President of the Toowoomba Rugby League, Greg McIntyre, thought the parents, grandparents, children and sundry friends of the town’s rugby players would enjoy his little ‘joke’ in the grand final newsletter handed out to them as they walked through the gate. The same man happened to be an acting Magistrate.
Yes, a public figure, paid from the public purse to make sound judgements, shared this sexist and demeaning joke without seemingly a second thought.
Lots of people didn’t find it funny. One of them was Nina Funnell who wrote on it for the National Times yesterday.
Nothing funny about lawyer jokes like this one
What passes for a family-friendly joke these days? According to Greg McIntyre, a magistrate from Toowoomba, it’s something from that age-old genre that makes fun of the smell of a woman’s bodily parts, and on this occasion, a young ‘‘rednecks’’ inability to distinguish between them…
Apparently, McIntyre found this joke so amusing that not only did he decide to repeat it but to publish it in a program that was distributed to children and their families at the Toowoomba rugby league grand final. The president of the Toowoomba Rugby League, who brags that he is ‘‘next in line to be the chief redneck’’ of Toowoomba, was surprised to learn that not everyone shared his sense of humour. Parents and members of the football community have complained that the joke is crude and sexist, and should not have been included in a publication read by children. Read full article here.
McIntyre’s current status with the club is unclear. Is he still the club’s president? If so why? And has he retained his position as acting Magistrate? Shouldn’t the legal establishment be upholding the highest standards? If he is not disciplined that will be the real joke.
Footballers, dancing girls, pole dancers, simulated sex: all on the Footy Show
Did you happen to catch this on Channel 9’s Footy Show the night before the grand final? I’m sure lots of aspiring young footballers did.
It was the ‘Player Revue’, featuring foot ballers from various teams, ‘performing’ for the popular Nine program (which has attracted criticism in the past for its attitude towards women, you may recall the matter of Sam Newman and the mannequin dressed as a female sports journalist ).
Most of the revue conveys a message that women are playthings for male entertainment and gratification. We see women scantily dressed and spread legged, footballers with their hands down their pants simulating masturbation or running their hands over women’s bodies. The St Kilda scene probably contains the most overt sexual content in the pole dancing scene, where the player rips of the woman’s jacket, and she performs for him.
It seemed to me as though the club was deliberately sending an ‘F-you’ to its critics. It also seemed to be saying we will continue to do whatever we want to women: we have an inviolable right and entitlement to women’s bodies and nothing will stop us. You would have thought they may have been a little more sensitive about portraying themselves this way, given recent events.
Was this the Club’s idea or did Channel 9 encourage it? Is there anyone left at the Club who still possesses brains?
MTR’s ‘rubbish’ interview on MTR
So I was asked my views on the ‘Gownlows’, where the partners, dates, one night stands, whatever, of AFL players are paraded like models and assessed for their dress and appearance (for appearance read cleavage). My comments were run a few places including here.
I was contacted by MTR Radio ( I knew I should have trademarked the initials) asking me to appear on the Andrew Bolt and Steve Price show. It turned out to be possibly the most condescending and dismissive interview I’ve ever done. You can listen to it here - it starts around 35:00 – though my friends say they found more pleasure in stabbing their eyes with forks. At the end of the interview, when I’m off air, Price scoffs at my views, describing them as “rubbish”.
Historically debates about children and pornography have tended to play out in two directions. Either children are discussed as being the victims used in illegal child pornography, or alternatively they are constructed as the damaged consumers of adult pornography which they inadvertently or deliberately access.
Both the “exploited victim” and “damaged consumer” approaches have produced a wealth of research that has contributed to public debates about pornography.
However, while these approaches have offered certain frameworks for understanding and discussing the harm caused to children, they have not been able to account for a recently emerging trend whereby young people are not merely accessing and consuming pornography, but indeed are now the active producers of pornography – specifically child pornography.
In recent years academics have been tending to the ways in which young people are incorporating technology into their dating, courtship and sexual socialisation practices. While many young people report that technology has enhanced their social lives, others have expressed concerns over the ways in which technology (such as digital photography, mobile phone cameras and webcams) has contributed to a paradigm where privacy is compromised. Read entire article.
THIS much Nina Funnell knows about the man who held a box-cutter blade to her throat on an autumn’s evening in May 2007.
She knows he had an olive complexion. She knows he had bushy eyebrows and a five o’clock shadow. She knows – although she cringes at the stereotype it encourages – that he spoke with a thick, Middle Eastern accent. He attacked from behind, she remembers that, and dragged her into a park opposite a girls’ high school in an affluent Sydney suburb. She knows there was not just the threat of violence; this man was quite prepared to deliver it. He threw her to the ground, straddled her and punched her repeatedly in the face as he indecently assaulted her.
She knows the police have his DNA, captured in the shreds of skin she clawed from him as she fought him off in what she describes as “an adrenalin-fuelled fit”. And she knows they have not caught him yet. Maybe they never will. This frustrates and saddens her, but she holds on to those tiny nuggets of certainty about that otherwise nightmare-ish blur of events.
As for what has happened since, this much Nina Funnell doesn’t know. Why, after she wrote about the assault, would anonymous contributors to different websites attack her and threaten her? And why would that story, first told in a Sydney newspaper, prompt one website to run a public discussion, inviting guests to assess how “rape-able” she is? And why did one man read of her trauma and feel compelled to announce to the world: “what a conceited bitch for thinking she is even worthy of being raped. The guy just probably wanted to give her a good bashing in which case job well done.”
She does not know why there are some who, years later, still monitor her words and turn up in online forums to spread rumours that she lied about her experience, and to demand she provide intimate details or release police photos of the injuries she suffered.
She does not know when they might strike again, for they seem to work around the clock, and she cannot know whether they target her – “She’s so fugly, I wouldn’t even bother raping her from behind with a box cutter” – from the next continent or the next cubicle. She does not know what they look like and she does not know why they do it, whether it is for fun or boredom, or to humiliate her and encourage others to do the same – or worse. She doesn’t know how many people are doing this to her; trawling the web, looking for opportunities to strike. And she does not know when they will stop.
