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
Last year Western Australian Tavern The Sixty30 made an application to vary existing trading conditions to allow topless waitresses. Along with other members of the community and the Commissioner of Police, we lodged an objection on the basis that:
The use of women’s bodies in sexual entertainment and services is a form of prostitution
Sexual trade in women’s bodies both causes and contributes to gender inequality by reducing women to mere objects for men’s use and enjoyment, with adverse impacts on women who are directly involved as well as women as a whole
A significant body of research links sexual objectification of women with violence against women
Sexploitation venues pose a threat to women, with women reporting increased incidents of sexual harassment, abuse and violence in areas in close proximity to strip clubs
After months of deliberating, we are pleased to report that the taverns’ application was denied, after Liquor Licensing found there was insufficient evidence it would be in the public interest. Read the report here.
It is also important to distinguish between the public interest and private interests… the application is primarily concerned with the private financial interests of the Applicant and the operators of Perths Best Girls. Accordingly, I reiterate that the onus remains on the Applicant to demonstrate that the grant of the application is in the public interest, and this onus cannot be discharged by simply pointing to a desire to provide additional services at the licensed premises.
The Applicant has failed to produce sufficient, probative evidence to satisfy me that the grant of the application is in the public interest.
The tavern had attempted to argue there was demand for topless waitresses (with statements of support, the Commissioner noted, predominantly from male respondents). The Commission responded:
The evidence fell well short of establishing that the variation of the licence was in the public interest. Whilst “Dan the Man”, “Show me pussy”, “Robbo”, “Marshy”, “Bob”, “Jacko”, “Swanny”, “Fido”, and others may want to see strippers at the hotel based on their signing of the questionnaire, there is nothing before the Commission that is capable of establishing that the variation of the licence is in the public interest.
As always, we are grateful for your support and participation throughout the course of this campaign. Without it, we would not have achieved this victory.
It’s time pornography was included in discussion of factors contributing to violence against women
I’ve just a released a new DVD!
It’s based on an address I gave to civic leaders, community groups, educators and those at the frontline of addressing domestic violence, in Queensland late last year. I think it’s safe to say it is the first DVD of its kind, unpacking the research on the relationship between pornography and violence as well as drawing from personal experiences shared with me. The back cover reads:
There is renewed debate on the national scourge of violence against women. This debate is to be welcomed. However the role of pornography as a driver of violence has not been properly considered.
In this new 35-minute video, author of Big Porn Inc Melinda Tankard Reist explores the latest research on how porn influences men and boys and eroticises and legitimises violence. She shares young women’s experiences of sexual assault, physical and mental injury, unwanted sexual advances and demands for sexual ’selfies’.
Melinda’s message will help inform you and equip you to join the growing movement against porn and advocate for relationships built on respect.
With Di Macleod after I addressed a conference on pornography and violence against women on the Gold Coast last year.
I am grateful for the support of frontline workers such as Di Macleod, Director, Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence, who wrote this endorsement:
In the past few years we have had a huge increase in intimate partner rape of women from 14 to 80+. The biggest common denominator reported by the victims is consumption of porn by the offender. We have seen a rise in deprivation of liberty, physical injuries, torture, drugging, filming and sharing footage without consent. Melinda Tankard Reist is at the forefront of helping frontline services like ours educate the public on the link between pornography and violence – and the urgent action needed to address it.
I really hope this new DVD will help expand the debate on violence against women to incorporate the role of pornography.
That’s the motto of the just released film Fifty Shades Darker, the second in the trilogy of films adapted from E.L. James’s Fifty Shades pulp fiction series.
James’s books have become a global sensation, drawing in everything from hardware stores selling rope to retail fashion outlets selling themed lingerie to pre-schools hosting screenings for fundraisers.
But if, as the promotion claims, this second instalment is the “dark side” of the “fairy tale” does this mean that every little girl secretly desires to be whipped, choked, harassed, stalked, manipulated and made to suffer physical and emotional injury at the hands of her prince?
After all, Anastasia is subject to this and more in the first instalment, which I saw – along with a cinema full of schoolgirls in uniform.
