‘Despite being known for its overtly sexual content and verbally abusive teaching tactics, Dance Moms fever has infected the country’
By Jemma Nicoll
Eyes shining with delight, Nia twirls and twirls as shimmering pink feathers soar in the wind swelled by her rapid movement. Encased in the fluorescent cage of a burlesque feather fan, she is mesmerised by her imitation of a Las Vegas Showgirl. Adorned in silver glitter-speckled shorts and a nude sports bra, Nia’s outfit for her upcoming dance competition fulfills its designer’s intention of creating that stark, naked illusion.
“I’m hot! I’m mean! You can’t have me! You can’t afford me!” screams her choreographer as Nia endeavours to channel the sensual character; coordinating the fan and challenging dance routine of high kicks, hip grinds and eye winks. She is training to win gold, alongside her troupe of six other mock-topless, feathered friends.
“This costume’s better than all of the other costumes because it makes my body look pretty… it makes me look beautiful,” Nia says.
Nia is eight-years-old.
“It is as if contemporary girls are in a great hurry to grow up,” says Marika Tiggemann in her latest study, ‘Contemporary Girlhood: Maternal Reports on Sexualised Behaviour and Appearance in 4-10 year-old girls’ , released June last year. Tiggemann and fellow researcher, Amy Slater, from Flinders University in Adelaide, are the first to document the appearance-obsessed behaviours of young Australian girls. Results show that an epidemic of girls aged four to 10-years-old are prematurely engaging with teen culture, and exhibiting hyper-sexualised behaviours through attention to personal grooming, clothing and bodily appearance.
Are our Generation Z girls too sexy too soon? (freeimages.com)
The study of almost 1000 girls has forecast a bleak outcome for Nia’s generation, whose earlier burlesque display was seen by millions on Dance Moms: the show tracking the pre-pubescent stars of Abby Lee Miller’s Pittsburgh USA dance studio. The show is a growing place of worship for thousands of aspiring Australian dancers, and the wallet swallowing the income of their parents who recently paid hundreds for their daughters to attend classes with Abby Lee, on March 13 at Bankstown Sports Club. Despite being known for its overtly sexual content and verbally abusive teaching tactics, Dance Moms fever has infected the country.
“As a society, we have yet to see the consequences of an entire new generation of girls brought up in a highly sexualized environment.” said Tiggemann.
“If the focus on appearance…becomes their habitual way of viewing themselves, then this is liable to have negative consequences for their well-being as a teenager and as an adult woman.”
According to Tiggemann’s results, by the age of eight, 28 percent of Australian girls are dissatisfied with their physical appearance, 76 percent are particularly fussy about what they wear and are frequently asking: “does this look good on me?” and13 percent are exiting the house with a made-up face.
And out of all the things little girls love to do, there is one common denominator that surpassed all activities listed in the study: 96 percent love to dance.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports that at April 2012 there were 727,000 girls aged five to 14 years participating in an organised sport outside of school. Of this figure, 418,100 were enrolled in a dance school (58 percent), up from 390,400 in 2009. The rate of Australian girls participating in dance lessons is rising by annual increments of tens of thousands; it is certainly happy days for current and prospective studio directors.
The Lolita Effect
“Come on we’ve got these good bodies now, and they’re not going to last forever so let’s show it while we’ve got it. Come on, put it out there girls, you’ve got it. Now flaunt it!”
Deborah Watson, primary school teacher and Learning Support consultant, animatedly re-enacts an overheard dance teacher working with the school’s lunchtime dance groups.
“How old were the dancers? Eight, nine, 10 years old,” she says. “Then there were four girls in this particular school who had more solid builds…they pulled out because their parents said they don’t feel comfortable in those costumes, but the teacher wouldn’t make allowances to alter the costumes for them. I spoke to a mother whose daughter is self-harming too, since quitting dance group from being teased.”
“You fit the costume or you’re out, is the idea.” she says.
Watson is a serial ‘mystery shopper’ of Sydney dance studios. The mother of two daughters, aged nine and 15, has spent the last 12 years embarking on a series of ‘free trial classes.’
“I heard a parent once ask why the kids did so much abdominal work at the beginning of the class, and the teacher’s response was ‘because we’ve all got midriffs for our costumes this year, and the girls need to have flat abs’.” She vividly describes the hot pink, sequined equivalent of a string bikini, with fishnet stockings and black jazz shoes.
Social researchers call it the ‘Lolita Effect’; a term to describe the imposition of sexualisation through mass media messages, on young girls whom are yet to reach the required development. Watson is convinced that local organisations are flying under the radar in fuelling the Lolita Effect.
