Yesterday, American “pick-up” artist and “executive dating coach” Jeff (Jeffy) Allen had his Australian visa revoked by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.
Allen’s tour – part of a Real Social Dynamics (RSD) global roadshow – was billed as “Meet Jeffy.”
Those concerned about rising rates of violence against women and the callous mistreatment of young women and girls, reflected in groping, street harassment, unwanted sexual demands and all the other manifestations of everyday sexism, decided the only “meeting” Jeffy should get was with fierce opposition.
When Julien Blanc – the big name RSD instructor – known for his choking-girls-around-the-world hashtag – came to Australia in 2014, he didn’t last long. A massive campaign (#takedownjulienblanc) saw him booted out of the country. A number of other countries also refused to let him in.
But then Blanc’s side-kick, Jeffy Allen, arrived to finish what Blanc had started.
Questions of due diligence must surely be raised: how did a man who was in breach of our character tests get in? (Many women see the activities of RSD as warranting the same approach as accorded to terrorists.)
The tour was originally slated to make its way to Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane over the coming months. However, due to pressure from activists – including a 67,000 signature-strong Change.org petition and getting Vibe hotels to cancel two bookings (RSD misled the hotel by using a different name) – tour dates are now off the RSD website.
Allen fled the country before the retrospective visa cancellation, but not before he had passed on RSD’s toxic teachings at one Sydney “boot camp” last Thursday. The image of these men in this Sydney hotel room being taught the art of seduction by Allen, was taken by a young man by the name of Josh.
Pictures of Josh on his Instagram profile show he is young, most likely not out of his teens. Josh is just starting to make his way in the world. He’s learning about masculinity and sexuality and women and how he should treat them. His tutoring now includes the L.A dating company – billed as the world’s biggest dating hub for men – which evangelizes men with the ideology that men are “beasts” and women are “whores.”
Josh, along with other young men like him, were indoctrinated into the world of the dominant RSD alpha male. Allen drives a van – which he fondly calls his “rape van” – for picking up women. Decals representing women are glued on the van door for every “whore” he’s bedded in it. (You can see him talk about it in a video here, along with other video evidence of the raw contempt for the right of women to be treated as something other than a live “f–k doll” – including Julien Blanc’s infamous routine of grabbing the heads of random Japanese women on the street and shoving them into his crotch).
In RSD “boot camps,” men dominate and women must be made to submit.
All this at a time when there is more focus on the need to address violence against women; when we have come up with a National Plan of Action to Address Violence Against Women; when our Prime Minister says violence begins with disrespect. It is remarkable to me that, in the current climate, the RSD cult-leaders are allowed in the country in the first place.
These snake oil salesmen cannot help boys like Josh develop healthy respect-based relationships with women. He won’t learn how simply to enjoy a woman’s company, her conversation, her friendship. He won’t learn about care, empathy, how to give and receive love. He will learn how to get into her pants then add her to his total score. Such conquests are marks on the virtual bed-heads of RSD’s online forums.
RSD doesn’t bring men and women together – it breeds suspicion. For many women, who experience harassment and unwanted attention from men almost daily, RSD will only make them more suspicious about male intentions. In this environment, every man comes to be seen as a potential pick-up artist.
Fortunately there are men speaking out. Dr Matthew Berryman helped lead the charge against Julien Blanc in the 2014 campaign. He too is tired of the limited and increasingly toxic messages we send men and boys about masculinity. I asked him why he got involved:
“If you think that being a creep and/or actually abusive to women in order to sleep with them is a good idea, then you are not only being unnecessarily disrespectful to others, you’re actually missing out on having an actual, meaningful relationship, with all the rewards it brings.
“The tactics adopted by Real Social Dynamics and other ‘pick up agencies’ are not only harmful to women, they harm the ability of all men to be taken seriously as actual, decent people (and it’s that that will help you meet women and form relationships). Men need to have a healthy approach to themselves and to others. To do otherwise diminishes us all.”
Another, of course, is Matthew Jowett, who initiated the Change.org petition against Blanc. When I asked him why he did it, the 29-year-old IT worker replied:
“Being raised by a single mother and living with a father who was abusive to his spouses, and seeing my sister be abused by successive partners all also shaped an interest in opposing domestic violence and supporting women’s rights. But most fundamentally it comes down to my very strong desire to equality, which I think grew from the seed my mother planted with the often repeated axiom ‘treat others how you’d like them to treat you’. It seems painfully obvious to me that the only way to achieve a society with any real measure of equality is from a culture where everyone is valued and where respect for others is a central pillar.”
Let’s hope that Josh and other young men like him are persuaded by this philosophy and these examples, rather than by RSD’s warped view of women.
The group is renowned for lying to avoid consequences (surprise fkn surprise, right), so many were concerned that they were still conducting their seminars in secret.
However, today, author Melinda Tankard-Reist sent a tweet to Vibe Hotels, who were hosting the seminars. They responded saying that the functions were booked under a false name, and they had cancelled all of RSD’s events.
Julien Blanc was deported. Why are his mates allowed in?
Remember the time in 2014 we combined to get U.S ‘pick-up’ artist Julien Blanc booted out of Australia for promoting violence against women? We’d succeeded in persuading venues who had booked him to cancel. He then sneakily tried to hold his nasty little seminar on a boat off the St Kilda pier in Melbourne. My mate Kirsty Mac found out about it and activists swarmed down to the pier and prevented the boat from leaving, even holding onto the boats ropes and blocking its departure.
I described the action:
Last night a bunch of would be Julien Blanc clones – unable to find a venue on land which would host them – went all-aboard the SS Sexual Assault, RSD pimps having fooled the Melbourne cruise company into thinking this was something other than a ‘My Dick Rules’ training session. But their floating boot camp, run by Max the Menace (Julien Blanc apparently in hiding somewhere – certainly not the Bayview Hotel which had thrown him out after this warning went around ) was ’sunk’ by protesters. It was a great night to be an on-line activist. I barely left my desk, glued to the live streaming twitter action led by those at the protest…
That same night, following our appeal to the then Immigration Minister Scott Morrison pointing out how Blanc was in breach of visa requirements because of his behavior, and the double-standards in having a National Plan of Action to Address Violence Against Women at the same time as handing our visas to men who profit from it, Blanc was kicked out. Other countries followed suit, denying him entry. It was one of the craziest, most adrenalin-fueled campaigns we’d ever been part of and remains one of our all-time favourites. It was a victory for women everywhere (and for men who care about them). View Collective Shout storify here.
Jeff Allen making fun of disability to score women. ‘Can you make him stop rubbing his boner on me?’
But we’ve just learned that somehow, another big name Real Social Dynamics (RSD) ínstructer’ Jeff Allen (Jeffy) has been allowed into the country to take up where Blanc left off. If you want to truly understand the quality of this man, take a look at this video published as part of a piece on my blog by Dr. Matthew Berryman on the tactics of RSD artists.
