consumption and sexual violence, Wright and colleagues found that:
• consumption of pornography was associated with an increased likelihood of committing actual acts of sexual aggression;
• this association held for both adolescents and adults;
• the association held for both violent pornography and nonviolent pornography, although the link with violent pornography was stronger (but nonsignificant): “it appears most likely that (a) the level of violence, degradation, and objectification matters, but (b) the pornography consumed by the average individual contains enough of these elements that it is associated with an elevated likelihood of sexual aggression.;
• there is an even stronger link for verbal sexual aggression than for physical sexual aggression; and
• the link between pornography consumption and sexually aggressive behaviour is not explained by “sexually aggressive individuals watching content that conforms to their already established aggressive sexual scripts” and that “pornography consumption predicted boys’ later sexual aggression even after controlling for their earlier sexual aggression”
The authors conclude:
As with all behavior, sexual aggression is caused by a confluence of factors and many pornography consumers are not sexually aggressive. However, the accumulated data leave little doubt that, on the average, individuals who consume pornography more frequently are more likely to hold attitudes conducive to sexual aggression and engage in actual acts of sexual aggression than individuals who do not consume pornography or who consume pornography less frequently.
Sun et al in their 2013 paper “Pornography and the male sexual script” describe the nature of the majority of pornography currently available:
Nevertheless, with online mainstream pornography overwhelmingly centered on acts of violence and degradation toward women, the sexual behaviors exemplified in pornography skew away from intimacy and tenderness and typify patriarchal constructions of masculinity and femininity. Content analysis of best-selling pornographic videos, for example, reveals that over 88% of scenes involve acts of physical aggression, with 70% of the aggressive acts being perpetrated by men, and 87% of the acts being committed against women. Such acts stand in sharp relief against more intimate acts, which were relatively infrequent, such as issuing verbal compliments, embracing, kissing, and laughing.—
In addition to the findings on first age of exposure and frequency of use reported above, this survey of U.S. heterosexual male college students found that men who view pornography more frequently are:
• more likely to rely on pornography to become and remain sexually excited (reporting masturbation with pornography as more exciting than sex with a partner; and intentionally thinking about images from pornography during sex with a partner);
• more likely to integrate pornography into dyadic sexual encounters (viewing pornography with a sex partner or acting out activities or positions seen in pornography); and
• less likely to enjoy intimate behaviours such as cuddling, kissing and caressing with a partner.
The Australian Psychological Society reports adolescent boys are estimated to be responsible for about a fifth of rapes of adult women and between a third and a half of all reported sexual assaults of children. Offences by school-aged children have quadrupled in Australia in only four years according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The Australian Medical Association says there is a strong relationship between exposure to sexually explicit material and sexual behaviour that predisposes young people to adverse sexual and mental health outcomes.
The proliferation and globalisation of hypersexualised imagery and pornographic themes has led to destructive ideas about sex and makes healthy sexual exploration almost impossible.
Taken together, the weight of evidence about the trends in online consumption of pornography by children and young people, and the harms associated with online consumption of pornography, point to the urgent need to find effective means to limit or reduce children’s access to online pornography.
To fail to take action would be to betray a whole generation of boys and girls by leaving their formation in sex and relationships largely in the hands of a pornography industry and culture that teaches boys and young men to view women as sex objects, to be used in a degrading and even violent way and teaches girls and young women to view their worth as conditioned upon their valuation by porn saturated boys and men as fit for the purpose of an objectified sex instrument.
Collective Shout calls for child-rights based approach to address harms of hypersexualised culture
Submission to the Parliament of NSW Committee on Children and Young People Inquiry into sexualisation of children and young people
Nicole Jameson presented on behalf of Collective Shout to the NSW Committee Inquiry into sexualisation of children and young people
Children and young people are growing up in a high-tech culture steeped in relentlessly sexualised, sexualising and sexist messaging from media, advertising and popular culture which conditions them from a young age to view themselves and others in terms of their appearance and sexual currency. While women and girls are primarily the subjects of hyper-sexualised media representation, these messages also play a crucial part in socialising men and boys to see the sexual objectification of women and girls as normal.