And herein lies the problem.
Abuse is served up to young women as romance: the first film was released on Valentine’s Day two years ago; the second in the lead up. Why say it with roses when you can say it with whips? In Fifty Shades of Grey Christian tells Anastasia that if she were his she wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week (because of the damage he would do).
This is a fairy tale in which the female lead is beaten with a belt and covered in bruises as tears stream down her face. Soothed only by his strong jaw, his baby grand, sports car and helicopter.
The film’s trailers pose the question: “Can love survive?” – meaning, of course, that Fifty Shades of Grey was about just that. Because nothings says true love like being controlled and stalked.
Fifty Shades is part of a wider culture in which women are taught their greatest power comes from being an object of male desire. We see a powerful man, corporate power player Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) prey on a naive university student, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) whose virginity is a problem to be rectified. He proceeds to groom her for his sadistic pleasure. Sexual violence and emotional abuse – including threats, stalking and isolation – are represented as sexy and romantic.
What is in reality intimate partner violence becomes something women secretly desire – which puts all women at risk.
The first film depicted sexual violence – forced sex acts, contact against Anastasia’s will (stalking) and the use of alcohol to compromise consent. Anastasia Steele signs a contract in which she agrees to be submissive and meet Christian Grey’s every wish – and not just for the sex acts he wants. His specifications include what she can eat, how much she can drink and how she behaves at all times.
When unequal power relations and female submission are presented, not only as somehow romantic and desirable but as actually liberating and empowering, you know you’ve got a serious problem.
“Our systematic analysis of Fifty Shades of Grey, the first novel in the trilogy, reveals pervasive emotional and sexual violence in Christian and Anastasia’s relationship. Our analysis also shows Anastasia suffers significant harm as a result – including constant perceived threat, managing/altering her behaviors to keep peace in the relationship, lost identity and disempowerment and entrapment as her behaviors become mechanized in response to Christian’s abuse.
“Christian uses an interlocking pattern of emotional abuse strategies – stalking, intimidation, isolation, and humiliation – to manipulate and control every aspect of Anastasia’s behavior. These strategies are consistent with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definitions of intimate partner violence.”
This is borne out by something that Teagan, a survivor of abuse, shared with me: “As someone who has recently gotten out of a abusive bdsm relationship I know what it’s like and this movie represents abuse. Currently reading the books now and actually reading what Anastasia feels really hits deep for me and I understand it all.” Sounds more like a nightmare than a fairy tale.
I think there are a few reasons for this romanticisation of intimate partner violence, each interconnected. The global sex industry is very good at getting its tentacles into everything. It knows how to embed and normalize porn-themed practices and ideas. Thus we have Target selling Fifty Shades of Grey themed lingerie and hardware stores selling Fifty Shades packs including rope, duct tape and other BDSM paraphernalia.
The broader culture effectively grooms women and girls for pornography consumption. Women imbibe a message that adopting pornified roles and behaviours is how they will attract men, keep men interested, stop them “wandering.”
In porn culture, women are sexual objects for male sexual gratification and pleasure. They are always available and willing, and they never say no. They enjoy painful and degrading sex acts done to them. Women are told they should want to be brutalized, to enjoy and welcome male sexual aggression We are encouraged to embrace it and find power in being dominated and brutalized by men. Fifty Shades highlights just how effective pornography has been in infiltrating the mainstream, with women now readily accepting their sexually subordinate position.
Women are supposed to enjoy porn, including violent BDSM inspired sex. The most popular genres of pornography feature violence against women – with women depicted as deriving pleasure from it. A young woman I know asked her new (now ex) husband, “How can I make it more like porn for you?” because he wasn’t interested in a normal (that is, non-pornified) woman. We are offered a commercialized version of sexuality. The latest manifestation of this is of an especially violent variety because everything else has been “done before.” Violence is the new black.
