I wanted to know what someone actually working in the field of sexual assault counselling through of the piece so I asked, Alison Grundy, a counsellor with 20 years experience, to comment.
There is nothing new in these stories from perpetrators of sexual violence. Nothing that hasn’t been openly related, reported, commented upon and pondered over for the last 30 years – certainly in the last 25 that I have been working in the field, I have read and been exposed to this type of material literally thousands of times .
It’s nothing that the workers, researchers, therapists, educators and those who run treatment programs haven’t heard over and over and over again.
It’s a mistake to think we’re justifying rapists’ actions by listening to their stories.
True – but it is a very big mistake to print rapist’s stories as if they are the truth or to print them without any analysis about what the attitudes they express mean to their victims, their families and the wider community.
Read any book on treating sexual abusers and rapists – the fundamental notion is that these people do not tell the truth. Or their truth is critically and extremely biased by justifying their actions.
Those working with offenders report “cognitive distortions” that they routinely express to excuse, deny and minimise their actions. The most common of these is blaming the victim. We, as a community, also routinely join them in this most insidious of cognitive distortions.
In my view, not all sexual abusers have” cognitive distortions.” Some – perhaps most- know what they are doing is wrong and also know that nothing will happen to them – that mostly they can get away with it. I think you can hear this in their stories if you listen with a critical ear. As well, they live in a culture which enables rape permission giving beliefs.
Some of them are tough to read, but their brutal honesty illustrates how a lack of communication and education perpetuates rape culture. Ignoring or dismissing these men (and women) out of hand may be an effective coping strategy for a given individual, but not for society. It gets us nowhere.
The accounts are not “brutally honest” – they are self-serving and excusing. They do not point to education and better communication – they point to a complete shift in the way sexual violence is perceived and perpetuated in our society.
Of the guys who express regret, I can’t remember any of them saying what they did to right the wrong, seek out the consequences, own up to the victim, their family or the community for doing this. The central step in many offender programmes is going to the police and owning up to the crime or at least “facing up” and taking responsibility to significant people. I didn’t hear anything like this.
It’s not enough to feel regret- that doesn’t help the victim. This is not stealing something from a shop – this crime changes its victim’s lives, it wreaks havoc in their bodies and destroys their faith in the central notions of safety, community and in some cases love. Regret just doesn’t cut it.
It would have been more useful, in the battle against violence against women, to have someone trained in working with offenders to comment on each of the stories from a critical perspective so we could all understand the inherent distortions and self- serving nuances that help confuse the central issues of violence and responsibility.
It’s been an interesting few weeks for women (read: depressing). Lingerie Football League, yet another hyper-sexualised plus-sized model fashion spread, and a Bollywood star who hasn’t lost her pregnancy weight being called a fat elephant (she even got a YouTube clip dedicated to the weight gain, with elephant sound effects accompanying her image). Oh, and let’s not forget Cambridge University’s “Rear of the Year” competition, where women posted pictures of their behinds online to be rated, and hopefully win the title (what an honour!).
But this one really takes the cake. Bulgarian magazine 12 has released a beauty editorial spread depicting women as victims of physical abuse. The pictorial features glamorous and heavily made up women with an array of gory injuries, including a slit throat, ripped out piercings, acid burns and a woman’s mouth cut into a wide smile.
Titled “Victims of Beauty,” the so-called beauty spread is a visual slap in the face for women who have encountered this kind of sickening abuse. But what is most disheartening is that it isn’t the first time the fashion industry has displayed complete apathy towards violence against women. And it is very unlikely that it will be the last.
These kinds of images are nothing new. Seeing women shown as the victims of implied male violence — or victims of any violence, frankly — in what is an overwhelmingly female industry, in magazines that are overwhelmingly run, written, and edited by women, has always troubled me. It troubled me back when I was a model, and was asked to take part in shoots that had themes of violence and death. It troubles me now that I merely see these images in the fashion media, which are largely the women’s media.
