IT WAS International Women’s Day last Friday. We were supposed to celebrate but I struggled to get into party mood.
The 101st anniversary of the global event acknowledged the economic, political and social achievements of women. But the relentless onslaught of harms and injuries to women and girls continues and I wonder, has anything really changed?
Violence against women is a scourge on the planet. Millions of women and girls trafficked into sexual slavery, female genital mutilation, honour killings, dowry deaths, forced marriage, female foeticide and infanticide.
According to the UN, about 200 million girls in the world today are missing. India and China are believed to eliminate more baby girls than the number of girls born in the US each year.
Women and girls are ground down in so many parts of the world. They are at risk of violence at every stage of their lives: from conception to old age. That was vividly illustrated for me during a visit to a shelter for women and girls in Hyderabad, India. On the bottom level were the abandoned baby girls, many with broken limbs from being thrown on to garbage heaps. On the second were the abandoned pregnant girls and women. And on top were the discarded widows.
Every day some new atrocity against women and girls is reported. A 15-year-old girl in the Maldives was sentenced to 100 lashes. Why? Because she had pre-marital sex. Actually she was raped by her stepfather, who killed the resulting baby.
And of course the death by gang rape of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh Pandey in New Delhi. Rape is the fastest-growing crime in India. Delhi’s police commissioner compared women being raped to men being pickpocketed.
The conviction rate for rapes in India in 2011 was just 26.4 per cent. That seems bad, doesn’t it? Compare it with 5.7 per cent of convictions in England and Wales. And in the US, 97 per cent of rapists will get off scot free.
Reeva Steenkamp’s death brought to light that one South African is woman killed every six hours by her partner.
In Australia, violence against women costs the taxpayer an estimated $13.6 billion. Yet the mistreatment of women is routinely used in entertainment, fashion and advertising, even treated as a laugh. At the Oscars, host Seth MacFarlane’s sang We saw your boobs, a song about all the women in the audience whose breasts he had seen on screen.
MacFarlane seemed to miss the rapes and bashings, but at least he got to see naked breasts.
Men’s T-shirts collapse rape into a punch line, with slogans like: “It’s not rape if you yell surprise” and “Relax it’s just sex”, depicting the bound body of a naked woman spattered in blood, sold in youth surf stores. Online retailer Amazon had shirts printed with “Keep calm and rape a lot”. Another in the same line says, “Keep calm and hit her”.
Zoo magazine, read by 28,000 boys aged 14-17 a month, features two halves of a woman and invites readers to describe what they’d like to do to the disembodied half they prefer. Zoo is sold in supermarkets.
Facebook promotes violence against women: “Cleaning foundation off your sword after a hard day of hunting sluts, Dragging sluts into your room unconscious in a sack, You know she’s playing hard to get when she takes out a restraining order, I like my women how I like my Scotch, 10 years old and locked in my basement” are some examples.
“Rape is such a strong word, I prefer struggle snuggle” was shared widely through social media not long ago.
Sexual assault worker Alison Grundy says: “If we continue to subject future generations of young men to great barrages of aggressive, misogynist, over-sexualised and violent imagery in pornography, movies, computer games and advertising, we will continue to see the rates of sexual violence against women and children that continue unabated today. Or worse.”
But there are signs of hope. Women and girls are pushing back and demanding change. We saw it in the streets of India. We saw it in the response to the shooting in Pakistan of Malala Yuousafzai, who was shot because she wanted to go to school.
One Billion Rising (representing the number of female victims of violence) events have been held around the world. In Melbourne last month survivors of sexual assault launched a new book of their stories “We will not go quietly”, speaking out against sexual violence.
International Women’s Day should be an opportunity not to shy away from the difficult ugly truths, or be overwhelmed and depressed, but to name and shame them, harness our anger and be part of the solution.
This would have to be the best analysis of the rise of the ‘selfie’phenomena I have read. Meghan Murphy, love your work.
Clearly the world is engaged in an elaborate plot to make me LOSE MY MIND. You win, world! You are the dumbest and the worst at everything. I concede.
This morning’s episode of CBC Radio’s The Current featured a debate about ‘the selfie’. Listening was a little agonizing at times, but it provided an excellent portrayal of our culture’s mass confusion about what it means to do something ‘for ourselves’ vs. performing for the (male) gaze.
Self-centered as we are, we like to believe that everything we do is ‘for ourselves’, even it’s it’s clearly for others. It’s comforting, yes. But it’s also bullshit. It’s simply not possible that, if we put images of ourselves, or really, if we put anything at all online, that it’s ‘for ourselves’. If it were just ‘for ourselves’ we wouldn’t put it on the Internet.
Now, doing things for others is not terrible. We live in a world with other people, naturally we are going to care what they think of us, which makes it all the more ridiculous that people are so very committed to this imbecilic idea that everything they do ever is all about them.