Yes, this is the man teaching our men and boys how to treat women and girls, right at this very moment.
It’s needs to be remembered that Allen is not acting alone. He is representing his movement – RSD. And RSD promotes rape culture.
“They dream about this. They wanna be tied up and fully succumb to your aggressive masculinity. They want you to push them against the wall, rip their clothes off, put her in a submissive position and call her bitch, slut, whore until their skull can’t take it anymore…”
“See as much as women wanna be raped, they also want to be made feel beautiful.”
And here’s RSD boss Owen Cook on how forcing yourself on women is such a hoot (this video is not on Your Tube anymore but you can see it here).
The ‘tactics’ Julien and his team teach include ‘choking’ women and calling them ‘deadbeat whores’ in order to shock them into submitting to his dominance. Now Julien Blanc’s associate, RSD instructor Jeff (Jeffy) Allen has been granted a visa and is back in Australia to teach men this disgusting, vile violence against women.
They call themselves “pick up artists”, but are nothing more than promoters of sexism and violence against women.
Julien Blanc tried to preach these tactics at ticketed events around Australia in 2014. Fortunately you all stood up and said “hell no” – Australia very loudly said no to violence against women. Then Immigration Minister Scott Morrison revoked Blanc’s visa. This was great news!
But now Julien Blanc’s bro Jeff Allen from “Pimp by RSD” is back – running events which promote and profit from violence. He’s touring Australia right now teaching young Aussie men to choke women and treat them like garbage to assert dominance over women and essentially psychologically abuse women until they submit to these men. Sign here.
There has been some confusion about which RDS instructor was in the country. This Instagram pic taken by a young man by the name of Josh shows Jeff Allen addressing a group of men at a Sydney hotel at the opening event in Sydney last Thursday. (How depressing to see so many men absorbing RSD’s message of disrespect, manipulation and exploitation of women).
It’s not every day you get a magazine and a song dedicated to you.
But this week, my friends and I received both.
Now defunct Lad’s Mag Zoo Weekly devoted its final issue to us with this cover.
Apparently, protesting the objectification of women and messages promoting violence against women (drunk girls are a ‘green light’, for example) makes you a killjoy now. We didn’t find much joy in the mag’s pages, as documented in Collective Shout’s storify.
Young designer and activist Laura Pintur, 23, led our campaign. It was great to see her face on ABC’s Media Watch Monday night, in an extract from the video she made for The Guardian. The facts she presented stand in contrast to the depiction of the mag as just for a laugh and ‘schoolboy humour’. Such nudge-nudge-wink-wink depictions trivialized Zoo’s actual content. The kind of content which caused 20-year-old Coles employee Shannen to protest to management through her union.
When asked by a journalist on twitter for her reaction to Zoo’s final cover, Laura replied:
Zoo’s closure was reported on our website as follows:
Goodbye Zoo Weekly, you won’t be missed
We were pleased to report that after our successful campaign to get sexploitation mag Zoo Weekly out of Coles supermarkets Bauer Media announced the sexist lads mag was closing.
This week Zoo Weekly released their last edition ever. We’re glad that pornographers will have one less outlet now to push porn to underage boys. See content from inside Zoo mag (warning, graphic).
ABC’s Media Watch referenced our campaign, quoting Collective Shout’s Laura Pintur.
In May a young woman called Laura Pintur began a campaign backed by Collective Shout to persuade Coles and Woolworths to take Zoo off their shelves on the grounds that it was fostering hostile and aggressive attitudes to women:
“LAURA PINTUR: A British university compared lads mags with comments from convicted rapists. It found that people could not distinguish the source of the comments. That is, Zoo users’ language practically indecipherable from that of sex offenders. It also asks readers to send in pictures of their girlfriends’ breasts to win a boob job.” — The Guardian, 21st May, 2015
Coles stopped selling the magazine two months ago as a result.
And when news then broke of the decision to close Zoo altogether the campaigners were quick to claim the kill.
“Collective Shout takes credit for hastening Zoo’s demise: Coles dumping title was ‘catastrophic for sales’”
Here’s an extract from Tyler the Creator’s (@fucktyler) new release ‘Fuck It’. (I was interviewed by Jon Faine on ABC Melbourne Tuesday about the song. So replete is this ditty with expletives, our national broadcaster could only play a six second extract). Here are some of the lyrics:
Tell Australia I’m sneaking in with a mic in my damn hand
Instead of the vegetables that I packed in my backpack
When Marshall had this problem what the fuck was they telling him?
Is it cause of status or his melanin lacks black?
Huh? I think people love to be mad
How can I be misogynist? I love titties and ass…
Only thing they gave me was an opportunity and a pen
Look, freedom of speech, my freedom is breached
Border Patrol put me on streets immediately
For shit I said when I was a virgin repeatedly
Posted on Hypebeast cause nobody would listen to me
Collective Shout’s campaigns manager Caitlin Roper gave these comments to media:
Tyler has had an opportunity here to pause, reflect on his behaviours and promotion of misogyny, and make a commitment to real change- to creating art that doesn’t rely on the exploitation of women to generate profits.
Instead he’s essentially had a tantrum to music.
While he may have been a young man when he wrote music describing raping women, mutilating their bodies, locking them in his basement and raping their corpses, he’s not a child anymore, and he is yet to grow up and take responsibility for what he has put out into the world.
Our calls to deny Tyler a visa were never solely based on his sexually violent and misogynistic lyrics, but his real life behaviours- his history of inciting violence against actual women. It was only a few months ago that he singled out and tagged Collective Shout’s Coralie Alison in a tweet, blaming her for his cancelled tour and essentially directing his 2.5 million fans to go after her with horrific threats of violence. He sat by and watched, and finally denied he held any responsibility.
We too would like to know why Eminem was granted a visa. Collective Shout partnered with a coalition of domestic violence organisations in 2014 calling on the government to deny Eminem a visa.
But we must be wrong – he loves titts and arse, so couldn’t possibly be a misogynist!
I responded on twitter. Jane Fraser (@feministbirther) added her wondrous response.
So you’re not a misogynist – because you love titts and arse? Pornographers, pimps, and perpetrators of violence love titts and arse too – so what?
And someone should tell Tyler you can’t bring vegetables into Australia either.
Collective Shout takes credit for hastening Zoo’s demise: Coles dumping title was ‘catastrophic for sales’
Four months ago, young Melbourne activist and designer Laura Pintur, 23, launched a campaign through Collective Shout calling on Coles and Woolworths supermarket to act consistent with their corporate social responsibility, ethical framework, care for communities and commitment to safety and dump ‘men’s lifestyle Bible’ Zoo Weekly. She highlighted the way the lads’ mag promoted coercion, violence, sexism, misogyny and male entitlement. Laura’s Change.org petition attracted more than 39,000 signatures along with global media, including this video for The Guardian in which she argued the well being of girls should come before profits.
