A world without rapists would be a world in which women moved freely without fear of men. That some men rape provides a sufficient threat to keep all women in a constant state of intimidation, forever conscious of the knowledge that the biological tool must be held in awe, for it may turn to weapon with sudden swiftness born of harmful intent … Rather than society’s aberrants or ‘spoilers of purity’, men who commit rape have served in effect as front-line masculine shock troops, terrorist guerrillas in the longest battle the world has ever known.
—Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (1975, p. 15)
Living in a rape culture means adjusting to being hyper-vigilant about male violence to the point where risk management becomes second nature. It means living with the continuum of male sexual violence on a daily basis, from creepy and threatening looks and comments in the street, home and workplace, to online rape threats, attempted assault and actual assault. It means inhabiting a paradoxical space where the rape and murder of women is prohibited but everywhere eroticised and the object of laughter.
To take just one example of rape culture, the globally popular American fantasy series Game of Thronesfeatures a blond child bride being continually raped by her warlord husband. “But it’s all ok because a prostitute slave teaches the thirteen-year-old princess super sexy sex skills, and she proceeds to blow the warlord’s mind so throughly [sic] that they fall in love,” notes feminist Laurie Penny (2012)
Many men, when asked a simple question about why male domination exists, reply that it is because men are stronger than women. This answer seems innocuously simple-minded, but the explanatory statement that ‘men have power over women because they are physically stronger than women’ also means ‘men can rape and kill women if they want to’. There is no point replying that it is illegal to rape and kill women. The law does not come into it at all. It is as though the legal prohibitions against male sexual violence are little more than the sales pitch of a corporation eager to hide its criminal intent behind images of satisfied customers.
The majority of victims do not report, and the majority of rapists walk free (Miller et al., 2011; Fayard and Rocheron, 2011; Belknap, 2010). As the title of a 2013 articleby Nigel Morris in The Independent puts it: ‘100,000 assaults. 1,000 rapists sentenced. Shockingly low conviction rates revealed. Latest statistics also show difficulties in persuading victims to report attacks’. Although media attention on particular rapes occasionally stirs up public debate, these rapes are the exception to the norm simply because victims have broken their silence and the criminal justice system has been involved. One cannot but wonder how many people know of, or are friends with, men who have sexually assaulted women and children, and yet do nothing about it.
It has only been since the 1960s and 1970s that most western women have been able to work outside the home without needing permission from their husbands/owners. It is only in the last few decades that marital rape has been recognised in some nations as a human rights violation. In Australiamarital rape was outlawed as late as 1991 (Temkin, 2002). As late as 1993 the United Nations published the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In many countries young girls are still forced to marry their rapists.
Raping women and children continues to be a lethal form of oppression in advanced neo-liberal democracies. Victims of male sexual violence continue to be branded as ‘damaged goods’ and re-abused in the criminal justice system to such an extent that the majority of victims simply give up and opt out of the legal process (Fisher et al., 2000; Fisher et al., 2003). Lawyers are often reluctant to take on rape cases because they know they are difficult to win. Child victims of male sexual violence are subjected to ritualistic humiliation in courts (Taylor, 2004). Child pornography victims are subjected to malicious attacks by bourgeois academics in high-ranking American legal journals (Lollar, 2012).
Young women, who sustain the majority of sexual assaults, not only endure court-licensed abuse, but they are now also bullied online for daring to speak out. Raped girls are urged to kill themselves by pack verbal abuse that is all too often uttered as mocking jokes (Salek, 2013). Victim-blaming has become lethal.
In a novel by feminist academic Yvette Rocheron, Double Crossings (2009), a mother decides to commit suicide after she is brutally raped by a cousin, knowing that, if she lives, the crime will destroy her family and her life. “For her loved ones, a sublime act of love … She would go down knowingly … [T]he vitriolic defacement of women, the misguided abortions, the rapes. She was a thousand years old” (p. 271). There is no humour in this novel as the mother leaps to her death, merely a solemn awareness of the barbarism of a crime against women that leaves the murderous poison of social death in her body.