“In this other school, nine and 10 years old girls were heavily made up. What struck me was the eyeliner, this is what they chose to wear to class to fit into the group dynamic,” she said.
“The girls had crop tops and tiny shorts. There were only two girls that had a full leotard and they were very much over here on this side,” Deborah gestures left, “and those in the crop tops were over here. It was very clear who was in and who was out.”
The Eisteddfod Battleground
Dance eisteddfods, hundreds of them, are dotted around the country. They are a magnet for studios to gather, compete and showcase the works of their students.
Sydney adjudicator, performer and high school teacher Melissa Lukins, is disappointed by what she has critiqued at eisteddfod events: “I’ve observed as an adjudicator the unusually sexual nature of young dancers’ facial expressions, their movements, costumes and general attitude towards dance performance.”
Lukins lists countless influencing factors.
“‘Dance Moms’ has seemed to propagate this…. as students see other dance schools presenting this type of choreography they pressure their teachers to fit in with the culture. It is alarming,” said Ms Lukins.
At the Front Line
It all became too much for Dodie Wilson, another NSW adjudicator and retired studio director, who is actively opposing the culture she has witnessed in her 25 years of work in Australian eisteddfods.
Dance eisteddfods are a second home. Pic: Jemma Nicoll
“Once it’s on stage, it’s seen. It’s out there. You can’t take it back. The minute that child gets on stage in an inappropriate costume… too late, everybody’s seen it,” Wilson says.
“The minute they’re flashing their private areas, it’s done. In front of brothers, uncles. And that child…that eight, nine, 10, 12 year old child has been, in a way, violated. They have done what they were told to do.”
Wilson is paving the way in the local eisteddfod scene by hosting a ‘child safety’ competition event that is the first of its kind. With the glitz and the glam, come guidelines.
“They must wear stockings at all times…two-piece costume items must be seven centimetres from the bust, and I have actually banned particular movements,” she said.
The syllabus outline distributed to participants spells out the consequences of entering the event, launched in Seven Hills Sydney last October. Immediate disqualification applies to dancers where costumes do not cover seven centimetres of midriff, where lyrics contain sexual content, and if choreography includes the banned movements.
“Any music or movements that seem to be breaking the rules or are inappropriate, a bell will ring, the music will start to fade and we will motion the child on stage to curtsey…the routine will be stopped.”
Perhaps teachers should submit their music and costume selections prior to the event, to minimise the risk of humiliating a child onstage.
Wilson says she has had an overwhelming amount of positive support through private messages over social media, however she is disappointed that little public support has been offered to counteract the backlash received from online groups.
“Teachers are scared. They are scared to be part of the change, for whatever reason in case five years down the track it changes back again or it just doesn’t work,” she says.
“Will you lose students? Maybe. But then you’ll know you’re doing the right thing.”
Pic: Jemma Nicoll
Amongst other influences, Wilson attributes the hyper-sexualised studio culture craze to RG Dance, infamous for its former director now facing child sex offence charges. She describes their competition troupes as mechanical in precision with faultless technique, miniscule outfits and adult-themed concepts. They won gold each time.
“Teacher’s saw this, they believed they had the secret. So they copied.”
How will the sexual messages shouldered by young dancers today potentially affect adulthood?
“I believe they will be so brokenhearted, that they will have nothing to do with the dance industry when they’re older,” she said.
Dance, Sex and Science
According to medical doctor turned sexologist and writer, Patricia Weerakoon, the increase of girls engaging in dance communities, determines the need to assess studio culture in line with documented hyper-sexualised behaviours.
“Everything that goes into the brain, especially during that rapid development of childhood, will influence the brain’s wiring. As the child grows, and the more sexualised their culture [is], the more the brain will recognise at building those sexual circuits. It will recognise it as something that is normal or good.”
The University of Sydney’s Honorary Senior Lecturer in Health Sciences has spent 40 years as a medical practitioner, sexual health educator and sex therapist. Dr Weerakoon’s concern for what she calls ‘raunch culture’ stems from years of research into childhood brain development.
“It’s called Neuroplasticity,” said Dr Weerakoon.
“From the time the baby is developing in the womb… the brain adapts based on what is going on. In a child’s brain, everything from birth through to teen and young adulthood, that time of quick and rapid growth is a time where [there] is a huge amount of brain wiring and rewiring.”
“And what we know is that [the brain] is influenced by social environment, the environment that the child is in. Everything that goes into the brain changes the wiring,” she said.
Dr Weerakoon holds grave concerns for the wellbeing of the post-millennial generation, whom she believes will be the most sexualised people to walk the planet.
