I recently returned from a lengthy speaking tour which took me to Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and New Zealand. I addressed schools, women’s conferences, youth groups, health and wellbeing events and The Mask You Live In. In New Zealand I was a guest of TEARFund, speaking on what I call ‘Everyday Trafficking’ –the links between sexualisation of girls and the global trade in their bodies. I addressed awareness and fundraising events to help raise money for organisations working in prevention, rescue, prosecution and rehabilitation, including Hagar International.
I had a profound time especially with students in the public and private schools I visited. What I especially noticed on this trip was how a pornified world was impacting now on very young girls. I was asked questions about how to deal with sexual harassment, pressure to send sexual images and provide sexual favours, by girls as young as 12 years old. One cried as she described the impact of receiving unsolicited pornographic videos from a group of boys. In one school I met two 15 year olds who had been gang raped. I fear things are getting worse, and they’re getting worse younger.
But it really was a remarkable trip and every day I woke up thinking – how am I so fortunate to do this work? Laura Pintur, 23, who led our successful Zoo campaign, travelled with me, inspiring young people to see that they too can make a difference in the world. Here are some photos:
First week of the NSW, SA, New Zealand tour – about to address girls at St Patrick’s Campbelltown with Laura Pintur
With the boys at Kings Baptist Grammar School, SA
Privileged to address the inspiring girls at Wilderness School SA
Great session with girls at Kildare College SA
With the Year 5 + 6′s at St Peters Lutheran Primary Schoo,l SA
St Peters Lutheran Primary SA
With some of the year 11 and 12 girls I addressed at Seymour College SA
My final gig at the end of two weeks in SA – Our Lady of the Sacred Heart – quick pic with some of the girls.
A great night speaking for Tearfund NZ at Crossroad Mangatangi about how the sexualisation of girls is fueling the global sex trade
With (L-R) Anna Roberts from Nvader, Laura Pintur and Sarah Scott Webb from Hagar, in Christchurch building awareness about the global sex trade for Tear Fund New Zealand.
Passion ignited: how I’m going to use my trauma to work for change for girls
This is one of the most moving responses I have received following an engagement in a school. Thank you Melanie – you make it all worthwhile.
Dear Melinda, I am a staff member at *** College… I am 21 years old, and currently studying full time … I have also recently returned from a trip to India where I worked with women who have been trafficked into sex slavery, so much of what you said today hit very close to home.
I heard the first half of your talk with Year 9 students this afternoon (unfortunately I had to leave early), and I must say, I learnt as much during those forty minutes as I’ve learnt in perhaps a year of my degree. Studying academic theories is an important part of understanding how we come to inhabit and process the world around us. However, seeing those theories represented practically, through advertising and popular culture, truly drives the message home, and that is what personally happened for me today. I came to fully realise that, although the status of women has advanced significantly over the last century, women in the 21st Century face entirely new challenges and obstacles.
I was not among your target audience today. Therefore, I can imagine, if I was affected as profoundly as I was, how powerful you and Laura’s message was for the girls to hear. It seems like only yesterday that I was their age, sitting in that very auditorium myself, listening to guest speakers and wishing that they would speed things along so that we could snatch an early minute for lunch. No one was wanting to snatch an early minute today. Unfortunately, the vast majority of females know what it feels like to be degraded and objectified in some way.
My personal experience of grooming, sexual abuse and subsequent eating disorders has ignited my own passion for combating this issue, and empowering young women to defend their rights and develop a sturdy sense of self-worth, so that they never feel as though they are incomplete people who need a man to fulfill them. I believe that everything happens for a reason… perhaps, I endured trauma so that I could empathise with the struggles of others. If this truly is my life’s purpose, it is both my greatest blessing, and my greatest challenge. It is difficult to inspire others when you yourself lack inspiration, or feel as though your voice is silenced.
The very nature of abuse, or any form of oppression, as I’m sure you know, is that the victim loses their ability to speak. Overcoming this hurdle remains difficult, as I live in fear of the man who perpetrated the abuse, and it is only now that I am beginning to tell people of my experience. It is only now that I am realising that the shame is not mine to carry – the burden of shame sits upon the shoulders of the man who committed terrible acts, knowing full well that he is protected by a patriarchal society which sexualises girls and young women and blames the victim. Perhaps, had I heard your presentation while I was still at school and before my abuse began, I would have been more prepared and knowledgeable, or known how to recognise these manipulative behaviour and been empowered to speak out. I have driven myself mad with, “could have,” “would have,” and, “should have’s” for years, but I know that this thinking, too, is reinforced by a society in which women, according to the legal system and media, control the actions of a depraved predator.
Hearing you and Laura speak today has had a significant impact on me, because it has empowered me and reminded me of why I do what I do. It has helped me to realise that I am indeed on the right path. I feel comforted in knowing that I do not stand alone; that there are women who are actively doing something to ensure that females of all ages are protected, and that those responsible for the gross sexualisation of women are held accountable. It has filled me with promise for my own future. I hope to be as passionate an advocate as you, Laura and the many other strong women who are fighting to secure equality and justice, and who are helping those in need to not only find, but to own their voice and their right to use it.
