Are you a good feminist? Bad feminist? Is it really about you?
Today the downturn of women’s rights is smacking us upside the face. Femicide is reaching such epidemic proportions that nations like Brazil are introducing special legislation against it. Australia’s rate of sexual violence has jumped 20% in a year, statistics that are reflected in a host of other countries. The global scourge of trafficking continues to reach record highs.
A whole raft of issues are affecting women now more than ever before. Yet, as the events to mark International Women’s Day in Australia showed, most of these issues are eschewed entirely by a feminist dialogue that refuses to look beyond personal choice.
On International Women’s Day the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) hosted an all woman line up to discuss feminism. Yet, in line with downplaying the crisis surrounding women’s rights, the special episode took to dividing audience members based on whether they identified as ‘bad feminists’ or not. This is a category that neither theoretically nor pragmatically exists, more in line with high school buzzwords than progressive politics.
Feminism, broadly speaking, offers a political lens within which gendered issues can be better understood, analysed and contextualised. In the past, feminism has proven to be successful in confronting a number of these issues.
Yet today, for a large part, feminism is entirely liberalized. It is less about global political issues with their gendered contexts, and more about personal choices in the pursuit of individual happiness.
Feminism has been gutted by an individualistic drive to validate lifestyles. ‘Can I wear heels and aprons and be feminist?’ ‘Is this lippy feminist?’ ‘I’m a bad feminist, aren’t I?’ Such questions opened the feminist Q&A session, a fitting reflection of the broader liberal feminist dialogue. At times, there appeared little distinction between feminism and the Cosmo fashion police.
Feminism was not designed as a personal quick fix cure all. It is not going to choose careers, fix relationships or overhaul wardrobes. It’s not going to endorse any choices, make us feel good about our new splurge or tuck us in at night. In fact for the most part, feminism will challenge, trouble and confront.
But it was meant to do just that. Feminism emerged from the consciousness of women of the liberation era, the very women that fought for women’s right to work, our right to vote, our right to not be legally raped in marriage, our right to escape violence in the home and seek refuge. Yet this consciousness is now denied as old and deemed too prudish, wrong or just blatantly ignored.
Taking its place is the shiny new liberal feminism that is far sexier, more ‘feminine’ and ultimately reinforcing of the status quo. Taking up the ‘bad feminist’ label is just one of a myriad of ways liberal feminism misses the point.
Our intensely westernized instinct to ask ‘what’s in it for me’ means feminism has been depoliticised to the point that feminism is purely about ‘personal choice’ and any ‘choice’ being justified regardless of how much harm it might cause to other women around the world.
Cosmetics that rely on sexist and racist stereotypes to sell their product? Feminism. Making pornography where women are slapped, choked and spat on? It’s been called feminism. Promoting the sex industry that is responsible for the exploitation of millions of girls around the world? That’s economic opportunism, or rather, feminism.
Activist Julie Bindel is labelled ‘dangerously irresponsible’ by feminist colleagues for criticizing pornography. As if the multibillion-dollar global porn industry will collapse under one woman’s words. The liberal version of feminism goes to lengths to deny the evidence that shows harm done to girls, women and men under these industries – to the point that feminism now defends the sources of sexism and vilifies women who speak against it.
In its bid to shake the ‘old’ ‘prudish’ and ‘man hating’ stereotypes of past, feminism has had the ultimate makeover. Like a good celebrity, feminism now brings heat rather than light to women’s issues.
Ironically, as feminism has reached its most liberal and least potent form, there is a swelling movement of young people that argue feminism ‘has gone too far’. For young women who are more likely to deal with sexual coercions that eclipse anything we have seen before this is undeniable evidence that any notion of gender equality could not be farther from a reality today.
When the question of young women sexting naked images came up in Q&A, the entire context of socialisation and sexual pressures were ignored. We were reminded it was a ‘choice’ and rebellion. This was no surprise given liberal feminism asserts that pop stars, feminist porn and ‘free choice’ for all of the above will save us.