Which is precisely why Nina Funnell, who now works as an anti-violence campaigner and writes regularly about social issues and the media, believes passionately that there are some things we all need to know about communication in the modern age.
“The internet has absolutely changed the nature of public debate,” Funnell, 27, says. “The anonymity and the immediacy it gives people who want to indulge in abuse and hate… I don’t know if it actually makes it more or less dangerous [to have a public profile] but when you’re seeing a whole heap of hate speech written about you in separate forums, targeting you via email or in comments, I do know that it has a profound impact on your sense of safety…
“I had tried to come to terms with the fact that there was a psycho out there who had tried to rape and kill me. But then I realised that it wasn’t just one individual, that there was a whole subculture that found this amusing. It was sport for them.”
Snail-mail to cyber-bile
Nutters and obsessives; lonely hearts and angry pensioners. For as long as there have been commentators in public forums, there have been belligerent hecklers and aggrieved critics shouting from the fringes. Back when the mail would be distributed twice a day around our newsroom by a junior pushing a creaking trolley, the opinion writers of our newspaper ran a weekly competition to determine who had received the craziest correspondence.
Envelopes flecked with grease spots or some other unidentifiable liquid – could it be spittle? – often disgorged one’s own article, indignantly clipped with ragged scissors or torn wholesale in one enraged swipe, bearing contemptuous comments scrawled in capitals.
Of course, there were more sinister threats, particularly during the fevered days of gun control and Hansonism. The police were called when I received a particularly nasty letter detailing very specific plans for harm and some knowledge of where my family lived. Security guards were assigned to accompany me to my car each night for a few weeks, and I was told to take care when I arrived home. “Still, we have evidence,” a young constable said as he tweezered the letter into a ziplock bag, “and in the majority of cases once they’ve sent a letter that’s the last they ever think about it.”
It was precious little comfort at the time. But after studying some of the cyber-bile sent to Nina Funnell, and after spending hours tracking the crazed logic and outright intimidation of her opponents down the shadowy rabbit holes of various internet forums, abuse that takes a day or two arrive, and then with a postcode neatly stamped upon it, seems almost quaint. Strange days, these, when it can appear almost polite to limit your slander to an audience of one – unless it is taken to the boss or the police – and your death threats to a flimsy page that can be sealed away in a plastic bag.
Cyber-bile takes many forms: from people posting pornography or sexually explicit comments on Facebook memorials to murdered children, to the person who set up a Facebook site which promised the return of abducted Queensland schoolboy Daniel Morcombe if the page attracted one million members. To most right-thinking people this sort of stuff is unbelievably cruel, surely the outpourings of a small number of sick minds. Hoaxers regularly hack into Facebook pages, defacing pictures or spreading rumours that can cause untold pain, panic and embarrassment. And then there’s the constant background chatter that eats away at people – mostly women – in the public domain. It seems everyone has an opinion now, and they want to be heard. But when did they become so mean and, in some cases, downright terrifying?
Sydney newsreader Jacinta Tynan calls them the faceless brave. “When people want to give me a compliment, they tend to email me directly,” says the journalist and author. “Those who want to say really horrible things will go online and do it anonymously. They’re suddenly very brave when they don’t have to attach their names or their faces to their comments.”
“Brave” is a generous description of some of those who regularly post vitriolic opinions on the Sky News website, assessing Tynan’s appearance and performance as a presenter:
News reader Jacinta tynon’s [sic] latest botox shots have reduced her face to a skull and make here [sic] sound like daffy duck lmao how stupid is the woman to think botox makes her look professional. Anything but sweetie, you look and sound terrible.
What on earth has Jacinta Tynan done to her lips? She looks like she’s been bitten by a swarm of wasps. The botox job is ok, but those lips!!!
“Public figures are easy targets,” Tynan says, adding she has never had Botox or collagen injections, but suffered a surge in abuse from viewers as her body changed with her pregnancies. “I think they forget you’re human… I do try to respond to all of them, and when I was pregnant I felt particularly protective, like I needed to point out that hey, there’s a baby in here! But most of the time my efforts are wasted because they’ve used a fake email address…
“What you have to keep remembering, as my mother always says, is ‘what they say says more about them than you’. If someone wants to take the time to get on a website and bitch about how you look, that’s their problem.”
All television presenters have to learn to live with brutal feedback about their looks, Tynan, 41, says. But the internet has made it much ¬easier for critics – and, occasionally, unhinged admirers – to torment celebrities and other public figures who catch their attention. In Tynan’s case, this includes a woman who assumed her Facebook identity, creating a page in her name complete with an array of work and family “snapshots” copied from existing publicity pictures already posted on the Web. Fake Jacinta managed to “friend” many of Tynan’s real friends, who were unaware of the ruse, and apparently even began a relationship online, before dying suddenly. The “tragedy” was announced on Facebook by her “sister”, who thoughtfully posted a picture of her coffin. As unnerving as it sounds, Tynan says she was unruffled by the incident, “although it does show just how easy it is to create a false identity on Facebook.”
Much closer to home – and therefore much more personally devastating – was the avalanche of hostility unleashed after she wrote a newspaper column revelling in the joys of caring for her first son, Jasper, in the months after he was born. “I honestly thought I was writing a positive story about motherhood that would uplift people on a Sunday,” she says of the column, which attracted a record amount of feedback when blogger Mia Freedman reposted it on her popular website Mamamia and prompted vehement talkback sessions on radio around the country. “It was the first time I had been exposed to the level of anger and vitriol that is allowed to breed online through blogs and websites. All the really nasty stuff was personal and so vitriolic. There were people wishing illness on my child and infertility on me.”
