‘This book helps parents understand how we can win back girlhood – happy, wild and free. It’s the core of individuality and self-belief – and is the new feminism that we want for our daughters’
Globally renown psychologist and author Steve Biddulph has been a remarkable support for our movement Collective Shout since the earliest days. He not only cared about the cause, he cared about us, as the individual activists at the forefront of this new grassroots campaigning movement against sexualsation, objectification and pornification. I recall one of our first gatherings as a core team in Sydney, Steve leading us in a session not on how we could change the world, but how to look after ourselves while attempting it. Since that time, eight years ago, Steve has continued to check in, with wise advice and wisdom about self-sustainability for the long haul.
I was honoured when Steve asked me to write a chapter on ‘Girls and the online world’ for his 2013 book Raising Girls, a follow-up to his million-copy best seller Raising Boys. Now Steve has again featured my work in his latest title 10 Things Girls Need Most: And How They Will Help Her Throughout Her Life (Finch Publishing). This new title, available through Booktopia, is already on the best seller lists.
The book is interactive. “These interactive tasks immediately get you thinking about your own life, your family and, of course, your daughter… It provides the very best information that we have about girls growing up today – and, alongside, are interactive tasks and self-exploration practices will help you to put that into practice”, Steve says.
Steve describes the aims of the book:
“Firstly, to help you understand how daughters grow and thrive, and to be confident in raising your own. To lay down the foundations of good mental health early in your daughter’s life, and to keep her strong all the way through. And secondly, to enlist you in the new wave of feminism, fighting against a world that is so toxic to our kids.
We have the potential to change the world our daughters face. Girls are being exploited. We need to challenge the companies worldwide that profit from making girls insecure and compliant through manipulative marketing.
This book helps parents understand how we can win back girlhood – happy, wild and free. It’s the core of individuality and self-belief – and is the new feminism that we want for our daughters.”
Here’s an extract from the chapter describing my work with young people:
A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS
Melinda Tankard Reist is standing before an audience of two hundred girls aged from twelve to eighteen. Neat in their school uniforms, they are seated in curved rows on the floor. Uncharacteristically for this age group, they are utterly silent. Melinda is the founder of Collective Shout, a national network of young women campaigners against the sexual exploitation of women and girls. She will criss-cross to schools across the country giving this talk about ‘sex, porn and love’ dozens of times a year to girls of every ethnicity and demographic. When Melinda finishes speaking, the girls erupt in applause and besiege her with tearful thanks for her message. They will tell stories of their own experience – of being touched or assaulted by boys or men on public transport, of being leered at or spoken to obscenely in the schoolyard. Or, in their relationships with boyfriends, of feeling pressured into doing things they didn’t want to do, and of sexual encounters entered into happily and trustingly, where nice boys that they thought they could trust became aggressive, spoke demeaningly or physically hurt them.
When Melinda talks to boys about these issues, they often express shame and regret, recognizing they have acted in these ways, but not seeing how harmful and disrespectful their behaviour has been. They literally thought this was how you were supposed to treat girls.
The world our kids grow up in today sexually is not a happy place. Sex has been so misused, in advertising, the media and in music videos – and most powerfully of all in the torrent of online pornography – that it has badly distorted what young people think about how it works, and how it can be part of a caring, gradually unfolding relationship.
A recent study by the Burnet Institute in Sydney, Australia, found that 90 per cent of boys and 60 per cent of girls had encountered pornography between the ages of thirteen and sixteen. Thirteen was the average age of first exposure for boys. Forty-four per cent of older teenage boys watch porn weekly, and 37 per cent daily. This indicates a fair bit of exposure. Pornography is a vast and highly profitable industry. Our consumer society is industrializing sexuality, and the kids are its first trial run….
…for the boys who see these depictions, the women in pornography are paid to act as if they like and enjoy this treatment – slapping, strangling, hair-pulling, and being called abusive and demeaning names. For a fourteen-year-old boy the mislearning about what sex is like is bewildering, if not dangerous.
Here is what Melinda (and educators like her) report from talking to adolescent girls:
1. They are being increasingly and persistently pressured into sexual acts that they don’t want or enjoy. This pressure often becomes the central focus of the relationship with boys who they thought liked them or wanted to be with them.
2. When once teenagers enjoyed hours of kissing, or had a relationship consisting of talking, laughing, spending time together and snogging, this now doesn’t happen at all. It’s too much a delay in getting to the goal.