Many adults are overwhelmed by the task of protecting and equipping children as they navigate the contemporary media and social landscape. The current legislative and regulatory environment is piecemeal, confusing for the community to navigate, and tends to serve the commercial advantage of corporate and marketing interests to the detriment of the community – children and young people in particular. 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.
Collective Shout is critical of the self-regulatory system currently favoured in media and advertising, which allows free rein to marketers while placing the burden of action on those most at risk of exploitation and harm. In particular, we are concerned about the lack of effective incentive or enforcement to deter those who are making a profit from the sexualisation of children and young people. Media and advertising interests have had ample opportunity to hear and act on community concerns but have instead have chosen to protect their vested interests. It is time for government to step in and act on behalf of children and young people.
Recommendations from Collective Shout in this submission include:
Recognition of the harms of sexualisation as a public health crisis requiring swift and decisive action on behalf of children and young people.
The restructuring of the current regulatory environment to bring the regulation of all media and marketing together under one encompassing independent federal regulator, including a division with the primary responsibility of protecting the interests of children and young people, addressing both the direct and indirect sexualisation of children in all media modes from a child-rights basis.
Equipping parents and carers with the appropriate media literacy tool and institutional supports, to raise children who have the ability to be critical consumers and creators of media.
The evaluation and implementation of appropriate school-based education programs to educate children and young people about the harms of sexualisation, and funding to help schools secure these resources.
For a child-rights based approach to addressing the harms of media hypersexualisation, including respect for the voices and points of view of children and young people.
That the prevalence of sexualised images of women in our society be recognised as a significant underlying contributor to violence against women and girls.
The commissioning of comprehensive research to establish the extent of the exposure of children and young people in NSW to sexualising media content. However, this research should not preclude swift government action on the basis of the evidence that already exists.
The ground-breaking symposium ‘Pornography and harms to children and young people’ held at the University of New South Wales in Sydney last Tuesday has been declared a major success.
Hosted by Collective Shout, the Australia-first event brought together leading academics, researchers, educators, psychologists and youth and child advocates to examine the harmful impacts of early pornography exposure. Emceed by Andrew Lines of the Rite Journey, speakers including Dr Michael Flood, Maree Crabbe, Dr Joe Tucci and Susan McLean, unpacked the global research as well as examining local experience, to a standing-room only audience.
I also addressed the symposium on ‘How girls are harmed by porn-conditioned boys’ (pic above). I unpacked how girls and young women were affected by porn-using boys in their everyday lives. From my introduction:
The proliferation and globalisation of hypersexualised imagery and pornographic themes has led to destructive ideas about sex and makes healthy sexual exploration almost impossible.
Sexual conquest and domination becomes all important, untempered by the bounds of respect, intimacy and authentic human connection
Young people are learning about f—ing but not about making love.
Young men are being conditioned and shaped by the messages they imbibe from pornography, given a sense of entitlement to the bodies of women and girls. Viewing porn often reinforces the idea that girls are always available for sex.
Girls are under extreme pressure to give men what they want, to adopt pornified roles and behaviours, their bodies merely sex aids. Girls learn that they are service stations for male gratification and pleasure.
I drew from stories girls themselves relayed to me in schools around the country, including demands for naked selfies, boys sending them ‘dick pics’ and porn videos uninvited (including to girls as young as 12), inappropriate touching, sexual harassment, comments about their bodies, being ranked in comparison to porn stars, demands for porn-inspired sexual acts, boys not respecting denial of consent, being mocked or having rumors started about them for resisting unwanted sexual activity.
After canvassing the research on how boys and young women socialized by porn act out on women and girls, I looked at ways forward so that girls can stand up against warped notions of sexuality conveyed in pornography and seek relationships based on mutual respect and care.
