Dr Helen Pringle (long time collaborator and contributor to Big Porn Inc) and talented emerging young writer Laura McNally, who I’ve published here a number of times before. Both are contributors to the new Connor Court title Freedom Fallacy: The limits of liberal feminism’ edited by Miranda Kiraly and Meagan Tyler. I had the pleasure of attending the Melbourne launch earlier this week and will run some extracts soon.
Disempowered Men? Tanveer Ahmed and the ‘Feminist Lynch Mob’
Dr Helen Pringle
…In Australia, this month, a man claimed that he too had been lynched. On 14 March, The Spectator even supplied a picture of the lynching to accompany the first-person account of the victim. The Spectator cover cartoon shows a man of colour swinging from a branch, complete with “the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth” of the “strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees” lamented by Billie Holiday. The lynched man is surrounded by foul-mouthed women, with burning torches and a pitchfork. Like the inscription on the back of a lynching postcard, The Spectator cartoon comes with a caption, so that we might not mistake its meaning: “Lynch mob-ette: Feminists did me in, says Tanveer Ahmed.”
Inside The Spectator, Tanveer Ahmed provides an account of his own lynching…Ahmed presents his account of his execution under the sub-heading, “Despite being a pin-up boy for the White Ribbon movement, I made the mistake of attempting to explain male violence.”
Ahmed was an Ambassador for the White Ribbon campaign against violence to women when he published an article in The Australian on 9 February entitled, “Men forgotten in violence debate.” The title almost makes it unnecessary to read further to grasp the striking new “argument” being made: that men are “disempowered,” with the perpetrators being the same “mob-ette” of radical feminist harpies circling the poplar tree.
Unfortunately, Ahmed’s argument in The Australian was by no stretch original – not only was it a tired reiteration of cliches, but those cliches were not even his own cliches, having been lifted in part from the writings of other “disempowered men…
In his Spectator attempt at an apologia, “Lynched by the feminist mob,” Ahmed mixes his metaphors with abandon in order to explain his plight:
“I have been considerably disempowered after writing about male disempowerment. Wading into the treacherous, virulent, oestrogen laden waters of modern feminism I have learnt that the gender wars are seen by many as a zero sum game, much like poker or derivatives trading.”
As he waded, Ahmed says, he was “treated to an orgy of abuse, threats and complete mis-representation.” Nurses at his hospital took him aside to ask him how he was doing, articles and letters were published on the net in support of him, unnamed (because trembling presumably) academics approached him on the sly to share how difficult it is to speak openly about “this issue” and Dr Ahmed was invited to speak at a Toronto conference “all expenses paid.” …
The Spectator editorial (“Lynch mob-ette”) commiserated with Ahmed’s fate at the hands of “an angry, vocal, left-wing group of ‘celebrities’ within the bosom [sic] of the local [feminist] movement.” According to the Spectator editorial writer, Ahmed had been “lynched on social media, to the point of threatening his career” by such “oddities.” Ahmed himself writes that he was so cowed by “the totalitarian character of the entire episode” that he packed his white ribbon away and “resumed writing prescriptions for psychoactive drugs” at his psychiatric practice. Hard times indeed.
This rhetorical escalation by Ahmed and the Spectator on his behalf goes beyond absurdity into the realm of the grotesque. Words like “totalitarian” lose all meaning when applied to criticism made of a rather dull kind of “argument” about modern masculinity (a predicament that certainly deserves a complex and thoughtful analysis). The completely inappropriate use of such words reaches beyond this one little corner of right-wing looniness, however, as the increasing use across the political spectrum of terms like “crucifixion” in response to criticism illustrates.
However, there is a particularly egregious wrong-ness in the use of the word “lynching” as a response to criticism. This wrong-ness comes from the freight that the word carries because of its entanglement in a history of sustained racial terror…
For Ahmed and The Spectator now to present his predicament as a lynching, both in words and in a captioned picture, is shameful. In Ahmed’s case, there is no “blood on the leaves,” there is no “smell of burning flesh,” no torture, no execution, no terror. There is only the hum of the Airbus taking off for Toronto, with a successful doctor onboard, “all expenses paid.”
But words still have meaning, to which they can be recalled. The history of lynching places on us an ethical injunction to precision in our use of the word. And no man was lynched yesterday. Read full article
Gender Neutrality or Enforcement? ‘Safe Schools’ isn’t as Progressive as it Seems
…Those who subscribe to queer theory would argue that this simply represents progress. From this perspective, gender is inherently fluid and exists in multiple permutations. Queer theory has now gone mainstream, ushered in from the fringes of the academic world to the core of the childhood education system.
For example, Safe Schools utilises definitions like this: “sex is your physical aspects (i.e. your wibbly wobbly bits) and gender is how you feel in your mind in terms of masculine and feminine.” Quite apart from the incorrect description of genitals – one that is advised against by health professionals – the idea that gender is a feeling is highly questionable. In fact, the idea of feminine or masculine thinking has long been disputed in the research.
