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>
Kyle Sandilands has received a trouncing over the last few days for being rude and offensive. But criticisms of his behaviour on the grounds of offensiveness miss the mark in regard to the latest incident involving him and his chef de claque. Sandilands certainly takes delight in trying to give offence, although when called out, he excuses himself by saying that he is just doin’ what comes naturally. But giving offence is not the same as practising discrimination, and that is what should be the focus in the current controversy.
Various corporations have withdrawn their advertising from Sandilands’ program on 2Day FM. This is likely to have the same effect as the last time they withdrew their advertising in 2009. At that time, Sandilands was taken off air by the umbrella company Austereo, which announced that it was conducting ‘a review of the principals [sic] and protocols of our interaction with our audience’. Review concluded, Sandilands and Jackie O simply picked up where they had left off, and the advertisers returned.
Along with his old tricks, Sandilands resumed making his tired old excuses. In response to criticism of his recent intimidation of Alison Stephenson, for example, Sandilands fell back on the well-worn cliché with which many Australians defend or excuse racist and sexist behaviour.Read more
The fourth and final launch of Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global porn industry took place in the Jubilee Room, Parliament House, Sydney, last Thursday.
One hundred people attended and heard seven contributors speak about their chapters in the book: myself, co-editor Dr Abigail Bray, Spinifex Press publishers Dr Susan Hawthorne and Dr Renate Klein, Dr Helen Pringle, Nina Funnell and Melinda Liszewski. Julie Gale, founding director of Kids Free 2B Kids was MC and also launched the book. Julie said:
“Big Porn Inc is a brilliant expose of how the porn industry has sold us big fat lies about sex and sexuality. No previous generation has had to navigate such a flood of porn inspired imagery and concepts. Essential reading for everyone, especially the deluded defenders who remain willfully blind to the harmful impacts. I hope Big Porn Inc helps to create the seismic shift humanity needs”.
Special thanks to the contributors, my Collective Shout colleagues (especially Kate), Greg Donnelly MP for hosting the event and his staffer Tammy for all her help. Here’s some photos:
This is the speech Dr Helen Pringle delivered to the Sydney launch of Big Porn Inc October 20. I wanted to share it with those who couldn’t be there.
Dr Helen Pringle
My chapter on The Porn Report concerns the ethics of research into pornography. Abigail Bray has helped me to understand the ways in which pornography is marketed by the industry as a radical or cool political gesture. In turn, there is a great deal of academic work that seeks to provide a defence of this multinational industry and to guarantee a continued supply of cool and harmless pleasures to the hip consumer.
As critics of porn culture, we are often asked for evidence of the harm of pornography. Academic research in support of pornography looks for that evidence in the voice and practices of those who use it. My concern, our concern, is with listening to the voices of those against whom it is used, those whose body and spirit it maims and kills.
Women like Heather Horne and Gail McIntosh, who complained of sexual discrimination in employment, and victimization, in Western Australia in 1994. Heather and Gail had taken jobs in a heavily male-dominated workplace. Their duties included cleaning the amenities and crib rooms of the workers. When they complained to their union and to the company about the pornographic ‘wallpaper’ in the amenities, men in the workplace just put up more of it. A poster of a man and a woman having anal sex, the property of a union shop steward, appeared on a crib room wall. The women found about a dozen posters on one wall, including a statue of a panther performing cunnilingus on a woman, two women having sex, and a woman placing a banana in her anus. One full-length nude poster, of the soft porn variety, had been used for dart practice, and it had also been violently stabbed through the heart, head and genitals. Heather and Gail saw the use of pornography in their workplace as a threat to their dignity and to their standing as equals in the workplace. They described the effect of the use of pornography in these terms: ‘Degrading; we felt total lack of respect; we felt threatened; we felt that these people didn’t consider you as a part of their workforce – you were treated as someone totally different. You were alienated from them and it made me want to be sick; fear, because every time one went up it was an attack on me, a personal attack.’
Or listen to the voice of Amy, who was sexually assaulted by her uncle, who then uploaded the pictures of her abuse and assault to the internet, to be downloaded by tens of thousands of men, each of them a participant in the harm done to her. Amy wrote: ‘Every day of my life I live in constant fear that someone will see my pictures and recognize me and that I will be humiliated all over again. It hurts me to know someone is looking at them – at me – when I was just a little girl being abused for the camera. I did not choose to be there, but now I am there forever in pictures that people are using to do sick things. I want it all erased. I want it all stopped. But I am powerless to stop it just like I was powerless to stop my uncle…. It is hard to describe what it feels like to know that at any moment, anywhere, someone is looking at pictures of me as a little girl being abused by my uncle and is getting some kind of sick enjoyment from it. It’s like I am being abused over and over and over again.’