I have lost count of how many women—friends, students, colleagues, relatives, and acquaintances—have told me they have been raped. All of the rapists have gotten away with it while the women are burdened with years of unspeakable shame and self-hatred, or shunned by their families for daring to speak out about male relatives who raped them. The stories involve horrendous child sexual abuse, rape at knifepoint, abductions in vans, group rapes, women being drugged and raped, rapes by colleagues, partners and ex-partners. A woman who was raped by her grandfather told me recently that it took her 30 years to understand that her body belonged to her. Another woman, a feminist activist and journalist, after going public about being raped at knifepoint, was subjected to online abuse along the lines that she should be ‘raped with a box cutter’. When I read the comment about the box cutter it took a few moments to sink in that the man who had posted the comment was saying that he wanted to butcher her vagina with a knife. Not surprisingly, many women keep quiet about being sexually assaulted. And all of this occurs in a world in which women who speak out about male sexual violence, or any form of male domination, are routinely subjected to online rape threats (Lewis, 2011). Again, the majority of threats never result in prosecution and women are often told to ‘get over it’, ‘toughen up’ or ‘lighten up’ or have sex with a man. ‘She just needs a good fuck’, is how the all too familiar saying goes … Oddly, having sex with men is meant to dispel fear of being raped, as though women who have an accurate assessment of the dangers of rape culture are hysterics who just need sex. The idea that women enjoy being raped still persists (Suarez and Gadalla, 2010); and if women are assumed to enjoy being raped then their protests about being harmed by rape can easily be reduced to a farce.
More about Abigail’s book and how to order can be found here.
Another example of the abuse women receive for speaking out
By Caitlin Roper
Last week, The Australian newspaper reported that Channel Seven’s 7mate would be broadcasting the Lingerie Football. To all those who are unfamiliar with this spectacle, yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. While many accomplished women’s sporting leagues in Australia are both competitive and successful, media coverage is reserved for those women’s leagues where the uniforms consist of lingerie.
Some supporters of the Lingerie Football League, including players and men who didn’t like their access to sweaty, lingerie clad women challenged, referred to my petition on various pages on Facebook. They googled me looking for something they could use against me. I was labeled a “jealous bitch”, obviously fat and ugly, and most likely bitter that my husband was fan of Lingerie Football. I was too ugly to land a partner. I should be sent to “Guantanimo (sic) Bay” (an overreaction I thought, but still) and I probably think “walking to the kitchen for another jam donut counts as exercise” (that last one is true.)
A small sample below:
I considered responding with some facts- that I am happily married, that I work out several times a week and that I am not ugly. Then I recalled this was a classic silencing tactic I had experienced many times before– tearing women down by criticizing their physical appearance.
Women in our hyper-sexualised culture are valued for their physical attractiveness and their ability to please men sexually. Conforming to limited, stereotypical, pornified ideals of beauty and sexuality, we learn, is where our power lies. As Gail Dines writes in Pornland:
“In a porn culture, our power lies, we are told, not in our ability to shape the institutions that determine our life chances, but in having a hot body that men desire and women envy.”
In a porn culture, women can be either “f*ckable” or “invisible”. With this in mind, being regarded as an undesirable woman with nothing to offer could be potentially upsetting.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been subjected to abuse for speaking out against sexism and misogyny.
It is telling that my opponents’ first course of action was to call me fat and ugly, and that these were perceived as the most stinging insults they could unleash. What if I was fat or ugly? What if I am? If my face and body are not sufficiently pleasing to the male gaze should I be rendered voiceless?
I have more to offer than my body and I have more to offer than being pretty, as do all women and girls. Our obsession with being hot is merely a distraction.
Women are more and should be viewed as more. Unfortunately, from my experiences, the day women are recognized for their contributions and not their bodies still seems a long way off.
Lingerie Football: An open response to an open letter
An open letter “To those who oppose the LFL in Australia” was posted on our [Collective Shout] Facebook page yesterday.
Elise – an athlete who has recently joined an LFL team – asked us to read and consider her views on the LFL.
You can read Elise’s open letter here. (Opens PDF)
Thanks so much for writing to share your views on the Lingerie Football League.
Firstly, we do understand that the owner of the League has changed the name and brand to “Legends Football League” and has very slightly modified the bikini/lingerie style uniform he requires players to wear, by removing some lace and a garter and modifying shoulder pads.
The changes are so minor we don’t understand how anyone could take this seriously. The rebrand is nothing more than a cynical attempt at making the League more appealing to potential sponsors who may be put off by supporting a “Lingerie Football League.” (Readers can view the big announcement here.)
Despite a “rebrand”, the essence of the “sport” remains the same – providing titillation for men at the expense of women’s health and safety. Hence, we’re not buying into this “rebrand” and will continue referring to it as the Lingerie Football League.
Lingerie Football – whatever one chooses to call it – is not a sport. It is not recognized by the Australian Sports Commission. They do not support it.