Writer, Sarah Nicole Prickett, is given the task of defending the selfie in the debate, along with two others: Andrew Keen and Hal Niedzviecki. I imagine she felt the need to exaggerate her points because debates are often intended to be combative and inflammatory, the fear being that, without going a little over the top, the debate becomes boring. But yeesh. I’m not sure how one could put forth the idea that the selfie is just something women and girls do ‘for themselves’ or that it somehow subverts the objectification we are subjected to throughout their lives with a straight face.
Keen makes the most practical and accurate points in the debate, calling the selfie trend “an extreme form of narcissism” that will contribute to a thoroughly embarrassing legacy. Historians will surely regard our culture as one made up of a bunch of spoiled, disgusting ninnies who have an inexplicable obsession with reconstructing our faces and bodies to look like cartoonish parodies of ourselves and who are so thoroughly engrossed with our own lives that we document every single thing we think/do/put in our mouths (Henceforth to be known as #saladtweets, be sure to follow every one of these posts with ‘LOL’ so everyone knows your engrossing tale of WAITING IN A LINEUP or witnessing your baby acting like a baby is entertaining).
Keen is right that we’re living in a narcissistic time, but Prickett points to the ways in which this ‘narcissism’, if you want to call it that, impacts women and girls in a particular way, pointing out that more ‘girls’ participate in this activity than ‘guys’. Disappointingly, she is unwilling to follow through on her own analysis.
Prickett responds to Keen’s critque by saying “a man has not lived inside the experience of a teenage girl” and therefore, how could he possibly critique this clearly gendered phenomenon? Her response to Keen’s argument that the selfie is pure narcissism is particularly revealing: “You have not spent your life as a girl who is looked at, who is judged by how she is looked at, [and] who might have some interest in showing the world how she thinks she looks because that is preferable to how they think she looks.”
Yes! You might be thinking. But no. No because now is when we pull out all our hair.
While, yes, women and girls are constantly looked at and no, men don’t understand what that’s like and what kind of impact that has on our lives and how it shapes our view of ourselves, Prickett completely misses an opportunity to point to some of the implications of moving through life as an object of the male gaze. Instead of looking at the selfie through this lens she veers off into the well-trod ground of ‘it is what it is’, leading into the self-fulfilling ‘male gaze as opportunity for empowerment’ line.
It’s both disappointing, but also a little telling that a man (Keen) seems to understand the meaning of the selfie in a cultural context as well as in a gendered context much better than Prickett does, pointing out that it isn’t actually ‘empowering’ to perform for the male gaze, simply because this is what our society teaches us to do.
Here’s what I think (you were wondering, weren’t you?): Women are brainwashed! It’s a trick, you guys! If we think we’re being empowered, then we can forget about challenging sexist norms and trends. If we convince ourselves that we’re REALLY just objectifying ourselves and that REALLY these stilettos are for MYPLEASURE (oooooh, rolling my ankle makes me feel sexy and free!) then we don’t really need any feminist movement now, do we? Also, believing we aren’t victims of an unfair and oppressive system it helps us to feel non-shitty.
Photographer, Elena, comments that the selfie is simply about self-expression or self-love, going on to argue that we can’t judge a person or assume they are simply ‘vain’ because we have no idea what the selfie-taker’s motive is. Well OK. So it’s perhaps true that not every person who takes a selfie is being ‘vain’. I mean, at this point the selfie is a pretty common and unremarkable part of our culture. I’ve done it, we’ve all done it. THAT SAID, just because we DO THINGS doesn’t make those things universally ‘OK’ or neutral.
Can we create some kind of mantra? Like, “Just because you like something doesn’t make it ‘good’!” “Just because you ‘feel good’ doesn’t make something ‘right’!” “Just because you have a feeling doesn’t make your feeling an unexaminable truth!” Didn’t our parents drill this into our heads when we were kids? “If everyone else jumped off a bridge… blah blah blah.” Just because people do things doesn’t mean you have to do them or that those things are ‘OK’.
Prickett understands that women and girls are treated as commodities and learn to navigate their lives as commodified objects BUT STILL she is unwilling to use her powers of critical analysis to move past the ‘this-is-happening-so-it’s-happening’ analysis.
She even goes so far as to compare critique of the gendered popularity of selfies to some kind of hysterical “Victorian bullshit where we don’t want girls to get pleasure from themselves alone because it upsets the whole order” (like masturbation!). UUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGGH. Do people even KNOW WHAT WORDS MEAN ANYMORE???
