And how a pornified world harms our ability to achieve gender equality
“Pornified messages are bombarding our young people and giving them distorted ideas about their bodies, about relationships, and about sexuality,” says Melinda Tankard Reist, in this podcast interview, “According to global research, (this is) making our kids very unwell.”
We are seeing a rise in negative physical and mental health outcomes, eating disorders, anxiety and depression, self harm, low self-esteem and poor academic performance.
“I believe we are facing a significant crisis amongst our girls,” says Melinda.
Girls are experiencing increasingly negative attitudes towards their bodies, describing themselves as fat, disgusting and unworthy (even to live). Boys are comparing girls’ bodies with porn star bodies on the basis of whether or not they match up.
“And we wonder why girls are anxious and depressed,” says Melinda, “to me the mystery is that any girls make it through unscathed.”
Boys start seeing porn at an average age of 11, often viewing pornography that eroticises and glamorises violence against women.
“We’re teaching boys that violence is sexy,” says Melinda, “We have these national campaigns to address violence against women but we are doing nothing to address the cultural drivers of that very same violence.”
Drivers such as the normative, permission-giving beliefs to boys that girls’ bodies exist for their sexual gratification and pleasure.
“Boys are learning a sense of entitlement to the bodies of women and girls,” says Melinda, “and girls are learning that they exist primarily as sexual service stations for men and boys.”
Girls are so disconnected from their own sense of pleasure, intimacy, and authentic human connection, says Melinda, that when she asked a 15-year-old girl about her first sexual experience, the girl responded, “I think my body looked okay. He seemed to enjoy it.” [Italics, mine]
“Girls shouldn’t have to be navigating sexual requests at 11 and 12 and be assessed on the basis of their bodies,” says Melinda, “they are not being valued for their gifts, their talents, their abilities, their desire to change the world, to be a loving sibling, a devoted friend, their spirituality…they are not being valued for anything other than whether they look hot or not.”
This is making our girls very unwell.
Change is difficult but possible…and every voice counts.
This is the premise behind Collective Shout for a World Free of Sexploitation, a grass roots organisation co-founded by Melinda, that works to address the toxic messages of pornography that give our young people distorted ideas about their bodies, about their relationships, and about sexuality.
Melinda speaks to girls and boys across the country, empowering girls to say no to unwanted sexual intrusions and encouraging boys and girls to seek respect-based relationships.
“It’s difficult and it takes guts,” she says but change is possible and evident in the stories she shares in this interview.
Collective Shout is active politically and also works with corporations that want to take a responsible approach by agreeing not to sexualise women and objectify girls to sell products and services. It’s a big job but Melinda and her team are proof that when voices join together for the common good, they can indeed make a collective SHOUT!
MTR on pornography and gender equality (and a plug for Collective Shout!): Eternity interview
MTR guest blogger for The Australian Childhood Foundation
This blog article was authored by Melinda Tankard Reist. Melinda is best known for her work addressing sexualisation, objectification, harms of pornography, sexual exploitation, trafficking and violence against women. Co-founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation. Melinda is also an ambassador for World Vision Australia, Compassion Australia and the Raise Foundation. She is named in the Who’s Who of Australian Women and the World Who’s Who of Women. – See more
When 5 year olds create porn themed images – in class
The school principal was perplexed.
I had just delivered a keynote on the impact of sexualisation and pornography exposure on children and young people at a conference of school leaders in NSW.
During the break she approached me, opened her phone and revealed an image created by a group of 5 year old boys, at the Catholic primary school she headed in Sydney. It showed two women, scantily dressed, in provocative poses.
The boys, along with fellow pupils, had been asked to prepare an in-class assignment using the pic collage app to make pictures. This is what the boys stood up and presented to the class.
One was so pleased with the work he inserted his face in between the woman’s bodies at breast height. These little boys didn’t think they’d done anything wrong.
This incident is just yet another outworking of the impact of a pornified world on our children.
Children being hurt. Children hurting others.
Everywhere I go I hear stories. Of children using sexual language. Children touching other children inappropriately. Children playing ‘sex games’ in the school yard. Children requesting sexual favours. Children showing other children porn on their devices. Children distressed by explicit images they came across while googling an innocent term. Children exposed to porn ‘pop ups’ on sites featuring their favourite cartoon characters or while playing online games.
Educators, child welfare groups, childcare workers, mental health bodies medicos and parents are reeling. All are struggling to deal with the proliferation of hyper-sexualised imagery and its impacts on the most vulnerable – children whose sexuality is still under construction, children for whom pornography becomes a template for sexual activity, a ‘how to’ manual for future use.