The LFL has drained the bank accounts of former players in the US by not providing adequate compensation for serious injuries. Players understood that their injuries would be covered when they paid the insurance premiums offered by the LFL, but were instead left thousands of dollars in debt. Players who spoke out publicly about these experiences were threatened with legal action. As you’re probably aware, the US does not have the same healthcare system enjoyed by Australians, so adequate health insurance should be the highest priority for the LFL, particularly when safety equipment is the lowest priority.
Sport can indeed be an expensive pursuit and athletes are not always compensated for participation unless they are sponsored.
Now that the Lingerie Football League has a “contract” with Channel 7 and 7 Mate, will players be paid?
It doesn’t look likely. LFL owner Mitch Mortaza stated just this month to US program Inside Edition (watch below) that the league could not afford to pay players. It has been suggested by a US sports commentator that the Leagues foray into Canada and Australia is motivated in part by our health care system. Mortaza will pocket the profits from these events and Australian Medicare will foot the bill for injuries if private health insurance offered to Australian LFL players turns out to be inadequate.
The athletic skill of the women involved in the Lingerie Football League is not in question. There is no “attack” on the players of the LFL. If there is an “attack” it is directed firmly at the owner of the LFL and any corporation complicit in his exploitation of women for profit.
Some players have commented that they are not “skinny” and therefore promote positive body image. The question is asked “would you rather your daughter look like a Victoria’s Secret model or an LFL player?”
Are those really the only options? And why is physical appearance so important?
We would rather our girls not be pressured to look a certain way at all and instead be recognised for their skill and expertise in whatever activities they choose to participate in.The LFL reinforces that physical appearance and conforming to a narrow standard of beauty is what is most important, over and above athletic skill.
If Lingerie Football is about skill, then unfortunately fans didn’t get the memo. The sexist, degrading comments on social media and elsewhere about LFL player’ss bodies and what sort of sexual acts fans would like to perform are absolutely disgusting. (example) The “sport” is marketed in such a way as to invite and allow this behaviour and creates an environment that is hostile and discriminatory to women and girls. This is institutional sexual harassment. No sporting body should promote or allow this behaviour but sexual harassment is built into the business model of the LFL.
Yes, the League exists because it is “marketed well.” There is a huge market demand for pornography, prostitution, stripping and other forms of sexual exploitation. Men have not suddenly decided to embrace women’s sport. Channel 7 and 7Mate has not decided to embrace women’s sport and therefore, the LFL will not encourage other stations to embrace women’s sport. The LFL is not some new cutting edge concept, this is not the “fastest growing sport.” This is not sport at all, this is the same old sexual objectification of women, repackaged and “rebranded.”
To say if “we don’t like it don’t watch simple!” – Yes, that is a very simple statement, but it is a completely ineffective response to sexual objectification in our culture.
I don’t like it, I don’t watch it, but I have to live in a community with people who do. I have to live in a community with people whose sexist attitudes towards women are reinforced by sexploitation events. I have to live in a community with people whose ideas that women are objects of sexual recreation are affirmed by these events.
A culture in which women and girls are seen as sexual objects is one in which relationships between men and women suffer and sexual harassment and violence against women thrives. I and other women and girls are harmed by this toxic culture, even if I have never personally played football in my underwear, participated in a beauty pageant or stripped off my clothes in a nightclub.
Sexual objectification of women and girls harms all women, not just those who say they choose to participate. “Don’t like it, don’t watch it” makes as much sense as saying “don’t like pollution, don’t breathe.”
Elise, we thank you for taking the time to share your views and to provide information about the recent developments in the LFL. These minor changes to the League- if they can be called changes at all – do not change our views on the exploitative nature of the League.
Clearly we disagree on this and will continue challenging the Lingerie Football League’s introduction to Australia. However, we do wish you and your fellow athletes all the very best.
Molly, 16, (at their request, only first names are used) was asleep in the home of a friend after a party a year ago when a boy snuck into the room.
The schoolgirl from regional NSW says she felt powerless. ”I felt threatened. I guess I knew he wasn’t going to take no for an answer, that all he wanted was sex.
”I do think he knew I didn’t want to do it, but he also knew he would be able to force me to anyway, and I do believe he had power over me.”
When others heard about it they called Molly – a virgin until then – an ”attention seeking slut” who was ”asking for it”.
Aurora, 16, was at a party where a drunk boy tried to assault her. If not for her friend’s intervention, she would have been raped.
”A friend had to pull him off me so I could get away. If she hadn’t been there I don’t know what might have happened. I am, petite, 5’6′, he was at least 6’4. He could have easily overpowered me.” She was shaken and distressed for days. Neither girl reported what happened.