Clearly if we are taking photos of our faces and bodies and sharing them on the Internet, we are not doing this ‘for ourselves’. Just as boob jobs and wearing makeup and making porn isn’t ‘for ourselves’. While other panelists seem to understand this concept, Prickett continues along her merry way, trying to convince us that the selfie is about TAKING BACK OUR POWER AS WOMEN, or something. See, by learning to love and perform for the male gaze, we are empowered! It’s classic burlesque-brain logic. I’m doing this, therefore it’s for ME.
Just because you grow up in a culture that turns you into an object against your will, it does not mean that, somehow, if you ‘choose’ to further objectify yourself it is somehow subverting the enforced objectification.
Prickett says she “doesn’t want to revert to [the] first year university, ‘it’s the male gaze’ [thing]” but feels she has no other choice. And OH how I wish she’d paid attention during male gaze class (Quick plug: Learning about the male gaze is great incentive for taking Women’s Studies in college and university!).
When we internalize the male gaze, we see ourselves through that lens. So we turn the camera on ourselves, or we objectify other women, or we objectify ourselves — because that’s how we have learned to see women and to see ourselves. Simply because a man is not literally looking at us at the very moment we ‘choose’ to objectify ourselves or simply because our audience may be comprised of some women, does not erase the male gaze from our psyche.
Keen says, near the end of the debate: “If we can’t judge our culture, what can we judge.” And I wish feminists would take that into consideration before repeating the horrid and useless (yet, ever-popular) “don’t judge me!!!” mantra that pops up when anyone tries to critique any social phenomenon or behaviour.
As Keen notes, in response to Prickett’s attempt to compare critique of the selfie to ‘Victorian’ hysteria around masturbation, public masturbation is different than private masturbation. Posting photos of ourselves on the internet makes those photos public, therefore not ‘for ourselves’ (i.e. private).
The selfie is narcissistic, yes. And of course I’m not saying that people who take selfies are terrible people. It’s just kind of how things are these days. It’s a thing we all do. THAT SAID. Many girls do the selfie because they see themselves as objects of the male gaze and their selfies reflect his. PARTICULARLY (yes, I’m going to say it), when we’re posting photos of ourselves posing in porny ways, in underwear and/or bikinis, focusing on sexualized body parts, etc. It isn’t ‘taking anything back’, it’s just part of the game.
Feminist Conversations is a regular feature here at Feminists for Choice. Today we are talking to Melinda Tankard Reist, co-editor of Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry. Melinda is also the co-founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation.
How did you become interested in researching pornography?
There were a few things that came together around the same time. Women started telling me their stories of being hurt and harmed by a partner’s compulsive porn use. In my talks in schools, teen girls shared with me the pressure they felt to provide a porn-style performance, to act, essentially, as a sexual service station for men and boys. They were expected to provide naked images of themselves, to provide sexual services. As well, the sex industry was dominating and colonising every public space and was rarely brought to account. I began to talk to my publishers about what I was hearing. Spinifex had published an earlier book in 2004 titled Not for Sale: feminists resisting prostitution and pornography edited by Christine Stark and Rebecca Whisnant. It was a powerful book. But so much had happened since then, especially with the internet being used to globalise and spread pornography. We felt that a new book on pornography was needed. It also seemed to be a natural progression from my previous book Getting Real: challenging the sexualisation of girls, published by Spinifex in 2009.
There seems to be an overall consensus in the book that pornography is the same (or similar to) prostitution. Can you explain the similarities?
Yes, the writers in the book would mostly argue that pornography is filmed (or graphically depicted) prostitution. Melissa Farley uses the term ‘infinite prostitution’. The pornography industry has many of the features of the prostitution industry–it needs to procure women through trafficking, it relies on pimps to mediate transactions with the women who will be used, and the women it procures generally have histories of sexual abuse, poverty and homelessness. Pornography is advertising for prostitution and normalises the sexual exploitation of women. As well, men often want to act out what they see in porn on ‘live’ women. Pornography is often used as a form of initiation into prostitution. It’s also the case that women in pornography are concurrently being prostituted off-set, or go on to be used in systems of prostitution and stripping. The overlap between the prostitution and pornography businesses is so great that we might see them as operating in parallel, or perhaps as one larger sex industry. However, I think it’s also important to understand the differences between the pornography and prostitution sectors of the sex industry, and Big Porn Inc highlights these differences for pornography in particular. Firstly, the abuses that women undergo in pornography have a permanent or semi-permanent record made of them in the form of film, etc. This record causes many women great hardship and stress, because they feel they can never escape their past, and suffer anxiety at the prospect that anyone they meet throughout their lives has seen the pornography. They are also vulnerable to blackmail over it. The permanency of pornography causes particular suffering for women whose childhood sexual abuse was filmed as child pornography and shared by their abusers. Another aspect of the pornography industry that might distinguish it from the rest of the sex industry is the culture of ‘celebrity’ and ‘glamour’ that has developed around the industry in the last ten years. Jenna Jameson and Sascha Grey have been central to the promotion of the idea that pornography is a way for poor girls to escape their lives and become rich and famous, but of course the reality of the industry for the overwhelming majority of women/girls is that they are used up