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…
I’m quoted in this article by Kasey Edwards in Daily Life today:
…This is symptomatic of a broader attitude where sex is regarded as solely about male pleasure and male desires. The man decides and the woman provides.
Women having sex for their own pleasure is rarely portrayed in popular culture, porn or even sex education. For many young women, acknowledging that they even have sexual desires, let alone seeing them as a priority, is a foreign concept.
Author and co-founder of Collective ShoutMelinda Tankard Reist, who regularly speaks to girls in schools, says that girls can talk about how their male partners enjoyed their sexual experience but they are completely estranged from their own bodies and sense of pleasure or enjoyment.
‘I recall one female student saying, “I think my body looked okay, he seemed to enjoy it”,’ Tankard Reist says. ‘She didn’t seem to know how to articulate how she herself felt. The important thing was that he “got off” and that she thought she looked okay.’
This is about the neatest, most succinct expression of self-objectification I’ve ever heard. This young woman has internalised a kind of double objectification: that she is an object to be looked at and, not unlike a toy, an object for someone else’ pleasure. She is so external to the whole episode that her experience is refracted through her partner.
Rather than exploring their own sexuality, many young women see themselves as little more than service providers. And sexual service is the admittance price for male company. Read article
The Pornification of Girlhood: my book Getting Real extracted on Everyday Sunday blog
We haven’t come a long way baby
In 2009, former Hi-5 children’s entertainer Kellie Crawford posed for a lingerie photo shoot for men’s magazine Ralph. The Ralph cover for April features Kellie in tiny knickers and black bra, and shouts ‘It’s Hi5 Hottie Kellie!’ with the subtitle ‘Busting out some bedtime stories.’ It includes another smaller picture of Kellie in her Hi5 costume.
In the accompanying interview, Kellie explained that as a children’s star, she ‘just forgot I was a woman.’ She did the photo shoot to ‘find the woman in me.’ I responded in media interviews by asking why it was that the Wiggles were not expected to prove their manhood by stripping down to their jocks and having their photos taken for a magazine shoot, yet women were expected to take off most of their clothes to prove their womanhood? Opponents of my position, both men and women, filled my inbox with intellectually challenging arguments.
That I was sad, old and dog-ugly
That I had saggy breasts and a droopy arse
That I needed liposuction
That I was a bitter ugly woman
That my face would break a 60-inch plasma television
And, my personal favourite, that I was ‘as ugly as a hat full of arses’ (obviously not a hat full of Kellie’s arses, because hers was magnificent, according to her fans) (email correspondence, April 2009).
However, one little girl in Victoria who seemed not to care about whether I was bitter or needed cosmetic surgery, wrote (email April 20, 2009, used with permission):
My name is Delaney and I am 10 years old. On Today Tonight I saw a story about Kellie from Hi-5. Of course, you know that she has done a photo shoot for a men’s magazine. I think it is very silly how she feels she has to do it. It sets a horrible example for younger kids like me. When I was little I used to love watching Hi-5 and it makes me feel disappointed [sic] that she has done something like that.
Delaney, and girls like her, receive messages from every level of the media and popular culture that the baring of the female body is what makes you a ‘real woman.’ Very few young girls have Delaney’s courage to distance themselves from this message.
Ideal womanhood is now all about sexual allure; the ability to attract the male gaze has become what is important in life. As Pamela Paul writes in Pornified, ‘being publicly sexual has become the only acceptable way for girls to demonstrate maturity’ (2005,p. xxiv). Putting yourself on show for the sexual gratification of others is what counts. Look at what happened after Susan Boyle’s stunning performance of ‘I have a dream’ on Britain’s Got Talent which had attracted 100 million YouTube hits at time of writing (June 2009). One of her first offers was from a porn film company keen to ‘relieve her of her virginity’—on film of course.
The sexualisation industry has a voracious appetite for appropriating and corrupting people and things deemed ‘innocent,’ and remaking them in their own image. There are thousand of porn sites featuring children’s cartoon characters. And a growing number of sites depicting the ‘defloration’ of young girls.