I quoted Tiffany, 15, who wrote to me through Facebook:
Hi Melinda. I was really touched by what you had to say and you opened my eyes to what sort of world we live in and as a 16 I’m disgusted and amazed and what girls my age have to go through. You said something about being asked for nudes and that and personally I didn’t know what you meant by that as I haven’t been asked to do that… Until today. To tell you the truth I wouldn’t of known what to do about it if you didn’t speak about it and I’m very grateful to you. The boy asked me for a photo or video and I said no that’s when he called me lame but I immediately told him I am more than just my body and you shouldn’t treat me like a piece of meat and instantly blocked him. Thank you for telling me that and I hope I have done the right thing and myself and other girls are taking part in taking action on this case and we want to make a difference. I want to help girls feel like they are worth something…
MTR on ABC QLD
There was a great deal of media interest in the symposium, with many speakers giving media interviews throughout the day. Here’s an interview I did with Steve Austin of ABC QLD.
Symposium to hear evidence of online porn harms to children
Sydney – Leading academics, educators and child advocates are set to gather on Safer Internet Day February 9, at the University of New South Wales to discuss the harmful impacts of early pornography exposure on children, including medical problems, emotional harm, abusive mind-sets and risky sexual behaviours.
The ground-breaking symposium will hear a growing body of evidence that children are increasingly being harmed by premature exposure to graphic sexual content online.
The Australian-first symposium will discuss the latest findings from a diverse range of multidisciplinary stakeholders including researchers, child protection experts, psychologists and sexologists. Speakers include:
Associate Professor Dr. Michael Flood (University of Wollongong) on pornography and masculinity
Maree Crabbe (Project Coordinator Reality and Risk) on violence and pornography
“Cyber Cop” Susan McLean (Cyber Safety Solution), on the problem of pornography in schools
Psychologist Dr Joe Tucci (Australian Childhood Foundation), on the links between exposure to pornography and problem sexual behavior including children acting out on other children…
Symposium spokesperson Coralie Alison of Collective Shout, said the community rightly expected children, who were being exposed at an unprecedented rate, to be protected from unsuitable content.
“However, despite the best efforts of parents and teachers, the reality is that children today are just one click away from a deluge of violent, degrading, aggressive content – much of it showcasing the abuse of women.”
According to the research to be presented at the conference:
“There is growing evidence that this is a public health crisis, with a generation of children on the frontline.”
Other speakers include Liz Walker (Youth Wellbeing Project), Dr Caroline Norma (RMIT University), Dr. Helen Pringle (UNSW), Dr Lesley-Anne Ey (University of South Australia), Holly-Ann Martin (Safe4Kids), Hugh Martin (Man Enough), Collett Smart (Psychologist) and Melinda Tankard Reist (Author, Collective Shout).
Company slammed for aiding sexual fantasies for young girls
On Tuesday night, young Melbourne supporter (and kayaking buddy) Verity Thompson sent me a link through Facebook messenger, to the website of Chemist Warehouse, which featured a disembodied ‘virgin pussy’ – a replica vagina of a young girl with ‘realistic hymen’ just waiting for a man to ‘pop’. Many people send me links to horrible things most days and while I (and Collective Shout) don’t have the resources to action everything, this product demanded a response. I shared with my activist colleagues and, within hours of us taking to social media about it, the product was removed from Chemist Warehouse’s site. While this once again demonstrates the power of collective action, we have to ask: why did Chemist Warehouse think this product was OK for them to flog in the first place? Where are its corporate ethics? And where is the Pharmacy Guild in all of this?
Here’s how News.com, Daily Mail and Smart Company reported on our win.
Chemist Warehouse pulls Virgin Pussy Palm Pal ‘realistic hymen’ sex toy from its website after backlash
Campaign group Collective Shout slammed the retailer for stocking the product.
“Since when have chemists become defacto sex shops? Chemists are supposed to be selling products with medicinal and health benefits, not promoting pedofilic fantasies and eroticising young girls for profit,” Melinda Tankard Reist, co-founder of Collective Shout, told news.com.au.
Ms Tankard Reist said she had seen similar sex toys before, including a “Lolita Teenage Vibrating Vagina” and “realistic” sex dolls made to look like nine-year-olds, but never at a chemist.