“They see themselves in a way that empowerment, being powerful, being popular, means you have to make yourself sexual. [Because of cultural pressures], girls are making themselves sex objects, and are willing to give sex, be sexy, dress sexual,” she said.
“If you are running a dance studio, you have a great responsibility because the music you play and what you are teaching, everything you say is working into their brain.”
Dr Weerakoon urges parents to speak up: “Parents must be parents; parents must say no, parents must say: ‘for my child, this is not right’. You have to be proactive… because I guarantee when you stop one avenue of sexualisation others will spring up… But be proactive to do something about protecting kids,” she said.
“And teachers need to do the protecting from their end too.”
Call for tighter regulation
For dance teacher of 18 years and mother of four, Elizabeth Wever, her experiences within the industry demonstrates an urgent need for improved teacher training.
Wever was subjected to strict dieting and exercise regimes from a young teenager, an endeavour of her dance teacher to assist in achieving the ‘correct size’ of a dancer.
“I yoyo dieted and struggled emotionally with weight issues as a result until my twenties…when I quit dancing as a result of being told too many times I was not the right body shape for a dancer.”
Mental and emotional recovery was a long and arduous road.
“I am long past caring about the judgment of others about my body shape…however it breaks my heart to think that other young girls are being subjected to this type of scrutiny,” she said.
Wever and Watson are concerned that dance teachers are not undergoing thorough training or regulation procedures.
“There is not enough regulation in the dance industry,” says Watson.
“If we can regulate the fitness industry… if we can regulate after-school care… you can’t even work in vacation care unless you have a certificate. But you can go out and open a dance school and teach dancing to all with no qualifications.”
“How many dance schools out there have a Working with Children check? Do parents even look at that?” asks Watson.
A number of tertiary institutions across Australia offer Dance Education certificates and degrees, a compulsory qualification for those seeking employment in the public school sector. However this is not mandatory for studio ownership. There are no required certificates or standardised procedures.
The national peak body for Australian dance information is Ausdance. Despite the range of online resources available to encourage the aspiring teacher, on the Question and Answer page of their website, it states:
“Q: Do dance studio teachers have to obtain a dance teaching qualification?
Mental Health in the Studio
In May 2014, The Frontiers in Psychology Journal published that anxiety and depression accounted for the highest disease amongst Australian children today. Aside from external stresses of divorce, grief, and life transitions, experts rank internal factors such as irrational belief systems and pessimistic tendencies as high risk factors for mental health issues.
So do dance teachers hold any responsibility for engaging with mental health matters, and the internal consequences of teaching practices?
“Of course,” says Jane Cuneen, Principal of Caringbah North Public School, a large primary school in Southern Sydney. Cuneen is also the mother of an aspiring young dancer.
“All adults who have the privilege of teaching young minds have the responsibility to develop the child socially, emotionally and spiritually as well as physically, regardless of their specialty.”
Cuneen is saddened by comments of dance teachers regarding bodily expectations and the need to be ‘sexy’.
“Is it that these teachers don’t have the training that says comments like these are detrimental and have long lasting emotional and psychological effects on our girls?”
“Most parents don’t even know that these comments are being directed at their daughters. Because most dance classes are closed doors, we don’t know how our kids are being treated.”
“When those core beliefs have been set up, those things that your parents said was ok and that your dance school said was ok…. well to challenge them is a very hard thing. What happens when those core beliefs let you down?”
“In 10 years time we’ll be picking up pieces of these girls that are damaged.
“But it can be avoided.”
#tilttuesday: are girls at risk of being preyed on?
There are 172,311 posts currently under the #tilttuesday hashtag feed. Then there are 3,434 under #tilttuesdays for those who prefer plurality and 324 for #tilttuesdayy for those rejecting mainstream spelling. The list continues of the variations of categories young dancers enter in Instagram when posting their ’tilt’ photographs (on Tuesday).
A’tilt’ is when a dancer extends their leg up to 180 degrees away, and tilts their torso slightly to one side, or ‘off-centre’, so the leg reaches maximum height and split. It can be elegant when executed correctly, an impressive display of flexibility and strength. However should the dancer not yet possess the level of strength to execute the ’tilt’, they grab hold of their ankle with both hands and push the pelvis forward in order to take the stress off the hamstrings.
This can produce a distorted display of exposed body parts, as girls as young as eight capture, caption, hashtag and post for the worldwide, weekly phenomenon of #tilttuesday. This has become the most popular online fad for young dancers who seek the connection and approval of fellow artists around the globe.
Conversations overhead as a studio director suggest division among dance teachers over the craze, many encouraging their students to participate and even do so themselves. It’s ok; they’re stretching and having fun, they’re not intentionally posting in an overtly sexual way. I disagree.