Lisa Hunt Wotten, the woman behind Everyday Sunday, also interviewed me recently here:
When you see just how bad things are: the global epidemic of violence, rape and sexual abuse, the daily atrocities, the global trafficking in female bodies, ‘honour’ killings, female genital mutilation, dowry deaths, female foeticide, female infanticide, child marriage, the deliberate deprivation of nutrition, education, opportunities, the overall differential suffering of women and girls – and almost daily, here in the supposedly enlightened West, a growing pile of bodies of women murdered by men – only this week, as I write, a pregnant woman killed by her partner. So common we are not even surprised anymore!
But we must not get used to it! There is a war on women! We can’t continue to ignore that fact.
‘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
It’s that time of year again! With the Christmas season upon us, retailers are taking it up a notch competing for your business.
Now is the time to remember the companies who objectified women and sexualized girls to sell products and services. They do not respect women and have refused to change their ways. They should not be allowed to profit on the backs of women and girls.
You can make a difference by making an ethical purchasing choice, sending a clear message about the importance of corporate social responsibility.
Here’s our list of stand out corporate offenders for 2014.
While major department stores Target and Kmart opted to withdraw Grand Theft Auto V after a campaign lead by women survivors of violence, Big W chose profits over ethics, continuing to sell a game where players can brutally murder women for fun. Big W was also the target of a petition calling for removal of sexualised Christmas t-shirts. Read more here.
General Pants Co
General Pants attracted complaints for their ‘Wet Dreams’ ad campaign in shopping centres nationwide. Their history of porn-themed advertising here.
City Beach has a long history of selling products with sexist, violent and porn inspired imagery to its youth market. Read more here.
Fresh One/Fresh Boost
Fresh Boost used pornographic images, including simulated sex acts to advertise their coffee bean grand, Fresh One. Read more here.
Online marketplace CafePress has a long history of selling clothing and merchandise with sexualised, porn-inspired and pro-rape slogans and imagery, including on clothing for babies and toddlers. Read more here.
Ultra Tune came under fire for their sexist ad using rubber clad dominatrix women to promote car accessories. Read more here.
Schick For Men’s ‘Get Closer’ campaign is a classic example of objectification, using women’s bodies and breasts to promote men’s hygiene products. We hijacked their campaign. Read more here.
Bonds reignited their BOOBS outdoor advertising campaign, objectifying women and defining them by their ‘perky’, ‘saggy’ or ‘bouncy’ breasts. Several years ago we successfully lobbied Bonds to withdraw bras for six year old girls. Read more here.
Honey Birdette is a sex shop masquerading as a high-end lingerie store in shopping malls around the country. Honey Birdette persists with violating advertising standards with its porn-themed shop front advertising. At Christmas Honey Birdette goes out of its way to link “Santa Claus” with sex using slogans such as “Santa baby…” and “Santa’s toy shop.” Read more here.
Myer failed to respond to a petition calling on them to withdraw sexually objectifying in store advertising for Viktor and Rolf perfume. Myer also defended using sexualised images to advertise lingerie throughout Westfield, including in the food court beside Mcdonalds. Read more.
American Apparel continually depicts women and girls in pornified ways. This year the UK Ad Watchdog upheld complaints regarding an American Apparel ad ruled they sexualized schoolgirls. Read more here.
Retailers funding Playboy branded sexual exploitation
Collective Shout has continued to highlight companies which profit from the mainstreaming, normalising and embedding of a major brand of the sex industry into mainstream culture.
Hooters restaurant promotes the sexual objectification of female staff, sexism and sexual harassment. This doesn’t stop the venue from openly marketing to children, hosting children’s parties and ‘kids eat free’ style promotions. (Thanks to a successful protest led by Collective Shouts Townsville coordinator, construction of a ‘Hooters’ restaurant in the area has been abandoned). Read more.
