Porn images are robbing children of their innocence, says Kerryn Baird, wife of Premier
CLARISSA BYE, Social Affairs Reporter, The Daily Telegraph
CHILDHOOD innocence is being swamped by a tidal wave of pornographic imagery, with NSW’s First Lady Kerryn Baird fearing we have “lost the argument” over sexually explicit material.
Kerryn Baird has a new role as ambassador for Collective Shout, which sticks up for girl’s rights and fights objectification. Picture: Justin Lloyd
The mother of three teenage children, and wife of Premier Mike Baird, said explicit imagery was assailing youngsters everywhere, from shopping centres to music videos and even via their devices.
Mrs Baird has signed on as an ambassador for grassroots girls’ and women’s rights advocacy group Collective Shout to help parents speak up.
Kerry Baird Family with husband Mike, daughter Cate and son Luke. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Concerned for the future of her children Laura, 19, Cate, 17, and Luke, 13, Mrs Baird said parents faced a constant battle because it appeared the corporate world was “not understanding” and governments and police were “playing catch-up”.
“I feel we’ve become saturated and you don’t even notice, these things creep in and it’s the new normal — but it’s not normal,” Mrs Baird said.
“I want a world in which we describe girls not as sexy and hot, but as worthy, strong, healthy, active, imaginative.”
Just last week a Calvin Klein advertising display at Westfield Chatswood was removed after complaints by Collective Shout on behalf of a mother who was “horrified” to see the raunchy images while with her daughter.
Screen shot from the Collective Shout’s Facebook page, captioned: “Calvin Klein have a history of objectifying and sexualising women and girls.”
Calvin Klein did not comment but Westfield Chatswood said: “We shared these concerns with Calvin Klein and are pleased to report that they have replaced that particular artwork overnight.”
Mrs Baird said while parents might feel the issue was overwhelming, “we can have a voice and make an impact”.
“This is too important an issue to push aside,” she said.
“We can work together.”
Mrs Baird said accidental exposure to pornography — kids typing in “silly” words on search engines and being confronted by “quite explicit” pop-ups — was another worrying trend and one that can have “dreadful” ramifications: “Once innocence is lost you can’t get it back. It can just be a moment. Images impact children so strongly.”
Collective Shout co-founder Melinda Tankard Reist said she was delighted to have Mrs Baird on board.
From left, Charli Williams, 15, with her friend Jordan Van Esveld, 15, and her sister Madison Van Esveld, 13, are focused on fitness rather than body image. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Ms Tankard Reist said children were growing up in a “shadow cast by hypersexualised images and toxic messages, giving them unhealthy ideas about their bodies, relationships and sexuality”.
“Girls think they have to be hot and sexy,” she said.
“They live in a culture that rewards exhibitionism.
“We know this is having a terrible impact on their physical and mental health.
“How long do we go on for before saying, that’s enough?”
Collective Shout is also calling for shops and food outlets such as McDonald’s and KFC to stop playing explicit music videos in the middle of the day. “We’ve just become so numb to it as parents but when you bring your four-year-old to a fast food restaurant … you forget that (the videos) is going to have an impact on them,” Mrs Baird said.
Looking back on her own childhood in the 1970s, Mrs Baird said the stark contrast between her simple jeans and T-shirts and today’s clothing was troubling.
“You’ve got sexy little bras for four-year-olds. Why? Or words they wouldn’t even know what they mean,” she said.
“That’s not acceptable.”
Regentville mum Janet Lloyd well knows the pressures on daughters Jordan, 15 and Madison, 13.
They do cheerleading and dance but the focus is on fitness and strength, not appearance, using “age- appropriate dance (moves) and music”.
“That’s why I choose those classes, they’re very family-orientated,” Mrs Lloyd said.
“Children have to be children.’’
For best friend Charli Williams, 15, whose mother Clair is a fitness instructor, it’s also all about health rather than body image.