Open your Instagram application. Click ‘explore’, type in ’tilttuesday’ and start your own search. Among the thousands of young girls, many in sports bra and booty short attire in dance studios, on front lawns or in bedrooms, you may stumble across the image that caught my eye in particular: a girl of around age 16, striking the position in white translucent boyleg underwear; the shadows of her pubic hair and the physical outlines of genitalia clearly visible.
Continue scrolling; aside from the “You’re not doing it properly”, “Your tilt is normally better than this” and comments targeting thigh wobbles, belly rolls, breasts, lack of visible abdominal lines and attacks on dancers’ bodies and skill, you will see comments like this:
“Love to f**k you in that position.” This Instagram handle has posted zero photos and maintains a steady stream of two followers; we can only assume his online activity is simply to peruse and predate.
“Do you ever dance naked?” This user is a Chelsea Football Club fanatic who regularly posts photos of beautiful young girls.
“Are those stripper bruises on your thighs?”
“Close your legs, it stink.”
“I’m single, that’s all I got to say.”
“Wats poppin tonite??”
“DM me.” Or ‘private message me’; repeatedly from the same user on multiple photos on the #tilttuesday feed.
This is, in my view, a pedophile’s playground.
Dancers innocently upload images, eyes are drawn to their private areas and men unashamedly publicise their approval. They express their desire to sexually act on the posed dancer, a minor, a child. They are open about their enjoyment of the image.
Comments are not deleted nor images removed. Instagram provides no zero privacy settings.
No blame is to be cast on these dancers. A 10-year-old girl has not yet mastered the ability to assess the consequences of an image. She is simply playing copycat with her peers, her dance teachers, and succumbing to the pressure of what needs to be performed in order to gain the acceptance that Instagram ‘likes’ provide.
There are 172,311 #tilttuesday images worldwide subject to the scrutiny of perusing eyes. If you check back next Tuesday and see for yourself, that figure will no doubt have risen. It is not until she is well into adulthood after potentially wrestling with body image, mental health issues and more, that she may look back and regret the online broadcasting and exposure of her fragile, precious little body in such a way. She may one day ask her teachers, parents and guides, ‘why didn’t you say something?’
Jemma Nicoll is a UTS Journalism graduate and freelance writer. She directs Inspire Creative Arts, a dance school in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire and is involved in mentoring and self-esteem development programs for girls.
Juan Salmeron and I talk discuss objectification of women in the music industry – and other places
Being interviewed by the death metal music magazine Metal Blast was a first.
I’m not exactly known for my taste in black metal The closest I got to ‘heavy’ was Suzi Quatro singing Devil Gate Drive in the 70s. Though I do confess to being persuaded by two mates to turn up at a cacophonous metal gig at a music festival in Queensland a couple of years back – fortunately I still have one functioning ear. And ‘black metal tyrants’ 1349’s ‘Massive Cauldron of Chaos’ album title describes how my life feels on too many days. But anyway, German-based Metal Blast editor Juan Salmeron, sought me out. He is, interestingly, both an attorney-at-law and a metal head, according to his bio:
Considered by his mother as the brightest and prettiest boy, J’s interest in metal started in his early teens, listening to bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica (coupled with an embarrassing period in which Marilyn Manson “totally represents me, man”) eventually moving into the realm of power, industrial and death metal. When he’s not working at Metal Blast he can be found practicing Krav Maga, working as an attorney and coming up with excuses as to why he has to miss work after going to a concert. He also dabbles as a concert photographer, you can see his sub-par work on his instagram.
Juan just emailed me to say: “The response has been great; I’ve received e-mails, and even some girls contacted me and told me about their own cases of sexual abuse. It’s something that needs to be addressed”. So that’s good to know.
More comedy gold from the ASB: except we’re not laughing
It’s no secret that the advertising industry’s preferred model of regulation, self-regulation, has failed. Despite various government inquiries exploring the many flaws in the current system, as well as condemnation from child health professionals and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) the advertising industry has been given free reign to regulate themselves to the detriment of the community, in particular, children.
In 2012, AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton called for a new government inquiry into the sexualisation of children in advertising to protect the health and development of children. He said,
“These are highly sexualised ads that target children, and the advertising industry is getting away with it.
“There is strong evidence that premature sexualisation is likely to be detrimental to child health and development, particularly in the areas of body image and sexual health.
“The current self regulatory approach through the Advertising Standards Bureau is failing to protect children from sexualised advertising.”