The internet’s ability to amplify rumours and thus cement them into facts is what most shocked and, for a while, threatened to overwhelm Tynan. “I tried to keep my head above it, but when it was still going after a few months, it got a bit tough,” she recalls. “It became a bit like a witch hunt. There were people getting whipped up into a frenzy and I realise many of them hadn’t even read what I’d written. But they’d dedicate their own blog to [discussing] it and then people would read that…”
What continues to disturb her is how those malicious “facts” linger long after the debate has died. Google “Jacinta Tynan” and “nanny”, for example, and the search engine takes 0.20 seconds to deliver links to several sites where readers are informed authoritatively that Tynan is unqualified to talk about motherhood because she has a full-time nanny. Tynan, now the mother of two, has never employed a nanny, but that may not be enough to sate anonymous critics.
The question remains: what drives this level of anger? Dr Stephen Harrington, who lectures in media and communication at QUT’s Creative Industries Faculty, says much of the aggression comes from people’s disappointment that the online world still appears to favour professionals and experts, rather than levelling the playing field of public opinion as anticipated.
“That gap between the promise [of the internet] and the reality has generated anger and resentment among some people, and they really let that anger fly when they are given even the most tiny chance to have their voice heard,” Harrington says. “The comments section of a news article is a good example. I think some people use those forums to attack everyone who disagrees with them because they have been told that their opinion is equally valid to everyone else’s, and they feel they have the right to say whatever they want to, no matter how tangential it is to the actual item under discussion.”
But if the internet has been likened to the Wild West, a new frontier where law and order is regularly tested in the rush to stake a claim in the new world, then Harrington urges users to embrace the opportunities rather than freeze for fear of outlaws. “Whenever there is a debate about new communication technology, we tend to blame any downsides or negative uses on the technology itself, rather than the people using it,” he observes. “When someone dies in a car accident, we generally don’t blame the vehicle itself, or car companies. Fatal accidents only serve as a reminder that people should be careful on the roads. I think we should approach new media technologies in the same rational way.”
Driven to despair
But what if a responsible commuter on the information superhighway is forced off the road by other reckless or aggressive drivers whose licence plates are obscured? Paul Tilley, 40, may have been one such fatality. On a bitterly cold night in February 2008, the father-of-two stepped out onto the roof of a swank hotel in downtown Chicago and jumped to his death. That a successful advertising executive for DDB Chicago would take his own life at the apparent peak of his career might pass as strange to industry outsiders. But within days of the news breaking – even before Chicago police had ruled the death a suicide – an online flame war had erupted about whether vicious industry gossip spread by anonymous bloggers had driven Tilley to this final act of despair. Regardless of the reasons it is testament to the power of the internet that much of the mud-slinging can still be tracked online by a stranger in Australia, three years later.
“Anyone who thinks this sort of stuff doesn’t need to be taken seriously, that it doesn’t have a serious impact, doesn’t understand the nature of depression,” says Sean Cummins, 49, a successful Australian ad exec, whose experiences at the hands of vindictive industry bloggers mirror Tilley’s in chilling ways.
Now the head of Cummins Ross in Melbourne, his former agency Cummins Nitro was responsible for the internationally recognised “Best Job In The World” campaign for Tourism Queensland. “That was when the vitriol started pouring in, all anonymous, on industry blogs,” Cummins says. “Everything from ‘he’s a bastard to work for’ to suggestions that I hadn’t done the work I’d claimed credit for, to jibes about my personal life and even my profile photo…
“It’s a form of social terrorism. My kids were being taught at school not to cyber-bully and yet here were these professionals out trying to really hurt people by doing exactly that.
“It was such a personal and outrageous character assassination and the collateral damage was enormous. There was a knock-on effect: when you’re not confident, your creative work suffers because you second-guess yourself. Then I dulled the pain by drinking. I was erratic and my mood swings were inexplicable to my wife and family. Then my wife went on the website and she was shattered.
“Unfortunately, I got to the point where I contemplated topping myself and the ways I might do it. What stopped me was knowing I would leave a lot of people I loved very lost.”
Instead, Cummins has decided to fight back. This week, he will take aim at the “cowards” in his industry – many of whom he claims work for major agencies – in a presentation titled Cummins vs. Anonymous at the Mumbrella360 marketing and media conference in Sydney.
“There is this civil libertarians’ view of the internet that says it promotes a wonderful, open exchange of ideas,” he says. “But it’s not open and it’s not an exchange when someone is deriding someone else’s work or reputation and you can’t respond because you don’t know where it’s come from or who you’re responding to.”
Cummins will argue that all comments on industry blogs should be attributed by name – and that websites should be held accountable if they allow anonymous posters to defame or attack other people. He says ultimately, he is prepared to sue if he has to – and, given he reckons he could mount a case for lost business, when prospective clients are scared off by what they read on the internet, the damages could be enormous. “This is about shutting people down and I’m not going to be shut down,” he declares. “And if I have to stand up before my peers and become the poster boy for good manners, then so be it.”
Ping! One morning, as I am researching this story, an email lobs into my inbox shortly after I’ve logged on to my work computer. I open it to read: Shut the f*ck up you f*cking ugly OLD wowser c*nt. You need a good stiff c*ck shoved down your throat if you ask me. What’s the matter? Were you the ugly fat flat chested girl at school? Why don’t you shut you f*cking c*nt mouth? Live your own f*cking life, raise your own f*cking kids, nobody elected you the arbiter of morality… you’re a do-gooder, a meddling c*nt, who needs to shut the f*ck up. I’m going to a brothel tonight, and I’ll be selecting the whore who most looks your age. Remember c*nt, you’re a wowser c*nt, who needs to shut the f*ck up.
The email has been forwarded to me from Julie Gale, founder of children’s advocacy group Kids Free 2B Kids, who received it after she appeared on The 7pm Project to speak about the sexualisation of children, and particularly reports that increasing numbers of young teenagers were seeking Brazilian waxes.
Ping! Another email arrives. This one is from Melinda Tankard Reist, a Canberra-based author who campaigns on social issues and policy affecting women, most recently the expanding porn industry and “pornification” of pop culture. Bolz says: Melinda quite clearly doesn’t have hot bangable ass…, like Pippa. Jealous much?