This is the reality for so many girls in their sexual experiences. And the pressure isn’t just from strangers.
An idea floats around that girls are sexually freer than ever. That they are exercising ”agency” in their sexual decisions and having great sex lives. That’s not what I’m hearing as I talk to girls all over the country.
For so many girls it appears the boy calls the shots. It’s submission disguised as freedom. Many feel they are not allowed to say ”no”.
And the stories girls used to tell me at 16 and 17, they are now telling me at 13 and 14.
Somehow, despite the women’s movement, despite ”Girl Power” sloganeering, girls have become disempowered.
Shannon is bright, articulate and confident. I met her at a Tasmanian school recently. She is a leader among her peers. Yet she captured what so many girls are experiencing: a struggle to assert themselves in relationships with males.
”I felt this overwhelming feeling of being lower than my boyfriend,” she said. ”I felt as though he was the male therefore he was dominant over me and I was there purely to fulfil his physical needs.
”I feel my needs, both sexually and emotionally, come second to my partner’s.”
At a private girls’ school in Melbourne, girls shared their experiences. Jen, 16, said: ”When you are in love they are allowed to treat you however.”
”If you say you want to wait, you are asked ‘why?”’ said Marly, 16.
”Girls want love and they are willing to compromise themselves to get it,” said Marina, 16. ”They need that validation. Boys feel they have more worth. They often think when they are in love, even when he treats you badly, they think this is meant to happen, I deserve this, this is how relationships are meant to be.”
”We are stuck in mindset of them having power over us,” said 16-year-old Micaela. Samantha, 16, believes girls are taught by media and popular culture that having sex will give them a sense of worth. ”If you don’t have sex he will leave for someone else.”
A 15-year-old Tasmanian student, teased for being a virgin, was planning to ”get it over and done with” with a 19-year-old she had met twice. He was happy to oblige, telling her feelings didn’t have to come into it. She told me this with tears streaming down her face. It was clear she wasn’t ready.
Girls say that it’s hard to keep feelings out. ”Girls get affected more, they are more emotionally connected and think they are in love,” said Marly.
”For girls sex is more of a sacred thing with someone you love. With boys it is seen as more of a joke … they have a different mindset. Girls have different attitudes, guys don’t seem to care that much,” said Jen.
Girls describe being touched inappropriately, frequently pushing away unwanted hands.
”At parties boys come up and just touch you,” said Micaela. ”You are there as an object. If you don’t do what they want they call you frigid”.
But girls are growing tired of being reduced and degraded in these ways. They are increasingly demanding respect-based relationships in which their wishes and desires are treated equally, not last. ”I stand up for myself now,” Aurora told me.
The sexual landscape is grim, but let’s hope more girls are empowered to follow Aurora’s lead. Listening to girls’ experiences and supporting them to stand up for themselves – as well as calling boys out on their abusive and too often criminal behaviour – is more helpful to them than persisting with media fantasies about the wonderful and liberated sex lives of Australian girls in the 21st century.
And also this morning, I had to explain to someone why stripping and nudity aren’t actually acts of feminist defiance, but the same old male appeasement in a shiny new package. There’s always some group of so-called feminists trying to get away with this. It doesn’t work, because getting naked is what men want women to do.
Doing what men want is appeasement. Feminism is resistance. Appeasement and resistance are opposing forces; the more you do of one, the less you can do of the other. That’s why these groups are insidious; they divert feminist energy into meaningless acts that only serve male interests.
Men don’t care if you write incendiary messages of revolt all over your naked body, as long as they get to see that body. When they hear you call yourself a slut, they won’t know that you’re being ironic and that you’ve reclaimed the word. And they won’t care, because irony is just another flavor of appeasement. They’ll call you a slut in a totally non-ironic, non-reclaimed way. And they’ll insist that insulting you is okay because you’re doing it to yourself. Read full post here.
Miley recently cited Irish singer Sinead O’Connor as an influence for her Wrecking Ball video. O’Connor begged to differ. Here’s what she wrote in an open letter on her website:
I wasn’t going to write this letter, but today i’ve been dodging phone calls from various newspapers who wished me to remark upon your having said in Rolling Stone your Wrecking Ball video was designed to be similar to the one for Nothing Compares… So this is what I need to say… And it is said in the spirit of motherliness and with love.
I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way ‘cool’ to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether its the music business or yourself doing the pimping.
Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.
I am happy to hear I am somewhat of a role model for you and I hope that because of that you will pay close attention to what I am telling you.