Some people believe that equality starts and ends with voting rights and equal pay. But it goes so far beyond this. It starts with voting rights and equal pay, and it doesn’t end until women can stop organising their daily commute around when the sun will set at night. It doesn’t end until people stop asking the victim, “What were you wearing?” It doesn’t end until a victim of rape or abuse feels that she can speak and be listened to, rather than speak and be silenced. Once again, thank you for filling me with inspiration and empowering me to continue on the path I am taking. It is days like this which make me proud to be female, despite the risks that just being female entails. I feel privileged to have heard you speak and I hope you truly realise the power of your words and advocacy in planting the seed of change and helping women on their own journeys of recovery. I wish you all the best and hopefully we will meet in the future at some point.
Kind Regards, Melanie.
MTR talks sexual exploitation and trafficking on Radio New Zealand National
Listen to the interview
With Wallace Champan in pre-record for Radio New Zealand Sunday show.
Collective Shout takes credit for hastening Zoo’s demise: Coles dumping title was ‘catastrophic for sales’
Four months ago, young Melbourne activist and designer Laura Pintur, 23, launched a campaign through Collective Shout calling on Coles and Woolworths supermarket to act consistent with their corporate social responsibility, ethical framework, care for communities and commitment to safety and dump ‘men’s lifestyle Bible’ Zoo Weekly. She highlighted the way the lads’ mag promoted coercion, violence, sexism, misogyny and male entitlement. Laura’s Change.org petition attracted more than 39,000 signatures along with global media, including this video for The Guardian in which she argued the well being of girls should come before profits.
Last month Coles decided to discontinue the magazine, after a young Melbourne employee, Shannen, complained through her union that Coles was putting her and other female employees in a hostile workplace environment. “Other young women in my workforce will no longer have to put up with selling a magazine that promotes rape culture,” said Shannen after the decision.
Woolworths however decided to continue to act in breach of its own ethics, holding firm on selling sexual objectification to boys, including minors.
But now there will be no Zoo magazine to sell anywhere because it is ceasing publication. Mumbrella broke the news yesterday. While the magazine was already in decline, we believe we helped hasten that decline. News.com reports that when Coles bowed to public pressure and pulled the publication, this was “a move that would no doubt be catastrophic for the lad mag’s sales.”
Zoo Weekly has certainly grown accustomed to widespread outrage over the years, having been at the centre of a slew of heated controversies.
It had recently been in the firing line of a Change.org petition urging Australia’s major supermarkets to stop selling the magazine, arguing it promoted sexism, sexual violence and used the language of rapists.
Ja feel men’s fashion label: corporate sexual predator promoting non-consensual sex acts
Ja feel men’s fashion label: corporate sexual predator promoting non-consensual sex acts.
Australian company, Ja feel, promotes the sexual abuse and degradation of women and girls (as well as pornographic imagery and racist stereotypes) all in the name of marketing their “lifestyle brand.”
The Perth-based retail company, which promotes itself as a clubbing and music festival label and ships its misogyny worldwide, is, in reality, a corporate sexual predator.
You can see how committed they are to promoting rape culture based on images from their social media accounts. Read more
We feel you need to be shut down
Just when you think it can’t get worse…
How is this Australian company allowed to promote the sexual abuse and degradation of women and girls in this way? Perth-based Ja feel, which promotes itself as a clubbing and music festival label and ships its misogyny worldwide, is, in reality, a corporate sexual predator.
Here are some images from their social media accounts.
See how committed they are to promoting rape culture (if the meaning is unclear, the reference below is to a man shifting from vaginal to anal penetration without consent then pretending to be sorry about it).
See how they love giving women the pornified treatment and teaching boys they are entitled to women’s bodies. (#TittyTuesday and #ThongThursday are among their popular hashtags).
See how they feature even a young girl in a sexually suggestive way, with the elephant’s trunk as phallic symbol (there’s a popular porn- themed racist stereotype in this one too).
And, here are stickers, complete with instructions on sticking them on a woman’s breasts.
Echoing rape culture slogans, migrating porn images into every day advertising, grooming a whole generation of boys to prey upon women because that’s what ‘men’s lifestyle’ means now, Ja feel is building the scaffolding which reinforces sexist attitudes creating an environment where violence against women is flourishing. We feel your hate.
Sexualised Violence isn’t Alright, Just because a Woman is the Perpetrator
BBHMM revels in the eroticization of total power, control and domination over another woman. But we are expected to see it as empowering, because Rihanna and her henchwomen are the agents of this control
By Melinda Tankard Reist
A frame from Rihanna’s new video for Bitch Better Have My Money (BBHMM) zooms in on Rihanna’s bikinied bottom. Floating horizontally beside her is Rih’s half-drowned victim.
The singer’s “hot bum” is more significant than the woman floating beneath Rihanna’s lilo. Men are enjoying it. They love her blood soaked “titties” too.
BBHMM revels in the eroticization of total power, control and domination over another woman. But we are expected to see it as empowering, because Rihanna and her henchwomen are the agents of this control.