Despite a protest including a 29,000 strong petition calling on Eatons Hill Hotel to refuse to host rapper Tyler the Creator whose lyrics glorify violence against women, the hotel failed to act in the best interests of the community. (Due to our campaign,Tyler the Creator was refused entry to New Zealand).
Please let these companies know why you won’t be supporting them this Christmas.
Are you crossing off other companies this Christmas? Let us know!
More comedy gold from the ASB: except we’re not laughing
It’s no secret that the advertising industry’s preferred model of regulation, self-regulation, has failed. Despite various government inquiries exploring the many flaws in the current system, as well as condemnation from child health professionals and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) the advertising industry has been given free reign to regulate themselves to the detriment of the community, in particular, children.
In 2012, AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton called for a new government inquiry into the sexualisation of children in advertising to protect the health and development of children. He said,
“These are highly sexualised ads that target children, and the advertising industry is getting away with it.
“There is strong evidence that premature sexualisation is likely to be detrimental to child health and development, particularly in the areas of body image and sexual health.
“The current self regulatory approach through the Advertising Standards Bureau is failing to protect children from sexualised advertising.”
We encourage supporters to utilise the complaints process when they come across hyper-sexualised advertising they suspect could be in breach of advertising codes. Many feel understandably frustrated as the ASB continues to dismiss valid complaints while simultaneously claiming that self-regulation is working well and this is evidenced by the fact they rarely uphold complaints! We’ve highlighted some of our previous complaints below to illustrate the great lengths the ASB goes to in order to excuse sexualising and adult sexual content in advertising.
Love and Rockets, Billboard
The photo of this billboard was taken from a Brisbane boy’s school. The ASB noted that it is not illegal for the sex industry to advertise outside schools and ruled that this billboard advertising a strip club to children treated sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience (school children) as it did “not show include explicit nudity”.
Schick for Men, Social Media video
In response to Schick’s commercial featuring a woman stripping off her clothes to sell men’s razors, the ASB said,”The Board noted that although the woman does remove her clothing…her breasts are covered by text on the screen. It was not sexualised.”
Supre Jeggings, TV commercial
The clothing store popular with teens and pre-teens released this ad to promote their new range of Jeggings. The ASB responded, “The woman was not posed in a sexualised manner.”
Lee Jeans, Billboard
It may come as no surprise that this image is part of a larger collection of photos by photographer and accused rapist Terry Richardson, with a reputation for porn-themed photo shoots and for sexually exploiting young models. The ASB said,
“There is no nudity [and] the woman’s pose was not inappropriately sexual.”
“Consumption of this style of lollipop is now common amongst people over 18.”
River ‘Get Excited’, Catalogue
An image of a woman who appeared to be nude aside from thigh high stockings, with her legs apart and her arms covering her private parts was “not overtly sexualised”, said the ASB.
The Firm Gentleman’s Club, Poster
We couldn’t locate a photo of the original poster, however it is the same (life-size) image as shown here on their website.
This life size poster was located on a busy Adelaide street. The ASB ruled this outdoor advertising was not in breach of industry codes and standards because “the image is relevant to the advertised product”. The product was women, for men’s sexual use.
Target Fifty Shades Lingerie, Billboard
The ASB said the billboard of a faceless woman reclining in lingerie complete with suspenders “[did] not present strongly sexualised imagery and is not inappropriate for viewing by a broad audience including children.”
Xotica Strip Club, Billboard
A supporter shared her frustration on encountering this large billboard while taking her children aged four through seven out for lunch. The ASB dismissed complaints about the billboard because the ad “[did] not show any private parts of the woman.” They went on to say:
“In the context of an advertisement for an adult venue the images of the women are not exploitative and degrading.”
“The building which is located in an area which contains a high proportion of adult venues…based on the location of the building, the audience likely to be frequenting the area are generally customers of the venues.”
UltraTune, TV Commercial
UltraTune used two dominatrix women brandishing whips and feigning arousal at the sight of tyres and car accessories for the enjoyment of a male staff member to promote their car service centres and accessories. The ASB dismissed complaints, ruling the dominatrix women were “relevant to the product” being advertised.