Last month Coles decided to discontinue the magazine, after a young Melbourne employee, Shannen, complained through her union that Coles was putting her and other female employees in a hostile workplace environment. “Other young women in my workforce will no longer have to put up with selling a magazine that promotes rape culture,” said Shannen after the decision.
Woolworths however decided to continue to act in breach of its own ethics, holding firm on selling sexual objectification to boys, including minors.
But now there will be no Zoo magazine to sell anywhere because it is ceasing publication. Mumbrella broke the news yesterday. While the magazine was already in decline, we believe we helped hasten that decline. News.com reports that when Coles bowed to public pressure and pulled the publication, this was “a move that would no doubt be catastrophic for the lad mag’s sales.”
Zoo Weekly has certainly grown accustomed to widespread outrage over the years, having been at the centre of a slew of heated controversies.
It had recently been in the firing line of a Change.org petition urging Australia’s major supermarkets to stop selling the magazine, arguing it promoted sexism, sexual violence and used the language of rapists.
Fueling sexist attitudes which contribute to violence against women
Last month I responded to a piece by Brendan O’Neill, in The Australian, critical of our campaign against Tyler the Creator and Zoo magazine. It appeared in the on-line version at News.com (paywall means only subscribers would see it). Following this, my colleague Caitlin Roper took down O’Neill’s claims against us regarding Tyler the Creator in an interview with ‘I probably hate your band’ (O’Neill is interviewed too). Have a look at it after my letter.
If only Zoo Weekly was a ‘jokey mag for awkward 15-year-olds.’ We – and the too many women and girls subjected to the kind of abuse Zoo promotes – don’t see the joke. (Brendan O’Neill ‘Foot soldiers of the Empire of offence march on, laying free speech to waste’, Inquirer. August 22-23, p.23).
Zoo normalises the treatment of women as sexual objects, fueling sexist behaviours and attitudes which underpin violence against women. The men’s ‘lifestyle Bible’ provides step by step instructions for coercing women into sex by isolating her from her friends and using alcohol to make her more vulnerable. Readers are told if she is drunk, that’s a ‘green light’.
A recent edition encouraged young male readers to do “cool things…like hitting women”, joking about “backhanding the missus”.
People can’t distinguish between the statements taken from lads mags like Zoo Weekly and statements from convicted rapists, according to a 2011 UK study.
Tyler is renowned for his songs advocating rape, murder, genital mutilation, stuffing women into car boots, trapping them in his basement, raping their corpses and burying their bodies. The abuse he incited against Collective Shout activist Talitha Stone in 2013 was enough to cause Twitter to implement a ‘report abuse’ button. The footage she filmed undercover of him whipping up the crowd into a frenzy of anger contributed to NZ authorities denying him entry in January 2014. Our more recent campaign saw Tyler use dog whistle tactics to mobilise his fans into sending a deluge of death, rape and mutilation threats against another of our activists, Coralie Alison, as punishment.
In the original letter to the Immigration Minister signed by Coralie and myself, we argued it was contradictory for the Government to have a National Plan of Action to address violence against women while rolling out the red carpet to a rap artist who glorifies and glamourizes it.
We doubt the absence of Zoo from Coles or of Tyler singing “rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome” at all-ages concerts is a threat to “great truths or breakthroughs”. It does, however, send a message that violence against women should be taken seriously.
Melinda Tankard Reist
Thanks so much for speaking with me. First of all, I want to say I, and IPHYB as a whole, are passionate supporters of women’s rights. In whatever individual definition that takes in today’s convoluted climate of modern feminism, we hold our own views very dear and close to heart. That being said, we’re also (as you can probably tell from the name of our website) staunch advocates of free speech. I wanted to gain your perspective on the issue, as it seems Collective Shout have come under fire from fans of Tyler, The Creator and free speech alike, for what some consider an act of censorship. Is it Collective Shout’s aim to engage in any kind of censorious behavior, and do you really believe his lyrical content is dangerous? To be frank, I struggle to make the connection.
CAITLIN: “We’ve obviously heard a lot of Tyler’s fans expressing a similar sentiment – essentially that we just don’t understand, and that we are trying to ban things we don’t understand, or that we are merely ‘offended’.
The suggestion that the issue here is about offence or personal taste is really missing the point. My feelings, my personal taste, like anyone else in this discussion, are largely irrelevant. Reducing criticism of Tyler’s brand of misogyny to offense is an attempt to deflect and undermine discussion of the real issue – the promotion and normalising of hostile and hateful attitudes towards women.
The whole offence argument also neglects to consider the fact that our campaign goes much further than Tyler’s sexually violent lyrics. While we strongly object to Tyler’s lyrics detailing rape, strangling, mutilating and chopping up women, stuffing their bodies into car boots, trapping them in his basement and raping their corpses, we are also talking about Tyler’s real-life behavior. When lesbian recording artists openly called out his misogynistic lyrics, he responded with a threat of corrective rape, offering them some “hard dick”. At his 2013 Sydney concert he unleashed a barrage of abuse directed at my Collective Shout colleague Talitha Stone, calling her a bitch, a whore, and a c**t while the crowd cheered, unaware she was present in the audience. I shudder to think what might have happened to her had she been recognised.
Both Talitha and Coralie Alison have been targeted with vicious abuse, rape and death threats after Tyler tagged them on Twitter. What did he think would happen when he called out Coralie, identifying her as the reason he wouldn’t be showing up for his scheduled tour? At any time, he could have so much as tweeted to call off his fans, to say it wasn’t okay to threaten a woman with violence, yet he remained silent.
This is not about offence, or even song lyrics. This is incitement to violence against real women. Real Australian women who have been forced to obtain police assistance, who have had to fear for their lives and have had to deal with the psychological toll of sustained, vicious abuse.
Tyler fans claim that Tyler’s music and treatment of women have no bearing on their attitudes to women. Wading through the steady stream of abusive emails, Facebook posts and tweets calling us bitches and whores, encouraging us to commit suicide and threatening to rape and murder us along with our children has made it very clear to me that that normalised misogyny has and does impact on attitudes. Essentially, I think it’s easier to paint all criticism of Tyler’s misogyny as uptight women who want to ban things they don’t understand than to actually engage with the issues.
There has been some speculation that campaigns like ours set a dangerous precedent in terms of free speech and censorship. I hope that as well as free speech, we value the rights of women to dignity, justice, equality and safety, and that as a community we are equally committed to upholding these rights.
In our letter to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, we pointed out the hypocrisy in spending $15.6 billion on a National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women – a plan including prevention strategies and education – only to welcome rappers who undermine the government’s attempts to address violence against women.
We’ve been critical of various artists – and not just artists, but advertising, media and popular culture – yet some issues and campaigns certainly do seem to attract more media attention than others. As a non-profit organisation, we don’t have the resources to organize and carry out campaigns against every artist who promotes the sexual exploitation of women, nor has it ever been our goal to pursue every artist with questionable lyrics.