Other topics to which children will be inducted through Safe Schools materials include the use of plastic surgery and hormone treatments to change gendered appearance, as well as how girls should bind their breasts if they aren’t comfortable about them. Not only does this promote dangerous practices, but it also has the potential to normalise body dissatisfaction within an already vulnerable demographic – all in the guise of “progress.”
Far from being progressive, such campaigns seem somewhat counter-productive. If gender neutrality really is progress, why the focus on classifying gender? How can such programs neutralise gender and yet simultaneously name, categorise and even medicalise it?
Gender itself is a sociological category, a concept designed to examine broad trends between the sexes. Yet it is now erroneously applied to children who are expected to understand and embody a theory usually only the purview of researchers. Suddenly we must scrutinise, analyse and even pathologise natural child behaviour as “gendered.”
While this focus on gender appears to be celebrating diversity, it may actually be doing the opposite.
Many people are indeed diverse and non-conforming, and ending discrimination around difference is worthwhile. But there is no consensus in the research on whether putting children into gender categories is helpful or simply premature and possibly disruptive. Theories about gender are dubious at best. As the Safe Schools program demonstrates, many theories still fall back on the archetypes of “feminine” and “masculine” traits, which have long been discarded in the research.
… Accordingly, 51 gender categories are now prescribed for children to choose from. Facebook has followed suit, offering these 51 gender options to users.
Indoctrinating children into these new “gender” categories is not going to resolve stereotypes. In fact, this may merely create a more exhaustive range of gender classifications within which the stereotypes continue to exist. This is not gender neutrality, but gender enforcement.
This may create more confusion, more anxiety and more pressure for children over an issue that is not their burden to bear. Stereotypes need to be done away with and diversity needs to be accepted. If we truly want to be progressive and neutral about gender, perhaps we would be better off just letting children be children. Read full article
People power forces Wicked Campers to withdraw misogynistic marketing
Wicked Campers withdraws sexist slogans from vans after 110,000-strong change.org petition; petition starter Paula Orbea says it’s a “people powered win against sexism”
The campervan company at the centre of a people-powered revolt over sexist van slogans has today issued an apology and committed to reviewing and removing sexist or misogynistic marketing from all vans in the next six months.
Paula Orbea, the Sydney school teacher who started the 110,000-strong change.org petition against Wicked Campers says it’s a stunning people-power victory against sexism, with the result coming just four days after starting the petition.
In an email from Wicked Campers received by Paula, she says they’ve offered a personal apology, have now removed the sexist slogan Paula’s daughter saw, committed to reviewing and removing insensitive slogans from all vans in the next six months. The statement reads: “Wicked Campers Owner, John Webb wishes to acknowledge the prevailing community opinion by REMOVING the slogan in question and making a commitment over the coming six months to changing slogans of an insensitive nature.”
Wicked Campers have been at the centre of numerous ad watchdog complaints and social media backlashes in the past, and Paula says that it was the change.org petition which gathered more than 110,000 sigantures that made the difference.
“I’m overjoyed at the result, and commend Wicked Campers for eventually listening to consumers that their misogynistic slogans weren’t acceptable.”
“This was a people power win. The change.org petition worked just as it intended, with more than 110,000 people signing, it was an overwhelming show of community support.”
“The kind of sexism and misogyny on those Wicked Campers vans isn’t trivial – it’s degrading to women, harmful for our children to consume, and condones a rape culture that sees one-in-three Australian women sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.
“I’m pleased my daughter said something, and that we stood up against it. It’s important that we call out sexism wherever it exists – and my change.org petition enabled me to actually make a difference and win change.”
Paula is urging those offended by the vans to continue to call out examples of misogynistic and offending vans by contacting the company and posting on social media about them – and she will be monitoring the company’s progress in removing offending slogans.
Karen Skinner, Australian Director of change.org says it’s an example of the growing success womens activism is having through online petitions.
“More than ever before, women are calling out everyday sexism and fighting back through social media and change.org petitions.”
“Online tools are giving women the ability to join together and achieve change incredibly quickly, in stark contrast to the individual complaints processes.”
“Women’s rights issues are among the most popular on change.org, and women make up more than 60% of our most active users. There’s a growing community going online and winning on these once-ignored issues.”
Unanimous vote for Greens anti-Wicked Campers motion in Senate
The Senate has unanimously passed a Greens’ motion condemning the sexist, misogynistic and racist slogans that Wicked Campers have on their hire vans.
“The Senate is sending a strong message that promoting violence against women is completely unacceptable in Australian society,” Senator Larissa Waters, Australian Greens spokesperson for women, said.