“We see a lot of horrible things in our line of work as you can imagine, but this is incredible. For a company that might want to be seen as having corporate social responsibility, this seems like a radical departure,” she said.
“Don’t they care about the wellbeing of girls in the community? Why would they want to contribute to these fantasies of young girls existing to be ‘popped’ or ‘deflowered’?”
Chemist Warehouse removes virgin sex toys following social media backlash and activist campaign
Caitlin Roper from Collective Shout told SmartCompanythis morning the product sexualises girls and was clearly inappropriate for a chemist to be selling.
“We come across some pretty awful things in the course of some of our other campaigns, but I think with this one I was really genuinely surprised to see this item sold by a chemist under the guise of sexual health,” Roper says.
“I thought, what does aiding men in their sexual fantasies for children have to do with their health or wellbeing? We have campaigns to shed light on this epidemic on child sex abuse in schools and churches, but as a culture we continue to sexualise girls and present them as sexually appealing and even available.”
Porn, family violence linked to surge in child-on-child sex abuse cases
The number of children sexually abusing other children has risen steeply, with treatment services reporting that pornography and family violence are fuelling the trend.
Children as young as four are being referred to programs for problem sexual behaviour as more parents and schools detect abuse in the family home and in the playground.
The Royal Children’s Hospital’s Gatehouse service saw 350 new cases in the past financial year – more than double the previous year. Of those children, 60 per cent were abusing a sibling; more than 90 per cent had experienced or witnessed family violence.
Experts say the seriousness of the sexual acts has escalated in recent years and that online pornography is often being used as a “teaching manual” for abuse…
…”One of the most concerning cohorts for us is the very young kids – the children who are under 12 or even under 10 and their sexually abusive behaviour is quite severe. We’re seeing a lot more of anal, oral and vaginal penetration of younger children,” said forensic psychologist Russell Pratt, who spent 12 years with the Centre Against Sexual Assault and is one of Australia’s leading authorities on sexualised behaviour in children.
…Social commentator Melinda Tankard Reist, co-founder of Collective Shout For A World Free of Sexploitation, said a tipping point had been reached and government regulation of online pornography was needed.
“How much worse does it have to get? How many more five-year-olds do we want to have in treatment programs until we say maybe it shouldn’t be a free-for-all where kids can access torture porn and rape porn and incest porn? Children are being groomed to think this stuff is normal.” Read full article.
‘We are enrolling them into a billion-dollar global industry that objectifies, oppresses and conditions women to believe they are created for sex’
The studio is dim. Neon lights flash around the room in a club-esque fashion. A swarm of what appears to be 6-year-old girls climb, twist and twirl around the floor-to-ceiling iconic poles that will be used for much more than monkey’s business once it’s past their bedtime. Dance attire for sale at this Bendigo, Victoria, pole dance studio include booty shorts with ‘Flirty’ plastered across the bottom.
“We didn’t want to get it mixed up with the concept of adult pole dancing,” says Saari Frochot-Ryan, owner and manager of Z Fit Studios, which hosts the ‘Monkey Kids’ pole program for children aged 3-11.
“The classes are completely child appropriate,” says Frochot-Ryan.
Z Fit Studios also offer ‘Teen Pole’ lessons, as well as a range of ‘naughty’, ‘sexy’ and ‘provocative’ adult classes. On the company’s website, this ad appears below the ‘Monkey Kids’ information:
According to The Project, in an episode last month, pole dancing is the booming new exercise fad for Australian children. Promoted as innocent child’s play, instructors promise a fun fitness experience with significant health benefits.
Welcome to the 21st Century: where we create a child-friendly replica of the most prevalent symbol of the adult entertainment industry and label it ‘fun’.
This is pornified culture disguised as a shiny after-school sport. It may be pole dancing training wheels now with upbeat music, neon colours, kindergarten giggles and games; but in a few years a riskier game begins.