‘The proliferation and globalisation of hypersexualised imagery and pornographic themes has led to destructive ideas about sex and makes healthy sexual exploration almost impossible…the weight of evidence about the trends in online consumption of pornography by children and young people, and the harms associated with online consumption of pornography, point to the urgent need to find effective means to limit or reduce children’s access’
Impact of online consumption of pornography by children on the development of healthy and respectful relationships
Michael Flood in 2009 described the likely effects of children and young people’s exposure to pornography based on a careful analysis of the available evidence as follows:
• children and young people may be disturbed (sick, shocked, embarrassed, repulsed, upset) by unwanted to exposure to Internet pornography;
• girls are more likely than boys to be troubled by sexually explicit images; boys are more likely to report sexual excitement;
• children and young people exposed to pornography that features non-mainstream sexual practices (such as male-female anal intercourse) are more likely to engage in such practices;
• children and young people who view pornography are more likely to have liberal attitudes towards, and to engage in, sex without love, one night stands, same-sex sex, multiple sex partners, more frequent sex, and earlier sexual involvement;
• pornography, much of which offers a decontextualised portrayal of sexual behaviour, a relentless focus on female bodies, and sexist and callous depictions of women contributes to sexually objectifying understandings of and behaviours towards girls and women by boys and young men;
• exposure to pornography is related to male sexual aggression against women. This association is strongest for violent pornography and still reliable for nonviolent pornography, particularly by frequent users. For example, “in a study of Canadian teenagers with an average age of 14, there was a correlation between boys’ frequent consumption of pornography and their agreement with the idea that it is acceptable to hold a girl down and force her to have sex”;
• exposure of girls and young women to pornography may make them more vulnerable to submitting to sexist and sexually objectifying attitudes, including sexual violence; and
• partners of adult pornography users report decreased sexual intimacy, lowered esteem and demands that they participate in activities they find objectionable, so children and young people’s exposure to pornography is making them less able to sustain genuine intimate relationships based on mutual respect.
The 2012 systematic literature review by Owens and colleagues, The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research, found that adolescent consumption of Internet pornography was linked to attitudinal changes such as:
• more permissive sexual attitudes towards casual sex, including viewing sex as “primarily physical and casual rather than affectionate and relational”; and
• acceptance of male dominance and female submission as the primary sexual paradigm, with women viewed as “sexual playthings eager to fulfill male sexual desires”.
The review also founds that frequency of consumption of Internet pornography was linked to behaviour such as:
• first oral sex at a younger age;
• first sexual intercourse at a younger age; and
• casual sex, group sex, male-female anal intercourse.
Furthermore, “adolescents who are intentionally exposed to violent sexually explicit material were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive than those who were not exposed”.
In a very recent meta-analysis examining the link between pornography consumption and sexual violence, Wright and colleagues found that:
• consumption of pornography was associated with an increased likelihood of committing actual acts of sexual aggression;
• this association held for both adolescents and adults;
• the association held for both violent pornography and nonviolent pornography, although the link with violent pornography was stronger (but nonsignificant): “it appears most likely that (a) the level of violence, degradation, and objectification matters, but (b) the pornography consumed by the average individual contains enough of these elements that it is associated with an elevated likelihood of sexual aggression.;
• there is an even stronger link for verbal sexual aggression than for physical sexual aggression; and
• the link between pornography consumption and sexually aggressive behaviour is not explained by “sexually aggressive individuals watching content that conforms to their already established aggressive sexual scripts” and that “pornography consumption predicted boys’ later sexual aggression even after controlling for their earlier sexual aggression”
The authors conclude:
As with all behavior, sexual aggression is caused by a confluence of factors and many pornography consumers are not sexually aggressive. However, the accumulated data leave little doubt that, on the average, individuals who consume pornography more frequently are more likely to hold attitudes conducive to sexual aggression and engage in actual acts of sexual aggression than individuals who do not consume pornography or who consume pornography less frequently.
