‘Despite being known for its overtly sexual content and verbally abusive teaching tactics, Dance Moms fever has infected the country’
By Jemma Nicoll
Eyes shining with delight, Nia twirls and twirls as shimmering pink feathers soar in the wind swelled by her rapid movement. Encased in the fluorescent cage of a burlesque feather fan, she is mesmerised by her imitation of a Las Vegas Showgirl. Adorned in silver glitter-speckled shorts and a nude sports bra, Nia’s outfit for her upcoming dance competition fulfills its designer’s intention of creating that stark, naked illusion.
“I’m hot! I’m mean! You can’t have me! You can’t afford me!” screams her choreographer as Nia endeavours to channel the sensual character; coordinating the fan and challenging dance routine of high kicks, hip grinds and eye winks. She is training to win gold, alongside her troupe of six other mock-topless, feathered friends.
“This costume’s better than all of the other costumes because it makes my body look pretty… it makes me look beautiful,” Nia says.
Nia is eight-years-old.
“It is as if contemporary girls are in a great hurry to grow up,” says Marika Tiggemann in her latest study, ‘Contemporary Girlhood: Maternal Reports on Sexualised Behaviour and Appearance in 4-10 year-old girls’ , released June last year. Tiggemann and fellow researcher, Amy Slater, from Flinders University in Adelaide, are the first to document the appearance-obsessed behaviours of young Australian girls. Results show that an epidemic of girls aged four to 10-years-old are prematurely engaging with teen culture, and exhibiting hyper-sexualised behaviours through attention to personal grooming, clothing and bodily appearance.
Are our Generation Z girls too sexy too soon? (freeimages.com)
The study of almost 1000 girls has forecast a bleak outcome for Nia’s generation, whose earlier burlesque display was seen by millions on Dance Moms: the show tracking the pre-pubescent stars of Abby Lee Miller’s Pittsburgh USA dance studio. The show is a growing place of worship for thousands of aspiring Australian dancers, and the wallet swallowing the income of their parents who recently paid hundreds for their daughters to attend classes with Abby Lee, on March 13 at Bankstown Sports Club. Despite being known for its overtly sexual content and verbally abusive teaching tactics, Dance Moms fever has infected the country.
“As a society, we have yet to see the consequences of an entire new generation of girls brought up in a highly sexualized environment.” said Tiggemann.
“If the focus on appearance…becomes their habitual way of viewing themselves, then this is liable to have negative consequences for their well-being as a teenager and as an adult woman.”
According to Tiggemann’s results, by the age of eight, 28 percent of Australian girls are dissatisfied with their physical appearance, 76 percent are particularly fussy about what they wear and are frequently asking: “does this look good on me?” and13 percent are exiting the house with a made-up face.
And out of all the things little girls love to do, there is one common denominator that surpassed all activities listed in the study: 96 percent love to dance.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports that at April 2012 there were 727,000 girls aged five to 14 years participating in an organised sport outside of school. Of this figure, 418,100 were enrolled in a dance school (58 percent), up from 390,400 in 2009. The rate of Australian girls participating in dance lessons is rising by annual increments of tens of thousands; it is certainly happy days for current and prospective studio directors.
The Lolita Effect
“Come on we’ve got these good bodies now, and they’re not going to last forever so let’s show it while we’ve got it. Come on, put it out there girls, you’ve got it. Now flaunt it!”
Deborah Watson, primary school teacher and Learning Support consultant, animatedly re-enacts an overheard dance teacher working with the school’s lunchtime dance groups.
“How old were the dancers? Eight, nine, 10 years old,” she says. “Then there were four girls in this particular school who had more solid builds…they pulled out because their parents said they don’t feel comfortable in those costumes, but the teacher wouldn’t make allowances to alter the costumes for them. I spoke to a mother whose daughter is self-harming too, since quitting dance group from being teased.”
“You fit the costume or you’re out, is the idea.” she says.
Watson is a serial ‘mystery shopper’ of Sydney dance studios. The mother of two daughters, aged nine and 15, has spent the last 12 years embarking on a series of ‘free trial classes.’
“I heard a parent once ask why the kids did so much abdominal work at the beginning of the class, and the teacher’s response was ‘because we’ve all got midriffs for our costumes this year, and the girls need to have flat abs’.” She vividly describes the hot pink, sequined equivalent of a string bikini, with fishnet stockings and black jazz shoes.
Social researchers call it the ‘Lolita Effect’; a term to describe the imposition of sexualisation through mass media messages, on young girls whom are yet to reach the required development. Watson is convinced that local organisations are flying under the radar in fuelling the Lolita Effect.
“In this other school, nine and 10 years old girls were heavily made up. What struck me was the eyeliner, this is what they chose to wear to class to fit into the group dynamic,” she said.
“The girls had crop tops and tiny shorts. There were only two girls that had a full leotard and they were very much over here on this side,” Deborah gestures left, “and those in the crop tops were over here. It was very clear who was in and who was out.”
The Eisteddfod Battleground
Dance eisteddfods, hundreds of them, are dotted around the country. They are a magnet for studios to gather, compete and showcase the works of their students.
Sydney adjudicator, performer and high school teacher Melissa Lukins, is disappointed by what she has critiqued at eisteddfod events: “I’ve observed as an adjudicator the unusually sexual nature of young dancers’ facial expressions, their movements, costumes and general attitude towards dance performance.”
Lukins lists countless influencing factors.
“‘Dance Moms’ has seemed to propagate this…. as students see other dance schools presenting this type of choreography they pressure their teachers to fit in with the culture. It is alarming,” said Ms Lukins.
At the Front Line
It all became too much for Dodie Wilson, another NSW adjudicator and retired studio director, who is actively opposing the culture she has witnessed in her 25 years of work in Australian eisteddfods.
Dance eisteddfods are a second home. Pic: Jemma Nicoll
“Once it’s on stage, it’s seen. It’s out there. You can’t take it back. The minute that child gets on stage in an inappropriate costume… too late, everybody’s seen it,” Wilson says.