in around three months because of the extremity of the abuse and degradation of contemporary pornography. However, this culture of celebrity is very attractive to poor girls, and unfortunately draws them to the industry in a way that doesn’t necessarily happen for prostitution businesses. It means that the pornography industry is able to attract particularly young women, and in increasingly large numbers. The industry is normalised among younger generations to an extent that prostitution is not, because of widespread consumption of pornography among this generation, and the celebration of pornography by the popular media and culture. A third difference between the pornography and prostitution industries is the diversity of forms pornography takes–it is possible for women/girls to be sold as pornography through being used by their ‘boyfriends’ in front of home-based webcams, for example. While it is also common that ‘boyfriends’ pimp women through their homes, in the case of pornography this pimping is made difficult to recognise as illegal because of technology and the glamorising of pornography. There are businesses dedicated to the pimping of women through pay-per-view webcams, as well as pornography made of women being used through brothels. This diversity in the mode of business that pornography takes means that the industry is able to expand with very little scrutiny and opposition, let alone government oversight. The industry essentially operates in unchartered, frontier space in the absence of any controls whatsoever. Governments and societies worldwide are overwhelmed by the diversity of the sex industry, and so far haven’t managed to enact any governance frameworks at all that might curb its expansion and domination over culture and the economy.
What is your overall message about pornography that the book also highlights?
I think a major theme of the book is that the first and most egregious harm of pornography is to the women and girls who are used to make it. While the harm of pornography does extend to women much more widely, when we think about pornography we must think about the women who are harmed in its production first. This is because women/girls used in pornography are perhaps the most vulnerable and exploited population in our society. They are often racially marginalised, as well as victims of childhood sexual abuse, homelessness, and addiction. Their life chances are very poor, and even more so after they have been through the pornography industry. The writing in Big Porn Inc against the pornography industry mostly prioritises the interests of these women/girls in the way it does not make distinctions between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ pornography, or ‘better’ and ‘worse’ forms of pornography. For the women and girls used in the industry, these distinctions are often meaningless, because the same women are used in both types of pornography production. Often they start out in ‘soft’ production, but then must be used in more violent and degrading productions to be able to make money and stay in the industry. For these women and girls, the chance to lead a life of quality and dignity depends on our efforts to dismantle the sex industry and create social services and facilities that will allow them to recover from childhood sexual abuse, to escape homelessness, and escape pimps or exploitative ‘boyfriends’. In addition to these women, of course, pornography harms many others, including the children who are sexually abused through perpetrators showing them pornography, as well as wives/girlfriends who are pressured to ‘act’ out scenes in pornography, and girls and boys who grow up seeing pornography as a ‘model’ for sexual relationships and never have a chance at understanding what true physical affection and tenderness looks like. Average age of first exposure to porn is 11. This is distorting and warping young people’s views of their bodies, relationships and sex. I believe it is an unprecedented assault on the healthy sexuality young people.
The trend in pornography seems for “sex” to be increasingly violent and aggressive. Can you explain why that is?
Yes, as Gail Dines and others show, the pornography industry over time has definitely escalated its violence against women and the level of degradation and humiliation it inflicts. Researchers have gathered empirical evidence that the more popular forms of pornography are the ones that are more violent and overtly degrading of women. Torture porn has become increasingly popular, rape sites, live S&M and bondage in which women are brutalised in whatever way the viewer requests. And it’s all becoming more and more mainstream. For example the documentary film Kink is about to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. The Kink website shows images of women in extreme positions of pain and torture. It seems it’s not even about ‘sex’ anymore – it’s about how much brutality and degradation a woman can cope with. And this is where many young men take their cues for relating sexually to women.
What is your response when people state that there are no victims in porn (just consenting adults)?
Linda Boreman’s (Lovelace) account of her time in the pornography industry where she was brutalised and forced into its production shows this claim to be untrue. Traci Lords’s use in pornography as a sixteen-year-old also shows that the industry does not always use adult women. Even women who glamorise their time in the pornography industry sometimes describe aspects of its brutality, such as Jenna Jameson’s How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale in which she describes being incapacitated for six hours after a sex scene in which she was injured internally. The notion of ‘consent’ that proponents of the sex industry use to justify their moneymaking activities is an extremely impoverished one. The idea that young women surviving childhood sexual abuse who are homeless and being pimped by a ‘boyfriend’ are making a ‘choice’ to enter the pornography industry is laughable. The ‘consent’ invoked for women used in pornography is nothing more than a legal ploy to allow the filming of prostitution and sexual abuse (and sometimes overt physical torture) without the threat of arrest and prosecution. These activities are allowed to take place in society only because the cover of ‘sex’ makes them somehow different from what they really are, which is rape, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and exploitation.