If we acknowledge there is a war on women, then sexual objectification is it’s propaganda and both sides are selling it. While claiming to promote ‘choice’, liberal feminism has actually reinforced the sexual pressure that sees girl’s choices more constrained than ever before.
This contradictory soup of individualistic choice feminism may make bearable entertainment for women who’ve cut their teeth on feminist literature, but what message is this sending to young women on how seriously we take women’s rights?
The focus needs to shift away from what kind of dresses women like to wear, or what kind of label women like to identify with. The issue is not simply a matter of individual choices or identities.
So, are you a good feminist or a bad feminist? Is it really about you?
Profound experiences with W.A students on my last roadtrip.
Last month I spoke 27 times in three and a half weeks in the ACT, Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales. I spoke on the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls in media and popular culture, the sexual world of the 21st century adolescent, pornography and young people, and the online life of girls to students, staff and parents at five schools, the Heads of Independent Co-Educational Schools conference, women’s events, a medical conference of 1000 medical professionals and at tour’s end a quick trip to the country to address the Upper Gwydir Landcare Association! (Was great to be out in the bush again, farmer’s daughter as I am).
There were many highlights – the privilege of delivering my message to thousands of people of course, along with runs along rugged coastlines and catching up with friends and colleagues – including Co-editor of Big Porn Inc, Abigail Bray who I hadn’t seen for two years. Every time I do these long trips, I’m reminded again what an honour it is to do this work and engage with so many people, especially young people. I wonder how I got so lucky. A 14-year-old just emailed me to say how much she was impacted by the message and that now she knew the career path she wanted to follow to make a difference in the lives of other girls. And this from a Deputy Head of School in NSW: “I just wanted to say what a profound effect you have had on me today… I intend to return in term three with a renewed determination to build the voice and the rights of our girls and deliver a consistent message to the boys that the values of respect and understanding are not lost.” Messages like these make it all worthwhile.
Possibly the most affecting experience was with students in W.A. I was moved by how openly they shared their struggles. Girls revealing mistreatment and pressure to adopt pornified roles and behaviours. The issue of girls being threatened with blackmail to send sexual images was raised with me a number of times. At one co-ed private school, girls didn’t want to leave the session, and continued to talk through recess and even the next period, insisting they needed longer to discuss the issues concerning them. (Thank you teachers to allowing them to do so). A group of 30 Yr 12 boys chose to skip lunch to talk longer – I’ve never seen boys voluntarily choose to do this before! They disclosed some of the pressures they felt in a culture that judges them for their appearance and trains them in callous behavior early on. One boy stood and cried as he shared his experience of being bullied and said he had no friends. It was difficult to keep a grip on my emotions when another boy moved from the front row to the back to comfort him. To see that boy put his arms around the one who was in pain…something else I rarely see, given how this world knocks the empathy out of boys from their earliest days.
When addressing co-ed schools where I’m talking with the girls, then boys separately (which is my preference), I often ask female students what messages they’d like me to pass onto boys. My colleague, W.A Collective Shout co-ordinator, Caitlin Roper, recorded the following messages from the W.A girls in Yrs 9-12 to their male peers. I’m hoping these might become discussion points to kick start conversations in other schools. I found them moving, some even plaintive and sad. What emerged for me overall was that while girls are distressed by the treatment of many (not all) boys, they really wanted to have good relations with them. Many lamented that in a sexualized world, everything had come to have a sexual meaning: they feared healthy friendships with boys might be lost if something didn’t change soon. Here’s what they asked:
• If we reject your request to send a sexual image, please don’t stop talking to us.
• If we are hanging out, don’t expect it is sexual.
• If we say no, accept it, don’t try to persuade us.
• Catcalling/ yelling out of cars/street harassment is not a compliment.
• If we are angry, don’t assume we are on our period.
• Stop commenting on our appearance. Value us for something else.
• Rape jokes are never funny.
• Porn and sex are not the same.
• Feminism is not female domination.
• If we cut our hair short, it doesn’t mean we are lesbians.