Pole dancing has a long-standing association with the sex industry. It was hailed an icon in the burlesque scene throughout the 1950s, and by the 1960s was established worldwide in gentlemen’s clubs, strip joints and red light districts. Pole companies argue that its origins trace further back to the traditional Indian sport ‘Mallakhamb’: a strength training method executed on a vertical wooden pole.
What they fail to mention however, is that the sport was developed for male wrestlers and women were banned from participation. The sport was deemed culturally inappropriate for women due to the pole’s symbolism: a phallus, or spiritual representation of the male genitalia.
The pole permeates time and culture with the sinister notion that women are decorative objects to be twirled, twisted and tangled around; a global denotation of the way we reduce women to mere titillating instruments. The pole teases out the approval, gratification and sexual advances of a male audience who pay for this ‘entertainment’ around the globe; the exchange of cash for voyeuristic pleasure.
This history is now prettily packaged as a fun fitness opportunity for your child to achieve optimum strength, flexibility and coordination. Let’s take a look at what will be available for your daughter in a few short years.
At Pole Princess in Victoria, there are six class options available for teenage girls. They must have the written consent of parents to attend, and fathers are not permitted inside the studio. Aside from the ‘Sexy Legs’ and ‘Princess Workout’ classes, there is the ‘Booti-Funk’ option that, as stated on their site engages “sexy exotic movement.” Or your daughter could enrol in the ‘Burlesque’ lesson, which uses traditional burlesque choreography combined with “the sexy dancers of today, like the Pussy Cat Dolls.”
At Poleates in Blacktown NSW, girls as young as 15 are invited to participate as ‘pole virgins’ in the ‘Virgin’ class for beginner dancers.
Desert Pole Fitstate in their ‘Pole Fit for Kids’ advertisement that “in order to become a professional pole dancer, it is never too early to start.” Directly below this, a video plays of a dancer on her knees, seductively removing her skirt to reveal an underwear and stiletto combination, before launching onto the pole.
And over in Sydney’s north, teenage girls aged 13-16 can attend classes at Pol-arise. According to their website, girls will find themselves “developing washboard abs, tight toosh and a long, lean, sexy physique”, whilst simultaneously resolving “self-confidence and body confidence issues.” This is the image the company uses for self-promotion:
In contrast to the claims made by Pol-arise, the pressure to achieve a ‘sexy physique’ holds no resolution for body image issues. Sexualisation is a proven, direct causal link to body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and the rapid decline in girls’ psychological health.
Kids pole programs are an embodiment of the way culture distorts girlhood to fit an adultified mould. As Linda Papadopoulos writes in her review commissioned by the UK Home Office, The Sexualisation of Young People, we are “legitimising the notion that children can be related to as sexual objects” through engaging children with hyper-sexualised behaviours.
“We are raising a generation of girls aspiring to careers requiring a ‘sexy’ image”
We are raising a generation of girls aspiring to careers requiring a ‘sexy’ image. A UK online survey asked 1,000 teenage girls their dream profession. Out of the available choices including teaching and medicine, 63% selected ‘glamour modelling’ and a quarter of girls placed ‘lap dancing’ as a preferred choice.
The aspirational connotations associated with sex trade and pornographic practices, according to Papadopoulos, are reflective of our pornified culture.
This deeply ingrained cultural mindset has led us to believe that girls’ engagement in pole dancing is a harmless practice. I disagree.
Search ‘pole dance kids’, and the fifth result is of a primary school-aged child imitating mainstream pole movement to a sultry soundtrack in her home: complete with hair flicks, back arches, knee spreads and a delighted online troll who says: ‘She’d look even better wrapped around my pole.’
Search ‘pole dance teens’ and the inappropriate content warnings issued by YouTube are indicative of what kids pole programs are setting little girls up for: grinding, twerking, thrusting, leg spreads, body rolls, sliding and crawling along the floor in padded bras, g-strings, lingerie and ‘naughty school girl’ costumes. And this is all before turning 18, where girls may then transition into adult lessons around the country ranging from beginner, to advanced ‘strip and lap’ classes.