When did you first consider yourself a feminist and what influenced that decision?
It is difficult to identify one key moment. There was a dawning recognition about the global maltreatment of women. It was, I suppose, recognising the second-class status of women pretty much everywhere. I have travelled a lot and witnessed the abuse of women in so many parts of the world. You just have to look at the raw statistic on violence, ‘honour’ killings, dowry deaths, female genital mutilation, child brides, forced abortion, forced sterilisation, female foeticide, female infanticide, the systematic elimination of women and girls in so many ways. I recall being in a shelter in Hyderabad, India. On the bottom level were the abandoned baby girls; many plucked from rubbish heaps, with bruises and broken bones. On the second level were the abandoned pregnant girls and women. On the top level were the abandoned widows. Three layers of discrimination against women, all in that one home.
What does feminism mean to you?
It means working to change the second-class status of women. To addressing the real, felt needs of women (I was privileged to help set up a supported accommodation and outreach service for women and girls pregnant and without support in Australia.) To advocating for women and girls everywhere and all the time. It means trying to make the world better for my three daughters and the daughters of other women as well. It means engaging in grass roots activism and empowering other women to speak out, through movements like Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation (www.collectiveshout.org) It also means working in solidarity with the best people I have ever met.
The show was pretty packed, discussion-wise, and the producers did a great job of trying to include a wide variety of perspectives on FEMEN’s tactics. That said, there is A LOT more that could be said around some of the issues that came up and comments that made on the show. I personally spent much of my time on the show silently fuming over the, frankly, crazy things Shevchenko was saying.
I’ve written about Femen before, noting that the group seems generally clueless about feminism, past and present, based on statements such as: “We’re the new face of feminism…Classical feminism is dead.” Shevchenko seems to think that FEMEN invented both feminism in the Ukraine as well as the incredibly original, never-been-done-before tactic of women using their naked bodies in order to get people to look at them. They call it ‘sextremism’, I call it the same old shit. What I’ve noted elsewhere is that nude protest, when it comes to women, is a great tactic if your priority is to get media attention, but can be problematic because, often, that is the only way the media will pay attention to women — i.e. if we are performing for the male gaze. Read entire article here.
‘How dare the elite media and privileged individuals who think themselves superior to the average mother, deride mothers and imply they’re not eligible for a view on how society should be improved?’
The articles last week in New Matilda (Trixie Wellington), Crikey (Helen Razer) and ABC Unleashed (Lauren Rosewarne) were so nasty and hurtful to mothers who are legitimately doing their best to make sure their daughters don’t come to any harm from men.
What about mothers who are survivors who might feel like they worry too much about child sexualisation stuff? (which I don’t think is possible). It’s just feeding into their self-doubt, and disempowering them from taking proper action to try and protect their kids better than they were protected.
I think there’s an implicit message in Wellington’s article that mothers are looking at their daughters sexually, which she should be called out on. This is an outrageous claim – Australian courts are currently chock full of, not women, but men who have decided to extend their violent pornography consumption to children. The statistics are huge and getting worse by the year.
Of course we would all love men to come to their senses and begin to lead decent lives like women have managed to for hundreds of years, but at this point in history there’s no indication they’re collectively deciding to do that. So, in the meantime, we have to let mothers feel as empowered as possible to protect their kids, without feeling like they’re weird or being told, (with no evidence) their agenda is puritanical: to ‘shame’ girls and put them in burqas?
How dare the elite media and privileged individuals who think themselves superior to the average mother, deride mothers and imply they’re not eligible for a view on how society should be improved? It smacks of classism. Why are mothers not eligible to speak on behalf of other women? Why can’t they lead the women’s movement (however that’s defined)?
Why can’t we have a women’s movement that’s influenced by our concern for children? Do we have to hide the fact we’re mothers if we want to speak out? And what’s with ‘feminists’ siding with corporations over an individual mother? How could that happen?
More than ever, we need to stand together across the class divide to protect children against trends like sexualisation. Disparaging and belittling mothers, who are most qualified to speak on behalf of children, is just a good way to let the corporations win.
The pornification of culture occurs because not enough of us have children’s rights foremost in our minds. On a daily basis mothers are going about their lives with children’s wellbeing and welfare as their top priority, so we could learn from their example.
Dr Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global Urban and, Social Studies at RMIT University and a contributor to Big Porn Inc: exposing the harms of the global pornography industry.
Player loses underwear replayed on giant screens, sex doll shared, chosen men get to ‘tackle’ players, fans leer and jeer – and they call it sport
On Saturday night I was in the crowd at the Lingerie Football League game at All Phones Arena, Sydney Olympic Park.