• If we have a close female friend, it doesn’t mean we are lesbians.
• We don’t all have the perfect body.
• We weren’t put on the earth for your entertainment.
• Think with your head, not what’s in your pants.
• Respect us more.
• Treat us like humans.
• Stop stereotyping us.
• Be a gentleman.
• Respect our boundaries.
• Don’t call us prudes for saying ‘no’/sluts for saying ‘yes’.
• It is never the victim’s fault.
• Just because we don’t say no doesn’t mean we are saying yes.
• Girls weren’t born to be decorative objects.
• Sex before the age of consent is illegal.
• Don’t make sexual advances based on how we are dressed- sometimes it is hot and we want to wear shorts.
• Stop making ‘kitchen’ jokes.
• We understand the boys are under pressure too.
Briefing on sexualisation, harms of porn with W.A MPs
While in the West, I was invited by the Hon Nick Goiran, W.A Legislative Council Member for South Metropolitan, to address a briefing of interested colleagues on sexualisation and the harms of pornography, and what they as legislators could do about the issue. Also with me were Collective Shout’s W.A coordinator Caitlin Roper and Victorian board member Coralie Pittman. I asked the reason for the hold up in the release of the W.A Children Commissioner’s report into the sexualisation of children, completed 18 months earlier. A week after my visit, it was finally released and tabled. (we are still analyzing the document and will report soon).
In a speech to parliament, Hon Nick Goiran said:
“I feel confident in speaking on behalf of all those who attended to say that we were all impacted by what we were told…We have to recognize that none of us has done enough in this space, and I feel somewhat energized by the briefing today to redouble our efforts. I hope that members who attended this briefing will join in this effort because if we cannot get things right in respect of the children of this state, frankly, I suggest that we should all pack up and go home. There is no more vulnerable group in our society than our children, and they are being continually bombarded with this imagery, which so much research has confirmed is harmful to them. I cannot think of an issue more important.”
Sexting, Shame and Suicide: a shocking story of sexual assault in the digital age
This essay was published last September but I’ve only just come across it. I keep thinking of Audrie and her body defaced and graffitied, the images shared and consumed. Her waking in horror to discover the markings all over her body and trying frantically to scrub them off. And the ultimate horror outcome, where she can no longer face the mocking, bullying and shaming. But I must say, it’s not only in the U.S that boys take the view that if a girl is under the influence of alcohol, she deserves whatever happens (some girls take this attitude also).
I have asked boys in the schools I address: “If a girl is drunk how many of you think she’s asking for it?” In many classes, the majority of boys would raise their hands. It is a common view. There is a terrible lack of understanding about consent and the face that if she is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, she can’t exercise it and a crime has been committed if she is taken advantage of. Audrie’s tragic story shows us where that view can lead. My sympathy to her devastated family.
Rape stats may be no higher than in years past, but the numbers are as shocking as ever. Every two minutes, a sexual assault happens in the U.S., and nearly 50 percent of the victims are under the age of 18, according to Katherine Hull, a spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: “The demographic of high school- and college-age women is at highest risk for sexual assault.” More than half of the incidents go unreported, advocates say. The ability to record and communicate gang-sex assaults has added a new enhancement to an old and ugly crime against women. From Instagram to Snapchat to texting, young people with raging hormones and low impulse control are passing around what amounts to child pornography. And the bodies most frequently watched and passed around are female.
“It’s a perfect storm of technology and hormones,” says lawyer Lori Andrews, director of the Institute for Science, Law and Technology in Chicago. “Teen sexting is all a way of magnifying girls’ fantasies of being a star of their own movies, and boys locked in a room bragging about sexual conquest.”
