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…
We are writing to express our support for current efforts in Iceland to develop and implement legal limits on violent Internet pornography. As scholars, medical and public health professionals, social service providers, and community activists, we commend your government’s determination to confront the harms of pornography. As part of a comprehensive approach to violence prevention, sex education, and public health, legally limiting Internet pornography will reduce the power of this multi-billion dollar global industry to distort and diminish the lives, opportunities, and relationships of Icelandic citizens.
Especially commendable is your government’s commitment to protect children from the harms of pornography. We recognize in other contexts (e.g., advertising) that children’s unique developmental needs mandate protecting them from predatory corporate interests. As pornography invades children’s lives and psyches at ever earlier ages and with ever more distressing effects, this recognition must be applied to pornography. It is naïve and unrealistic to expect parents and schools to counter effectively the influence of this powerful and pervasive industry. Rather, society must act on its compelling interest in providing a safe and nourishing environment for children. We applaud your government’s effort to exercise collective responsibility for children’s well-being by placing limits on a toxic media environment from which they cannot otherwise be sufficiently shielded.
We are inspired by your boldness and innovation in protecting children, honoring women’s rights to safety and equality, and maintaining the integrity of Icelandic culture against the onslaught of an unrestrained industry of sexual exploitation.
We understand that your deliberations remain at an early stage and that many important aspects of the proposed legislation remain to be worked out. That said, we commend your government’s stated intention to define pornography narrowly (as sexual material involving violence and degradation), thus ensuring Icelandic citizens’ access to the fullest possible range of online information onsistent with the protection of children and of women’s civil right to equality. As your efforts continue to develop, we would urge you not to be dissuaded by dark invocations of totalitarianism or of an unregulated black market in pornography. The pornography industry could hardly be any less regulated than it is currently, nor could the motivations and methods of the Icelandic initiative differ more starkly from those of authoritarian governments.
From adopting the so-called “Nordic” approach to prostitution in 2009 to banning strip clubs in 2010, and having stood virtually alone among nations in holding banks to account in the wake of the global financial crisis, Iceland is a global leader both in gender equality and in confronting corporate power. We are inspired by your boldness and innovation in protecting children, honoring women’s rights to safety and equality, and maintaining the integrity of Icelandic culture against the onslaught of an unrestrained industry of sexual exploitation. As a group of similarly committed scholars, activists, and professionals across the globe, we stand with you and look forward to seeing the final result of your efforts.
There’s been a ton of media coverage on the adultification and sexualisation of children lately. This program aired on Channel 7’s Today Tonight Monday. Click picture below to view clip.
And just a clarification re the KMart campaign. It wasn’t actually me who was instrumental in getting KMart to pull certain items – that win was the result of grassroots protests by a number of individuals and it happened pretty quickly. However I was encouraged to receive a call from KMart CEO Guy Russo personally apologising and a short time after, with Julie Gale of Kids Free 2B Kids, to meet Guy and his staff at the company’s Melbourne headquarters. KMart was invited to sign Collective Shout’s Corporate Social Responsibility Pledge which asks corporates to sign a statement of intention not to objectify women and sexualise girls in products and services. We hope to make an announcement soon.
And great to see this issue get Page 1 treatment in the Daily Telegraph this week.
“There really is a global backlash” – MTR
Netmums website finds parents believe modern life steals kids’ childhood
PARENTS believe childhood ends at 12 and blame pressure from friends, celebrity culture and social media for rushing kids into adulthood.
Almost 90 per cent of parents think modern children grow up faster than previous generations, while one in two parents admit their daughters worry about their Facebook popularity, a survey by the Netmums website has found.
Modern tweens prefer to play alone on iPads, with 83 per cent of their parents saying their favourite activity was playing outdoors.
Boys are under pressure to be “macho” and “good at everything” while girls are under “immense strain to be thin” and sexy before being mature enough to cope.
Do you agree? Tell us below.
The British survey found 54 per cent of parents were angry with retailers, saying clothing for girls was too sexual, provocative and short.