Encouraging our girls to partake in a key income-generator of the sex industry is a mistake.
We are enrolling them into a billion-dollar global industry that objectifies, oppresses and conditions women to believe they are created for sex. We are enrolling them into an economic and cultural landscape that proliferates the commodification of the bodies of women and girls; a culture that screams body before brains.
Let girls run, kick a ball, surf, dance, hike, indoor rock climb, balance the beam at their local gymnastics club. There are many fitness avenues that are not founded on the premise of gratifying male sexual demand.
Jemma Nicoll is a UTS Journalism graduate and freelance writer. She is the founding director of Inspire Creative Arts in Sydney, and facilitates self-esteem development programs for girls.
The exceptional Australian author, journalist, literary critic and essayist Antonella Gambotto-Burke, is on the verge of releasing her latest book Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love.
When I first began reading Antonella’s books and essays (in Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone and elsewhere), I was taken aback by the quality and eloquence of writing, the mastery of language, the way she captured and described people so acutely, her often acerbic observations and sharp wit. A magazine profile she wrote on former footballer Warwick Capper and his wife Joanne (included in The Best Australian Profiles, Black Inc., 2004) had me in hysterics. Another profile, not so amusing, on the porn star Sasha Grey, was beyond comparison. Her writing on the global trade in female bodies should be mandatory reading for anyone concerned about human rights violations. The Eclipse: A Memoir of Suicide, (one of her five books) is an intimate and searing portrayal of the death of her much loved brother at his own hand. Its pages drip with grief. But she would consider her greatest achievement her daughter Bethesda who arrived as a later-in-life gift which caused an earthquake in her soul and caused her to re-arrange her life and priorities.
For those interested in the theme of motherhood and attachment parenting, comes Antonella’s latest work, Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love. In addition to her essays on love, death, marriage and motherhood, Mama includes long interviews with (in her words – I say that because I’m included!) “some of the most extraordinary people alive today: Steve Biddulph, Stephanie Coontz, artist Michael Hague, Tom Hodgkinson, Sheila Kitzinger, Laura Markham, Gabor Mate, Michel Odent, Attachment Parenting International’s Lysa Parker, MamaBake’s Michelle Shearer, Melinda Tankard Reist and many others. Connecting with each of them was a tremendous privilege”.
“A gifted writer, Antonella needs only a few lines to turn our attention toward the essential” writes obstetrician and visionary Michel Odent in his introduction to Mama.
Antonella argues that there’s no place for a debate between stay-at-home mothers and working mothers. “The debate we should be having is with the architects of a culture that makes calm and attentive parenthood close to impossible”.
“A number of women I know stifled their sensitivity and maternal instincts to compete in male-dominated spheres, eroding – and, often, destroying – the most important relationships of their lives.
“The bar is masculine, and women must adopt traditionally masculine characteristics – cultivated insensitivity, goal-orientated thinking, the prioritizing of the material – to compete,” she writes.
In her book, she asks why we are still conditioned to understand sensitivity as weakness, and why we continue to accept this conditioning. Other questions she raises include:
- Since when did ratification from a dispassionate boss trump the nurturance of human life?
- When did motherhood come to be understood as a series of “thankless tasks”?
- Why are breastfeeding numbers around the world dropping?
- How have we come to understand babies as “blobs”?
- How can we heal rifts with our children?
- What is behind the tsunami of behavioural disorders?
- Why is our culture so sexualised, and how is it affecting our children?
- What roles do fathers have in making a serene experience of motherhood?
- Why are so many children committing suicide?
- What are we doing to mothers, and how will this impact on our own future?
Sydney: April 23, Mosman Library, 7pm, Antonella will share a conversation with Steve Biddulph, one of the world’s bestselling parenting authors, about Mama, motherhood and attachment parenting. Wine and food. Bookings essential, and can be made through Pages & Pages Bookshop in Mosman.
Melbourne: May 30 Readings in Hawthorn Melbourne,12pm. Bookings are essential here. Cost of tickets is redeemable against the cost of the book.