It’s a given that fashion magazines — like other forms of mass media — often aim to shock. Because they like the attention. Because they like the ad dollars. Because they like the rebellious reputation that shocking us squares confers. But it’s still worthwhile to examine the means by which they achieve that shock value. The high-fashion world in general loves to think of itself as contrarian, élite, and boldly at odds with the tastes and mores of the wider public. It likes to think that it, in fact, leads those tastes. But much of the imagery the fashion industry uses to communicate its messages at best echoes and at worst reinforces some of the wider culture’s most negative ideas about women and girls.
We believe that images such as ours can be seen from various angles…Where some see a brutal wound, others see a skilful work of an artist, or an exquisite face of a beautiful girl. That being said, we do understand why some accuse us of promoting, in a way, violence, but we do not agree with that, and we think that it is very narrow-minded way of looking at the photographs.
And after all, isn’t it true that we see brutally wounded people all the time, in real life – on television, in the news, in movies, videogames, magazines and websites, and they are all very different, but alike in one thing: some are real, some are not. And fashion photography is an imitation of real life, sometimes realistic, sometimes delicate, other times grotesque, or shocking.
They go on to call critics sexist (because if it were men we may not have the same outraged response) and question what our reaction would be if the images were part of a campaign against domestic violence. But here’s the thing: these images of battered women were not created to spread awareness of physical abuse. They were not created to invite you to do something about the very real and heartbreaking issue of violence against women. They were designed for the sake of shock value, and shock value only. By publishing it in the beauty section of a magazine – a section that exists to give the reader an aesthetic ideal to aspire to – what kind of message are they sending?
In the last few years we’ve seen advertisements and magazine editorials glorifying images of women being strangled, as corpses, dead in car boots, with nooses around their necks and in gang rape situations. This usually followed by claims of it being “art” or to “make a statement.” Whatever you try to disguise it as, the constant bombardment of violent imagery with women as its main focus is an appalling credit to the fashion and beauty industry; especially as it is an industry that is for the most part, still dominated by women.
But soon they will have exhausted every means possible to shock us and grab our attention, and then what will they be left with? Nothing but an empty jar of eyeshadow and the bad taste of moral redundancy in their mouths.
Jane, 23, is nearing the end of her Media degree at Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, and describes herself as “passionate about communicating with teenagers and young women about the importance of self-respect and a healthy body image”.
Critics of the December-January French Vogue photo spread featuring little girls as mini women decorated in gaudy make up, swathed in luxurious adult women’s clothing, assembled on beds, fawning on animal skin rugs, pouting bright red moist lips under a banner ‘Cadeaux’ – little presents to be unwrapped – just don’t get it.
The 15-page colour shoot of little-girls-as-grown-up-women is just parody, an incisive cutting-edge commentary on the culture. And we’re all just too dumb to realise that because we’re overdosing on moral panics and thinking of the children (a mocking phrase applied to those of us advocating for children).
But it’s also obvious from the over-the-top styling and the overall lurid quality that this story is a parody and a critique of the fashion industry’s unhealthy interest in young girls, not an endorsement or a glamourization of it
When a stylist — Melanie Huynh — and a photographer — Sharif Hamza — somehow get it in their minds to viciously satirize an industry that so fetishizes youth that it pretends adolescents are preferable substitutes for grown women? And when a respected fashion magazine — Vogue Paris — has the balls to publish their horrifying Toddlers in Tiaras-on-speed work? When that happens, cue the outrage! Won’t someone think of the children…
But this spread is a not-so-subtle fuck you to our culture’s unhealthy obsession with youth (in general) and the fashion industry’s (in particular), and to the commodification of childhood that comes with both. Is this story “tasteful”? Hell no. Does it “sell” the clothes? Not really. Is it pleasant to look at? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good for us to see.