And because Rihanna is black, and because the victim is white and because so many black women have suffered because of white privilege, the rest of us should shut up.
But if we are going to call out other expressions of physical, sexual and emotional brutality men enact on women (Tyler the Creator, Snoop Dog, Eminem, to name a few) and the kind of white girl cruelty led by Lady Gaga (in Telephone), we can’t quarantine the mega star’s video because of her colour.
The clip has been acclaimed as: badass feminism, subversive, sassy, funny, bossy, ballsy, edgy, unapologetic. Call it what you like. What you’re left with is the 7 minute sadistic abuse of a woman for entertainment (garnering more than 16 million views so far).
The story line: Rihanna is mad because her accountant ripped her off (which happened in real life). So Rih and her girlfriends kidnap the accountant’s pearly white, filthy rich, Pomeranian-toting wife and hit the road for some ritualised torture and pornified abuse.
The hostage is stripped, assaulted, hung upside down and swung by a hook in an abandoned barn, plied with drugs and alcohol, made a plaything for a party and knocked unconscious with a bottle to the head when she calls out for help.
When torturing rich-white-lady-who-had-it-coming doesn’t get her money back, greedy dude is quickly dispatched. He keeps his clothes on, there is no drawn out persecution, no sado-suffering at the hands of our rubber suited vixen. His death doesn’t even get that much airtime, really. Five seconds later, Rih is smeared in blood, her naked body adorned with dollar bills in the trunk which once held her victim (who is dead or alive, we’re not sure; there’s more concern over what became of her dog).
To put it bluntly, it is the woman whose humiliation we’re expected to enjoy. A Huffington Post reviewer writes that the line, “Your wife’s in the backseat of my brand new foreign car” was “brought to life” at a live rendition of the song on Saturday Night Live in March, with a “crying, bound and gagged woman utilized as part of the performance”.
Of course, there’s a risk in calling out women’s violence against women. It gives entitled men who don’t like their violence named an excuse to say, “Women are just as bad!” But while the global statistics on violence show it is mostly men who are the perpetrators, we can’t gloss over such brutality when it is women normalising and embedding it in the culture. Though Cosmopolitan – a magazine which has supported campaigns against violence against women – manages to do just that: “She throws her phone into the ocean and shoots it. Plus NSFW nudity!”
BBHMM sends a message that female power comes from inflicting pain on other women while still being sexually appealing to men. Through the bloodied rampage, Rihanna is represented as a badass, cool and confident, while her powerless captive flails. At the BDSM-themed party, we are led to believe the inebriated victim is enjoying her torture. The viewer also learns that this is how black women get power: by punishing white women who are portrayed as a privileged pampered bitches.
It has been posited that Rihanna is a grand philosopher making some elaborate comment on race, or gender or class, and that the video represents some kind of proletarian uprising of poor black women. (The fact Rihanna is a brand seems to be forgotten). “I see a black woman putting her own well-being above the well-being of a white woman,” writes Mia McKenzie. Poor black women have to put themselves first if they are to pay the rent and such like.
There is no denying the hardship faced by black women in cultures where they suffer the double indignities of race and being female. But Rihanna’s character is hardly symbolic of oppressed black women. Her victim, remember, is in the back of a new car p a car our heroine sets on fire a short time later because, well, there’s plenty more where that came from. She can afford to hurl her phone into the sea and can lay out wads of cash for Louis Vuitton chests (perfect for storing hostages in). And how many black women – indeed, any women – can afford Rihanna’s wardrobe? (her BBHMM outfits are listed in the “definitive ranking” on one fashion site: “Kidnapping, nudity, murder: the video of the year is here, and it’s got the style to prove it”).
How many black women have the kind of power and fame Rihanna possesses – and why is that power being used to promote sexual torture of women? And how does her personal power help other women who are oppressed by race, gender and class? One woman’s popularity does not equal the freedom of many.
Can’t we start from the basis that no woman deserve to be hurt? It is problematic that, as a survivor of violence herself, Rhianna would make a video sending cultural signifiers which imply that violence is a way of solving problems. In so doing, she has contributed to a hostile environment for women everywhere.
Rihanna has 81 million Facebook, 42 million Twitter and 16 million Instagram followers. Many will be young women, and many of those young black women. They observe a script loaded with eroticised violence, themes inspired by the sex industry and pimp culture, lyrics celebrating the debasement of women. For many young women imprisoned in America’s juvenile justice system, violence was not a pathway to empowerment and success. The enculturation of violence as a normalised pattern of behaviour has been identified as a key factor in their criminal behaviour.
Girls looking to Rihanna as an icon of success, wealth and power deserve better than brutal, pornified snuff which plays into harmful cultural, racist and misogynist stereotypes in which all women lose.
Inciting Violence Against Women Isn’t ‘Art’, and Tyler the Creator Shouldn’t Be Granted Entry
By Caitlin Roper
“It’s just irony” seems to be the go-to defence for misogyny these days.
As a female activist for grassroots organisation Collective Shout, I hear it all the time.