“The minute they’re flashing their private areas, it’s done. In front of brothers, uncles. And that child…that eight, nine, 10, 12 year old child has been, in a way, violated. They have done what they were told to do.”
Wilson is paving the way in the local eisteddfod scene by hosting a ‘child safety’ competition event that is the first of its kind. With the glitz and the glam, come guidelines.
“They must wear stockings at all times…two-piece costume items must be seven centimetres from the bust, and I have actually banned particular movements,” she said.
The syllabus outline distributed to participants spells out the consequences of entering the event, launched in Seven Hills Sydney last October. Immediate disqualification applies to dancers where costumes do not cover seven centimetres of midriff, where lyrics contain sexual content, and if choreography includes the banned movements.
“Any music or movements that seem to be breaking the rules or are inappropriate, a bell will ring, the music will start to fade and we will motion the child on stage to curtsey…the routine will be stopped.”
Perhaps teachers should submit their music and costume selections prior to the event, to minimise the risk of humiliating a child onstage.
Wilson says she has had an overwhelming amount of positive support through private messages over social media, however she is disappointed that little public support has been offered to counteract the backlash received from online groups.
“Teachers are scared. They are scared to be part of the change, for whatever reason in case five years down the track it changes back again or it just doesn’t work,” she says.
“Will you lose students? Maybe. But then you’ll know you’re doing the right thing.”
Pic: Jemma Nicoll
Amongst other influences, Wilson attributes the hyper-sexualised studio culture craze to RG Dance, infamous for its former director now facing child sex offence charges. She describes their competition troupes as mechanical in precision with faultless technique, miniscule outfits and adult-themed concepts. They won gold each time.
“Teacher’s saw this, they believed they had the secret. So they copied.”
How will the sexual messages shouldered by young dancers today potentially affect adulthood?
“I believe they will be so brokenhearted, that they will have nothing to do with the dance industry when they’re older,” she said.
Dance, Sex and Science
According to medical doctor turned sexologist and writer, Patricia Weerakoon, the increase of girls engaging in dance communities, determines the need to assess studio culture in line with documented hyper-sexualised behaviours.
“Everything that goes into the brain, especially during that rapid development of childhood, will influence the brain’s wiring. As the child grows, and the more sexualised their culture [is], the more the brain will recognise at building those sexual circuits. It will recognise it as something that is normal or good.”
The University of Sydney’s Honorary Senior Lecturer in Health Sciences has spent 40 years as a medical practitioner, sexual health educator and sex therapist. Dr Weerakoon’s concern for what she calls ‘raunch culture’ stems from years of research into childhood brain development.
“It’s called Neuroplasticity,” said Dr Weerakoon.
“From the time the baby is developing in the womb… the brain adapts based on what is going on. In a child’s brain, everything from birth through to teen and young adulthood, that time of quick and rapid growth is a time where [there] is a huge amount of brain wiring and rewiring.”
“And what we know is that [the brain] is influenced by social environment, the environment that the child is in. Everything that goes into the brain changes the wiring,” she said.
Dr Weerakoon holds grave concerns for the wellbeing of the post-millennial generation, whom she believes will be the most sexualised people to walk the planet.
“They see themselves in a way that empowerment, being powerful, being popular, means you have to make yourself sexual. [Because of cultural pressures], girls are making themselves sex objects, and are willing to give sex, be sexy, dress sexual,” she said.
“If you are running a dance studio, you have a great responsibility because the music you play and what you are teaching, everything you say is working into their brain.”
Dr Weerakoon urges parents to speak up: “Parents must be parents; parents must say no, parents must say: ‘for my child, this is not right’. You have to be proactive… because I guarantee when you stop one avenue of sexualisation others will spring up… But be proactive to do something about protecting kids,” she said.
“And teachers need to do the protecting from their end too.”
Call for tighter regulation
For dance teacher of 18 years and mother of four, Elizabeth Wever, her experiences within the industry demonstrates an urgent need for improved teacher training.
Wever was subjected to strict dieting and exercise regimes from a young teenager, an endeavour of her dance teacher to assist in achieving the ‘correct size’ of a dancer.
“I yoyo dieted and struggled emotionally with weight issues as a result until my twenties…when I quit dancing as a result of being told too many times I was not the right body shape for a dancer.”
Mental and emotional recovery was a long and arduous road.
“I am long past caring about the judgment of others about my body shape…however it breaks my heart to think that other young girls are being subjected to this type of scrutiny,” she said.
Wever and Watson are concerned that dance teachers are not undergoing thorough training or regulation procedures.
“There is not enough regulation in the dance industry,” says Watson.
“If we can regulate the fitness industry… if we can regulate after-school care… you can’t even work in vacation care unless you have a certificate. But you can go out and open a dance school and teach dancing to all with no qualifications.”
“How many dance schools out there have a Working with Children check? Do parents even look at that?” asks Watson.
A number of tertiary institutions across Australia offer Dance Education certificates and degrees, a compulsory qualification for those seeking employment in the public school sector. However this is not mandatory for studio ownership. There are no required certificates or standardised procedures.
The national peak body for Australian dance information is Ausdance. Despite the range of online resources available to encourage the aspiring teacher, on the Question and Answer page of their website, it states:
“Q: Do dance studio teachers have to obtain a dance teaching qualification?
Mental Health in the Studio
In May 2014, The Frontiers in Psychology Journal published that anxiety and depression accounted for the highest disease amongst Australian children today. Aside from external stresses of divorce, grief, and life transitions, experts rank internal factors such as irrational belief systems and pessimistic tendencies as high risk factors for mental health issues.
So do dance teachers hold any responsibility for engaging with mental health matters, and the internal consequences of teaching practices?
“Of course,” says Jane Cuneen, Principal of Caringbah North Public School, a large primary school in Southern Sydney. Cuneen is also the mother of an aspiring young dancer.
“All adults who have the privilege of teaching young minds have the responsibility to develop the child socially, emotionally and spiritually as well as physically, regardless of their specialty.”
Cuneen is saddened by comments of dance teachers regarding bodily expectations and the need to be ‘sexy’.