“Fresh One” coffee
Perth coffee brand “Fresh One” unleashed a series of porn inspired advertisements on its Facebook page earlier this year. The board upheld complaints against some of the ads, but dismissed complaints against others.
The Ad Standards Board dismissed complaints against this ad featuring a woman pouring milk over her chest.
“The Board noted that the woman is voluntarily pouring the milk over herself.”
“…the image is not exploitative or degrading, with references to ‘bathing in milk’ often associated with luxury (Cleopatra for example) rather than any demeaning activity.”
And this just in!
ASB dismisses complaints against General Pants Pornified “Wet Dreams” ad campaign. Read more here.
This is what industry self-regulation looks like.
The argument that adult, sex industry advertising can be justified in public spaces raises several questions. Do children and young people no longer have a right to be in a public space? Is it permissible for billboards to include sexually explicit content if they are promoting the purchase of women for sex? Do the rights of the sex industry to market itself to the masses take precedence over children’s rights to healthy development?
The Advertising Standards Bureau is a joke. As best-selling author and psychologist Steve Biddulph said, “The UK has an advertising watchdog that actually takes action. Australia has a watch tortoise that might have died.”
It takes a village to raise a child. We often hear from parents who feel overwhelmed and powerless to raise healthy children when the wider culture is undermining their attempts at every turn. Parents need the government and regulatory bodies to do their part in providing a safe environment for children.
Objectification of women should be recognised as discriminatory practice
The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, Review of the National Classification Scheme: achieving the right balance (June 2011) recommended that “community concerns about the sexualisation of society, and the objectification of women” be taken into account as a key principle in every classification decision (Recommendation 2). This reflects the core message of Collective Shout that women must never be depicted as mere objects for the sexual satisfaction of men.
We were particularly supportive of recommendations 4 and 8, which related to issues of objectification of women as forms of discriminatory practice. It is remarkable that in the ASB’s view, as cited in the report, objectification of women was not seen as contrary to the prohibitions on discrimination and vilification.
Clearly the self-regulatory system has been found lacking!
Industry has been warned, has had its chance to voluntarily self-regulate, and has conspicuously failed to act at the level required. The evidence of the past years of minimal response by industry shows that the market culture around this issue will not shift without stronger government initiative.
Another day, another article arguing that criticism of sexualization and objectification is proof that men are afraid of women’s expressed sexuality and that women are jealous.
What an innovative, groundbreaking notion.
A recent article at Huffington Post defends a twerking video model, Amber Rose, posted on YouTube for her husband Wiz Khalifa’s birthday and Beyoncé’s pole-dancing at the VMAs, on the basis of “agency.”
The author writes, of Beyoncé’s “sometimes provocative dancing”:
‘”What is she teaching her daughter?” some asked, pearls tightly clutched. I would answer, “Agency. Independence. Talent.” But others, it would seem, say watching her mother dance and sing in front of millions — while making millions — is teaching Blue not to respect and value her body. Even when married and a mother — the supposed safeguards against being called a whore — Beyoncé’s “goodness” and motherhood are called into question.”’
According to liberal feminist gospel, twerking conveys “agency,” as does pole-dancing on stage in front of your two year old. “Agency,” being that elusive concept that only those with a four-year arts degree seem to understand. The rest of us, informed by empirical evidence, are slightly concerned about statistics showing that younger and younger girls are increasingly dealing with eating disorders and anxiety, and are being pressured and coerced into performing sex acts and pornified versions of sexuality.
Forget the kill-joy rubbish statistics, this is about AGENCY. And PEARLS. What do pearls have to do with agency? Let me break it down for you:
The liberal feminist representation of “agency” proposes that anytime a woman performs using what we see as “sexuality,” she displays independence, power and agency. If you don’t agree, it’s because you are: (1) a fear-ridden, sex-deprived male, (2) a pearl clutching, sex-deprived conservative, or (3) a jealous woman (possibly sex-deprived).