Sun et al in their 2013 paper “Pornography and the male sexual script” describe the nature of the majority of pornography currently available:
Nevertheless, with online mainstream pornography overwhelmingly centered on acts of violence and degradation toward women, the sexual behaviors exemplified in pornography skew away from intimacy and tenderness and typify patriarchal constructions of masculinity and femininity. Content analysis of best-selling pornographic videos, for example, reveals that over 88% of scenes involve acts of physical aggression, with 70% of the aggressive acts being perpetrated by men, and 87% of the acts being committed against women. Such acts stand in sharp relief against more intimate acts, which were relatively infrequent, such as issuing verbal compliments, embracing, kissing, and laughing.—
In addition to the findings on first age of exposure and frequency of use reported above, this survey of U.S. heterosexual male college students found that men who view pornography more frequently are:
• more likely to rely on pornography to become and remain sexually excited (reporting masturbation with pornography as more exciting than sex with a partner; and intentionally thinking about images from pornography during sex with a partner);
• more likely to integrate pornography into dyadic sexual encounters (viewing pornography with a sex partner or acting out activities or positions seen in pornography); and
• less likely to enjoy intimate behaviours such as cuddling, kissing and caressing with a partner.
The Australian Psychological Society reports adolescent boys are estimated to be responsible for about a fifth of rapes of adult women and between a third and a half of all reported sexual assaults of children. Offences by school-aged children have quadrupled in Australia in only four years according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The Australian Medical Association says there is a strong relationship between exposure to sexually explicit material and sexual behaviour that predisposes young people to adverse sexual and mental health outcomes.
The proliferation and globalisation of hypersexualised imagery and pornographic themes has led to destructive ideas about sex and makes healthy sexual exploration almost impossible.
Taken together, the weight of evidence about the trends in online consumption of pornography by children and young people, and the harms associated with online consumption of pornography, point to the urgent need to find effective means to limit or reduce children’s access to online pornography.
To fail to take action would be to betray a whole generation of boys and girls by leaving their formation in sex and relationships largely in the hands of a pornography industry and culture that teaches boys and young men to view women as sex objects, to be used in a degrading and even violent way and teaches girls and young women to view their worth as conditioned upon their valuation by porn saturated boys and men as fit for the purpose of an objectified sex instrument.
Collective Shout calls for child-rights based approach to address harms of hypersexualised culture
Submission to the Parliament of NSW Committee on Children and Young People Inquiry into sexualisation of children and young people
Nicole Jameson presented on behalf of Collective Shout to the NSW Committee Inquiry into sexualisation of children and young people
Children and young people are growing up in a high-tech culture steeped in relentlessly sexualised, sexualising and sexist messaging from media, advertising and popular culture which conditions them from a young age to view themselves and others in terms of their appearance and sexual currency. While women and girls are primarily the subjects of hyper-sexualised media representation, these messages also play a crucial part in socialising men and boys to see the sexual objectification of women and girls as normal.
Many adults are overwhelmed by the task of protecting and equipping children as they navigate the contemporary media and social landscape. The current legislative and regulatory environment is piecemeal, confusing for the community to navigate, and tends to serve the commercial advantage of corporate and marketing interests to the detriment of the community – children and young people in particular. Despite a number of state and federal inquiries demonstrating the need for systemic reform, media classification and self-regulatory schemes have failed to halt or even slow the proliferation of imagery and messaging through electronic, print and social media and marketing that demeans women, reduces them to sexual objects, fosters a culture which condones sexual violence, and pressures young girls to act in prematurely sexual ways.
Collective Shout is critical of the self-regulatory system currently favoured in media and advertising, which allows free rein to marketers while placing the burden of action on those most at risk of exploitation and harm. In particular, we are concerned about the lack of effective incentive or enforcement to deter those who are making a profit from the sexualisation of children and young people. Media and advertising interests have had ample opportunity to hear and act on community concerns but have instead have chosen to protect their vested interests. It is time for government to step in and act on behalf of children and young people.