We’ve been critical and sparked a dialogue about various artists over the last few years and campaigned against a few, including Redfoo, Brian McFadden, Robin Thicke, Snoop Dogg/Lion and Eminem. Some also suggest we unfairly target hip hop, but a look at our website will prove the wide range of issues and campaigns we have run. Is hip-hop somehow off-limits for critical analysis? Should hip-hop culture not be held to the same standard as the rest of society?
The reason we called on Immigration to deny Tyler a visa back in 2013 was because we felt his lyrical content vilified women and arguably incited violence against them. We felt it was impossible for us to remain silent. We only became more convinced after seeing his treatment of women on Twitter, setting his fans on women who were openly critical of his work, and his onslaught of abuse to Talitha at his 2013 concert – the footage of which was instrumental in his 2014 ban from New Zealand.
This has been expressed to us repeatedly over the last few months, that we haven’t done our research, that it’s art, that Tyler is playing a role, that he’s evolved as an artist, etc. I’m well aware of all of these arguments as well as the nature of Tyler’s work. We have done our research. We’ve listened to his songs, watched music videos, interviews, performance footage, read numerous articles and even attended his concert. It’s not that we don’t understand the arguments – we just reject them. We have taken this knowledge and come to a different conclusion.
I think it’s entirely possible for musicians and artists to use art, humour and irony to pose meaningful questions and comment on the state of the world and society, and even to explore dark subject matter. But I reject the notion that that is what is going on here. Tyler’s near constant uncritical exploitation and abuse of women for entertainment purposes doesn’t even come close to that. What is the statement being made? Where is the condemnation of abusive treatment of women? Rather, the men who degrade and demean women are positioned as badasses who don’t give a f**k and women are reduced to bitches. None of this is challenging the status quo or posing meaningful questions. Tyler’s “art” is at the expense of women, even survivors of rape and physical violence.
If Tyler has truly evolved as an artist as he claims (a notion I’d reject based on his recent behavior), why is he yet to take responsibility for it? Even now, he continues to justify and excuse it, never owning it. He’s built a career of the degradation of women, made a name for himself and profited from this material.
Tyler claims he doesn’t even perform his earlier work anymore, but concert set lists from as recently as last year show that he has. He’s also made his earlier albums available to stream via his Golf Media App. A few weeks ago he performed Rella on Jimmy Kimmel – here’s a few of the lyrics: ‘Nigga my d*ck’s in her jaw … my bitches white and I need f*cking head … bitches on my d*ck … Your girlfriend had a really nice meeting with my d*ck, I killed that p*ssy and grabbed that knife … met up with bitches, gave ‘em c*m on their dimples.’
Is this supposed to be progress? Is this an indication he’s concerned with equality now? It’s ironic that those men arguing for freedom of speech here have failed to notice that the women they are criticising don’t share this same freedom. These men are not impacted by misogynistic ‘art’ – they aren’t the ones being targeted. They aren’t likely to be on the receiving end of rape and death threats, won’t need to engage the police, nor be genuinely in fear for their safety as a result of sharing their views.
For these men to dictate how women, including survivors of rape and sexual violence, should feel about, respond to and challenge misogynistic attitudes demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the issues and perhaps more disturbing, a lack of empathy.”
Ja feel men’s fashion label: corporate sexual predator promoting non-consensual sex acts
Ja feel men’s fashion label: corporate sexual predator promoting non-consensual sex acts.
Australian company, Ja feel, promotes the sexual abuse and degradation of women and girls (as well as pornographic imagery and racist stereotypes) all in the name of marketing their “lifestyle brand.”
The Perth-based retail company, which promotes itself as a clubbing and music festival label and ships its misogyny worldwide, is, in reality, a corporate sexual predator.
You can see how committed they are to promoting rape culture based on images from their social media accounts. Read more
We feel you need to be shut down
Just when you think it can’t get worse…
How is this Australian company allowed to promote the sexual abuse and degradation of women and girls in this way? Perth-based Ja feel, which promotes itself as a clubbing and music festival label and ships its misogyny worldwide, is, in reality, a corporate sexual predator.
Here are some images from their social media accounts.
See how committed they are to promoting rape culture (if the meaning is unclear, the reference below is to a man shifting from vaginal to anal penetration without consent then pretending to be sorry about it).
See how they love giving women the pornified treatment and teaching boys they are entitled to women’s bodies. (#TittyTuesday and #ThongThursday are among their popular hashtags).
See how they feature even a young girl in a sexually suggestive way, with the elephant’s trunk as phallic symbol (there’s a popular porn- themed racist stereotype in this one too).
And, here are stickers, complete with instructions on sticking them on a woman’s breasts.
Echoing rape culture slogans, migrating porn images into every day advertising, grooming a whole generation of boys to prey upon women because that’s what ‘men’s lifestyle’ means now, Ja feel is building the scaffolding which reinforces sexist attitudes creating an environment where violence against women is flourishing. We feel your hate.
Sexualised Violence isn’t Alright, Just because a Woman is the Perpetrator
BBHMM revels in the eroticization of total power, control and domination over another woman. But we are expected to see it as empowering, because Rihanna and her henchwomen are the agents of this control
By Melinda Tankard Reist
A frame from Rihanna’s new video for Bitch Better Have My Money (BBHMM) zooms in on Rihanna’s bikinied bottom. Floating horizontally beside her is Rih’s half-drowned victim.
The singer’s “hot bum” is more significant than the woman floating beneath Rihanna’s lilo. Men are enjoying it. They love her blood soaked “titties” too.
BBHMM revels in the eroticization of total power, control and domination over another woman. But we are expected to see it as empowering, because Rihanna and her henchwomen are the agents of this control.
And because Rihanna is black, and because the victim is white and because so many black women have suffered because of white privilege, the rest of us should shut up.
But if we are going to call out other expressions of physical, sexual and emotional brutality men enact on women (Tyler the Creator, Snoop Dog, Eminem, to name a few) and the kind of white girl cruelty led by Lady Gaga (in Telephone), we can’t quarantine the mega star’s video because of her colour.
The clip has been acclaimed as: badass feminism, subversive, sassy, funny, bossy, ballsy, edgy, unapologetic. Call it what you like. What you’re left with is the 7 minute sadistic abuse of a woman for entertainment (garnering more than 16 million views so far).
The story line: Rihanna is mad because her accountant ripped her off (which happened in real life). So Rih and her girlfriends kidnap the accountant’s pearly white, filthy rich, Pomeranian-toting wife and hit the road for some ritualised torture and pornified abuse.
The hostage is stripped, assaulted, hung upside down and swung by a hook in an abandoned barn, plied with drugs and alcohol, made a plaything for a party and knocked unconscious with a bottle to the head when she calls out for help.