I don’t accept that this is really a parody or irony or an f**k- you to the culture. It is the culture. Vogue is not critiquing or de-constructing, it is embedding sexualised and adultified notions of children into the culture, inviting the viewer to ‘read’ the images of little girls – in this case, Lea, Prune and Thylane – as mini-women, therefore as much older and more (sexually?) knowing, than they actually are.
Patty Huntington over at Frockwriter was first to publish the photos online, setting off a global frenzy of interest. She described “heavily made-up children draped seductively over chairs, daybeds and an animal skin rug, with their legs and décolletages bared, like child prostitutes in a brothel…”
Saunders is just speculating. She doesn’t quote anyone involved as saying that satire was the intention. No one from Vogue has said “It’s parody people, don’t you get it?” A bold, cutting edge editor would be prepared to go out and defend the shoot against critics, but that hasn’t happened (in fact editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld resigned shortly after the photos went viral, which may of course be a coincidence).
Guest editor Tom Ford is on the front cover, standing behind model Daphne Groeneveld, aged 14 when the shot was taken. Is that meant to be ironic too?
I wonder if the irony will be lost on the kind of men who enjoy prepubescent girls groomed to look like adult women in high heels and with things in their mouths?
I agree with this comment on Huntington’s blog (in response to another commenter who couldn’t see a problem with the images):
You see nothing overtly sexual about a smoldering look through one’s upper eyelashes, about glossy wet pouted lips slightly parted, about bare legs tilted sideways on a disheveled bed, about a silky top plunging well below where the cleavage would be? If any of these looks, coupled with that clothing/makeup, were from a grown woman in a nightclub, the message would be pretty clear. You cannot just separate that kind of body language from the usual meaning just because the body performing it is a child. Yes kids play dressup. Innocent dressup is full of mismatched odds and ends, smeared makeup, plastic shoes, giggles and silliness. It is a pretend parody of the adult experience devoid of the adult understandings. Look into their eyes, THIS is not giggles and silliness. This is the inappropriate double whammy of insinuating adults are no good unless they look like a child, and children are no good unless they look like adults. It is pedophiliac style grooming of the reading public, so slowly and gently you don’t know when the line has been crossed….
Even if these images were created as a commentary on the fashion industry, a critique of the ‘getting older younger’ phenomenon in (or imposed on) children, the reality is they have still used children make their point. Labelling it artistic or clever, doesn’t make it okay. As writer and commentator Nina Funnell wrote to me:
So what is the standard here? Is it acceptable to dress children up in sexualised clobber, photograph them in a sexualised manner but only if the purpose is satirical? Do the children understand the satire that they are being used to create? How does the photo session impact on them? What precautions- if any- did the photographers, stylists and make-up artists put in place to protect the kids? Did they explain it was just ‘fun dress-ups’ for a day? And even if they did, what’s to stop a six year old from walking away with the message that when they look older and dress in a more sexual manner they get more praise, attention and money compared to when they look like their every day self? If we are going to say that child exploitation/ sexualisation is inappropriate then we have to be a bit consistent in that. We can’t say it’s inappropriate if it’s being done to sell a product, but fine if it’s done for ‘artistic merit’ or ‘cultural commentary’ purposes.
Nice of Jezebel to go in to bat for French Vogue. But many of us aren’t buying it. Vogue is not outside the culture. It is the culture.
World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September promotes worldwide commitment and action to prevent suicides. On average, almost 3000 people commit suicide daily. For every person who completes a suicide, 20 or more may attempt to end their lives.
The sponsoring International Association for Suicide Prevention, the co-sponsor WHO and other partners advocate for the prevention of suicidal behaviour, provision of adequate treatment and follow-up care for people who attempted suicide, as well as responsible reporting of suicides in the media.
At the global level, awareness needs to be raised that suicide is a major preventable cause of premature death. Governments need to develop policy frameworks for national suicide prevention strategies. At the local level, policy statements and research outcomes need to be translated into prevention programmes and activities in communities.
Dead women as advertising fodder
Preventing suicide is something you would think everyone would support, right?