Porn before first kiss
Pornography exposure – for young men at least – is at saturation point. Research has shown some worrying trends related to earlier onset exposure.
According to some sources, the average first age of exposure to pornography is 11 years, with 100% of 15-year-old males and 80% of 15-year-old females reporting that they have been exposed to violent, degrading online pornography.
Children are seeing violent depictions of sex, torture, rape and incest porn. Boys are having their sexual arousal conditioned by depictions of extreme cruelty, seeing women being assaulted in every orifice by groups of men. And all this before their first sexual experience – even their first kiss.
The late Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs, AO, warned that online pornography was turning children into copycat sexual predators. In her submission to the 2016 Senate inquiry into the harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the internet’, she drew links between pornography and child sex abuse, paedophilia and child-on-child sexual abuse.
Professor Briggs cited a distressing litany of attacks on children by classmates, including a four-year-old boy requiring a chaperone to stop him assaulting other children in ‘sex games’ at a South Australian kindergarten, a six-year-old boy who forced oral sex on kindergarten boys in the school cubbyhouse and a group of boys who followed a five-year-old girl into the toilets, held her down and urinated in a ‘golden shower’.
Teaching children that sex is about use and abuse
The Australian Medical Association has also spoken out, with vice-president Stephen Parnis saying the internet was exposing children to sexually explicit content that taught that sex was about “use and abuse.”
“There are increasing levels of aggression and the physical harm resulting from sexual acts is becoming more apparent,” he said.
The Australian Psychological Association has added its voice to rising concern, describing the “impact on young people’s expectations of sex, sexuality and relationships [and] increases in sexual violence amongst children and young people.”
Over the past decade, we have seen a growing trend of younger children engaging in problem sexual and sexually abusive behaviours generally aimed at younger children – in other words, children sexually assaulting children… Pornography is providing too many 10-year-olds with the mechanical knowledge to anally, orally and/or vaginally penetrate younger siblings, cousins and acquaintances.
In a submission to the Victorian the Royal Commission into Family Violence, Etheredge & Lemon stated that:
Intra-family (within family) sexual violence or sibling on sibling sexual violence is the most common assault pattern of children being treated for Problem Sexual Behaviours (PSB).
Online pornography is regularly accessed by children treated for PSB each year in Victoria
75% of 7 to 11-year-old boys and 67% of 7 to 11-year-old girls in treatment for PSB reported early sexualisation through online pornography.
Sex offences by school-aged children have quadrupled in Australia in only four years. Authorities cited attribute increased exposure to online pornography for the rise. The Australian Psychological Society estimates that adolescent boys are responsible for around 20% of rapes of adult women and between 30% and 50% of all reported sexual assaults of children.
A growing body of evidence
There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that children who view pornographic material are at risk of harm to their psychological development and mental health at a critical time in their development.
In 2012 the UK Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection found that exposure to pornography has a negative impact on children’s attitudes to sex, relationships and body image.
In the foreword to the 2012 report Basically … Porn is Everywhere, Deputy Children’s Commissioner for England Sue Berelowitz highlighted violence done to girls by porn-influenced boys:
The first year of our Inquiry … revealed shocking rates of sexual violation of children and young people… The Inquiry team heard children recount appalling stories about being raped by both older males and peers, often in extremely violent and sadistic circumstances, and in abusive situations that frequently continued for years… The use of and children’s access to pornography emerged as a key theme… It was mentioned by boys in witness statements after being apprehended for the rape of a child, one of whom said it was ‘like being in a porn movie’; we had frequent accounts of both girls’ and boys’ expectations of sex being drawn from pornography they had seen; and professionals told us troubling stories of the extent to which teenagers and younger children routinely access pornography, including extreme and violent images. We also found compelling evidence that too many boys believe that they have an absolute entitlement to sex at any time, in any place, in any way and with whomever they wish. Equally worryingly, we heard that too often girls feel they have no alternative but to submit to boys’ demands, regardless of their own wishes.
A 2012 review of research on ‘The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents’ found that adolescent consumption of Internet pornography was linked to attitudinal changes, including acceptance of male dominance and female submission as the primary sexual paradigm, with women viewed as “sexual playthings eager to fulfil male sexual desires.” The authors found that “adolescents who are intentionally exposed to violent sexually explicit material were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive than those who were not exposed.”
On the issue of sexualisation generally, the biggest study ever, of all the research published in peer-reviewed, English-language journals between 1995 and 2015 found:
consistent evidence that both laboratory exposure and regular, everyday exposure to this content are directly associated with a range of consequences, including higher levels of body dissatisfaction, greater self-objectification, greater support of sexist beliefs and of adversarial sexual beliefs, and greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women. Moreover, experimental exposure to this content leads both women and men to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality, and humanity.