After the global backlash to Kanye West’s sexually violent Monster music video – which featured lingerie clad female corpses hanging from the ceilings, West in bed with two dead women and holding the decapitated head of another – West’s team was quick to issue a disclaimer that is was “an art piece, and to be taken as such.” This exempted the video from critical analysis, apparently.
When we campaigned against Redfoo for his misogynistic Literally I Can’t video, in which women were mocked, abused and told to “shut the f*ck up” for refusing the sexual advances of men at a party, Redfoo played the victim, claiming his “art” – there’s that word again – was misunderstood.
When so-called “ute art” in Townsville depicted a chilling life-sized sticker image of an unconscious woman bound in the back of a ute next to a shovel, women who spoke out were accused of just not getting the joke.
Art. Satire. Irony. A joke. The premise is we just don’t get it and are therefore not permitted to comment.
So it should come as no surprise that our campaign calling on the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to revoke U.S. rapper Tyler the Creator’s visa should attract the same predictable response. The real issue is uptight women who can’t take a joke and who “need a good dick,” rather than hate speech and incitement to violence against women.
Tyler fans argue his earlier work is satirical, that he is simply misunderstood, defamed, in fact, by feminists. His cult-like followers not only deny their idol’s problematic real life treatment of women who dare to openly disagree with him, but even fuel it.
In 2011, Canadian recording artists Tegan and Sara published an open letter on their website, accusing Tyler of misogyny for his extremely sexually violent lyrics detailing rape, strangling, mutilating and chopping up women, stuffing their bodies into car boots, trapping them in his basement and raping their corpses. Tyler responded in a tweet:
In less than 140 characters, Tyler sent a clear message about women who dared challenge his authority.
The notion that women who speak out against male violence against women just need some “hard dick” is not new. It’s a common way of deflecting from and trivializing our abuse. This method also intimidates many women into silent compliance. It’s all the more sinister in this case, given the fact that Tegan and Sara are lesbian women, and the historical significance of so-called “corrective rape” – a horrific hate crime against lesbian women based on the belief that they can be “cured” of their sexual orientation through rape.
Tyler the Creator also responded to the Kanye West campaign on Twitter by naming two of the women involved, Sharon Haywood of Adios Barbie and Melinda Tankard Reist, Collective Shout co-founder, calling them “f*cking bitches” and inviting them to “suck [his] d*ck.”
In 2013, Collective Shout ran a campaign calling on then Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor to revoke Tyler the Creator’s visa, arguing he was a controversial visa applicant who posed a danger to women. One of our young activists, Talitha Stone, wrote a tweet accusing Tyler of misogyny. Tyler shared the tweet with his 1.7 million followers, who took the bait and turned on her with an onslaught of abuse and rape threats. One Tyler fan threatened to “cut her tits off” and another – a 16 year old Melbourne private school boy – posted what he believed was her home address for the mob to do with what they would. (He was one street off). We were up half the night liaising with police trying to ensure Talitha’s safety.
Talitha bravely attended Tyler’s Sydney concert to report on it for us. She had no idea he would launch a vicious tirade of abuse against her, unaware she was in the audience filming. The crowd cheered as he called her a bitch, a whore, and a c**t, and dedicated his song “Bitch Suck D*ck” to her.
While our own Minister failed to act, we were heartened to learn the following year that New Zealand had denied Tyler entry, with his incitement of violence against Talitha being instrumental in its decision.
Two years on, Tyler is set to return to Australia for a series of all-ages (no age limits) concerts. We have called on Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to revoke his visa, arguing that Tyler meets the Department’s definition of a Controversial Visa Applicant. This is a person:
“whose presence in Australia may, because of their activities, reputation, known record or the cause they represent and propagate, vilify or incite discord in the Australian community or a segment of that community, or represent a danger to the Australian community or a segment of that community.”
Domestic violence is at epidemic proportions in Australia; women are being murdered by men at a rate of two per week. The groundswell is growing, with increasing pressure on the Government to take action to save women’s lives. And yet, at the same time as extolling its National Plan of Action to Address Violence Against Women, the same Government rolls out the red carpet to recording artists who rap about raping and mutilating them for entertainment, and who have personal histories of inciting violence against women.
Why are we so quick to condemn men’s violence against women yet so hesitant to acknowledge the drivers of this violence – the attitudes towards women, the ingrained sexism, a culture where women are routinely reduced to mere sexual objects for men’s use and entertainment?
Tyler’s own fans are helping us prove our point. We are being targeted with threats of violence and abuse from fans demonstrating a cult-like loyalty to their idol. These same fans claim that music that glorifies extreme violence has no impact on their attitudes towards women, and they remind us of this between threats of rape and calling us bitches, whores and worse.
Collective Shout co-founder Melinda Tankard Reist was tweeted a picture of herself with a pro-gang rape slogan, one of Tyler’s lyrics, alongside the words, “What you gonna do now bitch you surrounded” (sic):
Our National Operations Manager, Coralie Alison, was similarly targeted by U.S. Talk Radio host Shane Powers, who called her a “feminazi,” offered her “dick pics” and went on to make lewd comments about Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s wife. He seemed to enjoy intimidating a woman in this way, taking pleasure, with his male guests, from the thought of her violation and humiliation.