We encourage supporters to utilise the complaints process when they come across hyper-sexualised advertising they suspect could be in breach of advertising codes. Many feel understandably frustrated as the ASB continues to dismiss valid complaints while simultaneously claiming that self-regulation is working well and this is evidenced by the fact they rarely uphold complaints! We’ve highlighted some of our previous complaints below to illustrate the great lengths the ASB goes to in order to excuse sexualising and adult sexual content in advertising.
Love and Rockets, Billboard
The photo of this billboard was taken from a Brisbane boy’s school. The ASB noted that it is not illegal for the sex industry to advertise outside schools and ruled that this billboard advertising a strip club to children treated sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience (school children) as it did “not show include explicit nudity”.
Schick for Men, Social Media video
In response to Schick’s commercial featuring a woman stripping off her clothes to sell men’s razors, the ASB said,”The Board noted that although the woman does remove her clothing…her breasts are covered by text on the screen. It was not sexualised.”
Supre Jeggings, TV commercial
The clothing store popular with teens and pre-teens released this ad to promote their new range of Jeggings. The ASB responded, “The woman was not posed in a sexualised manner.”
Lee Jeans, Billboard
It may come as no surprise that this image is part of a larger collection of photos by photographer and accused rapist Terry Richardson, with a reputation for porn-themed photo shoots and for sexually exploiting young models. The ASB said,
“There is no nudity [and] the woman’s pose was not inappropriately sexual.”
“Consumption of this style of lollipop is now common amongst people over 18.”
River ‘Get Excited’, Catalogue
An image of a woman who appeared to be nude aside from thigh high stockings, with her legs apart and her arms covering her private parts was “not overtly sexualised”, said the ASB.
The Firm Gentleman’s Club, Poster
We couldn’t locate a photo of the original poster, however it is the same (life-size) image as shown here on their website.
This life size poster was located on a busy Adelaide street. The ASB ruled this outdoor advertising was not in breach of industry codes and standards because “the image is relevant to the advertised product”. The product was women, for men’s sexual use.
Target Fifty Shades Lingerie, Billboard
The ASB said the billboard of a faceless woman reclining in lingerie complete with suspenders “[did] not present strongly sexualised imagery and is not inappropriate for viewing by a broad audience including children.”
Xotica Strip Club, Billboard
A supporter shared her frustration on encountering this large billboard while taking her children aged four through seven out for lunch. The ASB dismissed complaints about the billboard because the ad “[did] not show any private parts of the woman.” They went on to say:
“In the context of an advertisement for an adult venue the images of the women are not exploitative and degrading.”
“The building which is located in an area which contains a high proportion of adult venues…based on the location of the building, the audience likely to be frequenting the area are generally customers of the venues.”
UltraTune, TV Commercial
UltraTune used two dominatrix women brandishing whips and feigning arousal at the sight of tyres and car accessories for the enjoyment of a male staff member to promote their car service centres and accessories. The ASB dismissed complaints, ruling the dominatrix women were “relevant to the product” being advertised.
“Fresh One” coffee
Perth coffee brand “Fresh One” unleashed a series of porn inspired advertisements on its Facebook page earlier this year. The board upheld complaints against some of the ads, but dismissed complaints against others.
The Ad Standards Board dismissed complaints against this ad featuring a woman pouring milk over her chest.
“The Board noted that the woman is voluntarily pouring the milk over herself.”
“…the image is not exploitative or degrading, with references to ‘bathing in milk’ often associated with luxury (Cleopatra for example) rather than any demeaning activity.”
And this just in!
ASB dismisses complaints against General Pants Pornified “Wet Dreams” ad campaign. Read more here.
This is what industry self-regulation looks like.
The argument that adult, sex industry advertising can be justified in public spaces raises several questions. Do children and young people no longer have a right to be in a public space? Is it permissible for billboards to include sexually explicit content if they are promoting the purchase of women for sex? Do the rights of the sex industry to market itself to the masses take precedence over children’s rights to healthy development?
The Advertising Standards Bureau is a joke. As best-selling author and psychologist Steve Biddulph said, “The UK has an advertising watchdog that actually takes action. Australia has a watch tortoise that might have died.”
It takes a village to raise a child. We often hear from parents who feel overwhelmed and powerless to raise healthy children when the wider culture is undermining their attempts at every turn. Parents need the government and regulatory bodies to do their part in providing a safe environment for children.
Objectification of women should be recognised as discriminatory practice
The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, Review of the National Classification Scheme: achieving the right balance (June 2011) recommended that “community concerns about the sexualisation of society, and the objectification of women” be taken into account as a key principle in every classification decision (Recommendation 2). This reflects the core message of Collective Shout that women must never be depicted as mere objects for the sexual satisfaction of men.