“Is it that these teachers don’t have the training that says comments like these are detrimental and have long lasting emotional and psychological effects on our girls?”
“Most parents don’t even know that these comments are being directed at their daughters. Because most dance classes are closed doors, we don’t know how our kids are being treated.”
“When those core beliefs have been set up, those things that your parents said was ok and that your dance school said was ok…. well to challenge them is a very hard thing. What happens when those core beliefs let you down?”
“In 10 years time we’ll be picking up pieces of these girls that are damaged.
“But it can be avoided.”
#tilttuesday: are girls at risk of being preyed on?
There are 172,311 posts currently under the #tilttuesday hashtag feed. Then there are 3,434 under #tilttuesdays for those who prefer plurality and 324 for #tilttuesdayy for those rejecting mainstream spelling. The list continues of the variations of categories young dancers enter in Instagram when posting their ’tilt’ photographs (on Tuesday).
A’tilt’ is when a dancer extends their leg up to 180 degrees away, and tilts their torso slightly to one side, or ‘off-centre’, so the leg reaches maximum height and split. It can be elegant when executed correctly, an impressive display of flexibility and strength. However should the dancer not yet possess the level of strength to execute the ’tilt’, they grab hold of their ankle with both hands and push the pelvis forward in order to take the stress off the hamstrings.
This can produce a distorted display of exposed body parts, as girls as young as eight capture, caption, hashtag and post for the worldwide, weekly phenomenon of #tilttuesday. This has become the most popular online fad for young dancers who seek the connection and approval of fellow artists around the globe.
Conversations overhead as a studio director suggest division among dance teachers over the craze, many encouraging their students to participate and even do so themselves. It’s ok; they’re stretching and having fun, they’re not intentionally posting in an overtly sexual way. I disagree.
Open your Instagram application. Click ‘explore’, type in ’tilttuesday’ and start your own search. Among the thousands of young girls, many in sports bra and booty short attire in dance studios, on front lawns or in bedrooms, you may stumble across the image that caught my eye in particular: a girl of around age 16, striking the position in white translucent boyleg underwear; the shadows of her pubic hair and the physical outlines of genitalia clearly visible.
Continue scrolling; aside from the “You’re not doing it properly”, “Your tilt is normally better than this” and comments targeting thigh wobbles, belly rolls, breasts, lack of visible abdominal lines and attacks on dancers’ bodies and skill, you will see comments like this:
“Love to f**k you in that position.” This Instagram handle has posted zero photos and maintains a steady stream of two followers; we can only assume his online activity is simply to peruse and predate.
“Do you ever dance naked?” This user is a Chelsea Football Club fanatic who regularly posts photos of beautiful young girls.
“Are those stripper bruises on your thighs?”
“Close your legs, it stink.”
“I’m single, that’s all I got to say.”
“Wats poppin tonite??”
“DM me.” Or ‘private message me’; repeatedly from the same user on multiple photos on the #tilttuesday feed.
This is, in my view, a pedophile’s playground.
Dancers innocently upload images, eyes are drawn to their private areas and men unashamedly publicise their approval. They express their desire to sexually act on the posed dancer, a minor, a child. They are open about their enjoyment of the image.
Comments are not deleted nor images removed. Instagram provides no zero privacy settings.
No blame is to be cast on these dancers. A 10-year-old girl has not yet mastered the ability to assess the consequences of an image. She is simply playing copycat with her peers, her dance teachers, and succumbing to the pressure of what needs to be performed in order to gain the acceptance that Instagram ‘likes’ provide.
There are 172,311 #tilttuesday images worldwide subject to the scrutiny of perusing eyes. If you check back next Tuesday and see for yourself, that figure will no doubt have risen. It is not until she is well into adulthood after potentially wrestling with body image, mental health issues and more, that she may look back and regret the online broadcasting and exposure of her fragile, precious little body in such a way. She may one day ask her teachers, parents and guides, ‘why didn’t you say something?’
Jemma Nicoll is a UTS Journalism graduate and freelance writer. She directs Inspire Creative Arts, a dance school in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire and is involved in mentoring and self-esteem development programs for girls.
How are we expected to laugh at the epidemic of violence against women?
Collective Shout wrote this response to a man who described us as ‘feminazis’ who lacked a sense of humour, and chose to ‘take offense’, on our Facebook page. He has since deleted his comments – because he’s now ashamed of them, we can only hope.
Feminazi: ‘A deeply offensive misogynstic slur’
Do the men who use these terms again us think about the meaning? Is the mass slaughter of Jews (and others) to be reduced to a swear-word against feminist activists? (in a similar way ‘lynch mob’ is bandied around by certain men who get called out by women, as powerfully highlighted here by Dr Helen Pringle). My Collective Shout colleague Caitlin Roper– who has received more than her fair share of slurs – emailed this to me this afternoon on the use of the term ‘Feminazi’.
The fact is it is men as a class who oppress women as a class and we can see manifestations of this everywhere we look, ranging from sexual harassment and sexist jokes to rape and femicide. To suggest that women are the oppressors and the oppressors our victims is just horrible. And while we are drawing comparisons, it’s not men who are being exterminated by women. I always feel the need to point out that it is a deeply offensive misogynistic slur, and men who use this language to silence women who speak against the oppression and abuse they endure are absolutely part of the problem.
American activist Ed Drain also expressed his contempt for the term, on my (personal) Facebook page.
Ed Drain The ONLY connections to Nazis are the wanton destruction of a huge group of people — with Hitler’s Germany, it was Jews and homosexuals, today, it is women of all kinds and colors. The comparison is apt only for the ones supporting rape culture.
Stand-up Comedian Jim Jefferies misogynist jokes fall flat
In his opening sequence he claimed that when a man put his fingers inside the vagina of an unconscious woman it was not really rape. He said women should be flattered to have their drinks spiked and be sexually violated. He criticised the women who challenge his misogyny, callingthem “uptight (insert expletive word for female genitalia here) who can’t take a joke”.