Tankard Reist, 48, recently wrote an article, posted on the News Limited website The Punch, decrying the appearance of the Pippa Middleton Arse Appreciation Society page on Facebook as little more than online sexual harassment of the sister of Prince William’s bride, Catherine Middleton. In her article, she quoted comments from the freely accessible Facebook page – “She would need a wheel chair and straw when I’d be finished with it xxbig Matty chambers xxx” – as evidence of the sort of violent and misogynist commentary that flourishes as “fun” on the internet, only to attract the same sort of abuse herself.
Ping! Another one from Tankard Reist, this time a tweet she copied in March targeting News Limited columnist Miranda Devine. @Mighty-Chewbacca: Today screwed Miranda Devine, then penned blog on her soiled panties on bus home.
Ping! And then one from Nina Funnell, recalling the time she wrote about cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil, only to have the online discussion quickly devolve into a slanging match in which she was told she was probably “riddled with STDs” and “just needed a good d*ck up you”.
Ping! Ping! Ping! The messages arrive by email, by text message and via Facebook, after hours and at home, a veritable 24/7 outpouring of sub-intellectual sludge that begins to feel overwhelming in its toxicity, even though I have specifically asked for it. How must it feel when you can’t turn off the tap?
“As a comedy writer and performer, my default mechanism is to see the humour,” says Gale, 48, who somehow juggles a career as a Melbourne-based comedian with her deadly serious Kids Free 2B Kids campaigns to tighten advertising codes for children and restrict their exposure to pornography. “The vitriol is always unexpected, and for a few beats I do have to process the information. But then I take a deep breath and send it straight to my “comedy” file. I know there’s some fabulous material sitting there, and trust me, I intend to use it!”
But she also concedes: “Every now and then, I wonder whether I should be watching my back, but I just shake those thoughts off and get on with it. I’ve never discussed this issue publicly before, because I’m out there encouraging people to speak out – which is paramount to creating change. So I don’t want to put anyone off.”
And therein lies the Catch-22 for women in the cyber-firing line. On the one hand, they believe it is essential to expose the level of abuse and misogyny that has flourished on the largely unregulated new media. On the other, they fear the only effect that would have is to discourage women from participating in public debates.
Says Tankard Reist, who occasionally re-Tweets or posts particularly vile comments: “I want to expose these people so my followers [on Twitter or her website] can see the battle we have, the ingrained hatred and contempt these people have for women… But I already know of young women who say they won’t write their own pieces or contribute to comments pages anymore because of the feedback they get.”
Although she condemns the sort of abuse thrown at men like Cummins and controversial male commentators like News Limited journalist Andrew Bolt, Tankard Reist says it is hard to imagine any man being subjected to the levels of personal intimidation – particularly, threats of sexual violence – that are part of life in the new media age for outspoken women.
Of course, there are still a few things the old and new media have in common, including the truisms that sex sells and so does controversy. So if you build a site where there is heated, colourful debate, the hits will come. And in an era where the media and newsmakers are still grappling with how to build stable, profitable audiences online, few moderators or hosts are willing to shut that down.
“Sure, it drives more traffic to a site,” Tankard Reist says of the sort of no-holds-barred slanging matches that often replace serious debate online. “But editors and moderators need to be more vigilant about not allowing their forums to become platforms for haters and trolls.”
Funnell agrees: “There’s a ‘lighten up squad’ out there where everyone says ‘if it’s too hot, get out of the kitchen’. But perhaps the kitchen shouldn’t be so hot in the first place. This is not just about women. It’s about any sort of hate speech that is systematically directed against any particular group, designed to intimidate them or shut them down. It’s about freedom of speech versus speech that defames, threatens or intimidates.”
Tankard Reist, who has an ear for popular culture, chimes in: “When you ask for moderation or regulation, the people who oppose it claim it’s because they believe in free speech. But they want to shut my speech down. It reminds me of the chorus of that song Ode to Women [by Your Best Friend’s Ex]. They all demand their right to freedom of speech, and yet guys like that are using it to sing: ‘Bitch, shut your mouth’.”
PETA deserves contempt for exploiting women, writes MELINDA TANKARD REIST
PETA needs to be renamed.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would more accurately be described as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals But Not Women.
While the group calling itself the world’s largest animal-rights lobby protests loudly and sometimes violently against the use of animals as meat, it has no hesitation in treating women that way.
The pro-animal lobby’s latest stunt is to offer a free picture of model Vida Guerra naked for each donation over $5.
That’s right, give us five measly bucks and we’ll pimp you a “full new naked ad!” PETA is now acting as a distributor of soft-porn images.
PETA has a long history of using porn-like images of women to promote its anti-animal-cruelty work. This raises questions about the organisation’s understanding of the words “ethical treatment”.
While its manifesto opposes the use of “living creatures” for entertainment, it’s apparently OK if the living creature is a woman in a lettuce bikini. Or if she is a naked cover girl or “video vixen” such as Vida Guerra.
A recent campaign showed models getting up close and personal with vegetables.
“Why don’t you pick a vegetable and show us how much you love it,” the casting director instructed a swimsuit model.
This was is just one of many of PETA’s creations that denigrate women and reduce them to objects for sexual fetish fantasy.
In 2006 PETA portrayed women as party animals with udders instead of breasts. In the Milk Gone Wild clip – a play on the “Girls Gone Wild” genre in which women are encouraged to flash their breasts for the camera, women are shown as eager to rip off their tops and expose themselves to a large male crowd who urged them on, chanting at them to reveal their breast/udders.
The “udder babes” then squirt milk on the faces of the enthusiastic men.
Women are reduced to milk-producing cows flashing grotesque milk-spurting udders – all in the name of animal liberation.
Other campaigns have featured topless Sydney women in cages protesting KFC, women in flesh-coloured bikinis covered in fake blood wrapped in cellophane with the label “flesh” on the wrapping, like meat in a butcher’s shop, a dead naked woman as a stole and various naked and stripping images of a range of celebrities recruited for the cause, including Pamela Anderson and a Playboy Playmate.