But as of yet the law provides little protection to the rights of those violated. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act effectively means that no Internet provider can be forced to take down content for invading a person’s privacy or even defaming them. “I could sue The New York Times for invading my privacy or Rolling Stone for defaming me,” Andrews says. “But I couldn’t sue and get my picture off a website called sluttyseventhgraders.com.” Read full article here
Boys Men and Violence
Dr Michael Flood March 5, 2014
Sexual violence is a serious social problem in Australia. According to a recent national survey, about one in six women in Australia – just under 1.5 million – has experienced sexual assault. In the past year alone, 87,800 women experienced sexual assault. Younger women are at greater risk. These are the victims, but what about perpetrators? Various studies show anywhere from 15 to 25 per cent of males have forced or pressured a girl or woman into sex or tried to do so…
Boys and young men are more likely to force or pressure a girl into sex if they have sexist and sexually hostile attitudes – they see girls as sexual objects, as less important or less valuable than males, and they feel entitled to see how far they can push things. The 2001 Australian National Crime Prevention Survey of young people aged 12 to 20 found about one in seven guys agreed that, “it’s okay for a boy to make a girl have sex with him if she has flirted with him or led him on.”
Some of the media consumed by boys and men is implicated in violence. TV, movies, music and computer games often portray women as sexual objects only, put men’s voices and lives at centre stage, and condone or even celebrate violence as entertaining and legitimate. Pornography use is increasingly common among young men, and here callous and hostile images of women are routine. In a wide range of media, boys learn that real men are tough, dominant, and aggressive. Read full article here
Pouty self portraits have turned boy-girl relations into a cut-throat sexual rat race.
If social media only caused narcissism, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. Instagram and Facebook are social networks that not only breed narcissistic tendencies but transform relations into a sexual rat race.
On these ubiquitous portals, the popularity of girls is hotly contested over one big deal: how sexy can I appear and bring it off with everyone’s admiration?
That’s the reason we see mirror shots, pouting self-portraits of teenagers (typically female) and sexually suggestively posed girls in a mini-dress ”before a party last night”. They’re showing how much they like themselves and hoping that you’ll hit ”like” to reinforce the claim.
This isn’t just an interest in vanity but vainglory, being high up on a scale of ”likes” . There isn’t anything inherently wrong with uploading self-portraits.
Everyone likes receiving compliments and it makes us feel awesome that our own appearance can provide us with an ego boost. But what kind of photos produce an epidemic of ”likes?” Nothing with too much creativity but hip, titty and kiss. It’s the true scourge of the selfie.
Why are we girls competing to be the Queen of Pouts? Why do we scour through photos of celebrities and all our ambitious friends to find out who is the new princess of prurient poses? Even demure girls are tempted to strike sexually suggestive poses. But they must be careful, not because parents are looking but because they might not score any ”likes” and might then feel a failure, unworthy among their peers.
How confident can you appear at being lascivious? How credible is your air of lewdness? A girl who is just a try-hard will lose credibility and become an outcast. So a lot depends on how much support you can get from other girls.
Girls zealously scroll down their Instagram or Facebook feeds. In Instagram, they might cleverly hashtag the most popular tags, such as #me, #selfie, #instacute to get an influx of ”likes” while they are on the most-recently tagged photos, then delete all the tags as though nothing’s happened.
They’re manipulating their image into popularity. Girls spray their ”likes”. They comment: ”Wow, you’re a model”; ”Oh my god you babe”; ”F–k you’re hot”; ”You’re perfect”; ”Best body”. Occasionally it’s genuine and supportive but it can also be very calculating. Girls fake flattery to get higher on the food chain. In my mind a comment such as, ”Oh my god, you’re so beautiful!” really means: she has to ”like” and comment on my photo! Then behind her back: ”What the f—! She is such a slut … I heard she hooked up with heaps of guys and got really drunk at a party and in every photo she poses with her tits out and a push-up bra.”
It’s tense because it’s duplicitous. We’re faking it, so that we get to be among the most popular, get to be ”liked” by the most popular and thereby gain popularity.
Seeing some of these images can feel too intimate. It’s almost as though we’re peering through a window. Some photos may be of girls showing skin, or girls lying on a bed. Just about all are seeking some sort of approval from their friends. The aim is not to communicate joy but to score a position.