Jefferies then joked about fat women, lying women, ugly women, beautiful but boring women, dumb women, and made plenty of references to the different types of women he had had sex with. He also admitted that he’d like to have sex with a 16-year-old.
During his misogynistic sermon, he asked the audience if anyone knew the opposite of misogyny, and took delight that only one person responded. This lone voice supported his argument that misandry is generally unknown because men have no qualms with being sexually objectified by women. According to Jefferies, men are totally open to the idea of being drugged and sexually violated, and if only women could mirror this relaxed attitude and regard the prospect of being raped as a form of flattery.
Violence against women exists on a spectrum: at one end there are misogynist attitudes, which Jefferies champions. His jokes against women were delivered with passion and conviction, and sections of the crowd consumed them like hungry wolves. These jokes made me feel uncomfortable and angry because they are being told against the backdrop of a society that systematically denigrates women.
Misogynistic attitudes are the building blocks for more extreme forms of violence against women that are endemic in Australia, including: forced sex, emotional, psychological and financial abuse, revenge porn, physical violence, stalking, rape, and murder. Read full article
Let these venues know what you think of them profiting from women hatred
‘The pornographic vocabulary of sex as the violent debasement of the female body had seeped out from screens and into the lives of women’
There’s a shift happening. Perhaps not quite enough yet to call it a tipping point. But something is going on. When my colleagues and I were working on ‘Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry’ in 2010-11, concerns about the way porn was shaping sexual attitudes and behaviours in new and harmful ways were barely a whisper. But now the ill effects of the pornographic experiment on relationships and sexuality are being named out loud.
This personal piece on Twitlonger by Rosie Redstockings is one of the most potent I’ve read describing a woman’s experience of porn-conditioned men. I reprint it with permission. And below it, Sarah Ditum’s remarkable confession in New Statesman last week. You must read the whole thing. “The pornographic vocabulary of sex as the violent debasement of the female body had seeped out from screens and into the lives of the women I knew”, she writes. Rosie’s experience, and Sarah’s frank admission, are a perfect match here on MTR today.
In Response to Owen Jones
I’m 23. Mine is the first generation to be exposed to online porn from a young age. We learnt what sex is from watching strangers on the internet, we don’t know anything else.
Here are some of the things that I have experienced…
- having my head shoved into his crotch, and held down while I sucked him off
- being told that my gag reflex was too strong, couldn’t I work on it?
- bullied into submitting to facials. I didn’t want to. He said (joking?) that he’d ejaculate on my face while I was asleep. He wasn’t joking – I woke up with him wanking over me.
- bullied into trying anal. It hurt so much I begged him to stop. He stopped, then complained that I was being too sensitive and it can’t be *that* bad, he continued to ask for it
- having my hair pulled
- constant requests for threesomes
- constant requests to let him film it
And on every single occasion, I felt guilty for not being a ‘cool girl’. I was letting him down. I was a prude.
THIS IS NOW NORMAL. Every single straight girl I know has had similar experiences. Every. Single. One. Some have experienced far worse. Some have given in, some have resisted, all have felt guilty and awkward for not being “liberated” enough, not giving him what he wants.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I discovered radical feminism, that I realised it was ok to say no. I’m lucky enough to be with a man who respects this and who understands. Even so, it was only recently that I decided I wasn’t going to swallow anymore. I’d never liked it, but always thought I was obliged. I told my boyfriend and he said that was totally fine, he was horrified to hear I hadn’t enjoyed it previously. Why would he think anything else? This is what sex is for the porn generation.
I’m a very privileged woman – I’m middle class, well educated, I come from a very supportive family – and yet I still struggled to muster up the confidence to say no. The men I have had sex with are now lawyers, doctors, management consultants – they’re powerful people, they have influence, and they still think that degrading their sexual partners is normal.
Porn has done this.
When you use your influence to tell thousands of your readers that all men watch porn, this is just what men are like, “why should we care?”, you’re perpetuating this. An entire generation of women have suffered because of porn, and we will all continue to suffer unless men change. This isn’t just an intellectual exercise for us. “Boys will be boys” is not going to change anything, nor will bleating “yeah but porn doesn’t *have* to be misogynistic”. Please start using your influence for good.
You say you’re a feminist ally? Prove it.
Why I changed my mind about porn
….Though it seemed callow to admit it, I’d seen things in my research that shocked and upset me – real penetration of real women causing real pain. And there was one more thing, which happened more gradually: I heard from friends about the boyfriend who wanted to choke them, or the one who slapped them about in bed, or pressured them to do anal, or wanted to film it all. The pornographic vocabulary of sex as the violent debasement of the female body had seeped out from screens and into the lives of the women I knew…
The actions of Craft, Dworkin, Mackinnon and Dines are defined by their urgency. Anti-porn feminism recognises a link between the propaganda of sexual violence and its practice, and stopping porn is understood to be essential in ending the rapes, killings and torture that men practice against women. These campaigners believe that lives are at stake – and even so, they are somehow less censorious, more open to dialogue, more creative than those who now police the “safe spaces.” In these spaces, everyone must be warmly welcomed and intellectually unchallenged, except of course for feminists speaking against male violence. One wonders exactly why Pornland was such an intimidating prospect for supporters of the sex industry in Austin. Perhaps it is a perverse testament to Dines: maybe her opponents know that, if viewers approach with a readiness to debate in good faith, they might, like me, end up changing their minds. Read full article
How come the sex industry never has anything to say about the johns and punters – the kind of men, for example, who share their ratings of women with other men in the way you might recommend a meal or place to stay? While they continue to roll out selected prostituted women as human shields* to talk about how wonderful the industry is (for example on Canberra’s ABC 666 last Friday in promoting an exhibition of the sex industry at the Canberra Museum- more to come on this), excluded is any response to the men who treat women in the trade as pieces of meat.
Men who buy sex: in their own words
Men who buy women and children for sex often regard them as less than human. We know this because the men themselves openly say so both in research and on customer review websites where men detail and rank the ‘services’ of the women they buy. These websites showcase the contempt these men have for the women they exploit.