One repercussion is that women start to think there is something wrong with them if they don’t like this stuff. And teen girls think this is what “romance” looks like. So many young women describe coercion and pressure to accept sex acts they neither desire or enjoy. This film just adds to that pressure. I’ve had year 7 girls at an Anglican school ask me questions about BDSM. They want to know if a boy wants to whip them, choke them and tie them up does this mean he must really like them? Stalking comes to be seen as a sign of affection. I’ve read messages from boys on Facebook threads about the film saying how great it is because now they can get girls to do what they’ve always wanted them to do.
How will our young people understand what true intimacy and authentic human connection looks like when porn-based messages about sex dominate their formative environments?
“Girls around the world are born into a pornified culture where consent is rendered irrelevant. In real life, men use the same tactics as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades trilogy to gain and maintain power and control over the women in their lives. This includes isolation, threats, physical and sexual assault. This is not entertainment. This is not sexy. This results in serious harm to women and in the worst case scenario, murder.”
We don’t have to see it. But any depiction of violence as romantic harms us all. As we say in our 50 Myths post: “Fifty Shades is a massively popular cultural phenomenon, perpetuating and reinforcing harmful attitudes about violence against women. Women cannot simply opt out of a culture that exploits or harms them.”
This is about raising awareness of the film and domestic violence. We want people to recognize that Fifty Shades glorifies abuse of women, and to ask themselves whether that is something they really want to support financially.
We are calling for potential cinema goers to put their money toward financially supporting some of the frontline services for women that are so desperate for funding instead. My friends who work in the women’s refuge sector tell me that their refugees are full of the victims of the Christian Grey’s of this world.
To get behind this campaign, you can participate on social media by using the #50dollarsnot50shades and #FiftyShadesIsAbuse hashtags; or for more information, visit the Collective Shout website.
The objectification of women is so unremarkable in advertising and popular culture that it’s sometimes hard to envisage what an alternative might look like. Is it possible to advertise lingerie or swimwear without objectifying women, we are asked? Is objectification in the amount of flesh revealed, or is it more than that? Where is the line between women being merely attractive and objectified?
First, let’s define what objectification is. Dr Caroline Heldman has a great test to identify sexual objectification- what she calls the CHIPS test.
1) Commodity: Does the image show a sexualised person as a commodity, for example, as something that can be bought and sold?
2) Harmed: Does the image show a sexualised person being harmed, for example, being violated or unable to give consent?
3) Interchangeable: Does the image show a sexualised person as interchangeable, for example, a collection of similar bodies?
4) Parts: Does the image show a sexualised person as body parts, for example, a human reduced to breasts or buttocks?
5) Stand-In: Does the image present a sexualised person as a stand-in for an object, for example, a human body used as a chair or a table?
Jennifer Moss also wrote about the deliberate construction of women’s poses in advertising, assigning them into categories:
She’s looking over her shoulder or her facial expression is frightened. She has her hands up in protective or shielding position. She’s pulling away from a man. She’s dead. Any image depicting the woman as victim.
B.) POSITIONED FOR SEX/UNDRESSED
She is set up for sex: lying supine or close to it. Her legs are spread. She’s on a bed. She’s in a state of undress in which she wouldn’t (realistically) be allowed in public. Something is in her mouth.
Head angled. Eyes looking away, down. The classic “hunch” pose of the upper torso. Body is not square to the camera. Chin is down. Body language depicting submission, weakness.
D.) OBJECTIFIED/NON-HUMAN/ONE OF MANY
No face or her face is obscured. A group of women all dressed and made up the same. No individuality. A product.
It doesn’t have to be like this- there is another way.
In researching for this blog post, I spent a fair amount of time looking for advertising that did not sexualise or objectify women. Unfortunately, this was a rather fruitless endeavor! I found two examples. One was ad agency, Badger and Winters. (Scroll up to the very top to see their work for lingerie company Naja, and more examples here.)
Badger and Winters
After advertising executive Madonna Badger tragically lost her three daughters and her parents in a fire on Christmas Day in 2012, she made the decision to no longer objectify women in her advertising.
Badger uses the following four criteria to determine if an ad objectifies women:
Prop: Does the woman have a choice or voice in this situation?
Part: Is she reduced to just a sexually provocative body part?