It’s a neurotic impulse, not a happy one. I’m anxious that girls are higher up on the ladder than I am: boys are looking at her, not me. I have to look like her to be worthy of boys’ attention. Boys’ tastes are not always sophisticated. The aesthetic yardstick is what they see in pornography. So girls have to conform to what boys see in pornography. And then girls post photos to ”out-hot” the other girls by porn star criteria.
Who do we blame for this moral mess? As feminists, we correctly blame patriarchy because boys are securely at the top of the status game. Boys end up with the authority. They have their cake and eat it.
From the moral high ground, they can damn a girl for visual promiscuity, yet enjoy the spectacle at the same time, both with the same misogynistic motives: I like your form but I’m able to scorn you. You’re what I want but you’re less than me. Girls try to conform to this ”ideal” stereotype in their photos and these boys sarcastically comment, ”Nice personality” – really implying that the cleavage is their only attribute. Yet they also click the ”like” button. The boy who mocks a girl showing her cleavage is in fact the same boy who craves sexual opportunities with her.
A common adult reaction to social media is to restrict things, as if that could ever be possible. You can’t force kids to be nice. The real problem isn’t something tangible like sexting or bullying, which adults focus on in patronising and unimaginative ways. The real problem relates to conformity. Kids are compelled to act the stereotype, because those who opt out commit themselves to social leprosy. Social media doesn’t need adult control. What we need is some good taste.
Whenever I pick up the latest issue of teen girl mags, I hope to find articles which might inspire a global vision in girls, expand their horizons and help them see they can make a contribution in the world. So I was very pleased to see the piece: ’Who runs the world? Girls!’ While the header is somewhat exaggerated, the article describes the different lives and rights of girls around the world and gives examples of young women working to change their cultures. The campaigning of Malala Yousafzai, 15, for the rights of girls to an education in Pakistan is included. You may recall she was shot by the Taliban in October last year and is now recovering in the UK. Readers can log on to educationenvoy.org to learn more. Arranged marriage and not allowing women to drive are examples of denial of rights of women in Saudi Arabia. Manal al-Sharif (who I had the pleasure of hearing speak via a Skype presentation at the Great Women Inspire event in Brisbane on International Women’s Day in March) was arrested for driving a car in 2011 and initiated the Women2Drive campaign which readers are encouraged to support on Facebook. Sexual violence in India is highlighted, with readers encouraged to join the OneBillionRising.org movement against it. In the US, Julia Bluhm, 15, collected 84,000 signatures for an online petition asking Seventeen magazine to stop retouching pics. Staff have now signed a Body Peace Treaty pledging never to alter a model’s face or body. My only quibble here is the treatment of North Korea. Amnesty International, writes GF, “alleges that North Korea imposes severe restrictions of association, expression and movement.” The horrendous human rights violations against North Koreans by its own rulers are not mere allegations! An estimated 200,000 are locked away in prison camps (gulags). First-hand accounts demonstrate the reality. “North Korea’s prison camps are a closed-off world of death, torture and forced labour where babies are born slaves, according to two survivors who liken the horrors of the camps to a Holocaust in progress.” GF mentions North Korea’s imposition of officially approved hairstyles which yes, indicates a certain lack of freedom. But perhaps forced labour, being tortured in a concentration camp or watching your family starve as a result of your Government misdirecting money to create the world’s biggest militarised state are also worthy to include. North Korea is also described by GF as ‘a self-reliant’ state. That’s one way of putting it. Totalitarian is another. And I’m not sure how self-reliant is a country where 16 million people require food aid according to the UN. (I would love GF readers to read The Orphan Master’s Son, the 2013 Pulitzer prize winning novel by Adam Johnson. While fictional, it draws from real suffering of the people of North Korea. It’s one of the most profound books I’ve ever read). Read more here
Historically debates about children and pornography have tended to play out in two directions. Either children are discussed as being the victims used in illegal child pornography, or alternatively they are constructed as the damaged consumers of adult pornography which they inadvertently or deliberately access.