Sexual harassment and bullying, a daily experience for girls
This exposure shapes and conditions the sexual attitudes and behaviours of boys which plays out in the lives of girls. Young women I encounter tell of sexual harassment, bullying, pressures to send sexual images and porn-inspired sex acts. I documented their experiences in the article Growing up in Pornland: Girls Have Had It with Porn Conditioned Boys (which seemed to strike a chord, becoming the most read article ever published by ABC Religion and Ethics).
We are engaging on an unprecedented assault on the healthy sexual development of children. The proliferation and globalisation of hypersexualised imagery and pornographic themes makes healthy sexual exploration almost impossible. Sexual conquest and domination are untempered by the bounds of respect, intimacy, and authentic human connection. Young people are not learning about intimacy, friendship and love, but about cruelty and humiliation.
If we are serious about addressing epidemic levels of violence against women, we have to address the drivers of that violence. Pornography can no longer be ignored as one of those drivers, by eroticising and normalising violence as ‘sexy’.
Education can help
We can do better than this. As professionals in the field who work with children, you have the passion and influence to offer a counter-attack of education and mentoring. Programs should strive at least for the following. We need to help young people critically analyse porn’s messages and help them understand what they are seeing does not reflect reality. We also need to help empower them to navigate their highly sexualised world, resist unwanted sexual activity and seek relationships based on respect, and authentic human connection.
The pornographic experiment on the healthy sexual development of our children must end now.
An interview with Porn Factor director Maree Crabbe
Maree, there’s lots of things you could make films about. What led you to choose to make films about pornography?
Through my work coordinating sexual violence prevention, sexual diversity and STI prevention programs with young people, I learnt that pornography was becoming a significant source of sexuality education. That inspired me to develop the Reality & Risk project, with my colleague, David Corlett. The project seeks to support young people and the broader community to critique the messages conveyed through pornography, and aspire to relationships and sexuality that are safe, respectful mutually pleasurable and fully consenting. We knew we were going to have to be creative to engage people on such a sensitive and controversial topic. Film is a very powerful medium, and we thought it would be a useful vehicle to support a public conversation about porn and its impact on young people.
Your documentary ‘Love and Sex in an Age of Pornography’ first screened on SBS three years ago. Now you’ve created ‘The Porn Factor’. Why did you think another film was needed?
Love and Sex aimed to open up a conversation in a polarised debate, where we knew many viewers wouldn’t want to hear a critique of porn’s influence. We particularly wanted to engage an audience who didn’t already agree with us. So we used a character-based approach – following the stories of young people and people from the international pornography industry – with the hope that people would be so engaged by the characters that they wouldn’t turn off the TV or switch channels when the story became more critical – and confronting.
Following the release of Love and Sex, we also identified a need for a film that provides a more overt analysis of porn’s impact on young people, for use in adult education – with parents, teachers, youth workers and others involved in young people’s education and care.
We had already conducted interviews with range of experts, including with some of the world’s leading scholars. We drew on these, and our interviews with young people and people from the pornography industry, to produce The Porn Factor.
The Porn Factor wasn’t produced for broadcast, but we’re delighted that SBS has picked it up.
How was the first film received? What are your hopes for the new one?
The first film’s broadcast had great ratings, and some fantastic media coverage. It has now also been broadcast in six other countries. We think it played a significant role in building community awareness and opening up a more complicated conversation. We hope the next film will take that conversation to another level and contribute to the growing momentum to tackle this issue at a range of levels – in homes, schools, communities, and at a political level.
You have also developed an educational resource ‘In the Picture’: Supporting young people in an era of explicit sexual imagery.’ Why did you develop this and what does it include?
Schools are a key site for violence prevention work. They’re also major contributors to young people’s sexuality education. But if they’re not talking about porn, then they’re not equipping students for healthy – by which I mean safe, respectful, mutual and consenting – relationships and sexuality in the 21st Century. More and more schools are identifying the need to address porn’s influence, but they often feel ill-equipped to do so. They’re looking for support.
In The Picture supports schools to develop a whole-school-approach to the issues that is tailored to their unique community and context. Based on the World Health Organisation’s ‘Health Promoting Schools’ framework, it includes a smorgasbord of resources, including resources for policy development, equipping staff, parent and community partnerships, student education and evaluation.
Some of our materials addressing pornography’s influence have also been incorporated into Victorian Government respectful relationships and sexuality education resources, so there is growing awareness at a political level of the need to support young people to navigate this new reality.
What has been the response from schools?
