And also this morning, I had to explain to someone why stripping and nudity aren’t actually acts of feminist defiance, but the same old male appeasement in a shiny new package. There’s always some group of so-called feminists trying to get away with this. It doesn’t work, because getting naked is what men want women to do.
Doing what men want is appeasement. Feminism is resistance. Appeasement and resistance are opposing forces; the more you do of one, the less you can do of the other. That’s why these groups are insidious; they divert feminist energy into meaningless acts that only serve male interests.
Men don’t care if you write incendiary messages of revolt all over your naked body, as long as they get to see that body. When they hear you call yourself a slut, they won’t know that you’re being ironic and that you’ve reclaimed the word. And they won’t care, because irony is just another flavor of appeasement. They’ll call you a slut in a totally non-ironic, non-reclaimed way. And they’ll insist that insulting you is okay because you’re doing it to yourself. Read full post here.
Girls’ anxieties turn to healthy anger when they see they are part of a wider cause, writes Steve Biddulph.
This year, on a multi-country speaking tour for my new book Raising Girls, I talked to thousands of parents of girls. It was an eye-opening experience. For 25 years I’d worked primarily on the challenges of boys. The predominant emotion in that work was sorrow – at how damaged the masculine condition was – how the wars and traumas of the twentieth century had left a generation of men shut down, remote and awkward around their children. It was not unusual to see men and women in those audiences weeping at the damage they had sustained from fathers who were unable to convey their love.
The gatherings with parents of girls, though, have a very different emotional tone. Parents of girls are angry. They see very plainly the exploitation, anxiety creation, and uncaring assaults on young girls both by sexist males, still celebrated in the media, music and sport, and by the corporate world, which by its own admission targetted pre-teen girls deliberately from the mid 1990’s, to sell them products they neither want nor need. The objectification of girls and women was at the heart of the womens’ movement in the 1960’s, and this is no less the case today. Sexism is staging a comeback, media driven and commercially motivated, and it’s the kids who are being hurt the worst.
Researchers such as Richard Eckersley have noted deteriorating mental health among girls worldwide, predominantly anxiety conditions, but manifesting in everything from eating disorders to binge drinking. A shocking one in five girls now suffers a mental health disorder during her growing up years. While most girls are still doing fine, few parents have not heard their daughter say “I hate my body”, or “I hate my life”. The boundaries around our children are down. Home is no longer a haven, the adults are too busy to talk, and advertizing blares from TV’s in every room. Social media holds out the promise of friendship but often delivers cruelty and judgementalness.
Its a paradox that this is happening at a time when girls have never had more scope. They easily outdo boys educationally, and are far more employable. Girls today see that a woman can be a prime minister, but also they see the horrifically sexist way that woman is treated.
Anger is a healthy emotion because it leads to action. There are many things we can do. Our daughters need to know that they are part of a long, and successful struggle, and one which they have to participate in because its gains could so easily be lost. Perhaps the cure for the narcissism of fashion, for paralyzing anxiety over body issues and pleasing boys, might lie in lifting one’s gaze and seeing that this is victimhood, and should not be tolerated. That their problems are linked to those of girls and women right across the globe.
Last month, while the world was discussing Miley Cyrus’s dance routines, an eight year old girl in Yemen died of from internal injuries caused by sexual intercourse on her wedding night. Let me repeat that – an eight year old girl. Its a seamless flow from the poverty that leads from child brides, into child prostitution and trafficking, to abusive pornography, and on to spotty boys in your shopping mall wearing t-shirts with images of women bound and gagged. Its all the same struggle and we can fight it from here.
There needs to be a real uprising in the west against the extraordinary rates of sexual assault, workplace exploitation, and lack of educational opportunity that still characterizes girls lives in the developing world, and is far from defeated at home. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryll Wudunn in their book Half the Sky, document a hundred thousand girls being trafficked into brothels each year in China. Across Asia and Africa, the deliberate neglect of baby girls has led to a gender imbalance, representing the loss of a hundred million lives. In Dubai, a woman will be jailed for BEING raped.
It all starts at home. We have to be wide awake, or we can end up being the vehicles of harm to our own daughters. Three generations of domination by the visual media of television and now the internet have created massive overfocus on how people LOOK. If we talk endlessly about diets, weight and food, we can’t expect our daughters not to catch this disease. In my talks I ask a question of the audience. “Put up your hand if you are unhappy with your own body”. In auditoriums of five hundred people, only two or three don’t put up their hands. “You see”, I tell them “the trouble we are already in?”
How fathers treat daughters is also critical. Showing respect, asking her views, supporting her interests and vocations with generous amounts of your time, simply enjoying her company, sends a message that she has profound worth. Fathers are the first opposite gender relationship a girl has, and set a benchmark which can immunize her from manipulation or misuse by boys.
But most of all, if we can show our girls that they are part of something larger, they soon become activated. A movement is an outbreak of common sense. Of course slavery was wrong. Of course we have to protect the environment. Of course women should be equal. But movements require lots of work, personal and political. Getting involved is in itself liberating, for the fight itself links us together and brings us fully alive. Our daughters need feminism, and it needs them. There’s a world at stake.
Steve Biddulph is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology, and author of Raising Girls,Raising Boys and The New Manhood.