“I’m pleased to hear that Wicked Campers have said they will remove the specific slogan that sparked on online petition signed by more than 120 000 people, and have committed to remove more of what they describe as “insensitive” slogans in coming months.
“I wholeheartedly congratulate and thank Paula Orbea, who started the petition after her 11-year-old daughter read the slogan which incited sexual violence against women and girls.
“Paula has shown that by calling out sexism and misogyny, we can put a stop to it, and change the culture that normalises and condones it.
“These sexist slogans promote violence against women, which is sadly a massive problem in Australia.
“One in every three Australian women over the age of 15 have experienced violence and one in every five have experienced sexual violence.
“Most often women know their attacker, with one Australian woman a week killed by her partner or ex-partner.
“Violence against women is certainly no laughing matter – it is a national emergency,” Senator Waters said.
Wicked assigns women and girls to a place of inferiority: Dr Helen Pringle
…Wicked Campers is a serial offender at the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB), which has formally considered dozens of complaints against the company since 2008. What is most striking over that time is that the ASB has completely failed to counter the campaign of derision and intimidation against Australian girls and women by the company. In fact, in the last two years, Wicked Campers has simply not responded in any way to complaints lodged with the ASB, or to determinations against its conduct by the Bureau. And the Bureau is powerless in the face of the company’s contempt for it….
One of the most egregious violations by the company did not even become the subject of a complaint to the ASB. During the 2012 Queensland state election campaign, a company campervan was painted with a garish cartoon of a naked middle-aged woman, with her legs spread wide apart so as to expose her whole body to the world, and her genitals obscured by two squares, marked as 1 (her vagina) and 2 (her anus). The caption to the cartoon shouted out to its audience, “Tick the Right Box!”. The cartoon represented Anna Bligh, then Queensland premier, who had earlier criticised the company’s use of a racist slogan on a van (“Save a Whale – Harpoon a Jap!”)…
In his book The Harm in Hate Speech, Jeremy Waldron argues that a flourishing and fair society rests on the equal standing and treatment of its members – and on the recognition and assurance of that equality in society’s “signage”. The Wicked camper vans assign girls and women to a place of inferiority and frustrate the assurance of equality to which we are entitled, in public places just as in workplaces. Read full article
Framing Gillard in pornographic terms is part of a concerted backlash against women in power, argues Dr Helen Pringle
This is an edited extract from an essay by Dr Helen Pringle in Bewitched and Bedevilled: Women Write the Gillard Years, a collection of essays published by Hardie Grant and edited by Samantha Trenoweth.This book, write the publishers, “looks at the reasons Julia Gillard, our first female Prime Minister, was so vehemently attacked, the varied reactions to being a female prime minister, her unfortunate position at the receiving end of a barrage of sexism and misogyny and how much this played a part in her political problems, her public perception and her ultimate undoing”.
By Dr Helen Pringle
Picture this: a naked middle-aged woman, her face distorted by a crooked grimace, is sitting with her legs spread wide apart so as to expose her whole body to the world. Her breasts are bare, but her genitals are obscured by two squares, added by the sketcher of the picture as if he wished to avoid accusations of obscenity, while simultaneously humiliating his subject by marking the squares, in a juvenile way, as 1 (her vagina) and 2 (her anus). The caption to this cartoon commands its audience, ‘Tick the Right Box!’.
This picture of Anna Bligh, then Labor Premier of Queensland, was sketched on the side of a hire van during the state election campaign in March 2012. The van belonged to Wicked Campers, a global hire company founded in Queensland by John Webb. A photograph of the van was posted on the ausgamers.com site, along with this note to clarify the political issue at stake: ‘I am not sure if anyone else has seen this van getting around Brisbane but I just had to share. So people, please remember to tick the correct box, otherwise we could end up in the crapper.’
One comment on the picture read: ‘That is an eerily accurate likeness.’ Most posters on the ausgamers site laughed at the picture, writing comments on the thread like ‘rofl’, ‘hahaha!!!!!’, or ‘fucking hilarious though’. Another poster to the thread contributed to the general hilarity by adding a photoshopped picture of a naked Kevin Rudd being spanked by Julia Gillard, with Kristina Keneally looking on, both women wearing black leather and dominatrix boots. The figure of Rudd was posed to suggest he was greatly enjoying his ‘pussywhipping’.
The world to which the cartoon Anna Bligh opens her legs is increasingly shaped by such pornographic motifs and themes. The term ‘pornography’ once referred to artifacts like magazines, books, films and videos — things that were, for the most part, bought masked in special covers and consumed in non-public or intimate spaces. But our public spaces are now increasingly shaped and marked by pornographic traces, through what Linda Williams has called ‘on/scenity’ — that is, ‘the gesture by which a culture brings on to its public arena the very organs, acts, bodies and pleasures that have heretofore been designated ob/scene and kept literally off-scene’ (‘Porn Studies: Proliferating Pornographies On/Scene: An Introduction’ in Porn Studies ed. Linda Williams, 2004). Like many other academics, Williams argues that this appearance of sexual themes and scenarios on the stage of public and political life should be welcomed as indicating a lifting of sexual repression and as heralding a greater openness about sex.