The response from schools has been very positive. More and more schools now feel confident to address porn’s influence as part of their broader relationships and sexuality education. They appreciate that In The Picture supports a tailored approach, so they can develop an approach that is going to work for them.
There are two factors that I think are critical for success – leadership support and equipping staff. Often it is an individual teacher or wellbeing staff member who will identify the need to address porn’s influence, and they can play a really important role. But support from school principals and other senior leaders enables the issues to be addressed at a broader level within the school, and allows staff to feel confident in their leaders’ support. Good professional learning for staff – particularly staff who will be teaching about the issues and counseling and other wellbeing staff – is absolutely critical. These are very sensitive topics, and it’s not reasonable to expect teachers to have the relevant knowledge – never mind the comfort and confidence – to discuss it in class without appropriate professional development. But with good PD and school leaders’ support, teachers describe feeling much better equipped – and often, enthusiastic – about teaching on this topic.
In the eight years you’ve been working to address the impact of pornography on young people, what shifts have you noticed?
The most significant thing I’ve noticed is a growing openness to having the conversation, a greater awareness of porn’s pervasive nature and impact and the need to address it with young people. There are more stories about young people’s sexually abusive behaviours and more conversations about young men with compulsive use of porn. There is now more international research on the subject, for example the UK Children’s Commissioners Report. But there is still a need for more research.
What would you say to parents whose children have been exposed to porn online?
Don’t overreact, keep calm, don’t make assumptions – they may have seen it accidentally. Children are sexually curious, don’t make them feel ashamed. Use exposure as a teaching opportunity, talk about how unrealistic what they have seen is, share your values, what you think is important in relation to sexuality, encourage them to aspire to relationships and sexuality that feel great. (See parent tip sheet in the resource section here.)
What do you say to those who argue concern about porn and children/young people is exaggerated and a ‘moral panic’?
I think moral panic is a term used to dismiss valid concerns. The rates of exposure, the nature of the material they are seeing and its impact on young people are issues we can’t afford to ignore. We don’t want to catastrophise but there are serious challenges we need to address with the level of care and seriousness they deserve. It is naïve to suggest that young people can navigate this space just fine and are media savvy – evidence shows that they aren’t able to navigate it. We need to acknowledge the powerful way porn can shape us, even if we do understand it is unrealistic. Young people need to be taught how to navigate this new territory – this is a challenge adults need to step up to – calmly, clearly, and with an evidence-based approach. Listen to the stories of young women being pressured to engage in porn-inspired acts and young men’s aspirations to engage with what they have seen in porn – the experiences of young people need to be taken seriously.
In your opinion what is the best way we can address this issue as a community?
There is no single solution. The issue needs a multi-faceted, multi-layered approach. We need to have the conversations with young people and develop the capacity of parents, teachers, youth workers and others to have those conversations – people who live and work with young people. We need to help political and community leaders to understand the issue, having leadership that is courageous to take on the not insignificant challenge that this is. It means we need to find strategies at technological level and potentially at a legislative level. Mainly we need to support people to critique pornography for themselves and reinforce that relationships should be respectful and that porn is unrealistic and often harmful.
Watch the trailer for the Porn Factor:
Collective Shout will host the first Victorian screening of ‘The Porn Factor’ June 22 at the Cinema Nova, Carlton, Melbourne. A Q&A with Maree will follow.
‘The proliferation and globalisation of hypersexualised imagery and pornographic themes has led to destructive ideas about sex and makes healthy sexual exploration almost impossible…the weight of evidence about the trends in online consumption of pornography by children and young people, and the harms associated with online consumption of pornography, point to the urgent need to find effective means to limit or reduce children’s access’
Impact of online consumption of pornography by children on the development of healthy and respectful relationships
Michael Flood in 2009 described the likely effects of children and young people’s exposure to pornography based on a careful analysis of the available evidence as follows:
• children and young people may be disturbed (sick, shocked, embarrassed, repulsed, upset) by unwanted to exposure to Internet pornography;
• girls are more likely than boys to be troubled by sexually explicit images; boys are more likely to report sexual excitement;
• children and young people exposed to pornography that features non-mainstream sexual practices (such as male-female anal intercourse) are more likely to engage in such practices;
• children and young people who view pornography are more likely to have liberal attitudes towards, and to engage in, sex without love, one night stands, same-sex sex, multiple sex partners, more frequent sex, and earlier sexual involvement;
• pornography, much of which offers a decontextualised portrayal of sexual behaviour, a relentless focus on female bodies, and sexist and callous depictions of women contributes to sexually objectifying understandings of and behaviours towards girls and women by boys and young men;
• exposure to pornography is related to male sexual aggression against women. This association is strongest for violent pornography and still reliable for nonviolent pornography, particularly by frequent users. For example, “in a study of Canadian teenagers with an average age of 14, there was a correlation between boys’ frequent consumption of pornography and their agreement with the idea that it is acceptable to hold a girl down and force her to have sex”;
• exposure of girls and young women to pornography may make them more vulnerable to submitting to sexist and sexually objectifying attitudes, including sexual violence; and
• partners of adult pornography users report decreased sexual intimacy, lowered esteem and demands that they participate in activities they find objectionable, so children and young people’s exposure to pornography is making them less able to sustain genuine intimate relationships based on mutual respect.