The anger against retailers who foster the “pornification of culture” was growing, said Melinda Tankard Reist, co-founder of campaign group Collective Shout. “There really is a global backlash about forcing children to grow up too fast and telling little girls they have to be thin, hot and sexy to be acceptable,” she said. Read more here.
ON Bookworld’s website, you can find My first cupcake decorating book, Children’s book of art and Children’s book of mythical beasts. But until recently, other beasts lurked among the titles hosted by the online book seller, the rebranded version of Borders.
Hundreds of titles appeared under the heading, Incest, titles far too explicit, not to mention disturbing, to be mentioned here.
Incest is a criminal act of abuse against children. About one-in-four is a victim of child sexual abuse. Yet companies are profiting from selling incest-themed fiction, supporting the views of abusers or potential abusers that it is acceptable to have sex with (i.e. rape) children.
Bookworld says it is working on solutions to monitor content more closely.
‘‘We agree with you that these titles should not be on sale and are very grateful that we have been made aware of them so that we can remove them from the site and ensure none like them will be available on Bookworld in the future,’’ said Bookworld’s Kim Noble.
While their prompt response is welcome, didn’t one staffer notice the titles and ask questions? And while Bookworld says it didn’t market the titles, surely carrying them at all achieves the same thing?
Why no audit checks of the data feeds they were channeling through their site? Why effectively traffick contraband materials without checking they weren’t breaching Australian laws?
It is just the latest example of the mainstreaming of child sexual assault material.
The Federal Government has established a royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. There are various other state and internal inquiries. Rightly so. The issue is a blight on our nation and everything must be done to stop it. But while millions are spent on these inquiries, we live in a culture which sends messages that child abuse is sexy. There’s no inquiry into the permission-giving drivers which encourage and enable the sexual abuse of children.
Like teen-themed sex toys which eroticised sex with girls advertised through Condom Kingdom; or a Melbourne sex store advertising a ‘‘back to school’’ sale complete with school uniforms, blackboards and apples for the teacher.
Amazon also lists incest titles. Last year, a global campaign forced a recall of A paedophile’s guide to love and pleasure.
Then there’s porn in the corner store. Pictures include one of a girl (allegedly over 18 but posed as a child, which is illegal) on a bed in bobby sox and pigtails, holding a hand puppet.
For years, child development advocates have called for action, sending multiple copies of illegal titles to the Classification Board. Board chief Donald McDonald has written hundreds of ‘‘please explain’’ letters to porn distributors but none bother replying. The board’s annual reports bear that out, documenting ‘‘no reply received’’.
The system is broken. Jeff Sparrow’s new book, Money Shot, reveals the contempt porn profiteers have for the system. Those in the industry say the risks of getting caught aren’t that great. Sparrow writes: ‘‘The adult industry of Australia was almost entirely outside the legal system . . . the remote possibility of a fine was like the spectre of shoplifting, an annoyance that just went with the trade.’’
Why haven’t state and federal attorneys-general, who are responsible for classifications, done anything to intervene?
Melbourne author Jayneen Saunders wrote Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept about helping children stay safe from child sexual abuse, but she has struggled to get a publisher and has been prevented from reading from the book at public places such as libraries, because of the nature of the content.
Yet, mainstream companies can profit from trading in products encouraging child sexual assault.
All these permission-giving examples undermine child protection. The idea it is acceptable to fantasise about children is given the tick by those who profit from trading in such fantasies.
If we are serious about addressing child sexual assault, when are governments going to address the culture which fuels and feeds it?
Despite the fact the system is stuffed, the Australian Law Reform Commission has endorsed selfregulation.
There are endless complaints about all the above and more, but the system doesn’t change.
I’ll vote for whoever decides to take this seriously.