I’m a former athlete. I have coached a number of sports including soccer. I made it to the Youth National Trials back home in England (until I did something stupid involving a bucket of soapy water, some friends who were not unknown to law enforcement, and a moving car, which ended my short lived career. But that’s another story).
A friend, who is a triathlete, agreed to come with me. We both follow sport. She didn’t make it to half time. As a serious athlete, she couldn’t handle the degrading treatment of women under the guise of ‘sport’. She asked her boyfriend – also an athlete – to come and get her. He commented: “I think men don’t go there for the sport the same as men don’t go to a strip club to see a good dancer.”
I stayed on to be able to report to my Collective Shout colleagues – and anyone else who cared – what took place that night. But it wasn’t easy.
There were many low points. Probably the worst:
• A player’s lingerie bottoms fall down (not entirely unpredictable, it’s what the mostly male crowd seemed to be hoping for). They go wild. The scene is then replayed on the large screen for their viewing pleasure. A man standing next to me says “This is the perfect sport!”
• The MC invites men to stand and be selected in the ‘Chase and tackle the girl contest’ to come onto the field and ‘tackle’ a real LFL player. Men stand and cheer, pointing at themselves while others fist pump the air. Three are chosen. The female player is brought to the ground. I wonder what protection the players have against sexual harassment and inappropriate touching. And what would happen if she were injured, given players have to sign a waiver of compensation form.
• A blow up doll is passed around near me. One man simulated oral sex as others laugh. Men pass the prized doll along until someone throws it into the VIP area, where an attendant confiscates it. The crowd boos.
• Some men opposite me make a stack with their beer cups. I have seen this done before. What I have never seen at any sporting venue was what happens when the host, an older lady, asks them to stop. The men insult her and throw their ($7) beers over her. She appears shaken and leaves.
Touchdowns are celebrated by slapping thighs and making ‘Pussy Signs’ above the players’ heads. Apparently it’s a great thing to attract the hand vagina signal. The new Sydney recruits selected from tryouts on Thursday night stood to one end clapping and dancing to ‘I am sexy and I know it’.
Men hang over the fence to get close-up camera shots of the player’s backsides.
As the player’s leave the field during half time a group of women enter wearing stockings, black high heeled boots and lingerie and hand out freebies to the men. The NSW team are introduced to the crowd. They run out and perform a set move – the sexier the move, the louder the roar from the crowd. A blonde woman who did the splits got the biggest reaction.
The second half gets underway and the men, fuelled by copious amounts of beer, become more aggressive. The music is pumped up.
The MC reads an ad for ‘Mobile Tanning Service.’ Given there were few women attending, of what interest would this be to the bulk of men in the crowd?
One player goes to the VIP section on field level and some men break the fence as they tried to grab her as she walks by. Security moves in.
When the game finishes the MC quickly announces that the party zone will commence in about 10 minutes for those with tickets. Fans who had paid could could stay back and take photos and do “whatever you want”.
LFL founder Mitch Mortaza made a statement over the intercom about how LFL was a new sport to Australia and how, despite the criticism, “You came the fuck anyways”. This is greeted by loud cheers from the fans.
The NSW team are sent out to parade around the field again. “They are all gorgeous girls, can’t wait to watch them,” the commentator says.
A group of men walk past me as I’m sitting by myself. One asks “What are you doing here? Are you a f-ing lesbian?” I said no, but I am reporting on the game. They didn’t elaborate further on their lesbian theme.
I decided it was time to leave. I walk out, depleted.
Lingerie Football League is hailed as the all-new Australian sport and we are supposed to celebrate? It wasn’t sport. It was a meat fest. It had the feel of a giant buck’s night. But it was on a sporting field so apparently that made it sport.
I call on sporting bodies and our Government, to step in to stop this. The game encourages sexist behaviour, it does nothing to promote women in sport on an equal footing with men.
What a sad day for women who do work hard for their sport, who go unrecognised, who can’t get attention for their outstanding abilities because they wish to play in practical, protective clothing and don’t want to be some man’s lingerie fantasy dressed up as sport.
It wasn’t about playing football – it was about how aggressively we could act towards the other girls
Last Thursday I found myself walking towards the bright lights of the Sydney’s All Phones Arena at Homebush. Turning the corner, I realised I was in the right place when I saw a line that would have done any night club proud – dozens of attractive young women in full hair and heavy make-up, long tanned legs bared in defiance of the winter chill, eagerly waiting their turn.
I took my place at the end of the line. Like all the women here on this cold night, I had come to try out for the Lingerie Football League (LFL). Though my motives were a little different. I wanted to see how we would be treated, what would be required of us, and to test the notion that this was real sport.