The power of the pornography industry asks us this question: whose side are you on? and whose voice are you going to listen to? I’m with Heather and Gail, with Amy and Masha, and with every other woman who has been harmed by pornography and who has lived to tell the tale. And I’m with those who didn’t survive.
But Big Porn Inc is not simply what our friend Rebecca Whisnant calls ‘atrocities r us’. It is a witness to the unsilenced voices of these courageous women, like Heather, Gail, Amy and Masha, who know that you can’t fight against this industry on your own, and that only with others do we have any hope to make a culture based on dignity and equality.
My next book
I shared plans for my new book Puppies, Kittens and Fluffy Bunnies with the Sydney crowd. Dannielle Miller, Director of Enlighten Education, has generously produced the artwork for the book and scored an early endorsement from Julie Gale. I’m sure you will agree it is a charming and delightful cover.
Heather Horne and Helen Pringle on porn discrimination in the workplace
Last week, Tony Abbott was photographed at a manufacturing company beneath a pornographic calendar image.
In a piece titled ‘Naked truth: Factory life laid bare for Tony Abbott’ News.com concealed part of the woman-on-woman porn image with “Oops”. The reporter characterised it as an issue of political staffers falling down on the job by not scouting out the building beforehand, resulting in some embarrassment for their boss Mr Abbott.
The Opposition Leader described the image as “unbelievably tacky” when I asked him for a comment.
But it’s more than oops, staff sloppiness or unbelievably tacky.
Pornography in the workplace constitutes sexual discrimination and/or discriminatory harassment and is unlawful. This significant detail seemed to be passed over.
In 1993, Heather Horne and Gail McIntosh complained of sexual discrimination in employment, and victimization contrary to the Equal Opportunity Act in regard to the pornography put up by men in their workplace.
I made contact with Heather and asked her how she felt about seeing this image in a workplace.
Heather Horne: I fought for the right not to be harassed by porn in the workplace – don’t let it be in vain.
When I looked at this photo it was like a time warp. I was taken back nearly two decades to 1992, working in a male dominated workplace in W.A, just 30 minutes south of Perth, subjected day in day out to wall to floor female pornography.
Why was it there? It was there because it was a convenient weapon for those males who wished to use it to sexualize my workplace and degrade the working role of any woman who dared to trespass. To complain to my co-workers, management or to my male dominated trade union brought an onslaught of victimization and ridicule in the form of verbal abuse and even physical threats. After 18 months my female colleague and I were driven from our workplace.
I am not sure it is easy to appreciate today the level of raw emotion that the decision provoked in a section of male population at the time. Some of the commentary bordered on hysteria. And the media were very happy to get the most out of it. You would have thought we were campaigning to have their willy’s cut off! If the practice of burning woman at the stake for heresy had not been discontinued in the 18th century, I think we may have had to carry personal fire extinguishers.
When we decided to take action, the company and union required us to submit ourselves for a psychiatric assessment to examine if our reaction to the porn and victimisation was ‘normal’ and whether it could have possibly caused us any mental or emotional detriment.
The hearing and subsequent decision brought a barrage of articles from the mainstream print media sensationalizing and trivializing the case. From cartoons depicting ‘hairy armpitted feminists’, to articles describing the pornography as ‘girlie posters’ and harmless ‘girlie calendars’. These were the same media outlets that declined our offer to print the real material placed before the Commission on the grounds that it was too offensive! One broadcaster said that if we had focused on our proper roles as women – cleaning floors – there would never have been a problem.
After a three year battle, the W.A. Equal Opportunity Commission found my Employer and Trade Union liable for discrimination and harassment.
The decision had ramifications across a range of areas. I recall some weeks later getting a late-night call from a prisoner at one of WA’s high security Jails who had suffered the indignity of having his porn posters removed from the wall of his cell, because it was deemed to be a workplace. He left me under no illusions what he was going to do to me when he got out.
I also recall even a year after the decision being invited to do a hypothetical enactment at an ALP History Conference here in Perth. We got to play ourselves and a guy in the audience lost it big time, abused us and stormed out.
I now work for a major multi-national company in the Oil and Gas Industry. Yes, it is still a boys club. But the wallpaper has changed. It has taken two decades and no small impetus was the legal precedent set by that land mark decision in 1994 and the changes it made to vicarious liability with both employers and trade unions.