Recommendations from Collective Shout in this submission include:
Recognition of the harms of sexualisation as a public health crisis requiring swift and decisive action on behalf of children and young people.
The restructuring of the current regulatory environment to bring the regulation of all media and marketing together under one encompassing independent federal regulator, including a division with the primary responsibility of protecting the interests of children and young people, addressing both the direct and indirect sexualisation of children in all media modes from a child-rights basis.
Equipping parents and carers with the appropriate media literacy tool and institutional supports, to raise children who have the ability to be critical consumers and creators of media.
The evaluation and implementation of appropriate school-based education programs to educate children and young people about the harms of sexualisation, and funding to help schools secure these resources.
For a child-rights based approach to addressing the harms of media hypersexualisation, including respect for the voices and points of view of children and young people.
That the prevalence of sexualised images of women in our society be recognised as a significant underlying contributor to violence against women and girls.
The commissioning of comprehensive research to establish the extent of the exposure of children and young people in NSW to sexualising media content. However, this research should not preclude swift government action on the basis of the evidence that already exists.
I’m quoted in this article by Kasey Edwards in Daily Life today:
…This is symptomatic of a broader attitude where sex is regarded as solely about male pleasure and male desires. The man decides and the woman provides.
Women having sex for their own pleasure is rarely portrayed in popular culture, porn or even sex education. For many young women, acknowledging that they even have sexual desires, let alone seeing them as a priority, is a foreign concept.
Author and co-founder of Collective ShoutMelinda Tankard Reist, who regularly speaks to girls in schools, says that girls can talk about how their male partners enjoyed their sexual experience but they are completely estranged from their own bodies and sense of pleasure or enjoyment.
‘I recall one female student saying, “I think my body looked okay, he seemed to enjoy it”,’ Tankard Reist says. ‘She didn’t seem to know how to articulate how she herself felt. The important thing was that he “got off” and that she thought she looked okay.’
This is about the neatest, most succinct expression of self-objectification I’ve ever heard. This young woman has internalised a kind of double objectification: that she is an object to be looked at and, not unlike a toy, an object for someone else’ pleasure. She is so external to the whole episode that her experience is refracted through her partner.
Rather than exploring their own sexuality, many young women see themselves as little more than service providers. And sexual service is the admittance price for male company. Read article
The Pornification of Girlhood: my book Getting Real extracted on Everyday Sunday blog
We haven’t come a long way baby
In 2009, former Hi-5 children’s entertainer Kellie Crawford posed for a lingerie photo shoot for men’s magazine Ralph. The Ralph cover for April features Kellie in tiny knickers and black bra, and shouts ‘It’s Hi5 Hottie Kellie!’ with the subtitle ‘Busting out some bedtime stories.’ It includes another smaller picture of Kellie in her Hi5 costume.
In the accompanying interview, Kellie explained that as a children’s star, she ‘just forgot I was a woman.’ She did the photo shoot to ‘find the woman in me.’ I responded in media interviews by asking why it was that the Wiggles were not expected to prove their manhood by stripping down to their jocks and having their photos taken for a magazine shoot, yet women were expected to take off most of their clothes to prove their womanhood? Opponents of my position, both men and women, filled my inbox with intellectually challenging arguments.
That I was sad, old and dog-ugly
That I had saggy breasts and a droopy arse
That I needed liposuction
That I was a bitter ugly woman
That my face would break a 60-inch plasma television
And, my personal favourite, that I was ‘as ugly as a hat full of arses’ (obviously not a hat full of Kellie’s arses, because hers was magnificent, according to her fans) (email correspondence, April 2009).