What are these men really saying when they tell us we need some d*ck? It sounds very close to “you need to be raped.”
We predicted that Tyler’s presence would incite discord into our community and pose a danger to women. It’s already happening and he hasn’t even stepped onto our shores. We need our Government to act on its promises to address violence against women and send a clear signal by not letting him.
Petition Creator Laura Pintur writes for Mamamia on Collective Shout’s campaign to get Zoo Weekly out of Coles and Woolworths.
Laura Pintur has started an online petition calling for lad’s magazine Zoo Weekly to be removed from supermarket shelves. Today, she writes for Mamamia about why she’s taking on a mag that is read by 36,000 boys aged 14-17.
I was so happy when I heard Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young had won her defamation case against Zoo Weekly. When I saw what they did to her, putting her head on a semi-naked bikini model’s body, I thought – how can they get away with that? Happily, they didn’t get away with it in Senator Hanson-Young’s case.
But every day they’re getting away with objectifying women, teaching boys to be predatory, encouraging sexual harassment and violence, spreading rape culture – all while calling it ‘humor’.
My friends and I don’t think it’s that funny to say to men and boys: “If the object of your affection is drinking, that’s already a point in your favour… you want to pick the “loosest/skankiest” one of the lot and fetch her a drink…separate her from the flock. You’re off alone, boozed-up and charming — these are three green lights!”
Giving men and boys the green light to assault women who are under the influence of alcohol is inciting them to commit a crime – when what we need to be doing is educating young men and boys about respectful relationships.
A recent Zoo column joked about punching your ‘misses’ in the face – and this kind of language is important. A 2011 UK study compared lads’ mags’ – including Zoo – and statements from convicted rapists. It found many people could not distinguish the source of the quotes.
Zoo Weekly uses the same language as rapists in its magazine. Sexually objectifying imagery and demeaning content feature on Zoo’s social media sites.
Zoo contributes to a culture that is hostile and threatening to women. It puts my friends and I in danger.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2012 Personal Safety Survey found one in five Australian women over the age of 15 had experienced sexual violence. When big supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths sell Zoo it normalizes harmful attitudes to women. Zoo magazine is unrestricted, meaning there are no age restrictions on who can purchase the magazine. Zoo Weekly’s parent company, Bauer, has commissioned their own statistics that show 36,000 boys aged 14-17 read Zoo.
This is why I’ve started a campaign through Change.org, with the support of Collective Shout, calling on Coles and Woolworths to stop selling sexist Zoo Weekly. More than 37,000 people have now signed.
If Coles and Woolworths want to pride themselves on their corporate ethics and support for communities, why do they think it’s OK to profit from degrading women and girls?
I know there’s a lot more that has to be done. This is just one thing I felt I, as a 23-year-old woman could do. It’s my first campaign, the first time I’ve done media or spoken out. But I felt I had to do something.
I have seen first-hand the costs of what this magazine endorses, not only in my life but the lives of other young people. What chance does my generation, and those younger than me have when such major corporations help groom boys to treat us badly?
If you would like to sign Laura’s petition, you can find it here.
Lads’ mags, sexual violence, and the need for feminist intervention
Magazines such as Zoo not only reproduce and legitimise sexist and predatory views of sexual violence and gender roles. They also make such attitudes seem normal and acceptable.
Laura Pintur’s accusation that Zoo reproduces “rape culture” is particularly insightful because of the emphasis on cultural and socio-political contexts of these media texts. The implied understanding is that sexual violence is woven into the very fabric of our wider society and culture. Full article.
Lost Innocence: Why girls are having rough sex at 12
They know, or think they know, a few other things, too. That oral sex doesn’t count as sex. That sending nude pictures via text or Facebook is the new flirting. That boys their age watch porn regularly, and demand from their girlfriends the sexual menu they see online – hairless, surgically-enhanced bodies, ‘girl-on-girl action’, and much, much more.
They are learning from the 21st century’s version of sex education class, the internet…But these lessons are a dangerous mix of misinformation and distorted images of sexuality, which is contributing to behaviour that can leave young women with deep psychological and physical scars. Full article.
‘We are enrolling them into a billion-dollar global industry that objectifies, oppresses and conditions women to believe they are created for sex’
The studio is dim. Neon lights flash around the room in a club-esque fashion. A swarm of what appears to be 6-year-old girls climb, twist and twirl around the floor-to-ceiling iconic poles that will be used for much more than monkey’s business once it’s past their bedtime. Dance attire for sale at this Bendigo, Victoria, pole dance studio include booty shorts with ‘Flirty’ plastered across the bottom.
“We didn’t want to get it mixed up with the concept of adult pole dancing,” says Saari Frochot-Ryan, owner and manager of Z Fit Studios, which hosts the ‘Monkey Kids’ pole program for children aged 3-11.
“The classes are completely child appropriate,” says Frochot-Ryan.