The music business doesn’t give a shit about you, or any of us. They will prostitute you for all you are worth, and cleverly make you think its what YOU wanted.. and when you end up in rehab as a result of being prostituted, ‘they’ will be sunning themselves on their yachts in Antigua, which they bought by selling your body and you will find yourself very alone.
None of the men oggling you give a shit about you either, do not be fooled. Many’s the woman mistook lust for love. If they want you sexually that doesn’t mean they give a fuck about you. All the more true when you unwittingly give the impression you don’t give much of a fuck about yourself. And when you employ people who give the impression they don’t give much of a fuck about you either. No one who cares about you could support your being pimped.. and that includes you yourself.
Yes, I’m suggesting you don’t care for yourself. That has to change. You ought be protected as a precious young lady by anyone in your employ and anyone around you, including you. This is a dangerous world. We don’t encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them pray [sic] for animals and less than animals (a distressing majority of whom work in the music industry and the associated media).
You are worth more than your body or your sexual appeal. The world of showbiz doesn’t see things that way, they like things to be seen the other way, whether they are magazines who want you on their cover, or whatever.. Don’t be under any illusions.. ALL of them want you because they’re making money off your youth and your beauty.. which they could not do except for the fact your youth makes you blind to the evils of show business. If you have an innocent heart you can’t recognise those who do not.
I repeat, you have enough talent that you don’t need to let the music business make a prostitute of you. You shouldn’t let them make a fool of you either. Don’t think for a moment that any of them give a flying fuck about you. They’re there for the money.. we’re there for the music. It has always been that way and it will always be that way. The sooner a young lady gets to know that, the sooner she can be REALLY in control.
You also said in Rolling Stone that your look is based on mine. The look I chose, I chose on purpose at a time when my record company were encouraging me to do what you have done. I felt I would rather be judged on my talent and not my looks. I am happy that I made that choice, not least because I do not find myself on the proverbial rag heap now that I am almost 47 yrs of age.. which unfortunately many female artists who have based their image around their sexuality, end up on when they reach middle age.
Real empowerment of yourself as a woman would be to in future refuse to exploit your body or your sexuality in order for men to make money from you. I needn’t even ask the question.. I’ve been in the business long enough to know that men are making more money than you are from you getting naked. Its really not at all cool. And its sending dangerous signals to other young women. Please in future say no when you are asked to prostitute yourself. Your body is for you and your boyfriend. It isn’t for every spunk-spewing dirtbag on the net, or every greedy record company executive to buy his mistresses diamonds with.
As for the shedding of the Hannah Montana image.. whoever is telling you getting naked is the way to do that does absolutely NOT respect your talent, or you as a young lady. Your records are good enough for you not to need any shedding of Hannah Montana. She’s waaaaaaay gone by now.. Not because you got naked but because you make great records.
Whether we like it or not, us females in the industry are role models and as such we have to be extremely careful what messages we send to other women. The message you keep sending is that its somehow cool to be prostituted.. its so not cool Miley.. its dangerous. Women are to be valued for so much more than their sexuality. we aren’t merely objects of desire. I would be encouraging you to send healthier messages to your peers.. that they and you are worth more than what is currently going on in your career. Kindly fire any motherfucker who hasn’t expressed alarm, because they don’t care about you.
I would very much like you please to apologise to myself and Amanda Bynes for having perpetuated abuse of both of us on the grounds that we have had ‘mental health issues’ and or experienced suicidal feelings and were open about it.
This should also involve an apology to all sufferers of mental health difficulties.
I’m not sure if you are aware that in your own country 7 out of every 100,000 people between the ages of 15 and 19 commit suicide every year. The third highest cause of death for those in that age range. Or that on average one person in your country dies by suicide every 16.2 minutes.
In your country suicide is the second highest cause of death amongst 25-34 yr olds.
A lot of these deaths would not take place if it were not the case that stigmatisation and bullying and buffooning of those perceived mistakenly or otherwise to have mental health issues, especially when they seek help, creates silence and causes many not to seek help.
Bullying of mentally ill people causes deaths. Period.
You may have noticed that in your country it is the fashion to lynch young famous ladies in the streets because they have been diagnosed crazy by media and or celebrities. This is unacceptable. And at some point the media may attempt it upon you. If so they will certainly have to deal with me.
Look Miley, what you did to myself and Amanda encouraged enormous abuse of us both, publicly and privately. And will certainly have made it difficult for young people who admire you and who may be suffering with mental health problems to feel they can be open and seek help, since you had us mocked for seeking help.