Negative sex-stereotypes abound. The author claims to want to end negative sex-stereotypes and virgin-whore dichotomies (which feminists have been arguing against for decades), but does the opposite.
The idea is that this dichotomy is smashed because Amber Rose and Beyoncé are wives and mothers but also twerk.
The author asks the reader:
“Are you angry because she’s doing what should never be done [twerking and also being a mother], or are you angry because she’s doing what we should all be allowed to do but feel we cannot?”
I would hazard a guess that many women are somewhat tired of the “post baby body,” “yummy mummy,” “MILF” and “cougar” obsessed world. Even in motherhood, women cannot catch a break from the unrelenting obsession with “sexy” — objectifying mothers is now having drastic impacts on women’s health.
The author then asks:
“…are you angry because [Amber Rose] is standing with one foot firmly in the mother-wife camp, and the other in the camp that is half-naked and booty-shaking?”
Is this a trick question? I thought we were denouncing the virgin-whore dichotomy, but by the end of the article, these stereotypes seem to be more intact than ever.
These kinds of stereotypes — “virgins,” “prudes,” “MILFs,” “pearl clutchers,” “hos” — have no place in an equal society. Such slurs are designed to control and silence women and they are no more or less acceptable whether they are hurled by misogynists on YouTube or from self-described feminists.
Indeed, Beyoncé has made history as an amazing entertainer while simultaneously bringing feminism into the limelight — it is a momentous achievement. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look critically at what she represents and the messages she conveys.
How many tertiary-educated feminists does it take to see that celebrity culture produces (and is a product of) harmful cultural norms including sexism and racism? Norms that deserve to be interrogated rather than uncritically promoted by feminists?
Many liberal feminists seem to get stuck in the mindset that there are only two ways to talk about sexuality: (1) the conservative, “repressed” way: never have sex, or (2) the liberal/”liberated” way: everything “sex” is good, no matter what.
… There’s that dichotomy again…
In reality, there are a million ways to own one’s sexuality that doesn’t require pole-dancing in front of millions of people. Pole-dancing, at the end of the day, really has nothing to do with female sexuality, and everything to do with strip club culture — i.e. male culture, i.e. performing sexualization for the male gaze. It does not, in any way, threaten the status quo.
The recent pole-dancing trend in music videos, exercise classes and stagettes not only celebrates the sexist status quo, but it glamorises sexual exploitation. Research conducted by an ex-stripper showed over half of the dancers had experienced digital rape on the job as well as other forms of verbal and physical assault. More recent research shows that dancers are expected to maintain conventional beauty ideals, often resorting to dangerous surgeries and extreme weight loss measures in order to do so. I guess these women didn’t get the memo about fun feminist agency.
Women have the right to be critical of this increasingly pornographic culture. Parents have the right to rage against the pressure on girls to sexualize themselves for the male gaze. Women who are critical of these messages are not necessarily “anti-sex” or prudes – the reality is more complex than what that binary offers.
There are people who like sex but who are also critical of sexual exploitation. Indeed, as it turns out, some people can envisage a sexuality that doesn’t require market-driven, male-centric, or porn-fueled performance.
Take Lydia Cacho, a Mexican journalist who went undercover to examine how the sex trade was recruiting younger and younger children to fuel the demand for more extreme porn. Cacho felt it necessary to state, “I love sex and eroticism,” during a recent talk she gave in Sydney – probably out of fear that liberal feminists would dredge up the “pearl clutching” line dare she breathe a critical word on porn or “sex.” Cacho showed how the broader culture was leading to younger children being taken advantage of and exploited, whether it be by pimps in Mexico or the kids who accidentally stumble across child-rape porn, due to porn sites linking kid-friendly search terms to their images.
Cacho is an example of a person who enjoys sex, yet is critical of a culture that uses a one-dimensional view of “sex” to sell anything and everything (increasingly to younger and younger boys and girls). The dichotomy that positions sex as something we are either “for” or “against” is unnecessary.