We were particularly supportive of recommendations 4 and 8, which related to issues of objectification of women as forms of discriminatory practice. It is remarkable that in the ASB’s view, as cited in the report, objectification of women was not seen as contrary to the prohibitions on discrimination and vilification.
Clearly the self-regulatory system has been found lacking!
Industry has been warned, has had its chance to voluntarily self-regulate, and has conspicuously failed to act at the level required. The evidence of the past years of minimal response by industry shows that the market culture around this issue will not shift without stronger government initiative.
Woman’s Health Magazine editor Felicity Harley had said in response to the furore: “It is disappointing that this has become the focus rather than the phenomenal sporting talents of our Australian female athletes.”
And why do you think that was Felicity? It’s you and Women’s Health who caused this to be the case by sending spectacularly conflicting messages about what you valued in women. If it’s ‘phenomenal sporting talent’ you’re interested in, why pay four topless women to turn up? Were we supposed to overlook these almost-naked painted models parading at a signature event supposedly celebrating the sporting achievements of female athletes?
Since then, as the social media condemnation grew and Danielle Warby, a board director of the Australian Women Sport and Recreation Association, ramped things up with this piece, Women’s Health was forced into an apology.
The fact that at least one man admitted on Women’s Health Facebook page to getting off on the images shows how wrong they got it.
Initial reports left out the image of the model representing Cathy Freeman, painted in her designer one-piece Olympic running suit and she was not referred to. Perhaps this was to protect her dignity, I’m not sure. However, this insult to Freeman must be named. Of the four, her replica is the most recognisable.
I have some questions for Women’s Health. Where did you find the models? Who was the agency? Did Women’s Health make deliberate specifications regarding women’s breast size, for example? Who was hired to painted their bodies (including the logos just above one of the model’s nipples)? Who were the models hired to entertain exactly?
It’s one thing when men do this to women (most of the time). But when women facilitate the objectification of women and do so under a banner of celebrating sporting achievement, it’s even more depressing. Have sexualised representations of women, including women who have achieved greatly, become so normal and mainstream that even women editors of a popular women’s health magazine didn’t see a problem?
The Women’s Health Australia “I support women in sport awards” was held this week to recognise the achievements of Australia’s female athletes.
Women’s Health editor Felicity Harley said the night was “all about giving recognition and telling the stories of Australian sportswomen, who don’t get enough coverage for their efforts and talents.”
A worthy goal indeed. Harley is right – sportswomen don’t get enough coverage for their talents and efforts. The sexual objectification of female athletes is a long-standing problem in our culture which continues to have a negative impact on the health and well-being of women and girls and limits their participation in sport.
This makes the decision to hire topless women for the event – wearing only underpants and body paint -even more bizarre.
Female athletes and advocates for women in sport were quick to call out Women’s Health Magazine for reinforcing the sexual objectification of women in sport:
Danielle Warby, a board director of the Australian Womensport and Recreation Association asked Women’s Health editor Felicity Harley for an explanation. Harley responded by dodging responsibility and blaming the media.
Harley also hasn’t explained why Women’s Health Australia hired naked models.
Speaking to the SMH, Warby said “The sexualisation of women in sport is a massive issue,”…”These women are not athletes, they are naked and I don’t know why they are there.”
Here’s why this is important:
Sexual objectification undermines women and girls equal participation in sport.
Focusing on an athlete’s physical attributes in an overtly sexual manner can create anxiety and embarrassment for the individual. This may be compounded by a heightened body awareness already present in many female athletes. If the athlete does not feel she ‘measures up’ to an external judgment of her physique, her self-esteem may suffer.
A potential consequence of lowered self-esteem is compromised athletic performance. The athlete becomes distracted both on and off the arena of sport, and may be tempted into unhealthy eating habits. In younger athletes, where self-confidence may be less secure, the increased focus on the body because of sexploitation can lead to a poor body image. There is a wealth of research linking poor body image with increased risk of eating disorders or disordered eating behaviours.
(source: Jan Borrie, Shaping up to the image makers, Panorama, The Canberra Times, 27 May 2000)
A Magazine titled “Women’s Health” should know better than to pull a stunt like this. Our elite female athletes – and the young aspiring athletes looking to follow their example – deserve better.
Take Action! Make your voice heard – Tweet, Facebook or email
Tweet Womens Health Magazine @womenshealthaus
Tweet Australian Government is included amoung the sponsors of the event. Contact the Minister for Health and Sport Peter Dutton. @PeterDutton_MP
‘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
Another day, another article arguing that criticism of sexualization and objectification is proof that men are afraid of women’s expressed sexuality and that women are jealous.
What an innovative, groundbreaking notion.