However, one little girl in Victoria who seemed not to care about whether I was bitter or needed cosmetic surgery, wrote (email April 20, 2009, used with permission):
My name is Delaney and I am 10 years old. On Today Tonight I saw a story about Kellie from Hi-5. Of course, you know that she has done a photo shoot for a men’s magazine. I think it is very silly how she feels she has to do it. It sets a horrible example for younger kids like me. When I was little I used to love watching Hi-5 and it makes me feel disappointed [sic] that she has done something like that.
Delaney, and girls like her, receive messages from every level of the media and popular culture that the baring of the female body is what makes you a ‘real woman.’ Very few young girls have Delaney’s courage to distance themselves from this message.
Ideal womanhood is now all about sexual allure; the ability to attract the male gaze has become what is important in life. As Pamela Paul writes in Pornified, ‘being publicly sexual has become the only acceptable way for girls to demonstrate maturity’ (2005,p. xxiv). Putting yourself on show for the sexual gratification of others is what counts. Look at what happened after Susan Boyle’s stunning performance of ‘I have a dream’ on Britain’s Got Talent which had attracted 100 million YouTube hits at time of writing (June 2009). One of her first offers was from a porn film company keen to ‘relieve her of her virginity’—on film of course.
The sexualisation industry has a voracious appetite for appropriating and corrupting people and things deemed ‘innocent,’ and remaking them in their own image. There are thousand of porn sites featuring children’s cartoon characters. And a growing number of sites depicting the ‘defloration’ of young girls.
Lisa Hunt Wotten, the woman behind Everyday Sunday, also interviewed me recently here:
When you see just how bad things are: the global epidemic of violence, rape and sexual abuse, the daily atrocities, the global trafficking in female bodies, ‘honour’ killings, female genital mutilation, dowry deaths, female foeticide, female infanticide, child marriage, the deliberate deprivation of nutrition, education, opportunities, the overall differential suffering of women and girls – and almost daily, here in the supposedly enlightened West, a growing pile of bodies of women murdered by men – only this week, as I write, a pregnant woman killed by her partner. So common we are not even surprised anymore!
But we must not get used to it! There is a war on women! We can’t continue to ignore that fact.
It’s like this when I speak about pornography at schools, conferences, and other events. I’m often hesitant to speak of what I know is really happening. People are often so shocked, so disconcerted by the content of my talks, I start to self-censor. Sometimes I gauge the audience as I speak and hasten past slides which I know will be too much for them.
I am picking up information which is so severe, so hard to hear, that I rarely pass it on. So far, I’ve mostly restricted it to medical audiences. However, this article, by London Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson in The Canberra Times, has caused me to reconsider the holding back: everyone has to know this.
What I’m being told, by medical professionals, is that young girls (many under-age) are increasingly suffering anal tearing as a result of porn-inspired anal sex acts, including group acts. Some end up with rectums so damaged they are rendered incontinent and need colostomy bags. Other girls are contracting the HPV virus through oral sex. Some end up requiring surgery for throat cancer as a result.
Girls have a right to know this is how they could end up. But where do they go for this information? It’s hardly mainstream. And online porn presents these acts as standard. Girls who don’t want to submit to anal sex start to think there is something wrong with them. One of their biggest fears is being labelled a prude, or ‘hung up’. This is what Pearson wrote:
I was having dinner with a group of women when the conversation moved on to how we could raise happy, well-balanced sons and daughters who are capable of forming meaningful relationships when internet pornography has changed the landscape of adolescence beyond recognition…
A GP, let’s call her Sue, said: “I’m afraid things are much worse than people suspect.” In recent years, Sue had treated growing numbers of teenage girls with internal injuries caused by frequent anal sex; not, as Sue found out, because they wanted to, or because they enjoyed it, but because a boy expected them to. “I’ll spare you the gruesome details,” said Sue, “but these girls are very young and slight and their bodies are simply not designed for that.”
Her patients were deeply ashamed at presenting with such injuries. They had lied to their mums about it and felt they couldn’t confide in anyone else, which only added to their distress. When Sue questioned them further, they said they were humiliated by the experience but they had simply not felt they could say no. Anal sex was standard among teenagers now, even though the girls knew it hurt.