We’ve collected a small sample of quotes from men who buy women. Several main themes emerge.
Regarding the women they buy as mere objects of sexual gratification and less than human
“Being with a prostitute is like having a cup of coffee- once you’re done with it, you throw it out.” Source
“I have an easier time treating them worse.” Source
“For gods sake woman…I just want you to get naked and suck my cock!…If you like big tits, she is your girl. Too much like hard work for me.” Source
“Some of the girls are lovely but most are just holes to f*ck.” Source
“If you want an attractive receptacle for your semen she will do.” Source
“LOL what beautiful girls OMG! WTF are you talking about dogg??? They are all old as fuck and the only young ones are ugly junkies lol rather fuck a blow up doll lol” Source
A sense of entitlement to sex any way they want it with no regard for the woman they exploit
“I don’t want them to get any pleasure. I am paying for it and it is her job to give me pleasure. If she enjoys it I would feel cheated.” Source
“…She said “NO!” Sorry, what do you mean NO, this is what I paid for.” Source
“Well, she certainly knows what she’s doing and how to please a man. And there’s no damn nonsense about ‘don’t do this’ and ‘I don’t want it in there’ either. So, in a word, a perfect whore.” Source
“She was definitely on something…her oral (covered) was mechanical to say the least…No interaction at all. I know not all the girls enjoy it, but I’m not paying them to enjoy it- just to pretend that they are.” Source
“I took the lead and it was like shagging a corpse…Someone should inform her that a part of the job is to show some enjoyment and give some pleasure back to the punter.” Source
An opportunity to control and dominate a woman and perform degrading sex acts on her that their female partners refuse
“If my fiancée won’t give me anal, I know someone who will.” Source
“You get to treat a ho like a ho…you can find a ho for any type of need – slapping, choking, aggressive sex beyond what your girlfriend will do – you won’t do stuff to your girlfriend that will make her lose her self esteem.” Source
“I guess the big thing is the control aspect of it. When you’re with a prostitute you have control over what happens. You get to have control over what you do, when, how, in what order, and I like that.” Source
“I would have no issue making a girl do what I want, after all that is what I pay for. 60 minutes of HER time to make ME happy doing whatever I want. If she doesn’t like it she is in the wrong game. I never spit on a girl but I have raised my hand to a girl.” Source
Recognising that the women they buy are unwilling participants
“I wish she had loosened up or pretended to be into it more. She grimaced as I came on her which was a turn off…Would recommend for those interested in ethnic girls, big boobs…just wish she’d lighten up a bit.” Source
“[She] pulled away, which really put me off. She didn’t seem to like her hair being touched…she just seemed really on edge for the whole, short time I was with her.” Source
“She had the gagging expression on her face…again she just lay there and complained about it hurting.” Source
“I got the impression she was somewhere else, and even though she looked, she wouldn’t make eye contact. Total waste of cash. The management should starve girls like this to make them perform.” Source
“Overall, she is quite attractive, but doesn’t have a great attitude and gives the impression that she doesn’t really want to be here.” Source
Describing signs of women who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation
“Onto the sex which was the best part as Hana was tight and able to take instuctions [sic] well. Her English is non existant [sic] in April but may be better now. Lucky for me i was able to converse in some Korean with her.”- ‘Might and Power’, Punter Planet, 19 June 2011
“The thing that struck me was the absence of the usual cheerful welcoming manner I enjoy with most other Thai girls. She did flash a pretty smile once or twice but mostly made it glumly obvious that my visit was just a chore for her. So although I got my semen extracted, I couldn’t call that a joyful hour.” Source
“Cold and passive. I tried to talk to her to understand if there was an issue: homesickness, personal event? Unfortunately with her poor English, I could barely get a few words as an answer…She remained passive and distant.” Source
“Ukrainian brunette in her teenage years…She seemed disinterested and took off her clothes as if she was merely doing a duty, alarm bells started ringing as she lay down on the bed without a word, no attempt at trying to warm up and break the ice…Her English is poor…[she] seemed nervous and fidgety.” Source
“Unenthusiastic, dispassionate…she claimed afterwards that she was “just tired” but I suspect she’s not cut out for being a WG [Working Girl]. I wonder if it would be stretching a thought too far to question if she had in any way been coerced?” Source
As Mary Lucille Sullivan pointed out in her book Making Sex Work, “The [sex] buyer’s economic power means he determines how the sexual act will be played out. Buyers believe their purchasing power entitles them to demand any type of sex they want.” It is clear that many men are more concerned with the quality of the ‘sexual service’ than the fact that women they pay to exploit are not there by choice.
Earlier this month, ABC’s Lateline dedicated a segment to exploring Sweden’s solution to prostitution and trafficking. The ‘Nordic model’ criminalises the demand for commercial sexual exploitation, decriminalizes those exploited, and provides exit programs for individuals in prostitution who want to leave the industry.
Various human rights campaigners and organisations along with prostitution survivors advocate for the implementation of the Nordic model, with former US president Jimmy Carter calling it ‘the only workable solution’. Nordic legislation has been implemented in a growing number of countries around the world, and the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted in favour of it.
Gunilla Ekberg explained the rationale behind criminalizing buyers of sex and decriminalizing the sellers:
“One of the cornerstones of Swedish policies against prostitution and trafficking in human beings is the focus on the root cause, the recognition that without men’s demand for and use of women and girls for sexual exploitation, the global prostitution industry would not be able to flourish and expand.”
While there are countless debates over the notion of ‘choice’ for women and children in the sex trade, largely missing from these discussions is the role of men who make choices to buy women and children for sexual exploitation.
Over half are married or in a de-facto relationship
The sex industry attempts to obscure the realities of prostitution, including its gendered nature. It is primarily men buying mainly women and children. According to Detective Inspector Simon Haggstrom of the Stockholm Police Prostitution Unit, in the 15 years since buying sex has been criminalized, they have not found a single woman paying for sex. While the media narrative tends to depict lonely or even disabled men who are just looking for some companionship or someone to talk to, a major international study found that over half were married or in a de-facto relationship.