The 2012 systematic literature review by Owens and colleagues, The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research, found that adolescent consumption of Internet pornography was linked to attitudinal changes such as:
• more permissive sexual attitudes towards casual sex, including viewing sex as “primarily physical and casual rather than affectionate and relational”; and
• acceptance of male dominance and female submission as the primary sexual paradigm, with women viewed as “sexual playthings eager to fulfill male sexual desires”.
The review also founds that frequency of consumption of Internet pornography was linked to behaviour such as:
• first oral sex at a younger age;
• first sexual intercourse at a younger age; and
• casual sex, group sex, male-female anal intercourse.
Furthermore, “adolescents who are intentionally exposed to violent sexually explicit material were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive than those who were not exposed”.
In a very recent meta-analysis examining the link between pornography consumption and sexual violence, Wright and colleagues found that:
• consumption of pornography was associated with an increased likelihood of committing actual acts of sexual aggression;
• this association held for both adolescents and adults;
• the association held for both violent pornography and nonviolent pornography, although the link with violent pornography was stronger (but nonsignificant): “it appears most likely that (a) the level of violence, degradation, and objectification matters, but (b) the pornography consumed by the average individual contains enough of these elements that it is associated with an elevated likelihood of sexual aggression.;
• there is an even stronger link for verbal sexual aggression than for physical sexual aggression; and
• the link between pornography consumption and sexually aggressive behaviour is not explained by “sexually aggressive individuals watching content that conforms to their already established aggressive sexual scripts” and that “pornography consumption predicted boys’ later sexual aggression even after controlling for their earlier sexual aggression”
The authors conclude:
As with all behavior, sexual aggression is caused by a confluence of factors and many pornography consumers are not sexually aggressive. However, the accumulated data leave little doubt that, on the average, individuals who consume pornography more frequently are more likely to hold attitudes conducive to sexual aggression and engage in actual acts of sexual aggression than individuals who do not consume pornography or who consume pornography less frequently.
Sun et al in their 2013 paper “Pornography and the male sexual script” describe the nature of the majority of pornography currently available:
Nevertheless, with online mainstream pornography overwhelmingly centered on acts of violence and degradation toward women, the sexual behaviors exemplified in pornography skew away from intimacy and tenderness and typify patriarchal constructions of masculinity and femininity. Content analysis of best-selling pornographic videos, for example, reveals that over 88% of scenes involve acts of physical aggression, with 70% of the aggressive acts being perpetrated by men, and 87% of the acts being committed against women. Such acts stand in sharp relief against more intimate acts, which were relatively infrequent, such as issuing verbal compliments, embracing, kissing, and laughing.—
In addition to the findings on first age of exposure and frequency of use reported above, this survey of U.S. heterosexual male college students found that men who view pornography more frequently are:
• more likely to rely on pornography to become and remain sexually excited (reporting masturbation with pornography as more exciting than sex with a partner; and intentionally thinking about images from pornography during sex with a partner);
• more likely to integrate pornography into dyadic sexual encounters (viewing pornography with a sex partner or acting out activities or positions seen in pornography); and
• less likely to enjoy intimate behaviours such as cuddling, kissing and caressing with a partner.
The Australian Psychological Society reports adolescent boys are estimated to be responsible for about a fifth of rapes of adult women and between a third and a half of all reported sexual assaults of children. Offences by school-aged children have quadrupled in Australia in only four years according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The Australian Medical Association says there is a strong relationship between exposure to sexually explicit material and sexual behaviour that predisposes young people to adverse sexual and mental health outcomes.
The proliferation and globalisation of hypersexualised imagery and pornographic themes has led to destructive ideas about sex and makes healthy sexual exploration almost impossible.
Taken together, the weight of evidence about the trends in online consumption of pornography by children and young people, and the harms associated with online consumption of pornography, point to the urgent need to find effective means to limit or reduce children’s access to online pornography.