An anti-rodeo advertisement depicted a young topless woman rolling in the hay with the slogan “Nobody likes an 8 second ride”.
Other sexualised images show naked women in shackles in a campaign against circuses.
Big Brother housemate Brigitte Stavaruk was approached by PETA to strip because of her “big assets” and Australian pop star and actress Sophie Monk was filmed naked on a bed of red chillies for the cause. It seems women have to take their clothes off to prove they really care about animals.
Fortunately, vegans and other animal-rights activists have spoken out against PETA’s sexist approach.
Vegansaurus!, a vegan eating-living guide based in the San Francisco Bay area, described the vegetables-as-phallic-symbols ad as “softcore porn masquerading as an anti-animal-cruelty video”.
Another well-known vegan blogger asked: “Are there exceptions in the vegan manifesto about how living creatures aren’t to be exploited for our entertainment?”
PETA’s behaviour harms the animal-rights cause. It also undermines campaigns against objectifying and exploiting women.
Those who care about both animals and equality for women should send their five dollars – or more – elsewhere.
Treating women like meat is a poor way to promote vegetarianism
Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is in trouble again. This time a furore has erupted over a controversial campaign where people who donate $5 or more to the organisation are sent a nude picture of Cuban-born model Vida Guerra. It’s the latest in a long line of PETA stunts that use nude women to sell vegetarianism.
Last year a PETA ad was banned from being played during the American Super Bowl. The NBC listed a number of concerns with the sexual explicitness of the ads, but PETA’s website boasts that the ad was simply “too hot for the Super Bowl”, stating it featured “a bevy of beauties who are powerless to resist the temptation of veggie love”. And then there’s the range of “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” PETA ads, which feature various naked female celebrities. Read more>>
I haven’t seen the latest photographs by artist Bill Henson to go on show at Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne.
But I have seen these.
So I know what Henson is capable of and how he likes to depicts and shoot young girls.
The girl (image to the right) who featured naked on the invite to the Roslyn Oxley gallery was 13. While that photo was widely circulated, an even more graphic one of another girl (image to the left) was not. She is ‘Untitled 1985/86’, quietly auctioned by Menzies Art Brands, Lot 214, for $3800, only weeks after the original Henson controversy.
And when Tolarno Galleries refuses to reveal the age of the youngest naked girl in the new exhibition, you have to suspect there is a problem. Why the secrecy? Was she at an age where she could consent? As respected teen psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg put it when I asked his view, would she “have sufficient cognitive or emotional maturity to fully comprehend the potential ramifications of what she is doing?”
Where will her photo end up? Where did the photos of the other two girls above end up?
Why does calling it “art” make sexualised depictions of young girls OK?
It is right to question Henson’s sexual depictions of vulnerable naked young girls – and other overtly sexualised imagery of children – a point I made on Channel 7’s Morning Show last Thursday. Media academic and researcher Nina Funnell also reveals here that Henson’s images have been found in the collections of paedophilies.
Nina Funnell writes that girls are learning to read their value as a person in terms of how their physical appearance is received by others.
“Destiny enjoys singing, dancing and, of course, pageantry” announces the beauty pageant’s MC as a made-up blonde in a white gown sashays across the stage. Did I mention that Destiny is a five year old child? Welcome to the world of Toddlers and Tiaras, an American reality TV series that follows the lives of children and their families as they prepare for and compete in beauty pageants.
Having recently sat through a Toddlers and Tiaras marathon (as research for a book chapter) I now consider myself an expert on winning children’s beauty pageants.
The first thing you need is a pushy and obnoxious mother who has no problem with screaming at her child. In one episode a mother screeches “Flirt! You’re not flirting!” as her six year old daughter practices her routine. “Stand up straight, suck your tummy in!” directs another. In one episode a girl cries in pain as her mother attempts to force an earring through a closed up ear piercing. And another ignores her five year child’s cries of protest as her eyebrows are forcibly waxed adding that her daughter “is just a bit, kind of terrified” because the last time “the wax was way too hot and it actually ripped off her skin”.
The second thing you need to do is fake-it-up. From the age of about two girls begin to wear fake hair, fake eyelashes and fake teeth sets (known as “flippers”). Almost all girls get fake tans with a number owning their own spray tanning machines at home. One four year old is taken on “diva days” where she is “treated” to facials, manicures and pedicures. Others have waxing, teeth whitening and chemical hair straightening as well as weaves and hair extensions.
And then there is the all-important clothing. “Glitz” outfits – dresses decked out with diamantes and other jewels – cost between five and ten thousand dollars. One mother admits that she has spent more than $15 000 that year alone on pageants, adding that if she saved the money her family “could probably live in a bigger home, but [winning Miss America] just feels like my daughter’s destiny.” Her daughter is only three. Other mothers talk about taking “second pageant jobs” to pay for the expensive and numerous competitions.
Then there is the cost of hair and make-up, professional photography and photo retouching (airbrushing), and the price of pageant coaches who train the girls. Brandi, a thirty-one year old Prozac-popping coach who thanks God for bringing her to pageantry, offers her six year old clients bonus advice on picking up boys, “I tell them to get with the smart boys- the nerdy ones- because when they grow up, they’re going to be the rich ones, and you can be a trophy wife”.
On pageant day parents wear tacky customized t-shirts displaying their child’s name and photo. Three year olds have “before and after” shots displayed on the show like on diet product advertisements. One mother feeds her child three cans of red-bull energy drink before competing to keep her “perky” during competition. A six month old girl already has seventy pageant titles to her name. Girls perform sexualised dance routines imitating MTV video clips. And boys compete too. One ‘Little Mr’ is introduced by the MC as “Matthew”, adding that “Matthew’s favourite person is his daddy in heaven”.
While the show may sound exploitative and crass, it is actually documenting the appalling and exploitative behaviour of stage parents who live vicariously through their children’s achievements. It’s incredibly cringe worthy to watch but the show offers an important window onto a world which many of us are only aware of through the adult outputs of the industry in the form of Miss Universe winners and runner-ups.