Northern NSW: May 6 Lennox Head Library, 10am, with Michelle Shearer of MamaBake.
Other events to be announced.
To preorder Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love, click here
As a special offer to MTR readers buy Mama for $5 off the RRP of $34.99. Click through to Arbon Publishing , add Mama to your shopping cart and enter the code: MTR to receive your discounted copy.
Rosie became pregnant at 17 last year. She was labelled a slut. Melissa, 14, ran away from home so her parents couldn’t force her to have an abortion.
Jackie, 33, had a violent partner who didn’t want their baby. There was no public housing available and refuges were full. She slept in her car.
Kat, 32, was threatened by her boyfriend. She says: ”I decided when I saw my little boy kicking on the screen I was going to keep him. I knew this would make me a single parent – I had been told in no uncertain terms I was on my own unless I ‘toed the line’.”
These are just some of the stories of women I am aware of who decided to have a child in difficult circumstances – even though it meant bearing the label ”single mother”, with all its alienation and stigma.
They wanted their babies. They were determined to be the best mothers they could be. All did it tough. But their love for their child pulled them through. It’s the kind of love you need when you’re being marginalised, told you are a bludger and a leech. Even that you are to blame for the ills of the world.
Senator Cory Bernardi in his book The Conservative Revolution suggests there are higher levels of criminality among boys and promiscuity among girls ”who are brought up in single-parent families, more often than not headed by a single mother”. Read more here
My past commentary on Olympia Nelson’s image, Art Monthly and Bill Henson
I appeared briefly on Australian story last night in a piece about Olympia Nelson, inspired by her significant piece on the rise of the selfie, ‘Dark undercurrents of teenage girls selfies’, published in The Sydney Morning Herald, July 11, 2003, and reprinted here.
Because a much longer interview was cut (as is often the case – I’m not complaining, it’s the nature of media and having ones opinions quoted anywhere is a privilege), some of my thinking on the issue of sexualisation, sexuality, selfies, and the debate around the depiction of children in art, was not included. I wanted to put on the record views expressed earlier, for a more complete picture. I’d like to say straight up that I find Polexini Papapetrou’s art quite beautiful and evocative. And it wasn’t Olympia’s naked image in and of itself that was the main problem for myself and my colleagues (we don’t have an issue with nudity per se). There is an important context that needs to be considered.
The publishing of the naked image of then six-year-old Olympia Nelson on the cover of Art Monthly in July 2008 was in protest against the response to Bill Henson’s naked artwork of children, particularly an image of a young topless girl with budding breasts featuring in a promotional invitation to his latest exhibition. I commented on Henson’s work here (photos redacted but can be viewed here).
Henson’s sexualised depictions of young girls: calling it art doesn’t make it OK
I haven’t seen the latest photographs by artist Bill Henson to go on show at Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne.
But I have seen these.
So I know what Henson is capable of and how he likes to depicts and shoot young girls.
The girl (image to the right) who featured naked on the invite to the Roslyn Oxley gallery was 13. While that photo was widely circulated, an even more graphic one of another girl (image to the left) was not. She is ‘Untitled 1985/86’, quietly auctioned by Menzies Art Brands, Lot 214, for $3800, only weeks after the original Henson controversy.
And when Tolarno Galleries refuses to reveal the age of the youngest naked girl in the new exhibition, you have to suspect there is a problem. Why the secrecy? Was she at an age where she could consent? As respected teen psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg put it when I asked his view, would she “have sufficient cognitive or emotional maturity to fully comprehend the potential ramifications of what she is doing?”
Where will her photo end up? Where did the photos of the other two girls above end up?
Why does calling it “art” make sexualised depictions of young girls OK?
It is right to question Henson’s sexual depictions of vulnerable naked young girls – and other overtly sexualised imagery of children – a point I made on Channel 7’s Morning Show last Thursday. Media academic and researcher Nina Funnell also reveals here that Henson’s images have been found in the collections of paedophilies. (video no longer available)
This is my letter in the Sydney Morning Herald, July 10, 2008, on the placement of Olympia’s image in a magazine featuring images of extreme porn-themed torture, including schoolgirl torture. It was publishing her image in this context that added a new and very problematic layer, not commented on at all in the debate at the time, apart from the observations I made here. Dismissing these concerns as a ‘moral panic’ is just too easy and too convenient.