To fail to take action would be to betray a whole generation of boys and girls by leaving their formation in sex and relationships largely in the hands of a pornography industry and culture that teaches boys and young men to view women as sex objects, to be used in a degrading and even violent way and teaches girls and young women to view their worth as conditioned upon their valuation by porn saturated boys and men as fit for the purpose of an objectified sex instrument.
Collective Shout calls for child-rights based approach to address harms of hypersexualised culture
Submission to the Parliament of NSW Committee on Children and Young People Inquiry into sexualisation of children and young people
Nicole Jameson presented on behalf of Collective Shout to the NSW Committee Inquiry into sexualisation of children and young people
Children and young people are growing up in a high-tech culture steeped in relentlessly sexualised, sexualising and sexist messaging from media, advertising and popular culture which conditions them from a young age to view themselves and others in terms of their appearance and sexual currency. While women and girls are primarily the subjects of hyper-sexualised media representation, these messages also play a crucial part in socialising men and boys to see the sexual objectification of women and girls as normal.
Many adults are overwhelmed by the task of protecting and equipping children as they navigate the contemporary media and social landscape. The current legislative and regulatory environment is piecemeal, confusing for the community to navigate, and tends to serve the commercial advantage of corporate and marketing interests to the detriment of the community – children and young people in particular. Despite a number of state and federal inquiries demonstrating the need for systemic reform, media classification and self-regulatory schemes have failed to halt or even slow the proliferation of imagery and messaging through electronic, print and social media and marketing that demeans women, reduces them to sexual objects, fosters a culture which condones sexual violence, and pressures young girls to act in prematurely sexual ways.
Collective Shout is critical of the self-regulatory system currently favoured in media and advertising, which allows free rein to marketers while placing the burden of action on those most at risk of exploitation and harm. In particular, we are concerned about the lack of effective incentive or enforcement to deter those who are making a profit from the sexualisation of children and young people. Media and advertising interests have had ample opportunity to hear and act on community concerns but have instead have chosen to protect their vested interests. It is time for government to step in and act on behalf of children and young people.
Recommendations from Collective Shout in this submission include:
Recognition of the harms of sexualisation as a public health crisis requiring swift and decisive action on behalf of children and young people.
The restructuring of the current regulatory environment to bring the regulation of all media and marketing together under one encompassing independent federal regulator, including a division with the primary responsibility of protecting the interests of children and young people, addressing both the direct and indirect sexualisation of children in all media modes from a child-rights basis.
Equipping parents and carers with the appropriate media literacy tool and institutional supports, to raise children who have the ability to be critical consumers and creators of media.
The evaluation and implementation of appropriate school-based education programs to educate children and young people about the harms of sexualisation, and funding to help schools secure these resources.
For a child-rights based approach to addressing the harms of media hypersexualisation, including respect for the voices and points of view of children and young people.
That the prevalence of sexualised images of women in our society be recognised as a significant underlying contributor to violence against women and girls.
The commissioning of comprehensive research to establish the extent of the exposure of children and young people in NSW to sexualising media content. However, this research should not preclude swift government action on the basis of the evidence that already exists.
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.
It’s like this when I speak about pornography at schools, conferences, and other events. I’m often hesitant to speak of what I know is really happening. People are often so shocked, so disconcerted by the content of my talks, I start to self-censor. Sometimes I gauge the audience as I speak and hasten past slides which I know will be too much for them.
I am picking up information which is so severe, so hard to hear, that I rarely pass it on. So far, I’ve mostly restricted it to medical audiences. However, this article, by London Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson in The Canberra Times, has caused me to reconsider the holding back: everyone has to know this.
What I’m being told, by medical professionals, is that young girls (many under-age) are increasingly suffering anal tearing as a result of porn-inspired anal sex acts, including group acts. Some end up with rectums so damaged they are rendered incontinent and need colostomy bags. Other girls are contracting the HPV virus through oral sex. Some end up requiring surgery for throat cancer as a result.
Girls have a right to know this is how they could end up. But where do they go for this information? It’s hardly mainstream. And online porn presents these acts as standard. Girls who don’t want to submit to anal sex start to think there is something wrong with them. One of their biggest fears is being labelled a prude, or ‘hung up’. This is what Pearson wrote:
I was having dinner with a group of women when the conversation moved on to how we could raise happy, well-balanced sons and daughters who are capable of forming meaningful relationships when internet pornography has changed the landscape of adolescence beyond recognition…
A GP, let’s call her Sue, said: “I’m afraid things are much worse than people suspect.” In recent years, Sue had treated growing numbers of teenage girls with internal injuries caused by frequent anal sex; not, as Sue found out, because they wanted to, or because they enjoyed it, but because a boy expected them to. “I’ll spare you the gruesome details,” said Sue, “but these girls are very young and slight and their bodies are simply not designed for that.”