When torturing rich-white-lady-who-had-it-coming doesn’t get her money back, greedy dude is quickly dispatched. He keeps his clothes on, there is no drawn out persecution, no sado-suffering at the hands of our rubber suited vixen. His death doesn’t even get that much airtime, really. Five seconds later, Rih is smeared in blood, her naked body adorned with dollar bills in the trunk which once held her victim (who is dead or alive, we’re not sure; there’s more concern over what became of her dog).
To put it bluntly, it is the woman whose humiliation we’re expected to enjoy. A Huffington Post reviewer writes that the line, “Your wife’s in the backseat of my brand new foreign car” was “brought to life” at a live rendition of the song on Saturday Night Live in March, with a “crying, bound and gagged woman utilized as part of the performance”.
Of course, there’s a risk in calling out women’s violence against women. It gives entitled men who don’t like their violence named an excuse to say, “Women are just as bad!” But while the global statistics on violence show it is mostly men who are the perpetrators, we can’t gloss over such brutality when it is women normalising and embedding it in the culture. Though Cosmopolitan – a magazine which has supported campaigns against violence against women – manages to do just that: “She throws her phone into the ocean and shoots it. Plus NSFW nudity!”
BBHMM sends a message that female power comes from inflicting pain on other women while still being sexually appealing to men. Through the bloodied rampage, Rihanna is represented as a badass, cool and confident, while her powerless captive flails. At the BDSM-themed party, we are led to believe the inebriated victim is enjoying her torture. The viewer also learns that this is how black women get power: by punishing white women who are portrayed as a privileged pampered bitches.
It has been posited that Rihanna is a grand philosopher making some elaborate comment on race, or gender or class, and that the video represents some kind of proletarian uprising of poor black women. (The fact Rihanna is a brand seems to be forgotten). “I see a black woman putting her own well-being above the well-being of a white woman,” writes Mia McKenzie. Poor black women have to put themselves first if they are to pay the rent and such like.
There is no denying the hardship faced by black women in cultures where they suffer the double indignities of race and being female. But Rihanna’s character is hardly symbolic of oppressed black women. Her victim, remember, is in the back of a new car p a car our heroine sets on fire a short time later because, well, there’s plenty more where that came from. She can afford to hurl her phone into the sea and can lay out wads of cash for Louis Vuitton chests (perfect for storing hostages in). And how many black women – indeed, any women – can afford Rihanna’s wardrobe? (her BBHMM outfits are listed in the “definitive ranking” on one fashion site: “Kidnapping, nudity, murder: the video of the year is here, and it’s got the style to prove it”).
How many black women have the kind of power and fame Rihanna possesses – and why is that power being used to promote sexual torture of women? And how does her personal power help other women who are oppressed by race, gender and class? One woman’s popularity does not equal the freedom of many.
Can’t we start from the basis that no woman deserve to be hurt? It is problematic that, as a survivor of violence herself, Rhianna would make a video sending cultural signifiers which imply that violence is a way of solving problems. In so doing, she has contributed to a hostile environment for women everywhere.
Rihanna has 81 million Facebook, 42 million Twitter and 16 million Instagram followers. Many will be young women, and many of those young black women. They observe a script loaded with eroticised violence, themes inspired by the sex industry and pimp culture, lyrics celebrating the debasement of women. For many young women imprisoned in America’s juvenile justice system, violence was not a pathway to empowerment and success. The enculturation of violence as a normalised pattern of behaviour has been identified as a key factor in their criminal behaviour.
Girls looking to Rihanna as an icon of success, wealth and power deserve better than brutal, pornified snuff which plays into harmful cultural, racist and misogynist stereotypes in which all women lose.
Inciting Violence Against Women Isn’t ‘Art’, and Tyler the Creator Shouldn’t Be Granted Entry
By Caitlin Roper
“It’s just irony” seems to be the go-to defence for misogyny these days.
As a female activist for grassroots organisation Collective Shout, I hear it all the time.
After the global backlash to Kanye West’s sexually violent Monster music video – which featured lingerie clad female corpses hanging from the ceilings, West in bed with two dead women and holding the decapitated head of another – West’s team was quick to issue a disclaimer that is was “an art piece, and to be taken as such.” This exempted the video from critical analysis, apparently.
When we campaigned against Redfoo for his misogynistic Literally I Can’t video, in which women were mocked, abused and told to “shut the f*ck up” for refusing the sexual advances of men at a party, Redfoo played the victim, claiming his “art” – there’s that word again – was misunderstood.
When so-called “ute art” in Townsville depicted a chilling life-sized sticker image of an unconscious woman bound in the back of a ute next to a shovel, women who spoke out were accused of just not getting the joke.
Art. Satire. Irony. A joke. The premise is we just don’t get it and are therefore not permitted to comment.
So it should come as no surprise that our campaign calling on the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to revoke U.S. rapper Tyler the Creator’s visa should attract the same predictable response. The real issue is uptight women who can’t take a joke and who “need a good dick,” rather than hate speech and incitement to violence against women.
Tyler fans argue his earlier work is satirical, that he is simply misunderstood, defamed, in fact, by feminists. His cult-like followers not only deny their idol’s problematic real life treatment of women who dare to openly disagree with him, but even fuel it.
In 2011, Canadian recording artists Tegan and Sara published an open letter on their website, accusing Tyler of misogyny for his extremely sexually violent lyrics detailing rape, strangling, mutilating and chopping up women, stuffing their bodies into car boots, trapping them in his basement and raping their corpses. Tyler responded in a tweet:
In less than 140 characters, Tyler sent a clear message about women who dared challenge his authority.
The notion that women who speak out against male violence against women just need some “hard dick” is not new. It’s a common way of deflecting from and trivializing our abuse. This method also intimidates many women into silent compliance. It’s all the more sinister in this case, given the fact that Tegan and Sara are lesbian women, and the historical significance of so-called “corrective rape” – a horrific hate crime against lesbian women based on the belief that they can be “cured” of their sexual orientation through rape.
Tyler the Creator also responded to the Kanye West campaign on Twitter by naming two of the women involved, Sharon Haywood of Adios Barbie and Melinda Tankard Reist, Collective Shout co-founder, calling them “f*cking bitches” and inviting them to “suck [his] d*ck.”
In 2013, Collective Shout ran a campaign calling on then Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor to revoke Tyler the Creator’s visa, arguing he was a controversial visa applicant who posed a danger to women. One of our young activists, Talitha Stone, wrote a tweet accusing Tyler of misogyny. Tyler shared the tweet with his 1.7 million followers, who took the bait and turned on her with an onslaught of abuse and rape threats. One Tyler fan threatened to “cut her tits off” and another – a 16 year old Melbourne private school boy – posted what he believed was her home address for the mob to do with what they would. (He was one street off). We were up half the night liaising with police trying to ensure Talitha’s safety.
Talitha bravely attended Tyler’s Sydney concert to report on it for us. She had no idea he would launch a vicious tirade of abuse against her, unaware she was in the audience filming. The crowd cheered as he called her a bitch, a whore, and a c**t, and dedicated his song “Bitch Suck D*ck” to her.