‘I hadn’t anticipated the massive backlash from the boys’
… I started to notice how much the girls at my school suffer because of the pressures associated with our gender. Many of the girls have eating disorders, some have had peers heavily pressure them into sexual acts, others suffer in emotionally abusive relationships where they are constantly told they are worthless…
What I hadn’t anticipated on setting up the feminist society was a massive backlash from the boys in my wider peer circle. They took to Twitter and started a campaign of abuse against me. I was called a “feminist bitch”, accused of “feeding [girls] bullshit”, and in a particularly racist comment was told “all this feminism bull won’t stop uncle Sanjit from marrying you when you leave school”.
Our feminist society was derided with retorts such as, “FemSoc, is that for real? #DPMO” [don't piss me off] and every attempt we made to start a serious debate was met with responses such as “feminism and rape are both ridiculously tiring”.
The more girls started to voice their opinions about gender issues, the more vitriolic the boys’ abuse became. One boy declared that “bitches should keep their bitchiness to their bitch-selves #BITCH” and another smugly quipped, “feminism doesn’t mean they don’t like the D, they just haven’t found one to satisfy them yet.” Any attempt we made to stick up for each other was aggressively shot down with “get in your lane before I par [ridicule] you too”, or belittled with remarks like “cute, they got offended”.
I fear that many boys of my age fundamentally don’t respect women. They want us around for parties, banter and most of all sex. But they don’t think of us as intellectual equals, highlighted by accusations of being hysterical and over sensitive when we attempted to discuss serious issues facing women…
We were told that our “militant vaginas” were “as dry as the Sahara desert”, girls who complained of sexual objectification in their photos were given ratings out of 10, details of the sex lives of some of the girls were posted beside their photos, and others were sent threatening messages warning them that things would soon “get personal”. Read full article here
An unexpected response, perhaps, from an (allegedly) grown woman. But a story in the latest issue did me in.
‘Real Life Stories’ – which I have always appreciated for giving space to the raw realities of so many girls lives – opens with a first person account of Carrieanne who took on the care of her younger brothers and sisters when her mother died suddenly at only 42, for reasons unknown. Carrieanne was 18. A moving photo shows her with her three younger siblings, one only a baby. Carrieanne has applied for legal guardianship and is continuing to study while caring for the children with the help of two older siblings and neighbours. Speaking of her mum she says “I think she would be so proud of what I’m doing now.” I think she would be too Carrieanne. (Now where are the tissues?).
In other ‘Real Stories’, Mariah, 16, is working to end poverty with World Vision. She began by getting an after school job so she could sponsor a child. By 13 she was fundraising for World Vision’s Haiti earthquake appeal and is now collating a book Reaching Out: Messages of Hope, a collaboration between 30 authors, illustrators and advocates from around the world to be published by HarperCollins, with profits going to UNIFEC for which she is now a youth ambassador. “Teens might not realise it, but we have so much power. We can be the generation that changes history. We don’t need to fix world poverty tomorrow, but we can help one child at a time.” Well said Mariah! Read more
So encouraged to see what can happen when women rise up and declare they’ve had enough. I hope these accounts inspire further action to stop online violence against women and girls.
“This is the story of a feminist takeover,” wrote the author of Feminist at Sea, a WordPress blog.
A group of six feminists got hold of a notoriously misogynistic Facebook page called Bra Busters and replaced all the titillating, sexist content with feminist memes and quotes by authors like Andrea Dworkin and Virginia Woolf. There was mass outrage from Bra Busters’ original members—and mass victory celebration by feminists. Facebook moderators got involved, but the page contentiously remains in the hands of the feminists.
[UPDATE] WIN! Facebook responds, commits to change
From Women, Action and the Media:
“…”In a statement released today, Facebook addressed our concerns and committed to evaluating and updating its policies, guidelines and practices relating to hate speech, improving training for its content moderators and increasing accountability for creators of misogynist content.” Read more about Facebook’s commitment here.
Read the open letter to Facebook and join the campaign
A global campaign is calling on Facebook to clamp down on content glorifying rape, domestic violence and other forms of violence against women.
Collective Shout has signed an open letter to Facebook along with women’s advocates and organisations around the world. We invite you to join the campaign calling on companies to withdraw advertising until Facebook takes action to remove content glorifying violence against women.
Here’s an excerpt of the letter:
We, the undersigned, are writing to demand swift, comprehensive and effective action addressing the representation of rape and domestic violence on Facebook. Specifically, we call on you, Facebook, to take three actions:
Recognize speech that trivializes or glorifies violence against girls and women as hate speech and make a commitment that you will not tolerate this content.
Effectively train moderators to recognize and remove gender-based hate speech.
Effectively train moderators to understand how online harassment differently affects women and men, in part due to the real-world pandemic of violence against women.
To this end, we are calling on Facebook users to contact advertisers whose ads on Facebook appear next to content that targets women for violence, to ask these companies to withdraw from advertising on Facebook until you take the above actions to ban gender-based hate speech on your site. (We will be raising awareness and contacting advertisers on Twitter using the hashtag #FBrape.)
The campaign has already had significant success, with a number of companies agreeing to pull their ads. Join the campaign today. Your voice makes a difference.
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.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
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.