A recent article at Huffington Post defends a twerking video model, Amber Rose, posted on YouTube for her husband Wiz Khalifa’s birthday and Beyoncé’s pole-dancing at the VMAs, on the basis of “agency.”
The author writes, of Beyoncé’s “sometimes provocative dancing”:
‘”What is she teaching her daughter?” some asked, pearls tightly clutched. I would answer, “Agency. Independence. Talent.” But others, it would seem, say watching her mother dance and sing in front of millions — while making millions — is teaching Blue not to respect and value her body. Even when married and a mother — the supposed safeguards against being called a whore — Beyoncé’s “goodness” and motherhood are called into question.”’
According to liberal feminist gospel, twerking conveys “agency,” as does pole-dancing on stage in front of your two year old. “Agency,” being that elusive concept that only those with a four-year arts degree seem to understand. The rest of us, informed by empirical evidence, are slightly concerned about statistics showing that younger and younger girls are increasingly dealing with eating disorders and anxiety, and are being pressured and coerced into performing sex acts and pornified versions of sexuality.
Forget the kill-joy rubbish statistics, this is about AGENCY. And PEARLS. What do pearls have to do with agency? Let me break it down for you:
The liberal feminist representation of “agency” proposes that anytime a woman performs using what we see as “sexuality,” she displays independence, power and agency. If you don’t agree, it’s because you are: (1) a fear-ridden, sex-deprived male, (2) a pearl clutching, sex-deprived conservative, or (3) a jealous woman (possibly sex-deprived).
Negative sex-stereotypes abound. The author claims to want to end negative sex-stereotypes and virgin-whore dichotomies (which feminists have been arguing against for decades), but does the opposite.
The idea is that this dichotomy is smashed because Amber Rose and Beyoncé are wives and mothers but also twerk.
The author asks the reader:
“Are you angry because she’s doing what should never be done [twerking and also being a mother], or are you angry because she’s doing what we should all be allowed to do but feel we cannot?”
I would hazard a guess that many women are somewhat tired of the “post baby body,” “yummy mummy,” “MILF” and “cougar” obsessed world. Even in motherhood, women cannot catch a break from the unrelenting obsession with “sexy” — objectifying mothers is now having drastic impacts on women’s health.
The author then asks:
“…are you angry because [Amber Rose] is standing with one foot firmly in the mother-wife camp, and the other in the camp that is half-naked and booty-shaking?”
Is this a trick question? I thought we were denouncing the virgin-whore dichotomy, but by the end of the article, these stereotypes seem to be more intact than ever.
These kinds of stereotypes — “virgins,” “prudes,” “MILFs,” “pearl clutchers,” “hos” — have no place in an equal society. Such slurs are designed to control and silence women and they are no more or less acceptable whether they are hurled by misogynists on YouTube or from self-described feminists.
Indeed, Beyoncé has made history as an amazing entertainer while simultaneously bringing feminism into the limelight — it is a momentous achievement. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look critically at what she represents and the messages she conveys.
How many tertiary-educated feminists does it take to see that celebrity culture produces (and is a product of) harmful cultural norms including sexism and racism? Norms that deserve to be interrogated rather than uncritically promoted by feminists?
Many liberal feminists seem to get stuck in the mindset that there are only two ways to talk about sexuality: (1) the conservative, “repressed” way: never have sex, or (2) the liberal/”liberated” way: everything “sex” is good, no matter what.
… There’s that dichotomy again…
In reality, there are a million ways to own one’s sexuality that doesn’t require pole-dancing in front of millions of people. Pole-dancing, at the end of the day, really has nothing to do with female sexuality, and everything to do with strip club culture — i.e. male culture, i.e. performing sexualization for the male gaze. It does not, in any way, threaten the status quo.
The recent pole-dancing trend in music videos, exercise classes and stagettes not only celebrates the sexist status quo, but it glamorises sexual exploitation. Research conducted by an ex-stripper showed over half of the dancers had experienced digital rape on the job as well as other forms of verbal and physical assault. More recent research shows that dancers are expected to maintain conventional beauty ideals, often resorting to dangerous surgeries and extreme weight loss measures in order to do so. I guess these women didn’t get the memo about fun feminist agency.
Women have the right to be critical of this increasingly pornographic culture. Parents have the right to rage against the pressure on girls to sexualize themselves for the male gaze. Women who are critical of these messages are not necessarily “anti-sex” or prudes – the reality is more complex than what that binary offers.
There are people who like sex but who are also critical of sexual exploitation. Indeed, as it turns out, some people can envisage a sexuality that doesn’t require market-driven, male-centric, or porn-fueled performance.