Meanwhile, the media continues to laud individuals such as Miranda Kerr and Jennifer Hawkins (and to a lesser extent Jessinta Campbell and Rachael Finch). These women, as supposed role models, teach little girls (and stage parents everywhere) that the easiest way for a girl in today’s society to achieve fame, fortune and success is to win a beauty competition.
It’s hardly surprising that little girls are now feeling anxious about their bodies at an earlier and earlier age. Nor is it surprising that they are learning to read their value as a person in terms of how their physical appearance is received by others. Seeing little girls being judged, scrutinized and assessed over their appearance is truly distressing. Even worse, the fact that this process is not only normalized but actually celebrated by their parents is just horrific.
Equating a girl’s self worth with her appearance is a dangerous and destructive game and one that the media encourages girls to play from a very early age. Parents should want to protect children from this message, not teach it to them.
Oppose US child beauty pageants coming to Australia
If you haven’t watched it already, this ACA video is a must-see. It provides further evidence for the sheer ugliness – and harm – of child pageant culture. We meet the American woman behind plans to bring this toxic child exploitation fest to Australia in July – and the Melbourne woman who will run it here. She is already preparing her young daughters for entry. One reveals she doesn’t like wearing make-up – but that is clearly of insignificant to her mother who is too busy organising her daughter’s body waxing to care. Someone who does care is Julie Gale, my colleague and friend from Kids Free 2B Kids who also appears here.
An anonymous woman bravely posted the comment below on Collective Shout’s site . If anything should shame Brian McFadden – and all involved in the song’s production and distribution, including Universal Music – for creating a single making light of sexual exploitation – it is what she has written. Brian McFadden says his song is ‘tongue-in-cheek’. Tell that to women like this and all those other women and girls preyed upon and sexually violated.
This song leaves a particularly bad taste in my mouth as I was actually done some damage to after being taking advantage of. A drunken night which saw me going home to a “friends” house to hang out, and then being dropped off in the morning by one of his friends. Well, let’s just say I have a huge gap in my memory, and a huge hole in my heart after the incident. This hole only formed though, when I heard from a friend that the “friends” friend had sex with me that night. Charming. It’s taken me a few years to come to terms with what happened and the resulting anxiety and shameful feelings have been horrible. I haven’t told anyone about the fact that I don’t remember anything and I WOULD NEVER have consented to having sexual intercourse with the person if I was coherent enough to say no. I can’t speak up about it though because I doubt anyone will believe me, and as everyone will think, I brought it on myself, getting that drunk.
You did not give consent. You are not to blame
I asked Nina Funnell, anti sexual violence campaigner and herself a survivor of sexual assault, how she would respond. This is her answer – to Anon and to all women like her.
I would like to start by commending you on your bravery in being able to articulate your experience of sexual abuse so openly and eloquently. I am saddened however, to say that while your experience is yours and yours alone-and no one has the right to claim they know how you feel- many other women will find echoes of their own experiences in your words.
Your response to what has happened to you is very normal. It often takes victims years to come to terms with what they have experienced. Some never do. The resulting shame and anxiety you feel is also completely normal for someone who has experienced what you have, however I must stress that while feelings of shame and self blame are very typical following an assault (as they are a function of PTSD) you are in no way to blame and the shame rests with him and him alone: getting drunk is not a crime. Sexually assaulting a drunk person is not only criminal, it is a low, vile, predatory act that has to do with a power, dominance and a desire to exert control over another person.
So often we hear the myths that “drunk girls are asking for trouble” and that “men can’t control their lust”. Firstly, no person has ever “asked” to be sexually assaulted. This is a myth which is used to excuse the actions of perpetrators by shifting the blame onto victims.
Secondly, sexual assault is not a function of uncontrollable lust. This myth is not only inaccurate but it is also insulting to men as it casts them as slaves to base, animal emotions. If I were a man I would be eager to knock this myth on its head. If it were true that sexual assault is a result of sexual lust then men would be raping attractive women in the cereal aisle at Coles. We’d also have to ban men from the beach during summer.
The truth is that research shows that men who sexually assault women do so in a calculated fashion based on three primary factors.
1) Access to the victims: perpetrators select or groom potential victims whom they have direct access to. It is a deliberate and thought through process.
2) Perceptions of the victim’s vulnerability: perpetrators choose victims they perceive as being more vulnerable than others. But it is important to note that vulnerability can take many forms. Women who are unconscious or heavily intoxicated may be more vulnerable than other women. Perpetrators must always be held 100% accountable for their actions and it is nonsense to suggest that the more drunk a woman is, the less responsibility a man has to take for his own behaviour. Disturbingly, perpetrators also identify and prey on other types of vulnerabilities. For example, blind, deaf, physically and intellectually disabled women are sexually assaulted at a much higher rate than the rest of the population. This is because they are perceived by some as being more vulnerable and less likely to report to police- particularly if they have trouble with communication skills or if they are dependent on their abuser (such as if their abuser is a carer). Perpetrators also target other populations which are perceived as being more vulnerable either physically (such as children or incapacitated women), socially (such as individuals who have no strong friendship or social networks who might encourage them to report), women who are dependent on the abuser in some way (such as in cases where the abuser is in a position of power such as an adult relative or boss) or perpetrators who know that their victims are unlikely to be able to access support and judicial services for a range of other reasons (such as sex workers who are often not believed, victims in same-sex relationships or victims who have previously had consensual sex with the abuser- such as wives and girlfriends).
3) The likelihood of them being caught and reported on: Perpetrators also weigh up the likelihood of being interrupted by a witness or witnesses and they make a series of calculated decisions based on location and risk. In particular perpetrators often manipulate victims into a location where they have more control over the situation. This is all done to avoid detection and to maintain power over the situation and the victim.
The point of this is to stress that rape doesn’t happen by accident. Research shows that perpetrators know what they are doing and they make a series of detailed decisions around their behaviour. So it is ludicrous to suggest that men can’t help it. The overwhelming majority of men never rape. Those who do, do so deliberately and must be held to full account.