Cartoons like that of Anna Bligh on the Wicked Campers van, however, make such a view of public sex seem simplistic, and suggest instead that pornographic themes and motifs can be effectively used to humiliate women and to shut down their voice in public life. That is, when our culture brings sexual themes on to its public arena, it provides new ways to subordinate women in such spaces. At the same time as women, in increasing numbers, are standing for political roles, ‘on/scenity’ accentuates the character of politics as ‘a man’s world’, in which women’s place remains insecure. Political pornification is striking not only in Australia but also in other countries where women have sought or hold high office. The form taken by derision of Hillary Clinton when she ran for the US Democratic nomination in 2007 is a case in point.
In thinking about how the pornographic is put to work to subordinate women in political life, an analogy with women’s entry into male workplaces is helpful. In some industries, like construction, engineering, and mining, the percentage of women workers still hovers around 10% (Women in NSW 2013). Women’s entry into such segregated industries is often marked by systematically intimidating, hostile and abusive behaviour towards them, such as name-calling and commands to ‘show us your tits’, hostile graffiti, or the display and use of pornographic pin-ups (Helen Pringle, ‘Pornography: The Harm of Discrimination’ OnLine Opinion 10 October 2011). A business that requires employees to work in such ‘an unsought sexually permeated work environment’ is subjecting them to unlawful discrimination.
Women’s equal standing in and enjoyment of political life is corrupted by the acceptance of similar forms of behaviour as those that qualify as discriminatory intimidation in workplaces, even where not legally actionable. When men at work display sexual cartoons or photographs of naked men or women, or call women obscene names and epithets, it is not merely rude, offensive and inappropriate behavior. It is a form of gendered power that creates and sustains a hostile environment that puts women in their (proper) place, the place of inferiority. It is also a sign, to both men and women, that women are not assured of equality of treatment.
The abuse and ridicule targeted at Julia Gillard after she became Prime Minister in June 2010 often took this gendered form. The most extreme exponent of pornographic imagery and themes as a form of political criticism and satire is the cartoonist, Larry Pickering, notorious in the 1970s for his ‘Jungle’ series and ‘Playmates’ cartoons, which depicted male politicians with strangely-shaped penises, accompanied by smutty captions. Pickering claims that he came out of retirement specifically to combat Gillard’s Prime Ministership. The full range of his post-retirement cartoons was displayed on his website, The Pickering Post, with all designs available to be printed on t-shirts and purchased from his website shop ($38, or $48 with collar).
Pickering’s characteristic style of satirizing Gillard was as a cartoon figure with a strap-on dildo. His websites also feature vicious diatribes against Gillard and other women in politics, or women commenting on politics, such as Anne Summers. ‘Understand this, Summers, it’s obnoxious vermin like you who emboldened Gillard to take the misogynist road,’ Pickering ranted after Gillard lost office (‘A vile piece of trash called Summers’ The Pickering Post, 28 June 2013, ).
Pickering’s cartoons remind women in politics, like Julia Gillard, that they are not men, and that women can only play at doing politics. The cartoons make clear that being a woman and being politically competent are out of alignment. They also make clear that a woman who attempts to ‘play the game’ as if she were a man opens herself to derision. Pickering uses his own pen to discipline such women by showing them as out of place and as thus inviting mocking laughter. The cartoons also function as a sort of ‘Virility Monologues’, a shout out to men about what is at risk or threatened by powerful women, and a warning to men about what happens when they do not successfully play the man part of the political script.
Men like Pickering who use, or rather wield, such brutal language against women are thereby marked as properly masculine — they have the capacity and power to police the world of politics to ensure that those who enter it know that its structure and its script are defined in male terms. Femininity and democratic competence are made to part ways.
It is crucial to add that Pickering’s cartoons of Julia Gillard are pornographic not because their intention is to produce sexual arousal or to incite desire for the subject of the cartoon, as is the traditional understanding of pornography. Rather, to call them pornographic is to draw attention to the way in which they incite a cruel laughter that takes delight in humiliation and that finds subordination funny. In fact, perhaps the most effective form in which sexual hierarchies are policed today is pornographic laughter, which has become the stock in trade of unrepentant discrimination.
Pornographic laughter is also used against those who voice concerns about any kind of demeaning treatment of women, whether in entertainment, advertising or political discourse. That is, the response is that pornography is all just one big joke — and that women, in particular, need to stop taking things so seriously.