I was handed an application form, talent release and ‘Waiver of Compensation’ form. The last informed us that the League would not be liable if we were injured. Was that even legal? I saw one of the American players on crutches and wondered how she was paying for her treatment.
The girl in front of me offered me her pen, and helped me figure out the entry process. She told me that she was a surfer, did athletics, and had brought her father along as her support. There were many men in the stands, male friends and some other fathers.
With the paperwork out of the way, we made our way through to the change rooms. The girls in front of me had already started stripping down to their tryout clothes, none as extreme as the lingerie we would be expected to wear if we got through.
We each had a number written on our arms that would become “Your Name” on field – failure to respond to this number meant running a lap of the field, and a repeat of this offense would see us cut from the group, with no chance of selection. A girl ahead of me received number ‘69’, an honour which saw the US LFL team members cheering and joking that this girl had just received a free ticket through to the final selection. Every time number 69 was up, any athleticism or skill she displayed was overlooked in favour of continuing the joke that a numerical reference to oral sex was all the proof she needed of her potential.
We entered the floodlit arena to find it transformed into an astroturfed miniature gridiron field. I nervously made my way down to the field, where a large group of about 80 milled around waiting. Amongst this group were a handful of obviously serious athletes. I later discovered that one LFL hopeful was already a part of a semi-professional women’s football league, and another had represented Australia in baseball.
We were put into numerical order for the first drill. Along the sidelines were a number of US LFL players in red tracksuits. They walked around demonstrating drills and pumping the girls up through the night.
LFL founder Mitch Mortaza introduced himself and some of the star players. We then commenced with a warm up before three hours of drills as Mortaza patrolled with a clipboard, looking us up and down, watching our moves.
A cameramen appeared, lying on the ground taking upward angle shots of us running past. I was very thankful to be wearing long tights. I felt less exposed than some of the other women. I wondered how the photos would be used and where.
It wasn’t long before the music pumped up and the LFL players surrounded us, firing us up, urging us to be aggressive to each other. They then went on to insult us, screaming “You’re a pussy!” followed by a hand gesture in the shape of a vagina. As well as acting as an insult, the vagina hand shape was also later held above the heads of the top 20 as a victory sign.
We were shown the drill once and then expected to be able to mimic it. If we failed to do so we were screamed at, called a pussy and then Mortaza would yell “Stop wasting my fucking time, if you are here to fucking sight see, get the fuck out!” The way he spoke to us, made us feel like what we had to offer was never good enough.
Along with being ruthless he also showed a lack of knowledge of the sport. Mortaza made a fool of himself as he attempted to demonstrate a simple drill, leaving players confused as to what signal he was trying to communicate.
One drill was girl against girl. If we didn’t fight with all we had, we would be pushed to the ground, but that wasn’t good enough for Mortaza. He didn’t just want us to wrestle the girl he wanted us to “pancake the shit out of her”. The girl that ended up getting smashed to the ground was laughed at and along with the hand gesture, was called a pussy by all the LFL players.
During this drill, other LFL players shouted “own her” and “put her in the parking lot” and “haul your arse”. We were expected to physically hurt our opponent. I think this is what disturbed me most. It wasn’t about playing football, it was about how aggressively we could act towards the other girls, how much pain we could inflict, all to entertain the crowd.
For most of the girls this was the first time they had encountered American-style football, playing a sport that isn’t actually Australian. Yet we received incredibly harsh criticism when we failed to match the skills shown by the LFL players who were professional players.
One of the girls I became friends with was behind me and I expressed my concern at the uniform we would be required to wear if we were chosen. She seemed oblivious as to as why this would be a concern. The tall blonde went on to be selected for the top 20, despite lacking the skill, speed and strength of other hopefuls.
After the drills we were then asked to gather around and hear two stories of ‘inspiration’ from two of the most popular LFL players. One story was not give up if you didn’t make it through, the other was to give us insight into what life was like in the LFL. LFL All Star Liz Gorman joked about it being the “fat story” as she had to lose weight when she was picked for the team. (I had already read that players who gained weight were humiliated). ”It is it about image,” she said. She also made a comment about the uniform,“The uniform it is was it is”. We were also warned about the amount of criticism we would receive from being a LFL player and that people would be harsh about our appearance so we had to look after our bodies.
Mortaza then read out the numbers of the girls who were chosen for the final round. Despite my ability to perform the drills, it was clear Mortaza wanted a certain ‘look’. So I was not particularly surprised that a number of us who had displayed greater football skills remained on the sidelines.
While a couple of the girls who made the cut were obviously talented athletes, in the end it was clear to everyone that our ability to play gridiron was a far lower priority than how our body would fill out the uniform.