Art is about “giving people dignity”, the critic Robert Nelson told ABC radio this week. “We’ve got to have faith in art,” he said. Nelson is the father of Olympia, whose naked photos appear in Art Monthly Australia’s latest issue. The photos were taken in 2003 by her mother, when the girl was six.
While flicking through Art Monthly, I wondered whether Mr Nelson had looked at the magazine that featured his daughter before he gave us his thoughts on art and human dignity.
Call me particular, but I don’t find images of semi-naked, bound women with protruding sex organs all that dignified. I looked really hard, but I couldn’t see much dignity in the photograph of a Japanese schoolgirl trussed in rope and suspended with her skirt raised to reveal her underwear. Torture porn just doesn’t stir my soul.
Some of Bill Henson’s images are there, of course (this issue was a “protest” in defence of his work). They are followed by selections from the work of Nobuyoshi Araki, probably best known for his passion for taking photos of girls and women exposed and bound.
There’s his slumped, bound schoolgirl picture and an image of a woman with her clothing stripped back, the ropes squeezing her naked breasts and contorting her into a pose that displays her genitals. A third uplifting work depicts a woman on the ground, strained forward, her naked spreading backside to the camera.
Faith in art?
A little further into the magazine you come upon the work of David Laity. What offering of truth and beauty does Laity give us? An image of a woman being bound with the tentacles of an octopus as it performs oral sex on her. That’s some dignified octopus. Then there’s an image of a woman bending over so we can see her … Well, you get the picture.
The photographs of Olympia need to be viewed in the context of the images positioned around her. On their own, the images that show Olympia reclining naked, her pose and look more that of an adult, can be seen as sexualised. But surrounding her with these other images superimposes a further, more sinister, meaning on them.
The former Democrats senator Lyn Allison told Sunrise the controversy was just about little girls playing dress-ups. But don’t dress-ups usually involve putting clothes on, not taking them off? And does this game usually end with your photo published in a gallery of female genitals?
The magazine’s editor said he wanted to “restore dignity to the debate”. Does he really think he’s achieved that?
Artists who recognise there should be ethical constraints to art; artists who don’t think it advances humanity to tie up naked girls and capture their images. Now that would be dignified.
The SMH letter was expanded into a piece for Online Opinion published July 18, 2008. While Robert Nelson criticised myself and my colleagues on twitter this week claiming we read the image of his daughter inappropriately, see how he himself has described some of his child’s photographs.
…Of course it’s not about dress-ups. Even Robert Nelson doesn’t think that.
In fact, (as Andrew Bolt uncovered) in the year 2000 Robert Nelson had described one of the photographs as part of an exploration of his daughter’s “eroticism”. Even her sucking a dummy as a four-year-old, was, said Nelson “potentially the most diabolically sexual” image, a symbol of “the perversity of pleasure-sucking’’.
Critics of the Polixeni Papapetrou images have been criticised for reading too much into them. Yet Nelson himself renders the child in sexualised ways.
Nelson once described Henson’s work as displaying a “vulgar relish in depicting naked, pouting teenagers” in a “teasing sexual spectacle” to present them as a “passive target for the viewer’s lust”. He wrote, “Henson’s interest in juvenile erotica … is an aesthetic of spying, granting you an illicit glimpse, as in all pornographic genres … Henson’s grope in the gloaming has unpleasant moral overtones, as when the participants are too young for sex’’.
So why give photographs of your daughter to a magazine whose raison d’être was a defence of Henson? It is hard to understand.
The magazine’s editor Maurice O’Riordan said he had wanted to “restore dignity to the debate”. Does he really think he’s achieved that by throwing Olympia in with tied up school girls, women who have been rendered completely powerless…
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