Chiding women for lacking a sense of humour in regard to pornography crosses party lines. The self-styled humourist, Ben Pobjie, for example, wrote in the left-wing magazine, The King’s Tribune: ‘There are many reasons a person might be weird enough to not like pornography. For example, that person may be suffering from nervous hysteria and just need a good finger massage or fire-hose-induced orgasm to set things right’ (‘Porn. Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it’ The King’s Tribune, 5 January 2012). Complaints about the pornographic depiction of women become the occasion for further mocking laughter and derision.
Images and themes drawn from pornography are increasingly used to belittle women and denigrate their standing through making them figures of fun. This is not entirely new: the cartoons and rape jokes in Playboy and Hustler, for example, have been standard features since the magazines’ inception, and were not just ‘filler’ for the nude pictures. What is new is that the use of the pornography to incite laughter against women has migrated into the heart of political discourse, as a way of humiliating those who do not know their proper place.
It is no longer considered acceptable to bar women from the political world, or to say outright that they do not belong in that world. The primary way to practise exclusion now is through a pornographic laughter at the women who enter the political world. In that world, a woman may still be openly lampooned for being (or being like) a lesbian. A woman may still be ridiculed for having too shrill a voice or for having too manly a voice (in the case of Kerry Chikarovski, for example). A woman may still be derided for being too fat or too thin or for being both at the same time (big bottom and small breasts, say). The infamous menu at the Mal Brough fundraising dinner included ‘Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail – Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & A Big Red Box’. The menu was explained away by the restaurant owner as ‘an in-house joke’, as if it was just a Benny Hill-style prank (Ben Packham, ‘Restaurant owner says demeaning menu mocked up as an “in-house joke,”’ The Australian 12 June 2013).
The criticism of women in politics in the form of crude and often cruel pornographic derision is always ready to mask itself as ‘just a joke’. This peculiar mix of the pornographic and the snigger deploys itself as discrimination, while trying to defuse itself as playful and fun. The use of gender (or racial) stereotypes is often excused in this way, giving the mistaken impression that it can’t be discrimination if it is a sleazy joke.
A flourishing deliberative democracy rests on the equal standing and treatment of its members and, as Jeremy Waldron has argued, it also depends on the recognition and assurance of that equality in society’s ‘signage’ (The harm in hate speech, 2012). My concern here is not what the cartoons might cause someone to do after viewing them. The concern is what the cartoons signal or tell us about ourselves — that we live in a world in which the hatred of women is still acceptable, and still able to be openly spoken, and spoken for. Abusive or hostile remarks and jokes about women (made even to their face) are rarely prefaced by the disclaimer, ‘I’m not a misogynist but…’ Such jokes are rarely introduced by the phrase, ‘You can’t tell this joke any more, but…’ Misogyny still falls within a framework of acceptability and this framework helps to convert the prejudices of individuals into discrimination.
Our world is increasingly shaped by pornographic motifs and themes, as well as by pornographic artifacts like magazines, books, films and videos, and these motifs are no longer quarantined from political culture and public life. The migration of pornographic imagery and discourse from entertainment and commercial arenas into political spaces was accenutuated during Julia Gillard’s tenure as prime minister. Images and narratives from journalism, pop culture and especially cartoons placed Gillard in a pornographic frame, a frame signifying not just political opposition to her and her government, but a concerted backlash against women taking positions of power.
The cartoons I discuss do not merely target specific women in politics, like Anna Bligh or Julia Gillard, but assign women more broadly to a place of inferiority in the political order, and reinforce the picture of politics as a man’s world for which women are ill-suited and in which they do not fit. Pornography in public is not sexual freedom but same old, same old subordination. And despite the sniggers of its proponents, this is actually not a laughing matter.
Ten years ago, Puangthong Simaplee died at the age of 27. She had been picked up in a police raid on a Surry Hills brothel on 23 September 2001, and was sent to Villawood Detention Centre. Three days later, she died in a pool of her own vomit. When she died, Puangthong weighed 31kg, about the weight of a 10-year-old girl. According to a coronial inquiry held in 2003, she had hepatitis C, an eye infection, possible pneumonia, and was addicted to heroin.
Immigration officials said that Puangthong told them that she had been sold into prostitution. On one account, she said that her parents had sold her into sexual slavery in Thailand when she was 12, and that she had been trafficked into Australia on a false Malaysian passport when she was 15. When Puangthong’s parents were interviewed by an Australian reporter, however, they said that their daughter had left their village in Thailand to find work, and that she had sent them money and smiling pictures of herself from Australia.
When these conflicting accounts came to light, people lined up to slime Puangthong, and to traduce other women who claim to be trafficked to Australia as sex slaves.