Her patients were deeply ashamed at presenting with such injuries. They had lied to their mums about it and felt they couldn’t confide in anyone else, which only added to their distress. When Sue questioned them further, they said they were humiliated by the experience but they had simply not felt they could say no. Anal sex was standard among teenagers now, even though the girls knew it hurt.
… The girls presenting with incontinence were often under the age of consent and from loving, stable homes. Just the sort of kids who, two generations ago, would have been enjoying riding and ballet lessons, and still looking forward to their first kiss, not being coerced into violent sex by some kid who picked up his ideas about physical intimacy from a dogging video on his mobile.
… more than four in 10 girls between 13 and 17 in England say they have been coerced into sex acts, according to one of the largest European polls on teenage experiences. Research by the universities of Bristol and Central Lancashire concluded that a fifth of girls had suffered violence or intimidation from teenage boyfriends, a high proportion of whom regularly viewed pornography, with one in five harbouring “extremely negative attitudes towards women”.
The end result is what Sue sees as a GP. Young girls – children, really – who abase themselves to pass for normal in a grim, pornified culture. According to another study of British teenagers, most youngsters’ first experience of anal sex occurred within a relationship, but it was “rarely under circumstances of mutual exploration of sexual pleasure”. Instead, it was boys who pushed the girls to try it, with boys reporting that they felt “expected” to take that role. Moreover, both genders expected males to find pleasure in the act whereas females were mostly expected to “endure the negative aspects such as pain or a damaged reputation”. Read full article here.
‘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
‘At least Emma isn’t advocating for sex predators. At least Emma isn’t advocating for pedophiles. At least Emma isn’t advocating for men who produce violent pornography. At least Emma isn’t advocating for human traffickers. At least Emma is advocating for women’
By Laura McNally
Emma Watson’s speech at the UN has made headlines worldwide. It wasn’t a bad speech. Like all women, Watson is doing the best she can with the information she has available to her.
Several feminists have already addressed some of the problematic aspects of her speech. Like many, I am critical of the strategies employed by transnational organizations like the UN. I am also critical of liberal feminism.
But as a woman who is most concerned with women’s liberation, I acknowledge that Emma Watson has created more awareness in ten minutes than I could in my lifetime.
So you know what is more problematic, male-centric, and piecemeal than Emma Watson’s speech?
Liberal feminist analysis. Let me give just a few examples:
2) Liberal feminism frames sexual violence in porn as an empowered choice for women.
3) Liberal feminism responds “Not All Porn” (#NAP) in the same way sexists respond “not all men” when we talk about male violence and misogyny. Feminists ought to be aware that criticism is aimed at cultures, classes, and industries — not individual people.
5) Liberal feminism applies criticism to every industry except the sex trade despite the fact that the sex industry hinges upon classism, sexism, racism and a global trade which commodifies violence against girls and women.
6) Liberal feminism prioritises first-world women’s accounts of feeling empowered, shunning women who don’t have the language, resources, Twitter/Tumblr accounts to articulate the extent of their oppression.
7) While liberal feminism claims to be “intersectional” it concomitantly evades structural analysis and conceals multiple oppressions with a rhetoric of agency. This is an issue that Kimberlé Crenshaw has spoken on recently. As if feeling agentic is going to keep the most vulnerable women alive.
8) Liberal feminism claims to want to end sexist stereotypes, but freely labels women “thin-lipped,” prudish, and anti-sex if they dare say any of the things that I have just written here.
9) Liberal feminism has been so concerned about “including men” and being “pro-sex” that they have repeatedly published “feminist” works on behalf of male sex predators and attempted killers.
Liberal feminism is not only male-centric in rhetoric, but it positions male entitlement as feminist.
I say: At least Emma isn’t advocating for sex predators. At least Emma isn’t advocating for pedophiles. At least Emma isn’t advocating for men who produce violent pornography. At least Emma isn’t advocating for human traffickers. At least Emma is advocating for women.
Yes, Emma is another white woman adding her voice to a movement that continues to prioritize the perspectives of white people. But does that mean professional white feminists are going to renounce their careers? I wouldn’t expect so. But I would expect that they might consider whether their political analysis serves to amplify or obscure the reality of women already marginalized by the current white-male-centric world order.
Perhaps Emma’s critics can also question whether liberal feminism is really working to challenge male hegemony continuing to serve up diatribes about “finding agency” in oppressive circumstances. They might question whether this liberal, postmodern, anti-structural, acontextual approach to feminism even means anything for women outside of first-world capital cities… Marketing something as “intersectional” doesn’t make it so.