Z Fit Studios also offer ‘Teen Pole’ lessons, as well as a range of ‘naughty’, ‘sexy’ and ‘provocative’ adult classes. On the company’s website, this ad appears below the ‘Monkey Kids’ information:
According to The Project, in an episode last month, pole dancing is the booming new exercise fad for Australian children. Promoted as innocent child’s play, instructors promise a fun fitness experience with significant health benefits.
Welcome to the 21st Century: where we create a child-friendly replica of the most prevalent symbol of the adult entertainment industry and label it ‘fun’.
This is pornified culture disguised as a shiny after-school sport. It may be pole dancing training wheels now with upbeat music, neon colours, kindergarten giggles and games; but in a few years a riskier game begins.
Pole dancing has a long-standing association with the sex industry. It was hailed an icon in the burlesque scene throughout the 1950s, and by the 1960s was established worldwide in gentlemen’s clubs, strip joints and red light districts. Pole companies argue that its origins trace further back to the traditional Indian sport ‘Mallakhamb’: a strength training method executed on a vertical wooden pole.
What they fail to mention however, is that the sport was developed for male wrestlers and women were banned from participation. The sport was deemed culturally inappropriate for women due to the pole’s symbolism: a phallus, or spiritual representation of the male genitalia.
The pole permeates time and culture with the sinister notion that women are decorative objects to be twirled, twisted and tangled around; a global denotation of the way we reduce women to mere titillating instruments. The pole teases out the approval, gratification and sexual advances of a male audience who pay for this ‘entertainment’ around the globe; the exchange of cash for voyeuristic pleasure.
This history is now prettily packaged as a fun fitness opportunity for your child to achieve optimum strength, flexibility and coordination. Let’s take a look at what will be available for your daughter in a few short years.
At Pole Princess in Victoria, there are six class options available for teenage girls. They must have the written consent of parents to attend, and fathers are not permitted inside the studio. Aside from the ‘Sexy Legs’ and ‘Princess Workout’ classes, there is the ‘Booti-Funk’ option that, as stated on their site engages “sexy exotic movement.” Or your daughter could enrol in the ‘Burlesque’ lesson, which uses traditional burlesque choreography combined with “the sexy dancers of today, like the Pussy Cat Dolls.”
At Poleates in Blacktown NSW, girls as young as 15 are invited to participate as ‘pole virgins’ in the ‘Virgin’ class for beginner dancers.
Desert Pole Fitstate in their ‘Pole Fit for Kids’ advertisement that “in order to become a professional pole dancer, it is never too early to start.” Directly below this, a video plays of a dancer on her knees, seductively removing her skirt to reveal an underwear and stiletto combination, before launching onto the pole.
And over in Sydney’s north, teenage girls aged 13-16 can attend classes at Pol-arise. According to their website, girls will find themselves “developing washboard abs, tight toosh and a long, lean, sexy physique”, whilst simultaneously resolving “self-confidence and body confidence issues.” This is the image the company uses for self-promotion:
In contrast to the claims made by Pol-arise, the pressure to achieve a ‘sexy physique’ holds no resolution for body image issues. Sexualisation is a proven, direct causal link to body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and the rapid decline in girls’ psychological health.
Kids pole programs are an embodiment of the way culture distorts girlhood to fit an adultified mould. As Linda Papadopoulos writes in her review commissioned by the UK Home Office, The Sexualisation of Young People, we are “legitimising the notion that children can be related to as sexual objects” through engaging children with hyper-sexualised behaviours.
“We are raising a generation of girls aspiring to careers requiring a ‘sexy’ image”
We are raising a generation of girls aspiring to careers requiring a ‘sexy’ image. A UK online survey asked 1,000 teenage girls their dream profession. Out of the available choices including teaching and medicine, 63% selected ‘glamour modelling’ and a quarter of girls placed ‘lap dancing’ as a preferred choice.
The aspirational connotations associated with sex trade and pornographic practices, according to Papadopoulos, are reflective of our pornified culture.
This deeply ingrained cultural mindset has led us to believe that girls’ engagement in pole dancing is a harmless practice. I disagree.
Search ‘pole dance kids’, and the fifth result is of a primary school-aged child imitating mainstream pole movement to a sultry soundtrack in her home: complete with hair flicks, back arches, knee spreads and a delighted online troll who says: ‘She’d look even better wrapped around my pole.’
Search ‘pole dance teens’ and the inappropriate content warnings issued by YouTube are indicative of what kids pole programs are setting little girls up for: grinding, twerking, thrusting, leg spreads, body rolls, sliding and crawling along the floor in padded bras, g-strings, lingerie and ‘naughty school girl’ costumes. And this is all before turning 18, where girls may then transition into adult lessons around the country ranging from beginner, to advanced ‘strip and lap’ classes.
Encouraging our girls to partake in a key income-generator of the sex industry is a mistake.
We are enrolling them into a billion-dollar global industry that objectifies, oppresses and conditions women to believe they are created for sex. We are enrolling them into an economic and cultural landscape that proliferates the commodification of the bodies of women and girls; a culture that screams body before brains.