3. Sex isn’t really sexy any more. There is no sensuality, no body pleasure, no tenderness. You are meat to be used. The sex girls have with boys is fourth rate.
4. As a result, by sixteen or seventeen, girls are often totally disillusioned about sex, put off it by the dismal lack of skill, awareness or connection offered by the boys in their lives. It becomes a routine, dreary chore to put up with if you want to be in the company of a male. (How progressive and modern!)
5. Sexual relationships that start at fourteen or fifteen rarely last beyond a few weeks, often less. They create a lowered bar, a kind of resignation, and drift into multiple, equally empty relationships.
This doesn’t just affect the girls who are sexually active. The effect on the social world that all our daughters move in – at school, university or going out in public on the street – is that it is constantly sexualized in an invasive and uncomfortable way. A girl finds she is being ranked and compared on sexual criteria on social media or even to her face. Some boys feel that they are entitled to touch or grope girls, harass them or worse. Some men gaze invasively at girls without any sense of respect or protectiveness.
Girls lose a sense of agency or that their needs matter. Melinda hears girls talk about their first sexual experience, being anxious only about how it was for the boy. ’He seemed to like it.’ ‘I hope I looked OK.’ There is nothing about their own enjoyment.
By mid-secondary school, requests for naked ‘selfies’ come thick and fast. Boys expect this from a girl they are friends with. Girls ask: ‘How can I refuse without hurting his feelings?’ But those photos may be traded among boys, used as revenge, or to blackmail them into having sex, then shared anyway. Girls in many countries have taken their own lives because of the humiliation or betrayal they experience, the sense of having their selves taken away.
Another sad side effect, is that non-sexual, actual friendships – once a great part of being young, and a stepping stone to greater confidence – have almost disappeared as everyone thinks they are supposed to be sexual.
SO WHAT TO DO?
In the face of this avalanche of hurt, the answer that educators and activists are giving girls is on multiple fronts, but has a central core. It’s the thing that sends girls at Melinda’s talks into empowered assertion of their own feelings. You Don’t Have To. Your own sexual wishes, enjoyment, values, and choices, are what you have a right to stand up for. You aren’t in this world to satisfy boys.
The exceptional Australian author, journalist, literary critic and essayist Antonella Gambotto-Burke, is on the verge of releasing her latest book Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love.
When I first began reading Antonella’s books and essays (in Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone and elsewhere), I was taken aback by the quality and eloquence of writing, the mastery of language, the way she captured and described people so acutely, her often acerbic observations and sharp wit. A magazine profile she wrote on former footballer Warwick Capper and his wife Joanne (included in The Best Australian Profiles, Black Inc., 2004) had me in hysterics. Another profile, not so amusing, on the porn star Sasha Grey, was beyond comparison. Her writing on the global trade in female bodies should be mandatory reading for anyone concerned about human rights violations. The Eclipse: A Memoir of Suicide, (one of her five books) is an intimate and searing portrayal of the death of her much loved brother at his own hand. Its pages drip with grief. But she would consider her greatest achievement her daughter Bethesda who arrived as a later-in-life gift which caused an earthquake in her soul and caused her to re-arrange her life and priorities.
For those interested in the theme of motherhood and attachment parenting, comes Antonella’s latest work, Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love. In addition to her essays on love, death, marriage and motherhood, Mama includes long interviews with (in her words – I say that because I’m included!) “some of the most extraordinary people alive today: Steve Biddulph, Stephanie Coontz, artist Michael Hague, Tom Hodgkinson, Sheila Kitzinger, Laura Markham, Gabor Mate, Michel Odent, Attachment Parenting International’s Lysa Parker, MamaBake’s Michelle Shearer, Melinda Tankard Reist and many others. Connecting with each of them was a tremendous privilege”.
“A gifted writer, Antonella needs only a few lines to turn our attention toward the essential” writes obstetrician and visionary Michel Odent in his introduction to Mama.
Antonella argues that there’s no place for a debate between stay-at-home mothers and working mothers. “The debate we should be having is with the architects of a culture that makes calm and attentive parenthood close to impossible”.
“A number of women I know stifled their sensitivity and maternal instincts to compete in male-dominated spheres, eroding – and, often, destroying – the most important relationships of their lives.