It is imperative that all suicidal people seek help. Whether they do so on twitter or anywhere else is beside the point. People must save their lives by any means necessary which do not involve hurting anyone. It is extremely dangerous to vilify these who are brave enough to seek help as I did. Or to support in any way the public lynching of so called ‘mad’ people.
Young people are being buried in their droves, having died by suicides brought about by bulling of the type you perhaps unwittingly subjected myself and Amanda to. The type of media bullying which resulted from what you did causes suicides. And perpetuates the idea that those deemed by the media to be crazy are fit for nothing but to be mocked and insulted, this causes deaths. Period.
As a result of what you did I have had numerous communications from people urging me to commit suicide. Not to mention I have been the subject of literally thousands of abusive articles and or comments left after articles, which state that I and therefore all perceived mentally ill people, should be bullied and be invalidated….Read in full here
‘In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality’
By Ori Golan
It’s on billboards, in newspapers and magazines; it proliferates on television and social networks. Toys, songs, graffiti, advertisements, internet and iPhone applications all promote it in one way or another. The hyper-sexualisation of women. From subtle sexist innuendoes to base pornography, women are routinely degraded and used as commodities to generate commerce or score political gains. Former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was relentlessly targeted for misogynistic attacks. Whether it was her attire or body parts; or her personal life, it was all fair game. The list of epithets includes, among others: dog, bitch, witch, old cow, deliberately barren, and menopausal monster.
But it is not just women in key positions. Girls of every age and walk of life are routinely urged to trade on their looks. Advertising and film industries focus heavily on women’s sexual features rather than attributes such as intelligence or work capacity; they are often depicted as objects in positions of inferiority, subordination and low social power. Seldom are women depicted as protagonists who are feisty, intelligent and charismatic. A cursory glimpse at media outlets yields images of prepubescent beauty pageants, teenaged girls smothered in makeup, women in suggestive poses and models with perfect curves.
Psychologist Sarah McMahon from BodyMatters Australasia, a clinic which specialises in body image issues, warns against this highly prejudiced and dangerous objectification of women. “When we talk about the negative role the media has on young girls” Sarah says, “I think we automatically defer to the narrow beauty ideal that is perpetuated through the homogenised look of models and the overuse of photo-shop”.
Indeed, on a daily basis, our senses are assaulted by aggressive advertising campaigns presenting body-perfect models with unattainable dimensions to promote films, food, designer labels, underwear, diets and games.
Cosmetic surgery is a spin-off from this industry, in the pursuit of the ideal body. It is a colossal global market, raking in millions of dollars in profit. Across the globe, 15 million people turn to plastic surgery to enhance their looks – the vast majority of them women. According to the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery (ACCS), cosmetic procedures in Australia, which include breast augmentation and liposuction, generate over $1 billion a year.
There is also another, darker and more sinister, aspect to this prolific gender exploitation: the propagation of DVDs and video games of a highly sexual nature depicting incest, rape and appalling sexual violence against women. Many of these are available for quick, unfettered purchase in shops and service stations.
More than ever before, young – often very young – people are bombarded with hyper-sexualised messages. Pornography is invading their lives at unprecedented rates.
So, what are the consequences and effects of such pervasive invasion of sexualised material?
Speaker, columnist and advocate, Melinda Tankard Reist, has no doubt that the consequences are direct, insidious and long-term. As the co-founder of Collective Shout which runs a tireless campaigner to end the sexualisation of girls, Melinda is well placed to speak on this matter. “We are seeing a sharp decline in women holding key roles, an increase in eating disorders and a rise in physical violence against women. Collective Shout takes upon itself to name and shame corporations, advertisers and marketers who objectify women and sexualise girls to sell products and services. Melinda has spearheaded numerous campaigns against a major corporations to remove highly offensive advertising or merchandise which exploits or degrades women.
Watching the film Miss Representation, by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, brings these points into sharp relief. This outstanding documentary puts the spotlight on mainstream US media where women are routinely demeaned, sexualised and limited to stereotyped roles. The facts speak for themselves: women are grossly under-representation in positions of influence in the US; is still 90th in the world for women in national legislatures; it is now a country where women hold only 3% of high positions in mainstream media. Given such appalling statistics, it is hardly surprising that there is a dramatic drop in the numbers of aspiring young women. Marian Wright, President of Children’s Defense Fund, puts it succinctly when she says: You can’t be what you can’t see.
But there’s worse: a staggering 65% of American women and girls have eating disorders as a direct consequence of the relentless glorification of thin women in the media.