Let girls run, kick a ball, surf, dance, hike, indoor rock climb, balance the beam at their local gymnastics club. There are many fitness avenues that are not founded on the premise of gratifying male sexual demand.
Jemma Nicoll is a UTS Journalism graduate and freelance writer. She is the founding director of Inspire Creative Arts in Sydney, and facilitates self-esteem development programs for girls.
Porn’s distortions need addressing in schools say educators
The ABC filmed me addressing students at Healthdale Christian College in Melbourne last Wednesday. Some of the students were interviewed – hear how well they articulate the issues! (click on image below for link to video)
MELINDA TANKARD REIST, AUTHOR, ADVOCATE FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS: Our boys are looking at porn not only before they’ve had sex, before they’ve even had their first kiss and they think what they’re seeing is normal. …
… Girls tell us that boys expect them to provide what’s known as PSE, the porn star experience. Boys expect that girls will provide for them everything they’ve seen in pornography and that the girls want that.
‘I am more than my body, don’t treat me like a piece of meat’: one young woman’s response to naked selfie ask
Received this Facebook message from Tiffany. Tiffany, hearing from girls like you makes this work all worthwhile. Thank you.
Hi Melinda. I was really touched by what you had to say and you opened my eyes to what sort of world we live in and as a 16 I’m disgusted and amazed and what girls my age have to go through. You said something about being asked for nudes and that and personally I didn’t know what you meant by that as I haven’t been asked to do that… Until today. To tell you the truth I wouldn’t of known what to do about it if you didn’t speak about it and I’m very grateful to you. The boy asked me for a photo or video and I said no that’s when he called me lame but I immediately told him I am more than just my body and you shouldn’t treat me like a piece of meat and instantly blocked him. Thank you for telling me that and I hope I have done the right thing and myself and other girls are taking part in taking action on this case and we want to make a difference. I want to help girls feel like they are worth something. So thanks again you are an inspiration to us all and I hope to join your cause.
How sexualised behaviour has become the new normal
While the content was disturbing, it was encouraging to wake up to the front page of The Australian on the weekend and see the issues myself and my colleagues write and speak about most days, reflected on the front page.
Source: The Australian
A news piece titled ‘Click bait: kids at risk as sexualised behaviour becomes “new normal”‘ by National Education Correspondent Natasha Bita, described how unsupervised internet access was spawning a generation of hypersexualised children who mimicked the adult porn they saw online. It cited warnings from psychiatrists, police and child welfare expects that the scourge of ‘sexting’, ‘selfies’ and social media was endangering children’s physical and mental health.
My colleagues, Melbourne child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg, managing director of the Young and Well Co-operative Research Centre, and federal government cyber safety adviser Susan McLean, expressed their concerns about the impacts on children of early porn exposure. “There is overt and covert pressure on children to behave in a sexualised way,” Ms McLean says. “This shouldn’t be the new normal. The No. 1 issue I deal with in high schools is the enormous pressure from boys to girls to put out sexually through images. ”
Michael Carr-Gregg said online pornography was skewing the way teenagers viewed sex, love and intimacy. “Boys see girls as sexual service stations for their pleasure…I’m seeing it virtually every single time I have a clinic. Their idea of sex is porn sex — it’s a terrible distortion of one of the most precious and important parts of their lives, which is love and intimacy.’’
Central to the piece was the example of a selfie of a 13-year-old girl posed on Instagram last week, with the words ‘Boner Garage’ scrawled on her bare tummy. Australian author and columnist Nikki Gemmell wrote a profound and incisive response, directly to the teen girl. She has kindly given permission for me to re-print her commentary in full here.
‘Boner Garage’ girls, my heart breaks for you
Dear 13-year-old Instagrammer,
“Boner Garage.” Oh, right. So that’s what you’ve just written on your bare tummy, in your child’s scrawl, in black marking pen. You’ve helpfully added an arrow pointing downwards so we get exactly what you’re referring to. That’s what you’ve artfully photographed in your child’s bedroom as your celebratory birthday selfie. You’ve deliberately, proudly, made those two dispiriting words the focus of your shot.
Your glossy blonde hair is across your face so no one can see your features. The room behind you looks utterly normal, middle class; just like any teen’s cherished and girlie private space. I don’t know you, but you have hundreds of followers, boys and girls, and you’ve not locked your account to strangers. Happy 13th birthday. My heart breaks for you.
That you define turning 13 — that wonderful, releasing cusp in a woman’s life — by those two bleak little words. Boner garage. That you somehow get pride out of them. It’s an age marinated in symbolism, a fulcrum into growing up; a time where everything should seem celebratory and wondrous, with the world deepening around you. Symbolically, in many cultures, you become morally responsible for your actions around this age — but I just want to protect you right now.
It’s readily available on a ¬mobile phone and most teenage boys have one. They look at what their mates are looking at. That can mean anal sex, group sex, oral sex — women servicing men in the ugliest, most disempowering of ways.