While our own Minister failed to act, we were heartened to learn the following year that New Zealand had denied Tyler entry, with his incitement of violence against Talitha being instrumental in its decision.
Two years on, Tyler is set to return to Australia for a series of all-ages (no age limits) concerts. We have called on Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to revoke his visa, arguing that Tyler meets the Department’s definition of a Controversial Visa Applicant. This is a person:
“whose presence in Australia may, because of their activities, reputation, known record or the cause they represent and propagate, vilify or incite discord in the Australian community or a segment of that community, or represent a danger to the Australian community or a segment of that community.”
Domestic violence is at epidemic proportions in Australia; women are being murdered by men at a rate of two per week. The groundswell is growing, with increasing pressure on the Government to take action to save women’s lives. And yet, at the same time as extolling its National Plan of Action to Address Violence Against Women, the same Government rolls out the red carpet to recording artists who rap about raping and mutilating them for entertainment, and who have personal histories of inciting violence against women.
Why are we so quick to condemn men’s violence against women yet so hesitant to acknowledge the drivers of this violence – the attitudes towards women, the ingrained sexism, a culture where women are routinely reduced to mere sexual objects for men’s use and entertainment?
Tyler’s own fans are helping us prove our point. We are being targeted with threats of violence and abuse from fans demonstrating a cult-like loyalty to their idol. These same fans claim that music that glorifies extreme violence has no impact on their attitudes towards women, and they remind us of this between threats of rape and calling us bitches, whores and worse.
Collective Shout co-founder Melinda Tankard Reist was tweeted a picture of herself with a pro-gang rape slogan, one of Tyler’s lyrics, alongside the words, “What you gonna do now bitch you surrounded” (sic):
Our National Operations Manager, Coralie Alison, was similarly targeted by U.S. Talk Radio host Shane Powers, who called her a “feminazi,” offered her “dick pics” and went on to make lewd comments about Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s wife. He seemed to enjoy intimidating a woman in this way, taking pleasure, with his male guests, from the thought of her violation and humiliation.
What are these men really saying when they tell us we need some d*ck? It sounds very close to “you need to be raped.”
We predicted that Tyler’s presence would incite discord into our community and pose a danger to women. It’s already happening and he hasn’t even stepped onto our shores. We need our Government to act on its promises to address violence against women and send a clear signal by not letting him.
Maybe next time there could be an exhibition for survivors like me?
Last month a new exhibition – X-Rated; the sex industry in the ACT – opened at the Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG).
The exhibition is funded by the ACT Government and the Interchange General Practice.
It is of particular interest to me as I spent some years exploited as a prostitute in Canberra in the 1990’s. I wanted to see how an industry that I have firsthand knowledge and experience of would be depicted within an art gallery.
I wondered if it would it be an honest and realistic insight into what actually happens.
I left the exhibition after 20 minutes, feeling sick and numb.
I went home and cried.
I cried because of the ignorance of those putting this exhibition together.
I cried because the exhibition was one sided – it clearly had an agenda to glamorise the sex industry.
I cried because there was no story of a survivor of the sex industry.
And I cried because some of the images caused disturbing memories to come flooding back – memories that I have spent 20 years healing from. In 20 minutes I went back to that horrible time in my life.
Anyone who has experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder will understand my experience that day.
The exhibition includes photos of several brothels from across Canberra. I had done time in just about all the brothels on show.
Working in a brothel is not like any other job. It’s unbelievably stressful . You don’t generally have any other options for earning money, so poverty is a main driver. It’s hard on your body, hard on your mind and hard on your overall wellbeing.
You tend to not be able to stay more than a few months in one place.
I was 17 when I first started work in a Canberra brothel. The owner knew I was underage and was fine with it. He knew the younger I looked, the more desirable I would be to punters and the more money I would make for him. There was no duty of care toward me.
Seeing pictures of these brothels brought back to me the many violations that were done to me. The pressure to do anal sex, the extra money offered to go condom free, the drugs offered in lieu of money, group sex with a football team who treated me like a piece of meat, the call-outs to hotels where I had no idea who I would encounter and the guys who wanted to dominate me –happy to rough me up to get what they want.
There was also a very large photo of a peep show booth – which is the small black room where men sit alone. They insert coins to make a flap open for them to view a live strip show. The man is unseen by the woman – he leers at her while masturbating into a tissue and calling out vulgar instructions.
It is a pretty degrading experience. I know because I experienced it.
The exhibition shows a range of photos showing stills from porn movies. Many show women receiving oral sex from an attentive man, with the woman depicted with her back arched and her head thrown back in pleasure.
This is nothing more than glamorising the sex industry, where the man paying for the service has the power.
A woman is normally the one with a dick shoved in her mouth, while a john holds her head still, ‘encouraging’ her to deep throat.
The reality is that in prostitution your vagina is rubbed raw from all the johns you have serviced; often so painful after a particularly aggressive john that you have to use numbing gel to keep working. And all the while expected to like a porn star as though the overweight public servant on top of you is the greatest fuck you’ve ever had.
I was not surprised that the Interchange General Practice would fund this exhibition as it was always the place to get a script for drugs if you weren’t coping or to get an STD check signed off on the spot. But for the ACT Government to be funding the exhibition – with the people’s taxes – is appalling.
Is our government in the business of keeping vulnerable women supressed and making a buck from their hardship, happy to make money on the registration and taxation of these businesses? Do our elected representatives really have no problem supporting something that so degrading to women?
It seems that it has bought into the ridiculous lie that the selling of time share on you vagina is a really good thing for everyone.
The exhibition blatantly glamorises the sex industry.
There was nothing from survivors, nothing showing the sordid, abusive and damaging elements of this industry, it was just presented as an interesting look at the history of the industry.
In writing this piece, painful though it is, I want to give voice to all the survivors who were ignored and disappeared by this exhibition. Maybe next time there could be an exhibition for survivors like me.
*Name suppressed by request
Sex industry’s cultural celebration of female sexual exploitation in the ACT
Dr Caroline Norma
The Canberra Museum and Gallery obviously called in a range of favours to stage its latest exhibition. The ACT’s most successful pornography distributor, Robbie Swan, gave it access to his private collection of sex industry memorabilia; a local Canberra medical centre formerly undertaking STD checks on women in prostitution supplied corporate sponsorship, and the commonwealth Censorship Board conferred the exhibition with a ratings classification.
The resulting ‘X-rated: The Sex Industry in the ACT’ production pays homage to the business of prostitution and pornography in the Territory: the venues, products and operating environment of the sex industry are showcased in glass-boxed exhibits featuring brothel photos, pornographic video covers, industry magazines and government whitepapers.
The pimps and pornographers whose financial interests drive the sex industry, and the sexual interests of the customers who supply their income stream, are mostly the authors of the perspective that shapes the exhibition.