Take Lydia Cacho, a Mexican journalist who went undercover to examine how the sex trade was recruiting younger and younger children to fuel the demand for more extreme porn. Cacho felt it necessary to state, “I love sex and eroticism,” during a recent talk she gave in Sydney – probably out of fear that liberal feminists would dredge up the “pearl clutching” line dare she breathe a critical word on porn or “sex.” Cacho showed how the broader culture was leading to younger children being taken advantage of and exploited, whether it be by pimps in Mexico or the kids who accidentally stumble across child-rape porn, due to porn sites linking kid-friendly search terms to their images.
Cacho is an example of a person who enjoys sex, yet is critical of a culture that uses a one-dimensional view of “sex” to sell anything and everything (increasingly to younger and younger boys and girls). The dichotomy that positions sex as something we are either “for” or “against” is unnecessary.
Despite oft-repeated concerns about sexual repression and pearl clutching, sex is no longer hidden or repressed by Puritanism. In fact this has rarely been the case since the “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s. In today’s world, “sex” has become a ubiquitous cultural narrative. It is the narrative that tells us women’s breasts should be used for porny ads, but not for breastfeeding. It’s online, on TV, in the newspaper, and in your face 24/7 — used to sell everything from porn, to mini pole-dancing kits for kids, to peaches (yes, that’s actually a thing).
While many liberal feminists are critical of exploitative capitalism, they remain uncritical of the capitalist exploitation of sex and sexuality. How can you be anti-capitalism but pro-commodification of sex? According to liberal feminist gospel, workers all around the world lack agency, except for objectified and sexualised girls and women. Even young girls in the sex trade, I have been told, are just “underage workers” with agency. For a movement that claims to be against rape-culture and the patriarchal status quo, this hypocrisy is astounding.
Liberal feminism promotes a market-driven, one-dimensional view of male-centric sex. Rather than promoting diversity or dissidence in women’s sexuality, it decorates the patriarchal status quo with the label “agency.”
Though it might be tempting, assigning “agency” to anything and everything only serves to eschew a more critical analysis of the structural realities of oppression. Tacking the idea of “equality” onto a system that is founded upon structural inequality does nothing but solidify and disguise the inequality. The idea that women must “feel empowered” in disempowering situations is nothing but victim-blaming with a new name.
Patriarchy demands increasing access to women’s bodies, at increasingly younger ages. The sexual revolution prepared men for a world where women say yes to sex, but it did not prepare them for women’s right to say no. Reframing this male entitlement and demand as agency is just a PR campaign for patriarchy.
It’s not as simple as agentic vs. non-agentic. Expecting women to “feel agency” in situations of structural oppression does nothing but pacify true resistance. Liberal feminists are doing women the ultimate disservice by conjuring up stereotypes of pearl-clutchers vs. pole-dancers. Pressuring women to toe the line lest they be labeled jealous pearl-clutchers is the work of misogynists, not feminists.
Laura McNally is a psychologist, consultant, author and PhD candidate. Her current work draws upon critical theory to examine the limitations of corporate social responsibility and liberal feminism. She blogs at lauramcnally.com.
I did not slut shame JLo and Iggy Azalea: Brody Dalle
Everyone was telling me I should watch JLo and Iggy Azalea’s ‘Booty’ music clip. I’d just come back from disappearing myself at a beautiful coastal haven. It wasn’t really the first thing I wanted to do. But, because I’m expected to have something to say on such things (and am about to give a related paper on porn culture at a women’s conference this weekend), I made myself. Really, can it get much worse? Faux lesbian masturbatory material for men who don’t need to bother turning the sound on. And why would anyone want to turn the sound on anyway? It’s a crap song. I mean really crap. It has not one redeeming quality – ‘What you got a big booty’, ‘Baby your booty is a movie star’, ‘Mesmerized by the size of it’, ’It’s his birthday, give him what he ask for’. And so it goes, a moronic cacophony of manufactured, unimaginative, uncreative, commercialised pornified stupidity.
I like what Brody Dalle had to say about it.
“Slut shaming? Body shaming? Girl hating? Please don’t assign incorrect motives to my tweets. It is you who is implying they are ‘sluts’, not me…
“How are the lyrics ‘give him what he asks for’ empowering to women? How? How is spreading your bottom apart and singing ‘give him what he asks for’ empowering at all?”
Have you seen the recent bus “gang rape-inspired” photo shoot in India? Or Vogue Italia’s video showing a woman killed by an intruder in her house? Or the Bulgarian makeup ad showing bruised women with the tagline “Victim of Beauty”?
There appears to be a theme of fashion advertising increasingly using images of women being killed or tortured or violated in some way, usually by men.
What’s this all about?
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