One exited woman shed some light on why men in committed intimate relationships buy women. She said, “I spent 15 years servicing men and allowing them to use me any way they saw fit. I’ve had clients confess that the things they paid me to do were things they would never ask their wives, whom they respected, or their “child’s mother” to do.
Many are well aware women are exploited
The study describes how men who pay to sexually exploit women are aware of the harms to women they exploit:
“The sex buyers had an extensive awareness of the intimate relationship between coercion, prostitution and trafficking.”
“Many (41%) of the sex buyers used women who they knew were controlled by pimps at the time they used her.”
“Both sex buyers and non-sex buyers evidenced extensive knowledge of the physical and psychological harms of prostitution.”
“Two thirds of both the sex buyers and the non-sex buyers observed that a majority of women are lured, tricked, or trafficked into prostitution.”
“Many of them had an awareness of the economic coercion and lack of alternatives in women’s entry into prostitution.”
“Almost all of the sex buyers and non-sex buyers shared the opinion that minor children are almost always available for prostitution in bars, massage parlours, escort and other prostitution in Boston.”
But this awareness didn’t stop them:
“The knowledge that women have been exploited, coerced, pimped or trafficked failed to deter sex buyers from buying sex.”
They know what would deter them
The men surveyed agreed that the most effective deterrents to buying sex would be being placed on a sex offender registry, public exposure, significant fines and jail time.
Progress under the Nordic model
Since Sweden’s legislation criminalising the buying of sex, considerable progress has been made. According to research from the Nordic Gender Institute, the number of men buying sex has decreased from 13.6% in 1996 to 7.9% in 2008. Street prostitution in Sweden has halved while in neighbouring countries such as Norway and Denmark it is estimated to be three times higher. Police have intercepted phone correspondence between pimps and traffickers who now regard Sweden as an unattractive market and suggest Denmark, Germany or Holland (where prostitution is legal) as alternatives. Reportedly, there has been a cultural shift in Sweden where it is no longer considered acceptable to purchase another person.
As proponents of the Nordic model attest, we cannot oppose sex trafficking of women and children and support the commercial sexual exploitation of women and children that is prostitution. Sex trafficking would cease to exist if men stopped buying women. There can never be gender equality while women are commodities to be bought and sold.
…the reality of prostitution is not a romantic fantasy but a tragic horror story. Sadly, in my work with Exodus Cry, my colleagues and I have encountered young women who have told us that Pretty Women lured them into the sex industry by leading them to believe that prostitution was glamorous and romantic. We interviewed one such girl for our documentary about sex trafficking. Stephanie was sexually abused as a child and entered into prostitution underage. She was dominated by an abusive, controlling pimp and trafficked for sex…. She told us, “I watched the movie, Pretty Woman, and I was like, well gosh, look at her, she’s beautiful, she’s making money, she’s meeting guys, and she fell in love with this guy, and she’s living in this nice hotel suite, and has everything she wants, and she’s fallen in love, man I need to become a ho. That’s what I thought, so, that’s what I did. I experienced nothing like Pretty Woman, it’s totally, totally different. I’ve been held hostage at gunpoint, raped, robbed, strangled, beaten up, everything, by customers.” Read full article here.
*With thanks to Dr Helen Pringle for the ‘human shields’ phrase.
Women should not have to make sexual concessions to have a seat in the boys club.
This morning I appeared on Channel Seven Sunrise to discuss Dr Gabrielle McMullin’s comments that given the level of sexual harassment in the medical profession and the penalties women faced when they complained, it may be better for them to submit than to take matters further. While it is good that Dr McMullin has exposed the shocking reality of gender inequality within the profession, I was concerned that her response suggested women have to make concessions rather than be treated with respect and as equals.
Juan Salmeron and I talk discuss objectification of women in the music industry – and other places
Being interviewed by the death metal music magazine Metal Blast was a first.
I’m not exactly known for my taste in black metal The closest I got to ‘heavy’ was Suzi Quatro singing Devil Gate Drive in the 70s. Though I do confess to being persuaded by two mates to turn up at a cacophonous metal gig at a music festival in Queensland a couple of years back – fortunately I still have one functioning ear. And ‘black metal tyrants’ 1349’s ‘Massive Cauldron of Chaos’ album title describes how my life feels on too many days. But anyway, German-based Metal Blast editor Juan Salmeron, sought me out. He is, interestingly, both an attorney-at-law and a metal head, according to his bio:
Considered by his mother as the brightest and prettiest boy, J’s interest in metal started in his early teens, listening to bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica (coupled with an embarrassing period in which Marilyn Manson “totally represents me, man”) eventually moving into the realm of power, industrial and death metal. When he’s not working at Metal Blast he can be found practicing Krav Maga, working as an attorney and coming up with excuses as to why he has to miss work after going to a concert. He also dabbles as a concert photographer, you can see his sub-par work on his instagram.
Juan just emailed me to say: “The response has been great; I’ve received e-mails, and even some girls contacted me and told me about their own cases of sexual abuse. It’s something that needs to be addressed”. So that’s good to know.
You may have heard about the misogynist antics of self-proclaimed “pick-up artist” and Real Social Dynamics (RSD) coach, Julien Blanc, whose recommendations for picking up women include grabbing women’s throats and pushing their faces into your crotch. Or you may have heard the sexist lyrics promoted by American entertainer, Redfoo, in his new single “Literally, I Can’t,” wherein women are encouraged to perform “girl on girl” for men at parties and, when they refuse, are instructed to “shut the fuck up.” If, like me, you walked away feeling offended by the actions of these men — I’m pleased to report that you were not alone.
Over the last month, both Blanc and Redfoo have been widely criticized by feminist activists and bloggers throughout Australia and North America. Recently, Blanc’s Visa was cancelled in Australia when a group of protesters picketed outside the venue where he was set to give one of his controversial RSD seminars — a protest that was spurred on by the hashtag, #takedownjulienblanc. Redfoo’s latest video sparked the hashtag #shutthefooup and prompted a Change.org petition demanding his dismissal as a judge from X Factor Australia.