The problem is, of course, not restricted to the US.
Inês Almeida, Executive Director at the Brave Girls Alliance and Founder of TowardTheStars, is keenly aware of the cause-and-effect between the sexualisation of girls and the three most common mental health problems effecting girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. “Substantial research shows that mass media influences girls and young women’s beliefs about themselves”, she affirms.
According to Inês, in 2012 some 913,000 Australians were recorded with eating disorders, two thirds of them women. To compound the problem, the concerned age-group is becoming increasingly – and alarmingly – younger. “Both the Westmead Hospital in Sydney and the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne have observed that eating disorder cases have increased substantially in the under-12 age group”, she says.
Inês is poised to combat this devastating trend. Last year she launched the TowardTheStars campaign; a movement that provides gifts and resources that inspire and enable girls to be strong, smart and daring. “In a world overwhelmed with messages that tell girls that their value comes from their external appearance”, she explains, “it is imperative to showcase girls who are courageous, strong, bold, determined, accomplished and athletic. We need to see more girls who are leaders, scientists, adventurers, politicians and, of course, superheroes!”
On October 11, the UN’s International Day of the Girl, the Brave Girls Alliance plans to take over Times Square. “With enough supporters, we’ll rent a billboard to flash brief girl-positive messages 40 times per hour, 20 hours per day, for 7 days”, says Inês.
Alex McClintock is a journalist, male and full-fledged feminist. “If you think the parliament is full of misogynists, then maybe you should take a look in your local pub or nightclub on a Friday night” he advises, alluding to the grossly sexual and misogynist bravado so common among men. “Men can be feminists too and the best way to do it is by being active in masculine spaces like locker rooms and pubs.”
He brings into the discussion an issue that has not been discussed or even alluded to: how to make sense of a world from a man’s perspective. With the propagation of pornography and its proliferation on the net, making it accessible to almost any internet user, how do we deal with it? How do we teach boys to treat women with respect? How do we instil civility and parity?
“If boys and girls are going to look at porn, then we should have porn education in schools to help them make sense of it”, he suggests. This is no doubt a statement worthy of discussion in its own right.
The many issues and sentiments which a ThinkActChange debate such as this can stir, are often close, personal and painful. A member of the audience shared her experience, shortly after the event.
“I’ve been living a life full of eating-disordered hell since I was 10 years old, and now 12 years laterm at the age of 22, I am only beginning to see the damage that society and media play on young girls and women like myself. It wasn’t just me who has been suffering from anorexia. My whole family and circle of friends have been suffering as well. I can happily say now that I am very much on the way to full recovery. I am also back at university and hope to one day work alongside Sarah McMahon and the wonderful women and men out there trying to prevent eating disorders in society and help those in need.”
It is a salutary reminder, and a truly moving testimony, of the very real influence and terrible impact which the sexualising of women in the media can exert on an individual’s wellbeing.
Prostituted women are the ones at the coalface of the misogyny and pornography-fuelled attitudes
Commentators this week have been falling over themselves to decry the ‘hypocritical’ public quiet over the murder of St Kilda prostituted woman ‘Tracy’, compared to the attention Jill Meagher’s death attracted last year. Wendy Squires wrote that, even though ‘Jill and Tracy are one and the same – women in the wrong place at the wrong time’, it’s outrageous that last week’s ‘dead woman isn’t headline news’. Squires believes it ‘ironic’ that Jill Meagher’s husband attracted media attention last week, while Tracy’s murder raised barely a headline. In fact, Squires ‘could have been Tracy’, just as she ‘could have been Jill Meagher’, so she wonders why the murder of women in prostitution is treated so differently from the murder of middle class, educated women with supportive friends and family.
While it is true murdered prostituted women don’t receive the same attention, do any of us really believe that either Jill or Wendy could have been Tracy? The crime committed against Jill was unforgivable, but do we really think she has anything in common with Tracy? Going on what we know about the population demographics of women in prostitution, Tracy was most likely abused as a child, homeless from an early age, preyed upon in her teenage years by pimps posing as boyfriends, and subject to a range of alcohol and drug addictions over the years of her sexual exploitation. She would also likely have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, possibly exposing her to the risk of mental illness. While Jill and Wendy might have faced hardships in their lives, we can speculate these hardships were never aggravated by the experience of being traded for prostitution. Unlike Wendy or Jill, being a prostituted woman means you are always in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Prostitution is precisely the variable that sets Tracy apart from Wendy and Jill. Women in prostitution are at risk of murder and serious injury at a rate many times higher than even people working in bottle shops. The experience of being pimped and prostituted makes it almost inevitable they must shut down their minds with drugs or alcohol, or risk acquiring a mental illness. They are the ones at the coalface of the misogyny and pornography-fuelled attitudes circulating in our society. The physical expression of male rage is channelled their way in the form of brutal sex acts, verbal abuse, and practices of humiliation and degradation. They must withstand all of this with a smile, or risk non-payment or a beating from the customer or their pimp.