Despite oft-repeated concerns about sexual repression and pearl clutching, sex is no longer hidden or repressed by Puritanism. In fact this has rarely been the case since the “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s. In today’s world, “sex” has become a ubiquitous cultural narrative. It is the narrative that tells us women’s breasts should be used for porny ads, but not for breastfeeding. It’s online, on TV, in the newspaper, and in your face 24/7 — used to sell everything from porn, to mini pole-dancing kits for kids, to peaches (yes, that’s actually a thing).
While many liberal feminists are critical of exploitative capitalism, they remain uncritical of the capitalist exploitation of sex and sexuality. How can you be anti-capitalism but pro-commodification of sex? According to liberal feminist gospel, workers all around the world lack agency, except for objectified and sexualised girls and women. Even young girls in the sex trade, I have been told, are just “underage workers” with agency. For a movement that claims to be against rape-culture and the patriarchal status quo, this hypocrisy is astounding.
Liberal feminism promotes a market-driven, one-dimensional view of male-centric sex. Rather than promoting diversity or dissidence in women’s sexuality, it decorates the patriarchal status quo with the label “agency.”
Though it might be tempting, assigning “agency” to anything and everything only serves to eschew a more critical analysis of the structural realities of oppression. Tacking the idea of “equality” onto a system that is founded upon structural inequality does nothing but solidify and disguise the inequality. The idea that women must “feel empowered” in disempowering situations is nothing but victim-blaming with a new name.
Patriarchy demands increasing access to women’s bodies, at increasingly younger ages. The sexual revolution prepared men for a world where women say yes to sex, but it did not prepare them for women’s right to say no. Reframing this male entitlement and demand as agency is just a PR campaign for patriarchy.
It’s not as simple as agentic vs. non-agentic. Expecting women to “feel agency” in situations of structural oppression does nothing but pacify true resistance. Liberal feminists are doing women the ultimate disservice by conjuring up stereotypes of pearl-clutchers vs. pole-dancers. Pressuring women to toe the line lest they be labeled jealous pearl-clutchers is the work of misogynists, not feminists.
Laura McNally is a psychologist, consultant, author and PhD candidate. Her current work draws upon critical theory to examine the limitations of corporate social responsibility and liberal feminism. She blogs at lauramcnally.com.
I did not slut shame JLo and Iggy Azalea: Brody Dalle
Everyone was telling me I should watch JLo and Iggy Azalea’s ‘Booty’ music clip. I’d just come back from disappearing myself at a beautiful coastal haven. It wasn’t really the first thing I wanted to do. But, because I’m expected to have something to say on such things (and am about to give a related paper on porn culture at a women’s conference this weekend), I made myself. Really, can it get much worse? Faux lesbian masturbatory material for men who don’t need to bother turning the sound on. And why would anyone want to turn the sound on anyway? It’s a crap song. I mean really crap. It has not one redeeming quality – ‘What you got a big booty’, ‘Baby your booty is a movie star’, ‘Mesmerized by the size of it’, ’It’s his birthday, give him what he ask for’. And so it goes, a moronic cacophony of manufactured, unimaginative, uncreative, commercialised pornified stupidity.
I like what Brody Dalle had to say about it.
“Slut shaming? Body shaming? Girl hating? Please don’t assign incorrect motives to my tweets. It is you who is implying they are ‘sluts’, not me…
“How are the lyrics ‘give him what he asks for’ empowering to women? How? How is spreading your bottom apart and singing ‘give him what he asks for’ empowering at all?”
Have you seen the recent bus “gang rape-inspired” photo shoot in India? Or Vogue Italia’s video showing a woman killed by an intruder in her house? Or the Bulgarian makeup ad showing bruised women with the tagline “Victim of Beauty”?
There appears to be a theme of fashion advertising increasingly using images of women being killed or tortured or violated in some way, usually by men.
What’s this all about?
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