Both the “exploited victim” and “damaged consumer” approaches have produced a wealth of research that has contributed to public debates about pornography.
However, while these approaches have offered certain frameworks for understanding and discussing the harm caused to children, they have not been able to account for a recently emerging trend whereby young people are not merely accessing and consuming pornography, but indeed are now the active producers of pornography – specifically child pornography.
In recent years academics have been tending to the ways in which young people are incorporating technology into their dating, courtship and sexual socialisation practices. While many young people report that technology has enhanced their social lives, others have expressed concerns over the ways in which technology (such as digital photography, mobile phone cameras and webcams) has contributed to a paradigm where privacy is compromised. Read entire article.
In the past couple of weeks I’ve met or heard from young girls whose experiences give further disturbing insight into just how bad things are for girls right now.
A 12-year-old girl approached me after I addressed the question ‘Are girls being treeated as sex objects?’ before an audience in Sydney’s western suburbs. She revealed she was being molested by boys at school. It had gone on every day for two weeks. She hadn’t told anyone. She asked the boys not to do it. They ignored her. Her eyes brimming with tears, she wanted to know how she could make it stop, or if that was even possible.
An 11-year-old girl in a NSW country town was the only one in her friendship group who had not yet had sex. Her friends had made arrangements for her to lose her virginity at the annual show. She didn’t feel she was ready and was looking for excuses she could give to get out of turning up. Was there any way out for her or would she have to give in?
Two 14-year-old girls told me about multiple unpleasant sexual hook-ups, pressured by older boys into acts they felt bad about after. They feared resisting and felt powerless to make it stop.
None of these girls seemed aware that they had a right not to be harassed, not to be molested and assaulted, not to be coerced into unwanted sexual activity. It was so common for themselves and their friends to be treated this way. And they feared repercussions, being ostracised, causing a ‘fuss’ and attracting attention for making a complaint.
Fortunately, a young policewoman had just introduced herself to me. She was able to assist the first girl. An educator was trying to help the second. And the 14-year-olds were looking at getting further help and advice.
What a world our girls are inhabiting. They are having to comprehend and negotiate difficult things at ages when they shouldn’t have to. They are being systematically preyed upon. Here are two more examples in as many days.
Porno pic cyber-bullying at ‘epidemic level’
CYBER-bullying is reaching epidemic levels, says a Melbourne youth worker, amid new claims about young girls being pressured to provide pornographic images of themselves.
Police are investigating a case at St Joseph’s College boys school in Geelong, in which it is believed a computer hacker stole an older student’s Facebook identity and then pressured a grade five pupil to provide pornographic images of himself to a Facebook “friend”…
Youth worker Les Twentyman has also revealed that he was told about a girl in year eight at a school in Victoria’s east recently being lured into performing sex acts with year 12 boys that were filmed and posted on the Internet. Read more.
Police warn on ‘juvie hunting’
POLICE and teachers have grave concerns about an emerging youth phenomenon dubbed “juvie hunting”, where older teenage boys groom younger girls for sex.
Sources say juvenile hunting is rife in Perth schools where boys aged 16 and 17 target younger teenage girls in a contest driven by popularity and status.
The Sunday Times understands that teachers at several Perth 2schools, including Sacred Heart College in Sorrento, lectured Year 12 boys about the possibility of criminal charges if they have sex with a girl younger than 16, the legal age of consent…
Police had received more reports of offences against children since mandatory reporting came into place last year.Read full story here.
Preyed upon and pressured to provide porn images. Preyed upon and molested. Preyed upon and forced to provide sex acts. Girls are targetted for all this at younger ages and many boys seems to think they are entitled to do whatever they like to them.
We have to turn this around. Girls need to be informed of their rights. They need to demand an end to this. And the boys who act in these ways need to know it is illegal. And if they don’t stop, those in authority over them must act quickly to make them see how serious this is and that there really are consequences.
I’d really like to hear less of these accounts. I’d like to hear some good stories from girls.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
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