The night ended with a pep talk about how to look sexy on Saturday night when those selected for a Sydney team to play competitively in December 2013 would be presented during half time at tonight’s LFL game in Sydney. They had to make sure hair and make-up was done and they were showing themselves as sexy, hot girls who had had a lot to offer – on or off the field.
A number of us worked hard and I’m still recovering. We faced constant belittlement and abuse. But our form wasn’t important if we weren’t stereotypically hot.
I’d love to be able to play gridiron someday. I love to test my body and mind to the limits of endurance. But I want to play a game where we are respected and valued for our abilities on the field. I want to know that our clubs would take care of us in terms of salary and insurance. I don’t want to play some pseudo sport where we are expected to wear sexy underwear and engage in girl-on-girl violence, and be called pussies, because that’s what we have been reduced to in a strip show style spectacle for the gratification of men, under the guise of sport.
Tal Stone is a 23 year-old Sydney university student and athlete.
I found this piece by Dr Helen Pringle, ‘Killjoys, Wowser and The P-rn Wars’ in New Matilda so inspiring. I hope my fellow women’s activists will draw strength and renew their commitment to our cause, after reading it.
“Justice is an element of beauty as much as colour and outline on canvas.” – Mary Richardson
Were the Suffragettes puritanical? Hardly. As the debate over p*rn rages, the history of feminism is being mischaracterised as the terrain of wowsers and killjoys. Helen Pringle responds to Eva Cox
Eva Cox tries to portray feminists who have concerns about what she characterises as “tasteless porn” as simply being in the grip of “current anxieties about the dominance of markets”, and as linked to “puritanical” strains in the history of feminism. In the process, Cox has rewritten that history to police the boundaries of feminism so that it does not include women who have a concern with the power of images and words in pornography.
Cox also slips in a characterisation of some of the Suffragettes who campaigned for the vote as wowsers and killjoys. She laments, “Women members of the Christian Temperance Union fought for women to get the vote in the hope that women would vote to ban alcohol”. In fact, those women and others knew only too well the dangers that alcoholism posed to women’s safety and equality when it was linked to male entitlement.
The Suffragettes more broadly are often portrayed along Cox’s lines as delicate creatures asking for protection from “evil masculinity”. But when Christabel Pankhurst coined the slogan “Votes for Women … and Chastity for Men”, it was a call for an end to sexual subordination and damage of women often caused by the spread of VD through the prostitution of women. It was not a sexually puritanical claim. There is no evidence that Suffragettes, or in fact feminists, appreciated intimacy, love or beauty any less than anyone else. Read more>
Since the publication of Rachael Hills’s article “Who’s Afraid of Melinda Tankard Reist” (and see her reflections two weeks later) at least ten on-line and print media articles have joined in a public dissection and commentary along the lines of, “she’s a conservative religious fundamentalist” and “she’s pro-life and can’t be a feminist.”
The subliminal context of the attempts to bring Melinda Tankard Reist to her knees and destroy her work is of course the elephant in the room: if her considerable impact on educating the public about the harms of the sex industry could be reduced, the pornography and prostitution promoters and profiteers would rejoice.
As her publishers at Spinifex Press, Australia’s only feminist publishing house (and secular), we take issue with these portrayals of Melinda Tankard Reist. It is easy to try to dismiss someone by smacking on a “fundamentalist” (whether Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Jewish) label and thereby dismiss the arguments that a person makes. What is less easy, but more ethical and intellectually rigorous, is to examine Tankard Reist’s views – which are shared by many feminists and other advocates for social justice and human rights – and to see what the factual arguments for those views are. Read more>
“Sexualisation” has become a much-debated issue in recent years, and a noticeable feature is the assumption that feminists who oppose sexual objectification are generating a “moral panic.”
Ever since sociologist Stanley Cohen introduced the term in 1972, it has been used as a shorthand way of critiquing conservatives for inventing another “problem” in order to demonise a group that challenges traditional moral standards.
So apparently feminists are now the conservatives fomenting unnecessary panic about the proliferation of “sexualised” images while the corporate-controlled media industry that mass produces these images is the progressive force for change being unfairly demonised. What a strange turn of events. Read more
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“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
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
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It and the Ruby Who? book and DVD in one bundle for $100 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real and Faking It in one bundle for $70 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase Getting Real, Faking It and Ruby Who? DVD in one bundle for $60 and save 12% off the individual price.
Purchase the Ruby Who? DVD and book together for only $35 saving 10% off the individual price.
“This powerful and humane book is a breakthrough…Big Porn Inc shows us we are poisoning our own spirits.” – Steve Biddulph
“A landmark publication” – Clive Hamilton
“Getting Real contains a treasure trove of information and should be mandatory reading for all workers with young people in health, education and welfare” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Adolescent Psychologist
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.