… The girls presenting with incontinence were often under the age of consent and from loving, stable homes. Just the sort of kids who, two generations ago, would have been enjoying riding and ballet lessons, and still looking forward to their first kiss, not being coerced into violent sex by some kid who picked up his ideas about physical intimacy from a dogging video on his mobile.
… more than four in 10 girls between 13 and 17 in England say they have been coerced into sex acts, according to one of the largest European polls on teenage experiences. Research by the universities of Bristol and Central Lancashire concluded that a fifth of girls had suffered violence or intimidation from teenage boyfriends, a high proportion of whom regularly viewed pornography, with one in five harbouring “extremely negative attitudes towards women”.
The end result is what Sue sees as a GP. Young girls – children, really – who abase themselves to pass for normal in a grim, pornified culture. According to another study of British teenagers, most youngsters’ first experience of anal sex occurred within a relationship, but it was “rarely under circumstances of mutual exploration of sexual pleasure”. Instead, it was boys who pushed the girls to try it, with boys reporting that they felt “expected” to take that role. Moreover, both genders expected males to find pleasure in the act whereas females were mostly expected to “endure the negative aspects such as pain or a damaged reputation”. Read full article here.
‘The ultimate guide to being yourself’ is about self-acceptance. It offers girls three lessons in how to be themselves: Fall in love with you; Quit Faking It and Get inspired, not obsessed. The first encourages girls to recognise and love themselves for their unique traits. This is well and good. But I don’t think we can ‘fall in love’ with ourselves. We can value our innate dignity and worth, and work to resist pressure to conform to an idealised norm, but ‘falling in love’ is a bit over the top. I don’t think we are meant to be ‘head over heels’ with ourselves – telling girls they should be setting up impossible expectations. I do like the advice to girls to start a gratitude journal and list five things they are grateful for every day, as expressing gratitude is a proven way to improve mental health. ‘Be your own therapist’ also advises girls to organise their thoughts, reflect, be more positive and relieve stress by keeping a journal. I don’t quite agree with the conclusion though: “There’s nothing more empowering than knowing that no matter what life throws at you, you can cope with it.” This puts too much pressure on an individual girl. As I move around the country speaking in schools, I hear shocking stories, including from girls who have suffered sexual abuse and other forms of violence, depression, anxiety, cutting – which has increased by 90 percent in 10 years in older adolescent girls and 60% in girls 12-14 – and eating disorders. Sometimes they won’t get through without significant professional intervention and other support. Read full article.
The two most important articles in this issue are on anxiety and the importance of sleep.
Anxiety appears to be a plague on our girls right now. ‘Feeling anxious? How to deal when your worries take over your life’ looks at the symptoms of anxiety and how to recognise when it is impacting on your ability to function on a day-to-day basis at school, home, work or socialising with friends. Different forms of anxiety include social anxiety, panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Girls are encouraged to seek professional help if their anxiety is spiralling out of control. Maise, 16, shares her story of developing a nervous disorder which made her physically ill, with vomiting, panic attacks, crying and shaking. After treatment with a psychologist, her anxiety attacks have ceased. “For anyone out there who is a sufferer, one thing I can say is don’t deny you have a problem, because chances are someone you know is going through the exact same thing. And, most importantly, there is help out there,” says Maise. A related piece is on dealing with stress.