Porn, of course, is sex with no light in it and the best sex is bursting with light and life. Teens need to be told this bleak and reductive world is not what normal, loving relationships are about; sex should never be violent or degrading and woman are not just sexual objects.
Doctors are seeing teenage girls presenting to them — highly embarrassed — with bowel problems because of traumatic anal sex. Because it’s what they’re ¬assuming they’re meant to do.
As for you, my birthday girl, I just wish there’d been an adult or responsible friend around to stop you posting that Insta pic. Because your electronic footprint lasts, and can be disseminated. People may well be seeing what your 13-year-old self wrote, so proudly and stupidly, in years to come. Parents see the accounts of their children’s mates; as well as friends of friends you have no idea about; teachers and principals trawl; and so, of course, does the dark side of the net, those dubious adults beyond your world.
By scrawling those ugly words on your midriff you’ve already flipped yourself into the dark side of femininity and I don’t think you even realise it. Boys won’t admire you for doing this. They’ll disrespect you, disparage you.
Source: The Australian
But that won’t stop them using you as their so-called Boner ¬Garage. And I guarantee the ¬experience will be bleak, and ¬lonely. You will not feel empowered afterwards, or cherished. You will not feel what you want more than anything in this world — loved. You will feel cheap, and used, and ugly, and alone.
And at the end of that reducing little ¬experience you will ask yourself, is that it? Is that how I’m meant to feel? And that’s why my heart breaks for you. Because I’ve been there. And I can tell you, it’s not what empowering, exhilarating and tender sex is about. Often you have to wait a long, long time to discover that. With someone you love. Where respect is mutual. Where you’re having sex on your terms; talking, laughing, working things out together; saying what you like — and what you don’t. And being listened to.
“Boner Garage” implies none of those things. How passive and inert you make a woman’s wondrous sexual organs sound. Do you think so little of your body that you view it mainly as a receptacle for males to be in? The most common web definition of Boner Garage: “A vagina that has been pounded so much by erect penises that it has become a resting place for said penises.” Pretty ugly, eh?
I wish you courage, whoever you are. Not to dim your light among men; because that light is about so much more than the garage, as you call it, between your legs. It’s about your mind, your spirit, your vividness, your strength and your voice. There are only two ways to live in this world: as a victim or a courageous fighter, and you’re coming across as a victim right now. Of this rampantly sexualised world we live in. Of its female objectification and trivialisation. And of the voracious demands of teenage social media; the craving to be popular, known, that rampant desire to get more and more precious “likes”.
This isn’t the way to go about it. You’re advocating in the most dispiriting of ways a female sexual experience that’s stripped of mystery, of reverence and transcendence and, most of all, tenderness. As Iris Murdoch said: “There is nothing like early promiscuous sex for dispelling life’s bright mysterious expectations.”
Teenage girls and boys no longer seek sex education from textbooks with anatomical diagrams, giggling friends or flustered parents; they can get it from films with titles like Teen Ass 2, which they can access on the smartphones that they carry with them at all times. This week new figures revealed that sexualised images of women on social media have led to an increase in emotional problems among young girls. Researchers from University College London believe the rise in girls aged between 11 and 13 suffering from emotional problems such as anxiety may be linked to stress brought on by seeing images of women portrayed as sex objects on Facebook, Twitter and other websites. Teenagers rarely measure self-esteem or self-worth against personal and scholastic achievements, however brilliant they are, but increasingly by how many people tell them they are ‘hot’ on the photo-sharing website, Instagram, or other forms of social media…
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
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“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
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“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It, Men of Honour, Sexts Texts & Selfies, Raising Girls, Raising Boys, MTR DVD, Ruby Who? DVD & book, Girl Wise guide to friends, Girl Wise guide to being you, Girl Wise guide to life and Girl Wise guide to taking care of your body, and the new Wise Guys for the combined discounted price of $250.
‘The foremost authority in Australia cyber safety lays it on the line and challenges parents to find their digital spine.’ – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
Whether it is problems with friends, worrying about how you look or just feeling a bit down in the dumps – these books are written especially for you – to help you in your journey. Purchase all four together and save $18.50 on postage! Author: Sharon Witt
In this DVD, Melinda takes us on a visual tour of popular culture. “Melinda’s presentation leaves audiences reeling. She delivers her message with a clarity and commonsense without peer.” – Steve Biddulph, author, Raising Boys, Raising Girls
In this easy-to-read updated book, Steve Biddulph shares powerful stories and give practical advice about every aspect of boyhood.
“Overflowing with incisive understandings…a comprehensive and in-depth guide.” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychologist
Men of Honour -written by Glen Gerreyn- encourages and inspires young men to take up the challenge to be honourable. Whether at school, in sport, at work or in relationships, we must develp our character to achieve success and experience the thrills life has on offer.
“This powerful and humane book is a breakthrough…Big Porn Inc shows us we are poisoning our own spirits.” – Steve Biddulph
“A landmark publication” – Clive Hamilton
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“Getting Real contains a treasure trove of information and should be mandatory reading for all workers with young people in health, education and welfare” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Adolescent Psychologist
Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.