Unfortunately not. Some companies appear to see the ultimate in self-harm as mere fodder for their ad campaigns.
Take a look at this advertising shoot for a South Korean clothing company called Lewitt and featuring our very own Abbey Lee Kershaw. Shot by Ryan McGinley, it depicts a distressed looking Kershaw frantically running through the streets. At one stage she curls up in a foetal position. She then climbs a building, seems to hesitate, before leaping off the edge. She lands in a crumpled heap on the pavement at the bottom of the building.
There have been a rash of female suicides in South Korea, among them nine models who have committed suicide in the last two years alone. As Frockwriter and Jezebel point out, South Korea has the “highest suicide rate in the developed world.”
So how does the company respond?
Did Alice end up dead?
Well, they say it’s all about Alice in Wonderland.
Oh, of course! Alice in Wonderland, tumbling down a rabbit hole. Except I don’t remember the bit where she ends up dead.
Patty Huntington, aka Frockwriter, asked Abbey Lee Kershaw why the suicide-related theme, given that so many South Korean women take their own lives. She gives non answers.
Frockwriter: I just wanted to ask about this Korean video you’ve done, Lewitt. What is it exactly?
Abbey Lee Kershaw: It’s an Asian label and it was based around the story of Alice in Wonderland.
FW: So what, she’s supposed to be falling down the rabbit hole?
ALK: Ah…I don’t…I mean…however you…we were shooting all day. There were different scenes all day. So his, ah, edit of it…I haven’t even seen it to be honest. I haven’t seen it yet. I think it just came out.
FW: Some might be concerned that it looks like you’re trying to jump off the building.
ALK: Yeah of course people are concerned about things like that. People are always going to perceive…
FW: South Korea has the highest female suicide rate in the world and there have also been a lot of model suicides, with many of them jumping. Do you not understand why it might concern people?
ALK: I understand. I haven’t seen the video.
FW: But wouldn’t you have had the right to see it before it was finished?
Adolescent psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg describes the campaign as ‘manifestly irresponsible’ and wonders if someone did end their lives, if the advertisers could be sued (personal correspondence).
Lewitt should be held to account for glamourising suicide to sell men’s fashion. And Abbey Lee Kershaw should apologise for a terrible lapse of judgement in agreeing to be part of this.
So, I’m on a train to my mate’s place after addressing Generation Next’s Teen Mental Health seminar to get ready for another event. It’s Friday, World Suicide Prevention Day (as noted above). I have a new gig of trawling through girls and young women’s magazines and writing about what I find (I feel like I’m being punished for something). So I started with Girlfriend. To my amazement I come across this on p.52.
TLDR – internet speak for Too Long, Didn’t Read – can be used “to hilarious effect” says Girlfriend, “right after someone spills an intensely personal and emotional post detailing their innermost thoughts and feelings”.
The example is given of an individual whose dog has died. They express great loneliness and loss. They are not coping, they feel sad and their “heart hurts so much”. After which the reader adds “TLDR”, at GF prompting.
What is this really saying? Essentially, it is an act of straight out ridicule. TOO FREAKIN’ LONG , CAN’T BE BOTHERED, COULDN’T GIVE A STUFF.
I would have expected the editors to be more responsible about behavior that could constitute, or at least lead to cyber-bullying, which has become so common and devastating for so many young people.
Random acts of unkindness?
Remarkably, on the adjoining page is advice from GF’s “Life coach”. Under the heading “It’s cool to be kind”, GF advises practicing “random acts of kindness for an extra dose of happiness. Like now”. Just not to someone expressing their grief in an internet forum.
Susan McLean, an expert on cyber safety and cyber bullying, speaks on this issue pretty much around the clock. Also speaking at the Generation Next event, she showed this anti- bullying video:
Being mean isn’t hilarious. It’s cruel. We need to do all we can to support those in pain, not make fun of them. World Suicide Prevention Day is a good reminder of this.
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