The next thing to say is that silence is not consent. “I’m not sure” is not consent. “Maybe later” is not consent. “Yes” tonight is not “yes” tomorrow night. Consent must be active and given freely and without any force, pressure or coercion by someone who has the capacity to consent each and every time. You clearly did not give consent. You are not to blame AT ALL and full responsibility lies with him and him ALONE.
I also note that you feel concerned that you would be either blamed or not believed if you spoke out. I wish I could tell you, “no! you are wrong!” but your concern is not irrational or unjustified. Unfortunately we still live in a society where victim blaming mentalities exist. Approximately 85% of victims will never report to police because they do not trust the justice system. And with the odd exception, this is justified. Less than 1% of sexual assault cases in NSW are successfully prosecuted.
Victims do often disclose to a family member or trusted friend. But unfortunately even those who love us are often schooled in the same victim-blaming mentalities as the rest of society and they usually blame the victim, interrogate them as though they don’t believe them, or minimize the experience by saying things like “maybe you are exaggerating” or “maybe you just misinterpreted things”. BUT THERE IS HOPE!
So we are clear about this, a person’s capacity to recover (and recovery is possible!) is directly dependent on a number of factors (including the relationship they hold with the abuser, the length of time between the assault or assaults and the decision to speak out, the nature of counselling (if any) they receive on disclosure, prior mental illness or drug and alcohol dependence …. Etc etc). But without question, the number one thing that determines a person’s ability to recover is the types of attitudes they encounter on disclosure. Victims who are believed, supported, not judged, and treated with the dignity, compassion and respect they deserve are far more likely to recover than those who are blamed, humiliated or not believed.
As a community it is vital that we support survivors and their supporters. There are three things I always tell survivors who disclose to me.
1) I am sorry this has happened to you (translation: “I believe you”).
2) What has happened to you is a crime (translation: “you are not to blame”)
3) I will do whatever I can to help (translation: “you are not alone”).
These were things I wished someone had said to me when I was sexually assaulted almost four years ago. While we cannot all be counsellors it is my hope that we can better educate the public so that those of us who fall into the role of an accidental counsellor (this is someone who is not a trained counsellor but who finds themselves- unexpectedly- on the end of a disclosure) can better respond to survivors with empathy, compassion and a desire to protect their best interest.
I also want to stress that while it is wise and prudent to think through who you can disclose to (as some people just don’t get it), there are expert counselling services out there (which are also free!) for individuals who have experienced sexual assault and for those who support them. I can firmly recommend the following.
NSW Rape Crisis Centre offers a 24/7 hotline run by trained experts for survivors and anyone supporting a survivor. Their number is 1800 424 017. They also have a live 24/7 real time internet counsellor, because sometimes it’s often less confronting to type rather than to have to speak out loud. The link to that service can be found on their website here.
A nationwide service can also be reached on 1800 RESPECT. This line is run by trained experts for victims of sexual assault or domestic violence- as well as their supporters.
Most of all I wish for you to know that you are not alone and that there is a community of us out there who really do care about you and who are appalled by what you have experienced. Please, PLEASE know that what you have experienced is not just an abuse. It is a HUMAN RIGHTS abuse and that there are many- like me- who care. Reading your words moved me to write this post. I hope it has some impact- no matter how small.
Can someone please tell Brian McFadden that ‘taking advantage’ of a woman when she’s drunk is sexual assault and against the law?
Because he seems to have missed the announcement.
The Irish singer-songwriter and ‘honorary’ Australian on account of his four-year engagement to songstress Delta Goodrem, McFadden today officially releases Just The Way You Are (Drunk at the Bar).
The barn-dance meets rap recording is described here as the novelty song from hell and hard to beat as the worst song of the year (and it’s only February).
But apart from its all-round awfulness it’s these lyrics which, with International Women’s Day almost upon us, show us just how far we haven’t come.
I like you just the way you are, drunk as shit dancing at the bar, I can’t wait to take you home so I can do some damage
I like you just the way you are, drunk as shit dancing at the bar, I can’t wait to take you home so I can take advantage
Describing the song as “infectious”, Universal Music in a statement Friday said the dance track will “rattle around in your head for hours”. Doing some damage, taking advantage of a woman under the influence of alcohol… is this the soundtrack we want going round and round in the heads of males?
Just one more message reinforcing the rape myths circulating in our culture: that inebriated girls are asking for it, and that you’re not really to blame. One more message encouraging boys to help themselves. I love you just the way you are, drunk, because it’s easier to get what I want that way.
A recent UK study found that 48% of males aged 18-25 did not consider rape to have taken place if the woman was too drunk to know what was happening.
There’s a kind of party atmosphere around these criminal assaults, with many men boasting about their conquests. An on-line genre known as ‘Passed Out P*ssy’ encourages men to share photos online of women and girls they have taken advantage of while drunk. ‘She’s drunk? Don’t call a taxi and make sure she gets home safely! Call your friends, have some fun and share the pictures!’ men are exhorted.
Love you just the way you are (drunk at the bar) helps legitimise this behaviour.
McFadden – also a judge on Australia’s Got Talent and a father of daughters – hasn’t taken well to the criticism. He swears on his heart that he wrote the song for Delta.
That’s right, ‘Can’t wait to do some damage’ is the sort of poetry McFadden writes to demonstrate the depths of his love for his bride-in-waiting. Look into my eyes Delta, he croons, I stayed up all night writing this ode to love, just for you my darling. Wow, lucky girl Delta.
Perhaps he even expects her to swoon?
The song was first played on 2Day FM’s Kyle & Jackie O show last week. Jackie O – who could also benefit from reading ‘Consent for Dummies’ – gushed that it was her “new favourite song”. “I love it, I’m a big fan of this song… this song rocks.”
And Kyle Sandilands, not exactly legendary for his sensitive treatment of young women -recall the lie detector scandal involving a 14-year-old rape survivor – said, “It’s a fun sort of song.”