I get excited to create things that will unite all of us through laughter, dance & celebration. If during the process I offend anyone, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. In the future I will be more mindful of the way I present my art.
Following Redfoo’s vague apology for his “excited” behaviour and contentious “art,” Blanc also issued an apology during an interview on CNN. In one excerpt of the five minute conversation, Blanc nervously says:
Like, I feel horrible. I’m not going to be happy to be the most hated man in the world. I’m overwhelmed by the way people are responding. With those pictures there that you’re referring to, of again, like, choking women, um, I just want to make that clear, that is not what I teach. Like, … those pictures right there, those were a horrible, horrible attempt at humour. Um, you know, it’s… you know, they were also, like, taken out of context…
On the surface, both Blanc and Redfoo appear to address the public’s concerns, but a closer inspection of their “apologies” reveals that the main reason they are sorry is because they feel they are either being misinterpreted or condemned. Indeed, while both Blanc and Redfoo use the words “sorry” and “apology” in their statements, what’s actually missing from their apologies is the apology itself.
In his memoir, The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch explains that there are three parts to giving a sincere apology: Identifying what you did wrong, assuring the offended party that you will not repeat your misbehaviour, and finally (and perhaps most importantly), asking what you can do to make it better. Both Blanc and Redfoo’s apologies fall short of providing what I consider to be a sincere apology, as they fail to critique (or understand the critique of) their misogynist behaviour and, as a consequence, cannot actually commit to changing their actions and making amends.
The lack of critical reflection in both Blanc and Redfoo’s ttempts to clarify their position shows how little they understand or care about the response to (or the impact of) their behaviour. Rather than discussing the systemic problem of men’s violence against women, which is where the vast majority of feminist activists are citing concern, both men hide behind the argument that their messages were taken “out of context” and claim they have been “misrepresented” — taken seriously when really it was all in good fun.
On Twitter, Redfoo accuses his critics of having an “agenda” and of failing to understand the supposedly “satirical” nature of his music, gaining the support of one Australian shock-jock who, during an interview with Redfoo, calls critics of his new song, “dickheads,” “do-gooder idiots,” and “Tupperware-collecting party-poopers.”*
Blanc also issues an apology that references “humour” as a way of, at least partially, justifying his actions, explaining that the offensive pictures of him on social media, some of which allude to sexually violent acts, were simply “taken out of context” and were intended to be funny.
Hiding behind a thin veil of humour to justify one’s misogyny is not new. Indeed, this notion has and been discussed at length by feminist writers such as Abigail Bray. In Misogyny Re-Loaded, Bray argues that, “if misogyny has a soundtrack it is canned laughter… Laughter instructs the audience that it is not only permissible to laugh at the oppression of women but that it is expected.”
Rather than apologizing and reflecting on the criticisms defining their actions as sexist and deplorable, Blanc and Redfoo minimize concern. Indeed, both men react with a sense of shock that their messages have caused outrage to begin with, with Blanc claiming he was “overwhelmed” by the attention his antics were receiving and Redfoo saying, “I don’t know how rape culture and Redfoo got into the same headline.” In an age where rape culture has become a topic for the lulz, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised.
Because Blanc and Redfoo fail to identify, acknowledge, and discuss the factors that sparked outrage to begin with, they are incapable of sincerely promising to change. While both men do make references to modifying their future actions, they do so in a vague and superficial way. Redfoo ensures his fans that, he will be “more mindful” when presenting his “art” in future, while Blanc explains that he is walking away from this experience hoping to “re-evaluat[e] everything” he posts online.
But what exactly do their “mindful re-evaluations” entail? How can someone truly make amends when they have not even identified why their actions sparked outrage to begin with? As readers, feminists, bloggers, and survivors of men’s violence, we are left with a series of apologies that fail to address our concerns at all — and we deserve better. An insincere apology is worse than receiving no apology at all.
*Note: I have only ever attended one Tupperware party when I was seven. I was offered a zucchini quiche and at no point was I told to “shut the fuck up.” TUPPERWARE PARTIES ROCK.
(reprinted with permission of author) Natalie Jovanovski is a PhD Candidate and Feminist Researcher from Melbourne, Australia. Her research interests include the harms of sexual objectification, the cultural reinforcement of eating disorders, and the discursive portrayal of food in contemporary Western media.
‘I have lost count of how many women have told me they have been raped. All of the rapists have gotten away with it while the women are burdened with years of unspeakable shame and self-hatred – an explosive new manifesto against rape culture’ (extract from Misogyny Re-loaded)
Julien Blanc may be gone but looks who’s here. Matthew Berryman on the rise and influence of pick-up culture in Australia
By Dr Matthew Berryman
Following the online campaign started by Jennifer Li to #takedownjulienblanc, I’ve started looking into the world of “Real Social Dynamics” (RSD), the company Blanc is a part of, and I’m highly disturbed by what I have found. I’m sympathetic to young men who need confidence building and dating tips. I was a shy nerdy young man too. But there’s a massive world of difference between genuine advice and what RSD has to offer. It goes well beyond one video of Blanc doing his infamous “head on dick” sexual assault of Japanese women.
It includes everything from a culture of objectification of women through to making fun of people with disabilities (‘retarded’ in RSD language) to pick up.
The co-founder of RSD is Owen Cook, known as RSD Tyler. Here he appears to admit to raping a woman.
Here he is making a racist slur in a nightclub.
Here he is joking about killing a cat and then sexually assaulting its corpse.
Rape culture is part of the forum, from discussion of rape vans through to this comment on their forum – a sick attempt to justify rape.
“They dream about this. They wanna be tied up and fully succumb to your aggressive masculinity. They want you to push them against the wall, rip their clothes off, put her in a submissive position and call her bitch, slut, whore until their skull can’t take it anymore…”
“See as much as women wanna be raped, they also want to be made feel beautiful.”