The journalist Piers Akerman for example asserted dismissively, ‘The story was a real tearjerker’. He dismissed the fuss around Puangthong’s death as just ‘sensationalistic journalism’. Akerman blamed ‘some zealots’ for inflating the number of ‘sex slaves’ [his scare quotes], and ‘quoted’ [my scare quotes] an unnamed spokesman for the Immigration Department as saying that ‘almost all so-called sex-slaves picked up from brothels reject the notion that they were enslaved, do not want to assist authorities and wish only to leave the country as soon as possible and ply their trade in other First World countries. If they have a complaint about working in Australia, it is that they have not made as much money as they expected’ (‘When Truth Spoils a Good Slavery Story’, The Daily Telegraph, 3 June 2003, p. 16).
In 2008, the president of the Scarlet Alliance, Elena Jeffreys, added her voice to Akerman’s pitiless tirade, asserting that Ms Simaplee was not trafficked, but was simply a ‘sex worker’. According to Jeffreys, the popular picture of women like Ms Simaplee as Asian sex slaves has ‘capture[d] the Australian imagination’, all part of a stereotype ‘of pre-pubescent Asian girls chained to beds in back rooms with barred windows’ (‘Truth and visas will set Asian sex workers free’, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 April 2008). Jeffreys concurred that Ms Simaplee’s case was just ‘sensationalism’ and moral hysteria, which has created a ‘government-funded rescue industry’.
Strangely however, the Immigration Minister at that time and his Department were not well-known as compassionate rescue entrepreneurs. It should be a cause of shame for Australians that the former Minister is known rather for the trail of death and deportations left by his term in office than for his rescue efforts.
Puangthong did tell different stories about herself to different people before she died. Prostituted women do not get paid for being themselves, for being authentic. A prostituted woman is paid to ask, ‘What do you want me to be?’, and to act out the answer. But Puangthong was brutally honest with herself, and her body bore the marks of her honesty. After her death, her boyfriend told police, ‘She had two or three scars that were from one side of the wrist to the other. Some scars were a couple of months old and some scars were a couple of years old.’ When the boyfriend asked Puangthong why she harmed herself, she replied, ‘When I do something wrong I mark it with a scar so I remember what I did wrong’ (Elisabeth Wynhausen, ‘Parents deny selling daughter’, The Australian, 7 June 2003).
Like other prostituted women, Puangthong Simaplee had a lot of wrong done to her. Research done by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at UNSW and published in 2006, found that many of the street sex workers interviewed had higher levels of post-traumatic stress disorder than combat veterans. A majority had been sexually abused as children, and most had been assaulted sexually or physically as adults. These findings are consistent with studies done in other countries of the victimisation of prostituted women, and form part of the basis of the Swedish model approach to prostitution and trafficking, which criminalises the purchase of sex, but does not criminalise those who are bought and sold.
Puangthong Simaplee’s story is one of vulnerability abused, and of autonomy lost. It is a story of exploitation. It is in so many ways a typical story of a life that was trafficked and prostituted, of a person whose intrinsic worth and dignity received no respect, even after she died.
If we could only listen to Puangthong’s story, in all its tellings, perhaps we would not tell so easily the old lies about the selling of women in our world as a form of pleasure and freedom. For now, let’s ring the passing bells and mourn the memory of a gentle and vulnerable woman.
Big Porn Inc contributors continue to get a significant run in the media. In the lead up to our Brisbane launch tonight, here are recent pieces by Dr Meagan Tyler, co-editor Dr Abigail Bray, and Dr Helen Pringle.
Porn: Just a bit of harmless fun?
Pornography is great. Just a bit of fun. It doesn’t matter who you’re watching or what they’re doing, it’s mostly harmless. This is how it feels reading a lot of commentary on pornography in Australia.
Despite the growing international research highlighting serious problems with mainstream pornography, in this country anyone who dares suggest there may be harms associated with the production or consumption of pornography is generally greeted with hoots of derision and accusations of wowserism.
The visit to Australia earlier this year of US-based pornography researcher Professor Gail Dines is a prime example. During her appearance on Q&A, she was shouted down by several members of the panel, one of whom confessed that her own research on pornography was largely limited to having ‘googled’ it earlier that day.
But such reactions are perhaps to be expected in a country where, particularly if you are a member of the left, you are expected to be sympathetic to – if not outright supportive of – the plight of pornography consumers.
The Porn Report, based on a government-funded research project and written by three prominent Australian academics, is a case in point. Supposedly an objective account of pornography content and use in Australia, the project was conducted with support from the sex industry lobby group the Eros Association. Given this link, it is hardly surprising to find the report contains sections with titles such as Great Moments in Amateur Porn.
Unfortunately, this is the level of debate about pornography in Australia. As a result, positions critical of the pornography industry are frequently misrepresented. The pro-pornography position often relies on a straw-man version of anti-porn campaigners as ideologically driven, extreme feminists or religious loons.
But researchers critical of pornography have presented far more sophisticated and well-supported arguments than these caricatures suggest. Unlike the image of anti-porn campaigners often held up by the pornography lobby, very few scholars argue that all pornography contains overt violence. Many do, however, talk about the increasing use of violent acts evident in mainstream porn.