“The bar is masculine, and women must adopt traditionally masculine characteristics – cultivated insensitivity, goal-orientated thinking, the prioritizing of the material – to compete,” she writes.
In her book, she asks why we are still conditioned to understand sensitivity as weakness, and why we continue to accept this conditioning. Other questions she raises include:
- Since when did ratification from a dispassionate boss trump the nurturance of human life?
- When did motherhood come to be understood as a series of “thankless tasks”?
- Why are breastfeeding numbers around the world dropping?
- How have we come to understand babies as “blobs”?
- How can we heal rifts with our children?
- What is behind the tsunami of behavioural disorders?
- Why is our culture so sexualised, and how is it affecting our children?
- What roles do fathers have in making a serene experience of motherhood?
- Why are so many children committing suicide?
- What are we doing to mothers, and how will this impact on our own future?
Sydney: April 23, Mosman Library, 7pm, Antonella will share a conversation with Steve Biddulph, one of the world’s bestselling parenting authors, about Mama, motherhood and attachment parenting. Wine and food. Bookings essential, and can be made through Pages & Pages Bookshop in Mosman.
Melbourne: May 30 Readings in Hawthorn Melbourne,12pm. Bookings are essential here. Cost of tickets is redeemable against the cost of the book.
Northern NSW: May 6 Lennox Head Library, 10am, with Michelle Shearer of MamaBake.
Other events to be announced.
To preorder Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love, click here
As a special offer to MTR readers buy Mama for $5 off the RRP of $34.99. Click through to Arbon Publishing , add Mama to your shopping cart and enter the code: MTR to receive your discounted copy.
Girls’ anxieties turn to healthy anger when they see they are part of a wider cause, writes Steve Biddulph.
This year, on a multi-country speaking tour for my new book Raising Girls, I talked to thousands of parents of girls. It was an eye-opening experience. For 25 years I’d worked primarily on the challenges of boys. The predominant emotion in that work was sorrow – at how damaged the masculine condition was – how the wars and traumas of the twentieth century had left a generation of men shut down, remote and awkward around their children. It was not unusual to see men and women in those audiences weeping at the damage they had sustained from fathers who were unable to convey their love.
The gatherings with parents of girls, though, have a very different emotional tone. Parents of girls are angry. They see very plainly the exploitation, anxiety creation, and uncaring assaults on young girls both by sexist males, still celebrated in the media, music and sport, and by the corporate world, which by its own admission targetted pre-teen girls deliberately from the mid 1990’s, to sell them products they neither want nor need. The objectification of girls and women was at the heart of the womens’ movement in the 1960’s, and this is no less the case today. Sexism is staging a comeback, media driven and commercially motivated, and it’s the kids who are being hurt the worst.
Researchers such as Richard Eckersley have noted deteriorating mental health among girls worldwide, predominantly anxiety conditions, but manifesting in everything from eating disorders to binge drinking. A shocking one in five girls now suffers a mental health disorder during her growing up years. While most girls are still doing fine, few parents have not heard their daughter say “I hate my body”, or “I hate my life”. The boundaries around our children are down. Home is no longer a haven, the adults are too busy to talk, and advertizing blares from TV’s in every room. Social media holds out the promise of friendship but often delivers cruelty and judgementalness.
Its a paradox that this is happening at a time when girls have never had more scope. They easily outdo boys educationally, and are far more employable. Girls today see that a woman can be a prime minister, but also they see the horrifically sexist way that woman is treated.
Anger is a healthy emotion because it leads to action. There are many things we can do. Our daughters need to know that they are part of a long, and successful struggle, and one which they have to participate in because its gains could so easily be lost. Perhaps the cure for the narcissism of fashion, for paralyzing anxiety over body issues and pleasing boys, might lie in lifting one’s gaze and seeing that this is victimhood, and should not be tolerated. That their problems are linked to those of girls and women right across the globe.
Last month, while the world was discussing Miley Cyrus’s dance routines, an eight year old girl in Yemen died of from internal injuries caused by sexual intercourse on her wedding night. Let me repeat that – an eight year old girl. Its a seamless flow from the poverty that leads from child brides, into child prostitution and trafficking, to abusive pornography, and on to spotty boys in your shopping mall wearing t-shirts with images of women bound and gagged. Its all the same struggle and we can fight it from here.