It’s deeply disturbing how many members that RSD have, and their influence. Last I checked, their insider Facebook groups (now made private) had over 300 members for Brisbane and over 1000 for Sydney. RSD Tyler’s YouTube channel has over 95,000 subscribers, and RSD Julien’s over 43,000.
RSD Alex is an RSD trainer on the Gold Coast. One of his associates is Adrian James Holt, aka Adrian Van Oyen, a candid camera/prank ‘comedian’ with a history of harassing people on trains. Julien Blanc may have been deported but Holt and other Australian men continue to foment and spread pick-up culture activities here.
Some people must find this amusing as he has over a million subscribers. His method has since been adopted as a pick-up tactic by RSD members. Following his train videos video, Lipton decided for a reason I cannot fathom, to pay Holt, who they describe as a “hilarious YouTube sensation” for an advertisement for iced tea.
Shortly after that, in November 2013, Holt released this video where he tries to use sexual assault as a ‘pick-up’ strategy.
Not only is this totally unacceptable and unempathetic, it’s also a crime. I have alerted Queensland Crimestoppers to this with a report made yesterday. Astoundingly, the original copy of this video has had over 2.8 million views.
This whole misogynist “pick-up” agency material doesn’t just lessen women, but it lessens men, and it has to stop. I’m not saying this because I am of the “extreme left” (as one RSD troll said)—I’m just slightly left of centre, and this transcends politics, anyway. Nor is it because I’m pretending to be a nice guy in order to get laid—I’m happily married—it is important to respect others anyway, which may indeed get you noticed by women, but that’s besides the point. Nor is this about’ group think’, I’ve obviously thought about these issues on my own and then decided to campaign. This is all about respect and consent. It’s not hard to understand.
If you are a young man seeking advice, then don’t get it from Real Social Dynamics. There are proper counselling services out there, if you can’t get good advice from mates, or asking your mum (yes, put embarrassment aside for a few minutes, she has advice for you), or even a girl who you are just friends with. Yes guys can be just friends with a girl, and it’s how I got some of my best dating tips.
Dr Matthew Berryman is a loving husband and a dad to two daughters who he adores. By day he works in IT, at night he campaigns to make the world a better place.
Woman’s Health Magazine editor Felicity Harley had said in response to the furore: “It is disappointing that this has become the focus rather than the phenomenal sporting talents of our Australian female athletes.”
And why do you think that was Felicity? It’s you and Women’s Health who caused this to be the case by sending spectacularly conflicting messages about what you valued in women. If it’s ‘phenomenal sporting talent’ you’re interested in, why pay four topless women to turn up? Were we supposed to overlook these almost-naked painted models parading at a signature event supposedly celebrating the sporting achievements of female athletes?
Since then, as the social media condemnation grew and Danielle Warby, a board director of the Australian Women Sport and Recreation Association, ramped things up with this piece, Women’s Health was forced into an apology.
The fact that at least one man admitted on Women’s Health Facebook page to getting off on the images shows how wrong they got it.
Initial reports left out the image of the model representing Cathy Freeman, painted in her designer one-piece Olympic running suit and she was not referred to. Perhaps this was to protect her dignity, I’m not sure. However, this insult to Freeman must be named. Of the four, her replica is the most recognisable.
I have some questions for Women’s Health. Where did you find the models? Who was the agency? Did Women’s Health make deliberate specifications regarding women’s breast size, for example? Who was hired to painted their bodies (including the logos just above one of the model’s nipples)? Who were the models hired to entertain exactly?
It’s one thing when men do this to women (most of the time). But when women facilitate the objectification of women and do so under a banner of celebrating sporting achievement, it’s even more depressing. Have sexualised representations of women, including women who have achieved greatly, become so normal and mainstream that even women editors of a popular women’s health magazine didn’t see a problem?
The Women’s Health Australia “I support women in sport awards” was held this week to recognise the achievements of Australia’s female athletes.
Women’s Health editor Felicity Harley said the night was “all about giving recognition and telling the stories of Australian sportswomen, who don’t get enough coverage for their efforts and talents.”
A worthy goal indeed. Harley is right – sportswomen don’t get enough coverage for their talents and efforts. The sexual objectification of female athletes is a long-standing problem in our culture which continues to have a negative impact on the health and well-being of women and girls and limits their participation in sport.
This makes the decision to hire topless women for the event – wearing only underpants and body paint -even more bizarre.
Female athletes and advocates for women in sport were quick to call out Women’s Health Magazine for reinforcing the sexual objectification of women in sport:
Danielle Warby, a board director of the Australian Womensport and Recreation Association asked Women’s Health editor Felicity Harley for an explanation. Harley responded by dodging responsibility and blaming the media.
Harley also hasn’t explained why Women’s Health Australia hired naked models.
Speaking to the SMH, Warby said “The sexualisation of women in sport is a massive issue,”…”These women are not athletes, they are naked and I don’t know why they are there.”
Here’s why this is important:
Sexual objectification undermines women and girls equal participation in sport.
Focusing on an athlete’s physical attributes in an overtly sexual manner can create anxiety and embarrassment for the individual. This may be compounded by a heightened body awareness already present in many female athletes. If the athlete does not feel she ‘measures up’ to an external judgment of her physique, her self-esteem may suffer.
A potential consequence of lowered self-esteem is compromised athletic performance. The athlete becomes distracted both on and off the arena of sport, and may be tempted into unhealthy eating habits. In younger athletes, where self-confidence may be less secure, the increased focus on the body because of sexploitation can lead to a poor body image. There is a wealth of research linking poor body image with increased risk of eating disorders or disordered eating behaviours.
(source: Jan Borrie, Shaping up to the image makers, Panorama, The Canberra Times, 27 May 2000)
A Magazine titled “Women’s Health” should know better than to pull a stunt like this. Our elite female athletes – and the young aspiring athletes looking to follow their example – deserve better.
Take Action! Make your voice heard – Tweet, Facebook or email
Tweet Womens Health Magazine @womenshealthaus
Tweet Australian Government is included amoung the sponsors of the event. Contact the Minister for Health and Sport Peter Dutton. @PeterDutton_MP
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