It is with a quiet sense of pride that I walk on to work sites today and see posters on safety, health and EEO policy. Unfortunately it would seem the news has not filtered through to Digga Manufacturing in Brisbane.
We cannot allow the trivialising of images like this in an Australian workplace. These images are unlawful! Gail and I went through a lot to achieve the ruling. All workplaces should abide by it.
Pornography: The Harm of Discrimination: Dr Helen Pringle
The display of the calendar at Digga Manufacturing is prima facie a sign of unlawful discrimination in that factory.
A very common use of pornography is as sexual discrimination, itself a well-recognised form of harm in our society. And the evidence of pornography’s harm in this respect stares us in the face as we go about our everyday lives. Take your car to be serviced at a garage. Ask a lifesaver for his help in the clubroom. Call in at a fire station. Check out an army camp’s walls. Accompany Tony Abbott on a visit to the factory at Digga Manufacturing. Now ask me about evidence of the harm of pornography.
The walls of the garage, the clubroom, the fire station, the camp or the Digga factory form ‘an environment which itself amounts to sexual discrimination’. That phrase comes from a decision of the Equal Opportunity Tribunal of Western Australia on 21 April 1994.
The 1994 case was brought by Heather Horne and Gail McIntosh, who complained of sexual discrimination in employment, and victimization contrary to the WA Equal Opportunity Act. In its decision, the Tribunal noted, ‘It is now well established that one of the conditions of employment is quiet enjoyment of it. That concept includes not only freedom from physical intrusion or from being harassed, physically molested or approached in an unwelcome manner, but extends to not having to work in an unsought sexually permeated work environment. An employer who requires an employee to work in such an environment is subjecting the employee to a detriment and may be held to be unlawfully discriminating against that employee.’ The Tribunal held that ‘quiet enjoyment of employment’ includes freedom from discrimination, which would require an employer to ensure a workplace free from the display of ‘sexually explicit or implicit cartoons, … photographs of naked men or women, and publications featuring such photographs or containing other lewd or sexually suggestive printed material’.
That is, the display of the calendar at Digga Manufacturing is prima facie a sign of unlawful discrimination in that factory. And it is evidence of the harm of pornography as discrimination.
In the WA case, Heather Horne and Gail McIntosh had taken jobs in a heavily male-dominated workplace. Their duties included cleaning the amenities and crib rooms of the workers. When they complained to their union and to the company about the pornographic ‘wallpaper’ in the amenities, men in the workplace escalated the displays. For example, a poster of a man and a woman having anal sex, which was the property of a union shop steward, appeared on a crib room wall. The women found about a dozen posters on one wall, including a statue of a panther performing cunnilingus on a woman, two women having sex, and a woman placing a banana in her anus. One full-length nude poster had been used for dart practice. It had also been violently stabbed through the heart, head and genitals.
Heather and Gail found these posters not merely offensive but threatening and degrading, that is, discriminatory intimidation. When they complained, Heather and Gail were told that they were prudes and wowsers. They were called troublemakers, and were subjected to other forms of harassment and ridicule, including obscene graffiti about them in the toilets. Union officials and workers told them ‘that it was a male workplace, the Complainants had no right to bring a women’s perspective into it, they were lucky to have jobs and if they wanted to work in a male environment they would just have to “cop it”.’ At a Christmas party, they were attacked with high-pressure hoses, like the marchers for the vote in Selma, or the demonstrators for democracy on the bridges of Cairo.
Heather and Gail saw the use of pornography in their workplace as a threat to their dignity and to their standing as equals in the workplace. They described the effect of the use of pornography as ‘Degrading; we felt total lack of respect; we felt threatened; we felt that these people didn’t consider you as a part of their workforce – you were treated as someone totally different. You were alienated from them and it made me want to be sick; fear, because every time one went up it was an attack on me, a personal attack.’
Heather and Gail’s story of the harm of pornography is not an isolated one. Many women wrote letters to them after the case telling similar stories from other Australian workplaces, and other successful cases were brought, such as at Mt Isa Mines by Narelle Hopper. Heather and Gail’s courage and strength deserve to be remembered as a landmark of women’s struggles for equality in Australia.
And the next time someone asks you for evidence of the harm of pornography, you can tell this story. For starters.
Dr Helen Pringle Helen is in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales. Her research has been widely recognised by awards from Princeton University, the Fulbright Foundation, the Australian Federation of University Women, and the Universities of Adelaide, Wollongong and NSW. Helen is also a contributor to Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry, (Spinifex Press) to be launched in Brisbane October 14 and Sydney October 20. A version of this piece will also appear in Online Opinion Monday.
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