We do women like Tracy no favours when we pretend she is ‘just like us’, and express outrage that her murder doesn’t get the same attention as ours would. While we allow a vulnerable population of women and girls (and some young men) to languish in the sex industry while we happily take up opportunities of education and economic privilege, we cannot decry ‘hypocrisy’ and engage in after-the-fact hand-wringing over media bias. We need to recognise the fundamentally different health and wellbeing outcomes that prostitution imposes on its victims, and work to develop ‘exit programs’ to assist people out of the sex industry. We need to recognise the human rights harms that men who patronise the sex industry are causing, and develop policies and education campaigns to reduce their demand for prostitution.
Let’s be angry and upset at the absence of public outcry—but not just now a woman in prostitution has been murdered. We might feel the same outrage every time we drive past a brothel, or see advertisements for ‘escort’ services in our local paper. We might become upset at the state government bureaucrats who continue to collect money from pimps who legally trade people for prostitution in Victoria. Or our anger might be directed toward a federal government that fails to declare prostitution a gendered human rights violation like its counterparts in Sweden, South Korea, Norway and Iceland. Our tears might flow every time we hear a sex industry-apologist in the media calling prostitution a ‘job’ for women with no other choices.
In reality, Tracy could not have been Wendy or Jill, but she could have been any other woman in prostitution. All people in prostitution—whether in brothels, ‘escort’ agencies or on the street—risk the same unacceptable fate as Tracy. Those of us who downplay or deny the risks of prostitution seal this fate for generations of abused people who will be preyed upon by the pimps and traffickers of the sex industry. We must take policy and educative action now to dismantle legalised prostitution in Victoria and create a safe society for even our most vulnerable of fellow citizens.
Dr Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, and researches prostitution and trafficking policy in Australia, South Korea and Japan.
See also: ‘Why virginity is a best seller: how the sex industry profits from an Asian girl’s ‘first time’, http://www.pac.nsw.edu.au/contact-details/ MTR blog, November 14, 2011
‘I hadn’t anticipated the massive backlash from the boys’
… I started to notice how much the girls at my school suffer because of the pressures associated with our gender. Many of the girls have eating disorders, some have had peers heavily pressure them into sexual acts, others suffer in emotionally abusive relationships where they are constantly told they are worthless…
What I hadn’t anticipated on setting up the feminist society was a massive backlash from the boys in my wider peer circle. They took to Twitter and started a campaign of abuse against me. I was called a “feminist bitch”, accused of “feeding [girls] bullshit”, and in a particularly racist comment was told “all this feminism bull won’t stop uncle Sanjit from marrying you when you leave school”.
Our feminist society was derided with retorts such as, “FemSoc, is that for real? #DPMO” [don't piss me off] and every attempt we made to start a serious debate was met with responses such as “feminism and rape are both ridiculously tiring”.
The more girls started to voice their opinions about gender issues, the more vitriolic the boys’ abuse became. One boy declared that “bitches should keep their bitchiness to their bitch-selves #BITCH” and another smugly quipped, “feminism doesn’t mean they don’t like the D, they just haven’t found one to satisfy them yet.” Any attempt we made to stick up for each other was aggressively shot down with “get in your lane before I par [ridicule] you too”, or belittled with remarks like “cute, they got offended”.
I fear that many boys of my age fundamentally don’t respect women. They want us around for parties, banter and most of all sex. But they don’t think of us as intellectual equals, highlighted by accusations of being hysterical and over sensitive when we attempted to discuss serious issues facing women…
We were told that our “militant vaginas” were “as dry as the Sahara desert”, girls who complained of sexual objectification in their photos were given ratings out of 10, details of the sex lives of some of the girls were posted beside their photos, and others were sent threatening messages warning them that things would soon “get personal”. Read full article here
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
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
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It and the Ruby Who? book and DVD in one bundle for $100 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real and Faking It in one bundle for $70 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase Getting Real, Faking It and Ruby Who? DVD in one bundle for $60 and save 12% off the individual price.
Purchase the Ruby Who? DVD and book together for only $35 saving 10% off the individual price.
“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
“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.