It would seem that we can either fight to end patriarchy and the institutions that prop up its existence, or we can work to make patriarchy more acceptable and equitable by selling it as “choice.” One of these options sounds like feminism and the other sounds like corporate strategy.
As it turns out nobody is liberated by these industries and participation is rarely a “free choice.” In fact research shows quite the opposite with very few South East Asian women ever personally seeking out the industry. To defend an industry that hinges upon impoverished girls and women’s lack of choice, and instead frame it as being primarily about “women’s choices” shows that liberal feminism is reserved for women with class privilege.
Yes, some women can choose. Some women have the social mobility required to move in and out of different fields of work and that is great. Of course no woman should be stigmatised for her choices, whatever they may be. But feminist analysis is not just about women who have options. Feminism that only reflects women with choice serves to further silence women who have few or none.
As bell hooks has said:
[Feminism] has never emerged from the women who are most victimized by sexist oppression; women who are daily beaten down, mentally, physically, and spiritually — women who are powerless to change their condition in life. They are a silent majority.
Girls are increasingly surrounded by sex trade influences, with much of the visual culture saturated with pornography. Male entitlement is a dangerous, global epidemic. Thai reports show 40 per cent of the sex industry is made up of underage girls. Male sexual entitlement is colonizing the third world faster than transnational corporations ever could. This local-global industrializing of sexual exploitation is constraining the rights and choices of girls globally. Working to legitimize this exploitation only solidifies the lack of choice for these girls and women.
How can liberal feminists bolster these industries and simultaneously claim to fight for choice? Whose choice? Male sex tourists perhaps? From my experience living throughout South East Asia, a deep sense of collectivist culture, filial piety where children are strongly obligated to support their aging parents, combined with poverty, all make the idea of individual choice and empowerment laughable. Poor women living in South East Asia don’t simply log on to seek.com and peruse potential career “choices.” Life is not as simply as victims vs. agents.
An all too common story across Asia is parents who cannot afford to feed their children. They may find themselves forced to send their daughters or sons to the city with the promise of “school and work” — this is increasingly impacting strained rural populations. Are these girls going to be helped by “feeling agency” while they are exploited? Perhaps they could benefit from state sanctioned and local development programs, rather than sex predator tourists?
Australian writers have told me that girls in Asia have to “choose” between the garment industry and the sex industry, otherwise beg. Why is this first-world “choice” narrative homogenizing feminist discourse? It is an entirely reductionist, ethnocentric and distorted idea of women’s reality overseas. What ever happened to intersectionality?
Liberal feminist rhetoric is dominated by first-world accounts of “I think this is empowering so it is.” This apolitical approach evades the statistics and realities of millions of girls and women whose stories we will likely never read about in a feminist bestseller. Feminism has come to mean whatever wealthy consumers want it to mean — “feeling good,” rather than actual change or justice. We seem to forget that the world is not full of women who are privileged enough to try out oppressive systems like pole-dancing for “fun.” We’ve ended up in a situation where Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus call their actions feminist — while that’s ludicrous, I can see exactly how they came to that conclusion.
I understand that liberal feminism does seek to change sexist norms and attitudes, but it does so by supporting the industries that ensure sexist behaviour is normative, institutionalized, and profitable. Not only does this garner political legitimacy for sexist industries, but it bolsters male consumers who can argue their sex tourism and excessive porn use is acceptable or even “feminist.” Empirical evidence shows that first-world male consumers of pornography have higher sexist and rape-accepting attitudes — attitudes that they can more easily enact in locations with fewer law enforcement resources.
I am struck by recent liberal feminist texts criticizing “neoliberal feminism” (which isn’t actually a thing) while the crux of liberal feminism could not be more closely aligned with neoliberal exploitation of women.
So is #heforshe going to actually achieve anything with men? At an individual level, I hope so — we certainly need it. What I do know is that, for my friends living in poverty, having men hear about this will likely do more for them than talking about feminist agency or feminist porn.
I understand entirely why Watson’s speech was somewhat piecemeal, problematic and feminist-lite… But that is because she is working with liberal feminist theory, and it’s the best she (or anyone) could do with that body of work.
Watson is simply advocating for girls and women the only way she knows. So all I have to say to her is: “Thank you. You did what you could, we have a lot of work to do and we welcome you.”
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. Reprinted with permission Laura McNally/ Feminist Current
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
“Melinda Tankard Reist is at the forefront of helping…educate the public on the link between pornography and violence…” – Di Macleod, Director, Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence
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Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
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Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.