Discussing this with Nina Funnell who campaigns to end sexual assault and is a member of the NSW Premier’s Council on Preventing Violence Against Women, she says McFadden’s lyrics echo a broader culture which ostensibly opposes rape while simultaneously demonstrating no real understanding of what actually constitutes sexual assault.
“Unfortunately many people still believe the myth that most sexual assaults are committed down dark alleys by strangers in balaclavas. This myth is damaging as it conceals the reality that the overwhelming majority of sexual assaults are committed by people known to the victim – usually a family member, friend, someone they go to school or work with.
“It is important that we recognize that the sort of behavior that some people are referring to as ‘taking advantage’ may legally count as sexual assault. In NSW the consent laws now state that a person cannot give consent if they are intoxicated to the point that they lose the capacity to do so, such as if they are passed out. To ‘take advantage’ of someone in such a state would unquestionably constitute sexual assault”.
“Having sex with a woman who does not have the capacity to consent is not called ‘taking advantage’. It’s called rape. Calling it ‘taking advantage’ reclassifies an action from being a serious crime to a negative but essentially trivial behaviour with no legal dimension whatsoever. “
Alison Grundy a clinical psychologist in the field of sexual violence for 20 years, describes the lyrics as “one more open demonstration of the contempt shown to women’s human rights and the fundamental legislation that is place to protect them”.
“Now we have thirty years of research to show that the sexualized and violent messages of popular music, media and video games do shape and provoke male aggressive and sexualized violence. I wonder how long it will be before songs like this are seen as inciting crimes under the criminal code?
“Not soon enough for those of us who work with victims on the long road to recovery after experiencing the ‘do some damage and take advantage’ behaviour lauded in this song”.
So there you have it. A fun sort of song about sexually exploiting women – doing damage to them – to top off a night out. Let the good times roll. Just not for the one in five women over 15 who are sexually assaulted in this country.
Nena + Pasadena’s fashion statement celebrating the objectification of women
Wondering how some of our footballers are putting their Code’s ‘Respect and Responsibility’ policies into practice?
Curious as to whether all the effort that has gone into addressing sexual misconduct, harassment, indecent exposure, violence and other myriad manifestations of disrespect for women? (You’ll find some here)
Perhaps Hawthorn star Lance “Buddy” Franklin can help us answer these important questions?
Here’s some t.shirts he has designed – and is seen here proudly modeling – for his Nena and Pasadena brand.
Franklin is headless wearing in the t.shirts above. But of course it’s him.
A topless women, with her breast and nipple visible, has her head wrapped in a scarf. Perhaps that’s because her face – and her full humanity – don’t count that much. A headless woman, her butt cheeks glowing and emphasised. Because, again, no need to bother with her face. The man in the photo with her is not revealing his backside. They pretty much never do.
Another image depicts a topless woman covering her breast with her hand. ‘Angel of silence’ reads the slogan. The best kind of women right? They let their bodies do the talking and keen their mouths shut. This image features on billboards.
Up until a short time ago the same ‘Angel of Silence’ image was also the profile picture for Nena and Pasadena’s facebook page. It’s been replaced with a new one of Franklin in a t.shirt with a bearded man on it. That man has clothes on.
The AFL’s Respect and Responsibility Policy “represents the Australian Football League’s commitment to addressing violence against women and to work towards creating safe, supportive and inclusive environments for women and girls across the football industry as well as the broader community”.
In serious tones, the Code informs us that ”in March 2009, the AFL, in cooperation with State League/TAC Cup Clubs, commenced delivering a State League Respect and Responsibility Module. The aims of the Module are to:
• Promote safe and inclusive environments for women and girls at all levels of Australian Football and the wider community;
• Increase players understanding of how sexual assault, violence, harassment and abuse can affect the lives of women and girls;
• Provide practical information that assists players to understand the meaning of consent, and identify situations that have the potential to go wrong; and,
• Provide players with information that may assist them to build and maintain social relationships with women that are healthy and respectful.
I asked anti sexual violence campaigner Nina Funnell, who trains other elite sporting codes on their attitudes towards women, sex and consent, what impact she thought these t.shirts could have:
It is vital that sporting codes and individual athletes who undertake and commit to respectful relationship courses are consistent in their behavior. To superficially pay lip service to respecting women while simultaneously perpetuating attitudes or behaviors that either objectify or harm women is not only disingenuous and insincere, it is destructive as it undermines respect for women as a value. To send a confusing message on this topic is worse than sending no message at all.
AFL players are recognisable public figures. They get paid the big bucks for a reason and it is their responsibility to exercise due diligence in thinking through the issues and brands they endorse. Like other athletes and public figures, they must take responsibility for this. “
The t.shirts are a form of harassment. They normalise sexualised representations of women and send a message that women are merely ornaments and decorations whose sole role is to bare their flesh and gratify men. They erode efforts of the AFL to change the disrespectful attitudes of many of their players. And they make the work of women like Nina Funnell even harder.
Does Franklin share the patronizing and dismissive views of his business partner Tim Arandt who has been sending this reply to Collective Shout members who have voiced their complaint?
Thanks for your comments and views but we feel we know what young people want to wear so we choose to continue our design concepts in full. I have three teenage boys of my own and have discussed your email with them, they were humored by your thoughts and added that the 6 o’clock news contained far more adult contact than a tshirt!! If you feel that we degrade women or promote violence against women please further your emails to the editor of the herald sun.
So teenage boys are now the leading experts on understanding the nuances of how the repeated sexualisation of female bodies affects young women’s self esteem and experience of public space? They are the arbiters of cultural standards regarding young women? The same boys whose views are reflected in a recent White Ribbon foundation report which found that one in seven teen boys thinks it is permissible to hold a girl down and force her to have sex if she has flirted or ‘led the guy on’.
But back to Buddy Franklin. Interesting to see he weighed in on the St Kilda nude photo scandal.
“I know that the AFL puts in place things at a young age, as soon as you get drafted, where you’ve got to be smart enough to know what’s going on in your private life and not to do things that are going to get out in public.”
Maybe Lance buddy, you should have kept those t.shirts of yours in a cupboard.
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