The industry’s hard-fought battles in throwing off government ‘repression’ and ‘censorship’ are narrated in great detail, as are its trials and tribulations in achieving brothel legalisation in the Territory. There are humorous anecdotes about a sex industry association running a brothel ‘open day’ fundraiser in 1992 for World AIDS Day, and a pornographer applying for a government export development grant.
Declines in the industry’s $34-million-dollar turnover in the 1990s are lamented; the internet, and the fact that police don’t raid illegal pornography sellers, are blamed. Stories about profit-making and industry deregulation are the threads that run through the sex industry’s exhibited history of its operations in the ACT.
Amidst the industry’s alternating self-congratulation and self-pity, exhibition goers are led to forget how pimps and pornographers actually make their money, and what cost Canberra residents continue to pay for their commercial activities. The exhibition mentions these costs only briefly: the rape and sexual enslavement of Thai woman ‘SK’ in a Braddon apartment in 2007, the death of 17-year-old Janine Cameron in a Fyshwick brothel in 2008, and the arson attacks on legal brothels in 2010 and 2012 are cited in a far-off corner of the room.
The fact that ACT Police failed to undertake checks of any sex industry venue in the Territory for a period of five years in the early 2000s, and reports that a Canberra pimp estimated 20 women were being brought into the ACT for prostitution each week in 2014, do not warrant a mention.
Public funding of the Canberra Museum and Gallery appears to have given no pause to the curator in compiling an exhibition that showcases the private business achievements of an industry that wreaks havoc on the lives of the citizens it exploits and the communities it infiltrates. Indeed, from the exhibition’s design, it’s not entirely clear Rowan Henderson brought with her any awareness of the human rights violations that fundamentally underpin the business of prostitution and pornography. Her glass boxes offer evidence of the sex industry’s abuses openly and unselfconsciously, and entirely uncritically. Exhibits are blithely presented as merely part of the industry’s spectacle, as if they couldn’t possibly pose any ethical challenge to visiting patrons.
One exhibit, for example, describes the sexual use of an Aboriginal woman, ‘Regina’, in the production of a pornographic film ‘The passion of the Canberra brickworks’ in the early 1990s. Another presents the first-hand testimony of a woman named Nikki Stern that poverty and pressure from her boyfriend caused her entry into prostitution and subsequent use in pornography. A few other exhibits narrate the fact pornographers from countries like the US and Germany flew into Canberra immediately after the industry was legalised and brought women with them for filming.
Patrons are confronted with no ethical challenges arising from the exhibition’s inclusion of women who have been used in Canberra’s sex industry. There is no mention of how their lives ended up after years of being pimped and made into pornography; in fact, the exhibition features close-range photographs inside brothels showing women’s faces clearly in colour.
For museum curators and others in the creative arts, making a public spectacle out of the sex industry and its activities might be a titillating and curiosity-satisfying endeavour performed in service of the leisure and entertainment needs of middle-class people who have never been homeless, exploited or destitute. They will never be held to account by the sex industry victims they put on show.
Victims don’t have a platform allocated at the Canberra Museum and Gallery from which to speak back to the sex industry’s six-month long, government-funded public assertion of its historical legitimacy in the ACT. Their suffering, humiliation, physical and psychological pain, and lost sense of self are nowhere explained in Henderson’s exhibition, and their murders, suicides and overdoses are almost wholly undescribed.
Museum curators, along with their patronising publics, are never confronted with the human toll the sex industry inflicts on society’s most vulnerable people. Exhibitions like that currently spruiked by the Canberra Museum and Gallery supplant this reality with a predictable stream of comforting propaganda about the sex industry’s flamboyant history, colourful characters and whimsical endeavours.
The sex industry exhibition runs till September this year, and so for a full six months the Canberra Museum and Gallery will be giving cultural endorsement to female sexual exploitation in the Territory. This endorsement will forever stand in the Museum’s own history as an act of betrayal of the ACT’s most vulnerable women and girls. I hope this history is one day narrated in an exhibition where the sex industry’s victims are finally able to respond to elite cultural celebration of their degradation; then we will see many curators, creative producers and artists ducking for cover.
Dr Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University.
On Wednesday at Readings bookstore in Carlton, Melbourne, I’ll be emceeing the launch and Q&A for Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism (Connor Court publishing) a collected of 20 authors edited by writer and law tutor Miranda Kiraly and writer and RMIT research fellow Meagan Tyler. Last week I published an extract from the book’s introduction. Today, as promised, is another extract, titled ‘I do what I want, fuck yeah!’: moving beyond ‘a woman’s choice’ by Canadian feminist and blogger Meghan Murphy whose work I’ve been privileged to publish here at MTR quite a few times.
‘A woman’s choice’ is, without a doubt, a central tenet of feminist discourse. Creating options and choices – real choices – for women, not simply the illusion of choice within the very narrow confines of capitalist patriarchy, is a fundamental and appropriate goal for the feminist movement. But what we’ve seen evolve from that notion over the past 20 years is something of a different beast.
The ‘I do what I want, fuck yeah!’ ethos of ’90s riot grrrl feminism, which some attribute as the beginnings of the third wave, is appealing, especially to younger women. It can feel very empowering to imagine you are throwing off society’s chains, embracing and rejecting, all at once, restrictive, misogynist labels such as ‘slut’ and ‘whore’, as Bikini Kill lead singer, Kathleen Hanna famously did, taking off her top at her shows, to reveal the word ‘slut’ written across her stomach. Before Hanna, Madonna became a feminist icon of sorts during the ’80s in a similar way, embracing ‘sexy’ clothing and imagery. She was seen as representative of a woman taking control of her sexuality and using her femininity to gain power. But while this kind of reclaiming of traditionally sexist or male-defined imagery and language might feel temporarily liberating, the question of whether, for example, we can ‘reclaim’ the word ‘slut’ or make sexualisation or objectification our own, simply by choosing to, is less straightforward.
In 2011, a Canadian police officer suggested to students at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto that ‘women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised’. These comments instigated the first ‘SlutWalk’ march, which took place in Toronto on 3 April 2011. The marches spread around the world to places such as Las Vegas, Melbourne, Bhopal, and Sao Paulo. ‘SlutWalk’ was heralded as the third wave incarnation of Take Back the Night. A blogger for Ms. Magazine wrote about the march that took place in Los Angeles in 2012: ‘It’s that third wave-y feel – that individualistic empowerment – that has made “SlutWalk” popular among young women,’ adding that the marches were ‘less emotionally intense than anti-rape rallies such as Take Back the Night, “SlutWalk” is more for spectacle.’ This is a pretty accurate assessment, but ‘popularity’ and a lighter message do not necessarily translate into ‘better’, when it comes to radical movements.
Rather than focusing on attacking male violence against women and rape culture, the marches seemed performative, and prioritised media attention. From the outset there was a focus on personal, individual notions of empowerment and the ‘right’ to wear sexy clothing – that ‘I do what I want, fuck yeah!’ mantra dominated. Performing to the male gaze was positioned as a positive thing, so long as women were choosing objectification.