There needs to be a real uprising in the west against the extraordinary rates of sexual assault, workplace exploitation, and lack of educational opportunity that still characterizes girls lives in the developing world, and is far from defeated at home. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryll Wudunn in their book Half the Sky, document a hundred thousand girls being trafficked into brothels each year in China. Across Asia and Africa, the deliberate neglect of baby girls has led to a gender imbalance, representing the loss of a hundred million lives. In Dubai, a woman will be jailed for BEING raped.
It all starts at home. We have to be wide awake, or we can end up being the vehicles of harm to our own daughters. Three generations of domination by the visual media of television and now the internet have created massive overfocus on how people LOOK. If we talk endlessly about diets, weight and food, we can’t expect our daughters not to catch this disease. In my talks I ask a question of the audience. “Put up your hand if you are unhappy with your own body”. In auditoriums of five hundred people, only two or three don’t put up their hands. “You see”, I tell them “the trouble we are already in?”
How fathers treat daughters is also critical. Showing respect, asking her views, supporting her interests and vocations with generous amounts of your time, simply enjoying her company, sends a message that she has profound worth. Fathers are the first opposite gender relationship a girl has, and set a benchmark which can immunize her from manipulation or misuse by boys.
But most of all, if we can show our girls that they are part of something larger, they soon become activated. A movement is an outbreak of common sense. Of course slavery was wrong. Of course we have to protect the environment. Of course women should be equal. But movements require lots of work, personal and political. Getting involved is in itself liberating, for the fight itself links us together and brings us fully alive. Our daughters need feminism, and it needs them. There’s a world at stake.
Steve Biddulph is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology, and author of Raising Girls,Raising Boys and The New Manhood.
After writing the multi-million best-selling Raising Boys in 2003, psychologist Steve Biddulph thought his life work was done.
But the parenting guru and father of two kept hearing sad stories of friend’s daughters and coming into contact with parents in despair about how unhappy their girls were. They were plagued by eating disorders, self-harm, and depression.
“When I was writing on boys, girls were doing fine,” says Biddulph. “Then about five years ago that started to change. We began noticing a sudden and marked plunge in girls’ mental health.
“The average girl, every girl, was stressed and depressed in a way we hadn’t seen before. Nearly one in five has a serious mental health issue during her growing up years. You can’t ignore that”.
So he didn’t, writing a guidebook - Raising Girls: From babyhood to womanhood – helping your daughter to grow up wise, warm and strong (Finch Publishing) – which shot to no.2 on UK Amazon’s charts this week (until it was knocked off by a diet book recommended by Posh Spice).
Biddulph argues that girls have to be proactively launched into healthy womanhood.
“We haven’t loved girls well enough, understood them deeply enough, or stood alongside them to face the hyenas of this world that wanted to tear them down,” he says.
Biddulph gives parents a map for how to build strength and connectedness through the five stages of girlhood: being secure, learning to explore, relating to other people, finding your soul, and taking charge of your life.
What surprised him most in the writing of the book, he tells me, was the way the world comes at them.
“It reminds me of those images of the tsunami, all that junk surging into the streets and houses. That’s what our media is like now – flooding junk into children’s heads – that your looks are all that matter, that sex is just something you trade, that you can’t be loved for yourself,” he says.
“Girls are affected by that. Everyone has heard their daughter saying ‘I hate my body, ‘I hate my life’.
“Girls weren’t born hating their own bodies. They weren’t born hating life. Something was happening in the culture that was poisoning girls’ spirits”.
Biddulph says girls have lost four years of childhood peace and development, forced out of childhood before they’ve completed or fully enjoyed it.
He identifies four prime harms to girls – sexualisation, body image, alcohol abuse, and bullying.
“Being evaluated in terms of how you look, how you please others, how you are seen as a ‘product’ has taken girls back fifty years,” Biddulph says.
“Girls are in enormous pain and confusion. They are filling up the mental health clinics, the police stations and emergency rooms, the alcohol and drug treatment programs in numbers never seen before.
“Girlhood dramas should be dramas of learning and growing, not being battered and damaged”.
I ask him what he thinks is the best thing parents can do to help raise strong, resilient daughters (I have a vested interest in the answer, with three daughters of my own).
“Once you have a clear idea of the stages, it’s all about giving it the time, he says.
“Hurry is the enemy of love, because we start to not connect and our kids feel unimportant. That feeling is very common. We need to recognise parenthood is another full time activity.