For instance, several large-scale studies over the last 20 years have documented considerable violence in mainstream pornography. Communication scholars Ni Yang and Daniel Linz, sociologists Martin Barron and Michael Kimmel, and psychologist Ana Bridges and colleagues have all found, in separate studies, that violence in mainstream pornography is common – about one in four of all films in each study contained violent acts.
To be specific, we are talking about acts such as slapping, kicking, hitting and choking. Indeed, there is now an entire sub-genre of pornography dedicated to the choking of women.
My own research into the US pornography industry’s accounts of mainstream and bestselling pornography, returned similar results. In fact, one of the most remarkable things about research in this area is that porn industry insiders (performers, directors, distributors) are very forthcoming about the shift towards more extreme and violent porn, with many pornographers openly debating whether or not this is a positive or negative development. This leaves our debate – about whether or not violence in mainstream porn exists at all – decades behind current trends.
But it is also misleading to suggest that instances of clear physical violence are the only problem with modern porn. Violence exists on a continuum. While most people, regardless of their position on porn more generally, agree that women being kicked and punched for the purposes of someone’s sexual arousal is abhorrent, the agreement fractures when we get to slapping, hair pulling, whipping and physical restraint, especially if the actors involved are shown enjoying what is being done to them.
And that doesn’t even begin to approach the issue of sexist and racist verbal abuse. After all, the sorts of phrases that constitute racial vilification on the football field are considered to be alluring titles for porn DVDs.
With the move towards more extreme, violent and degrading pornography, it seems logical that there are now more social scientists worldwide becoming critical of porn. But banning and censorship are not favoured solutions and have not been seriously considered since bell bottoms and platform shoes were in fashion.
There are few if any anti-porn scholars currently writing who argue that authorities should ban porn or that porn automatically turns all men into rapists. What many do argue, however, is that pornography is now a multi-billion-dollar industry that is gaining increasing cultural influence and, as such, that it needs to be subject to criticism in the same way that the pharmaceutical, tobacco and fast-food industries are held to account.
What many pornography researchers, like myself, are calling for is a more open and honest discussion about pornography, inequality, sexism and sexual desire. These claims are more reasonable than radical.
The consistent misrepresentation of current anti-porn critiques in Australia hinders this discussion, which, given the trends in mainstream pornography and the increasing pornification of popular culture, is needed now more than ever.
Dr Meagan Tyler is a lecturer in sociology at Victoria University and a research associate at RMIT. She is the author of Selling Sex Short: The Pornographic And Sexological Construction Of Women’s Sexuality (Cambridge Scholars, 2011) and a contributor to Big Porn Inc. (Spinifex, 2011).Reprinted with permission.
Dangerous or a rite of passage?
Dr Abigail Bray
ACCORDING to melodramatic pro-sex industry conspiracy theories, critiques of Big Porn are really totalitarian plots to censor the entire internet and destroy freedom of speech.
Apparently, an international secret society of radical feminists, right-wing Christians, Chinese communists and random sexually repressed middle-aged mumsie pressure groups are out to destroy “our” inalienable human right to dehumanising porn. Won’t somebody please think of the . . . wankers. . .
The new porn zeitgeist is hard-core sadism. Hard-core porn turns misogyny into sexual fascism and sells it as freedom. There are countless “18 and abused” sites showing young girls being gang-banged while crying, drunk, vomiting, with guns and knives to their heads. Incest porn with girls being bashed about sexually by fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers. There is bestiality porn with dogs, horses, with eels. Torture porn, where young women are tied up and strangled, defecated on. There is Nazi fetish porn, lots of racist porn.
Feminised gay men being beaten and anally raped by hyper-macho gangs. Granny porn where older women are subjected to the now compulsory triple penetration and spat on for being old. There is even “retarded asian porn”, “retarded and horny”, “full on retard porn . . . legless sluts being triple penetrated”, amputee porn, dwarf porn, anorexia porn.
Nothing to worry about, nothing going on here, move right along.
A very common use of pornography is as sexual discrimination, itself a well-recognised form of harm in our society. And the evidence of pornography’s harm in this respect stares us in the face as we go about our everyday lives. Take your car to be serviced at a garage. Ask a lifesaver for his help in the clubroom. Call in at a fire station. Check out an army camp’s walls. Accompany Tony Abbott on a visit to the factory at Digga Manufacturing. Now ask me again about evidence of harm.
The walls of the garage, the clubroom, the fire station, the camp or the Digga factory form ‘an environment which itself amounts to sexual discrimination’. That phrase comes from a decision of the Equal Opportunity Tribunal of Western Australia on 21 April 1994.
‘The central issue about pornography for a woman on the left like me is sexual subordination and how to end it’
Opponents of pornography are prudes, moralisers, hung up about sex and want to put all women in burqas . Right? Not exactly.