Plastic: Is the image manipulated to the extent that the look is not humanly achievable?
What if: Would you be comfortable to see your sister, best friend or yourself in this image?
You can see Badger and Winters work for lingerie company Naja. This ad campaign shows how it is entirely possible to sell lingerie without objectifying women or replicating porn-inspired scenarios.
Well Made Clothes
The second example is Well Made Clothes- an online marketplace selling clothing from the ‘world’s best’ fashion labels. All stock featured on the website must meet the criteria for one of their values. Their advertising presents women as whole people rather than faceless, objectified and interchangeable.
Handy hints for advertisers
In many ads, women are not portrayed as whole people. They are reduced to a series of sexualized body parts (or even just one), or their identity is based on their sexuality or sexual availability. Objectification occurs when a person is reduced to object status, or becomes a thing, rather than fully human. While this can happen to women or men, this objectification is much more frequently done to women.
Women are often depicted as idle, merely posing to be looked at. There are various examples of advertising for women’s active wear that do just this. Advertisers could have a powerful impact by showing women running, lifting and actually engaging in activity, rather than merely posing- see an example from Cotton On Body:
Audiences are diverse, and as such advertising should not be limited to images of young, thin, white, able-bodied women. Diversity in race, age, body type can send a great positive message that all bodies, all people, are valued.
Context is also important in advertising. While it may be appropriate and relevant for a woman to be depicted in a bikini at the beach, or to sell swimwear, this is a very different context from a woman in a bikini to sell tools, or an unrelated product. In the latter scenario the woman becomes a prop, a merely decorative object.
We’re heartened to see agencies like Badger and Winters committing to a higher standard, and we hope other companies follow suit.
Do you know of any other companies doing the same? Let us know in the comments!
PORN, Sexual Exploitation and why people are trying to silence the voice of survivors.
November 14, 2016 Danielle Strickland
I sat down with this global advocate and asked about her latest project, global prostitution, porn, the sex industry and why they hate her AND her latest book Prostitution Narratives… Melinda Tankard Reist is an author, speaker, media commentator, blogger and advocate for women and girls. She is best known for her work addressing sexualisation, objectification, harms of pornography, sexual exploitation, trafficking and violence against women.
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
“As you read, be prepared to feel both grief and rage.” Robert Jensen
“These accounts are among the most unsettling you will ever read.” Steve Biddulph
“This powerful and humane book is a breakthrough…Big Porn Inc shows us we are poisoning our own spirits.” – Steve Biddulph
“A landmark publication” – Clive Hamilton
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It, Men of Honour, Sexts Texts & Selfies, Raising Girls, Raising Boys, MTR DVD, Ruby Who? DVD & book, Girl Wise guide to friends, Girl Wise guide to being you, Girl Wise guide to life and Girl Wise guide to taking care of your body, and the new Wise Guys for the combined discounted price of $250.
‘The foremost authority in Australia cyber safety lays it on the line and challenges parents to find their digital spine.’ – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
Whether it is problems with friends, worrying about how you look or just feeling a bit down in the dumps – these books are written especially for you – to help you in your journey. Purchase all four together and save $18.50 on postage! Author: Sharon Witt
In this DVD, Melinda takes us on a visual tour of popular culture. “Melinda’s presentation leaves audiences reeling. She delivers her message with a clarity and commonsense without peer.” – Steve Biddulph, author, Raising Boys, Raising Girls
In this easy-to-read updated book, Steve Biddulph shares powerful stories and give practical advice about every aspect of boyhood.
“Overflowing with incisive understandings…a comprehensive and in-depth guide.” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychologist
Men of Honour -written by Glen Gerreyn- encourages and inspires young men to take up the challenge to be honourable. Whether at school, in sport, at work or in relationships, we must develp our character to achieve success and experience the thrills life has on offer.
Purchase the Ruby Who? DVD and book together for only $35 saving 10% off the individual price.
“Getting Real contains a treasure trove of information and should be mandatory reading for all workers with young people in health, education and welfare” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Adolescent Psychologist
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.
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?
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.