“Not just to manage our children, but to actually talk them through their life’s struggles, and actively teach and encourage them. If your daughter is close to you, she will know how to be close to others.”
Girls need to be nourished physically, spiritually and emotionally, to help build resilience and be able to navigate their way through a tough world.
Biddulph says: “A girl who knows her own soul may be a gentle girl but with an iron in her that is not easily manipulated by careless boys or false friends. She will be loyal, tough, and protective of those around her. And of herself.”
Regulatory bodies have failed to help parents raise happy kids. “We need to stop marketing aimed at kids. We need to control the alcohol, junk food, fashion, and porn industries so that they don’t target children. It’s unethical,” he says.
“It’s time to stop the trashing of girlhood, equip parents to deal with the modern world and get the media off the backs of our daughters.”
Despite the extent of the problem, Biddulph remains a man of hope. He is encouraged by the growing worldwide movement to free our girls.
“There’s a great movement rising up all over the world to improve things for girls. People everywhere are waking up to the exploitation of our girls and taking action to address it.”
Racing Queensland has assured Collective Shout that the Gold Coast Turf Club’s plans to race 150 women – described as ‘fillies and mares’ – in bikinis from barrier stalls December 4, will not go ahead.
Thank you for email concerning the so called bikini track sprint.
The race was a proposal developed by the Gold Coast Turf Club and initially put to Racing Queensland Ltd (RQL) in early August. The Club came to RQL as to hold events on the track during a race meeting, RQL’s permission (as the racing control body) is required. From the outset, RQL has refused permission for such a race to take place as we do not consider it consistent with the image of our sport. Indeed, the Club was advised in writing for the third time earlier this week that the proposed race was not to take place.
I can assure you that the proposed bikini race will not be proceeding. We hope that what people will be admiring on track on race day will be the performance of the horses and the skill and courage of the (female and male) jockeys.
Regards, Jamie Orchard, Director of Integrity Operations, PO Box 63, Sandgate QLD 4017
We commend Racing Queensland for taking a strong stand against sexism. And thanks to all who complained. Why not send Mr Orchard a quick note of thanks?
As pointed out on Collective Shout’s site, the Gold Coast Turf Club has taken action to eradicate all negative comments on its Bikini Sprint Race Facebook page. And there were only negative comments. (Fortunately my colleagues are big fans of the screen shot. We like to record these things for posterity).
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
“Melinda Tankard Reist is at the forefront of helping…educate the public on the link between pornography and violence…” – Di Macleod, Director, Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence
“As you read, be prepared to feel both grief and rage.” Robert Jensen
“These accounts are among the most unsettling you will ever read.” Steve Biddulph
“This powerful and humane book is a breakthrough…Big Porn Inc shows us we are poisoning our own spirits.” – Steve Biddulph
“A landmark publication” – Clive Hamilton
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It, Men of Honour, Sexts Texts & Selfies, Raising Girls, Raising Boys, MTR DVD, Ruby Who? DVD & book, Girl Wise guide to friends, Girl Wise guide to being you, Girl Wise guide to life and Girl Wise guide to taking care of your body, and the new Wise Guys for the combined discounted price of $250.
‘The foremost authority in Australia cyber safety lays it on the line and challenges parents to find their digital spine.’ – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
Whether it is problems with friends, worrying about how you look or just feeling a bit down in the dumps – these books are written especially for you – to help you in your journey. Purchase all four together and save $18.50 on postage! Author: Sharon Witt
In this DVD, Melinda takes us on a visual tour of popular culture. “Melinda’s presentation leaves audiences reeling. She delivers her message with a clarity and commonsense without peer.” – Steve Biddulph, author, Raising Boys, Raising Girls
In this easy-to-read updated book, Steve Biddulph shares powerful stories and give practical advice about every aspect of boyhood.
“Overflowing with incisive understandings…a comprehensive and in-depth guide.” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychologist
Men of Honour -written by Glen Gerreyn- encourages and inspires young men to take up the challenge to be honourable. Whether at school, in sport, at work or in relationships, we must develp our character to achieve success and experience the thrills life has on offer.
Purchase the Ruby Who? DVD and book together for only $35 saving 10% off the individual price.
“Getting Real contains a treasure trove of information and should be mandatory reading for all workers with young people in health, education and welfare” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Adolescent Psychologist
Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.