It didn’t take long before the marches began promoting the sex industry as an empowering personal choice for women, many of them actively advocating for the legalisation of prostitution. In New York City, the march featured lingerie-wearing pole dancers, and ‘SlutWalk’ Las Vegas created a slogan that described ‘sex work’ as something women enjoyed: ‘Slut isn’t a look, it’s an attitude. And whether you enjoy sex for pleasure or work, it’s never an invitation to violence.’ What was erased by ‘SlutWalk’s focus on ‘choice’ and personal empowerment was the context within which women make ‘choices’, particularly with regard to their ‘choice’ to work in the sex industry or to ‘self-objectify’, whether in a strip club, on Instagram, or on the street.
In 2011, ‘SlutWalk’ organisers in Washington DC planned a fundraiser at a strip club. From a feminist perspective, the idea of holding a fundraiser for a supposedly feminist event in a place that exists to further entrench the image of women as sexy objects that exist for male pleasure seemed odd, to say the least. When challenged, the organisers responded: ‘This is a non-judgmental movement that embraces all choices a woman wishes to make.’ But what does that mean, exactly? Are we so ‘supportive’ of ‘women’s choices’ that we are incapable of understanding and being critical of the context of sexism and classism that might lead women to ‘choose’ to work in a strip club? And that, rather than criticising ‘women’s choices’ when we challenge the sex industry, we are actually challenging male power and men’s choices to objectify and exploit women for their own pleasure/ gain and an economy that fails to offer women opportunities to make a decent living that does not involve stripping, prostitution, or pornography.
In the face of severe lack of choice, ‘SlutWalk’ opted, not to push back, but to simply reframe the conversation. ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ was the message; as though if we can convince women (and society at large) that the sex industry can empower them, or if a few individual women claim they enjoy their work as strippers or escorts, then everything will be fine.
In the face of ongoing and virulent misogyny, sexual harassment, rape culture, porn culture, and violence against women, liberal feminism and the third wave seem to have taken the easy route, focusing on ‘choice’ and personal identity rather than confronting the root of the problem…
Of late, it has become standard to talk about ‘choice’ in terms of individual choice rather than collective choice (and collective freedom), as though ‘my choice’ could not possibly affect anyone in the world except me. And, as though ‘her choice’ can somehow negate any justifiable criticism or questioning of said choice or the context within which said choice was made. Used in this context, it is a way a shutting down the conversation. And where would feminism be (and where will it go) without conversation and critique? We can be critical of choices without actually shaming women. We need to think critically about our choices if we are to understand and challenge the larger systems of power that impact our choices.
In the face of ongoing and virulent misogyny, sexual harassment, rape culture, porn culture, and violence against women, liberal feminism and the third wave seem to have taken the easy route, focusing on ‘choice’ and personal identity rather than confronting the root of the problem…
Many critics do see this ‘anything goes’/‘I do what I want’ mantra as being one the more significant weaknesses of the third wave, and of ‘postfeminist’ discourse; and while this attitude is not universally applicable to the entire wave, it certainly seems to have built considerable momentum. Does anything and everything count as ‘feminist’ just because we choose it?
While making choices for ourselves can most certainly be empowering, and while I would never advocate against a woman’s right to choose to wear stilettos, take her husband’s name in marriage, or even to sell sex, that she can or does make this choice does not equate to ‘feminism’. To make a choice for oneself – no matter how good or strong or fulfilled it might make us feel – does not necessarily advance the rights or status of women globally and it does not push back against the system of patriarchy. While feeling good is great, it does not constitute political change. In other words, feminism is a movement, not a self-help book.
… individual choices, divorced from that context, do not equate to feminist acts. Beyond that, the fetishisation of individual choice actually erases that context and the fact that patriarchy is a system of power. If we pretend that a woman’s choice to, say, get breast augmentation surgery is a feminist choice because it is a woman who is making that choice, we ignore the context behind that choice – objectification, body-hatred, capitalism, porn culture – all things that contribute to the oppression of women as a whole.
Conveniently for capitalism and patriarchy, if any choice a woman makes is viewed as liberating or ‘feminist’, she can even ‘choose’ to support both systems and no one has the right to challenge her. In ‘choice feminism’, if a woman ‘chooses’ to produce pornography which, in turn, contributes to the oppression and objectification, not only of the women acting in pornography, but of women as a class and contributes to the billion-dollar pornography industry, her choice remains untouchable because she is a woman making a choice that empowers her. Maybe she even identifies as a feminist! Even better. Now pornography is feminist – just like that.
Famous burlesque performer, Dita Von Teese, is quoted as saying, in defence of critics who call her act disempowering for women: ‘How can it be disempowering when I’m up there for seven minutes and I’ve just made $20 000? I feel pretty powerful.’ This statement embodies the problem with today’s ‘choice feminism’, making ‘power’ about the individual at the expense of others. Beyond that, if money is the primary basis upon which we decide what empowers women and what does not, we are in danger of colluding with a system that is responsible for the exploitation and oppression of millions of people worldwide. If women are compensated in exchange for their objectified bodies or in exchange for sex acts, that doesn’t actually challenge the sexist ideas behind that objectification and exploitation. We’re left in the same position we started, despite the fact that Von Teese can buy a few more pairs of Louboutins.
‘Choice’, and the feminist context within which it was born, has been co-opted by dominant systems and the ideology of liberal feminism, and they have made it their own. We are now being told what choice and freedom looks like by those who have no particular interest in feminism or in ending gendered oppression. Those systems are the ones who tell us that being radical, or revolutionary or feminist even, is bad. That we will be picked on and attacked if we ask for too much or the wrong kind of freedom and empowerment. They offer us their version of choice, and tell us that empowerment is easily available to us – it’s just got to be pleasant. And sexy. And, hey guess what! We don’t even need the feminist movement anymore! We can ‘choose’ to objectify ourselves now because we are free. Slap an ‘empowering’ label on it and voilà! It’s freedom and everyone else needs to shut up because ‘it’s a choice’.
Well, no. It isn’t as simple as that. Feminism is about resisting patriarchy, not about being able to just join in. We don’t ‘win’ because we can act in oppressive ways just as men do. When we argue either that sexism will happen with or without us, so we may as well participate and make the best of it, or that if women can profit financially, this will somehow erase sexism. Presenting a radical challenge to patriarchy is not just going along with it, it is not being told by Girls Gone Wild producers what freedom looks like or that because one woman is getting rich from strip shows we are all, consequently, emancipated.
Choice without politics or theory behind it doesn’t hold power. ‘Choice’ at the expense of others – particularly the marginalised – is not radical nor does it promote equality. ‘Choosing’ to objectify ourselves, for example, is not what our second wave sisters meant when they fought for the ‘right to choose’. And empowerment, through choice, was never intended to be about individual women, but rather about empowerment on a large scale, and freedom from oppression for all marginalised people…
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
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Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
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.