FOR a long time it was said the ‘‘jury was out’’ on the impact of media violence. Not any more. A special commission set up by the International Society for Research on Aggression comprising 12 international authors and endorsed by 250 of the world’s leading researchers has concluded that exposure to a range of violent media can act as triggers for aggressive thoughts and feelings, influencing behaviour. To put it simply, exposing kids to images of killing, maiming, dismembering, and sexual assault over and over again has real consequences.
You can’t expose kids to these things in the name of entertainment and expect them to be unaffected.
Australian academic Dr Wayne Warburton is one of the authors of the report, published in the journal Aggressive Behaviour. He’s also the editor (along with Danya Braunstein) of a new book Growing up Fast and Furious: Reviewing the impacts of violent and sexualised media on children.
‘‘We have failed to grasp the danger to society posed by the explosion of violent and sexualised media,’’ Dr Warburton says.
‘‘While scientific literature demonstrating and explaining the harmful effects has skyrocketed, public opinion has not followed.’’
Exposure to violent media contributes to an increase in beliefs normalising aggressive behaviour, that you can solve conflict with aggression, desensitisation to violence and a greater willingness to tolerate more in society. As well, children see that aggression isn’t punished — it’s often rewarded by points, money, status, elevation to higher game levels. This can encourage imitation. Dr Warburton points out that in violent video games, the player strongly identifies with and usually take the role of the aggressor, who is usually portrayed as heroic.
An 18-year-old in Thailand stabbed a taxi driver to death trying to ‘‘find out if it was as easy in real life to rob a taxi as it was in the game’’. In 2003 two brothers, 16 and 14, killed a man and wounded a woman shooting at cars in Tennessee. They said they were acting out Grand Theft Auto III.
Anders Behring Breivik prepped himself for his killing spree by playing Modern Warfare 2 and World of Warcraft. They helped him with ‘‘target practice,’’ he said.
Violent gaming provides ‘‘immersive environments’’ used by US military forces for training, where acts of violence are carried out in the first person to desensitise soldiers to real-life combat. Of course, it’s not just games. The young see violence glorified and even eroticised in advertising and music. Many rap lyrics and videos depict women as subservient and enjoying aggression.
Adolescent males with high levels of music video exposure are more accepting of rape.
Researchers looked at the effect of removing MTV from a maximum security forensic hospital. The aggression levels of 222 patients dropped by almost half.
Kids are seeing more violent pornography than ever, including sadism, rape and torture porn.
With all this exposure to pornography, violence and crime content, are we surprised by newly released Australian Bureau of Statistics figures that show sexual assaults and related offences committed by school-aged children have almost quadrupled in four years? They leapt from 450 to 1709.
Dr Warburton says exposure to anti-social, violent, frightening and age-inappropriate media can have a range of negative effects on young people.
A recent Australian study of 925 adolescents found that high video game use was associated with poor global health, depression and anxiety.
‘‘Violent and frightening media have been linked with anxiety, fears, sleep disturbances, PTSD, long-term phobias and avoidant behaviours, and occasionally with effects so strong they have resulted in hospitalisation,’’ Dr Warburton says.
Ninety-eight per cent of US paediatricians believe excessive exposure to violent media has a negative effect on childhood aggression.
John Murray, research fellow at the Department of Psychology, Washington College, and a researcher on children’s social development for almost 40 years, says violent media poses a ‘‘clear threat to the social and intellectual development of children and youth.’’ The research is solid. The profits that motivate vested interests to deny it are significant. But just because people want to make money out of violent and sexually degrading media products doesn’t mean we have to let them.
The erosion of childhood is becoming a social and cultural trend of great concern to child development experts as well as the broader community. Commercialisation, sexualisation, body image dissatisfaction and over exposure to violent imagery are some of the key factors. A growing body of scientific evidence and expert opinion has transformed the debate about this trend into an important issue with major implications for mental health, public health, education and policy. We look forward to meeting you at this unique event.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
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In this DVD, Melinda takes us on a visual tour of popular culture. “Melinda’s presentation leaves audiences reeling. She delivers her message with a clarity and commonsense without peer.” – Steve Biddulph, author, Raising Boys, Raising Girls
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Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.