Dr Helen Pringle tackles these weary and predictable stereotypes in a piece just published in On Line Opinion.
Helen is in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales. Her research has been widely recognised by awards from Princeton University, the Fulbright Foundation, the Australian Federation of University Women, and the Universities of Adelaide, Wollongong and NSW. Her main fields of expertise are human rights, ethics in public life, and political theory.
Helen is also a contributor to Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry, (Spinifex Press) with a much needed critique of a pro porn report.
Do you read discussions about pornography in the Australian media? Perhaps you followed the recent visit here of Gail Dines, the author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality and an anti-pornography activist? Dines was introduced at a Sydney Writers’ Festival panel [ACTIVE] http://blip.tv/slowtv/porn-wars-dines-cannold-holden-lumby-5248617 by the chair’s making a snide dig to her as ‘the furthest to my right’. The panel chair asked Dines, ‘And where do you sit? So often in this debate there are odd bedfellows…you will often find radical feminists like yourself aligned in their views about pornography with Christians on the far right.’
Fair question? Well it is, if you only read of anti-pornography perspectives in mainstream media. The way the media reports on it, opposition to pornography comes only from the religious right. You know, those strange characters that have some problem with women’s bodies, and probably with men’s bodies as well. Who think that sex is sinful and who are obsessed with purity. Or, as the tired old joke goes, those who are opposed to sex because it might lead to dancing. What is even more frightening in this treatment of opposition to pornography is the women’s auxiliary wing of the religious right, in which everyone is having fits of the vapors at the very thought of a penis.
That is not my position on pornography. I am a woman on the left, and I am opposed to pornography…
Clothing retailers General Pants Co and Ksubi got together and made this:
This image of a woman, her top half naked apart from gaffer tape over her nipples, is having her jeans unzipped from behind. The image, part of the ‘Sex! & Fashion’ advertising campaign, adorns the glass windows of a number of shopping malls, including Westfield. It was launched at the end of last month.
The words ‘tongue-in-cheek’ and ‘satirical’ have been used to describe the campaign. Most children wouldn’t even know what that meanst. They are being socialised to see such sexualised representations as normal. But of course these images don’t affect only children. I’ve made the point before – if these pictures were put up in a workplace, it would be considered unlawful sexual harassment. But it’s OK to plaster the public domain with them when it’s advertising. The images are a form of harassment for women and girls who are confronted by them when going about their daily lives. Women are just for sexual decoration, to be stripped, to bare their flesh for the gratification of others.
Collective Shout has been inundated with complaints. One of our members told us that a Sydney General Pants. Co store went beyond a poster on the store windows to real life models posing with tape across their breasts.
We are pleased that the companies have experienced a consumer backlash. But we’d prefer not to have to run these campaigns in the first place. It seems corporate social responsibility has gone down the drain.
“We thought it would generate attention, sure. Much of what the guys [Ksubi] do gets attention, it’s that kind of brand. Any time we do something with the potential to polarise opinion we expect to get a few concerned ‘members of the public’.
“At the end of the day General Pants Co. is a curator of youth apparel brands for young blooded consumers. We encourage creativity and support youth initiatives. We don’t have a political agenda and we don’t want to be pulled into one – we don’t take ourselves that seriously.”
The sub-text is not hard to see. Note ‘members of the public’ in dismissive quotation marks. Note the references to youth and creativity – because anyone objecting must be old and outmoded. And as if stripping down women in advertising is clever and’ creative’ – really, you think were the first to come up with that idea? Anyone who objects has a ‘political agenda’ and the cool guys in their General Pants ‘don’t take themselves that seriously’. It’s all just edgy and chilled and the rest of you can get stuffed.
Here’s the thing Craig: we take what you have done seriously, because the actions of your company reduce women to sexualised adornments. So you might think it is all a big joke, and dismiss the rest of us. But your actions reveal what you really think about women. Like you company’s use of a peephole that invites the viewer/voyeur to have a good perve on gaffer tape woman. You’d never think to do that to a man.
General Pants Co. has decided to respond to complaints. But we can’t help being cynical and wondering if this was all part of the plan.
General Pants and Ksubi told consumers they were censoring the campaign from May 3 onwards. But ‘censorship’ didn’t mean removing or pulling the campaign, it meant putting a black panel across the woman’s topless body, emblazoned with the text ‘CENSORED’.
Remember Advanced Medical Institute played the same little game? So did Nena and Pasadena. Sorry Craig, it doesn’t ‘diffuse the situation’. You have still exploited a woman’s body in your advertising, even though belatedly covering her. As my colleague Dr Helen Pringle said to me: “You don’t even need nudity to create pornography, you just put a ‘censored’ sticker over something and voila, homemade porn”. These boys invent their own censorship in order to justify their banal ‘self-expression’.
Here’s what I said about the issue on Channel 7’s Morning Show yesterday.
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