‘Next stop ZZZ Town’ stresses the importance of sleep at a time when all the indicators are that girls just don’t get enough of it – which of course exacerbates anxiety. Teens need nine hours of sleep a night to function well. Says sleep specialist Dr Chris Seton: “If you’re too tired, your mood goes downwards and it affects your learning and ability to remember stuff – lack of sleep is linked to issues like depression, anxiety and suicide”. Sleep shortage is also linked to increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. Girls are advised to: go to bed and wake up at the same time, avoid caffeine from the afternoon onwards, exercise, turn off electronics 45 minutes before going to bed, do something relaxing 45 minutes before bed, open the blinds and be exposed to sunlight as soon as they wake up, have a cool, dark, quiet room and not to sit on their bed to do homework or watch TV – their brain needs to learn that this is a place to sleep. Read more
Readers wanting something of substance from Dolly’s June issue would do best to skip the first half and go straight to the second. Articles on self-harm, hate pages and unhealthy attitudes toward food redeem the insubstantial nature of the pages that go before.
‘Would you “like” a hate page?’ explores the phenomenon of online hate pages. A hate page is explained as any page set up on social media to incite hatred, violence or racism towards a group or individuals. Susan McLean of Cyber Safety Solutions explains there are more hate pages around now. “Many people who participate in hate pages wouldn’t behave this way in the real world. There’s a lack of accountability online, so people think they can get away with it,” McLean says. A pack mentality can also be at work, where the more ‘likes’ a page gets the more others join in. Readers are reminded that under state cyber bullying laws, people posting comments or threats on hate pages can be charged. Psychologist Meredith Fuller explains that ‘liking’ the page is the cyber equivalent of looking on while someone gets bullied. Readers are encouraged to report hate pages. A related piece is ‘How I fight bullying’, with three girls telling their stories of addressing bullying in groups including The Hope Project, Angels Goal and Student Harassment Investigation Team (S.H.I.T).
The feature on self-harm is very welcome. Exploring the distressing phenomenon of ‘cutting’, Dolly tells the story of Emily, 15, who started cutting when she was 12. “I do it in secret and hide it as best I can. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed that the only relief I can get is to hurt myself,” she says. An estimated 10 percent of teen girls self-harm. It should not be put in the category of attention-seeking (most girls try to hide the habit) – it is a response to intense emotional pain. Those who engage in the behaviour get a temporary sense of relief, with emotional pain transferred to physical pain. Jasmine, 16, shares her journey of recovery, replacing the act of cutting with positive activities until the urge to cut has passed and talking to trusted people about it. Jasmine has a blog called Perks of Recovery. Read more
Doing good instead of bingeing is all class: MTR in Sunday Herald Sun
Scarlett* (she asked me not to use her real name) from Victoria, wrote to me about her experience of Schoolies.
While on schoolies I heard numerous stories of girls I go to school with having sex in club toilets with complete strangers before schoolies to ‘get it over and done with’… They feared that if they went on schoolies as virgins, they would be deemed ‘losers’…
While on schoolies, some of my closest friends had sex or gave oral sex or hand to complete strangers as they felt it was ‘expected of them’ by the boys and because ‘it’s schoolies!’.
At clubs and bars we went to boys chanted ‘tits out for the boys’… If boys came up to the girls and chanted ‘show us your tits!’ the girls would take their tops off or show their bra, because a massive group of horny boys chanting at you is pretty forceful.
…There was also a wet-shirt competition, prizes for lesbian kisses and games which included miming a blow job. They had to take off items of clothing to stay in the game…
Many of the girls were under the influence of alcohol and yes, boys did prey on drunk girls – I overheard two boys saying to each other ‘let’s get these girls drunk and take them down to the beach’.
Courtney Mitchell, 18, wrote to me too. Her experience was quite different.
Two weeks ago I had the privilege of joining a team on a short term trip to Thailand and Cambodia with Destiny Rescue. We spent time with poor and disadvantaged children and young people and saw how life is for those much less fortunate than ourselves.
My team had chosen to spend their schoolies giving instead of getting. It was inspiring to see them exchange a week of partying to spend an afternoon levelling out a soccer field so orphaned boys could play safely or playing with little girls rescued from the sex industry.
It was touching to think that money had been diligently raised all year not to hire a three-bedroom apartment and cover alcohol costs but to fly to the other side of the world with a willingness to get uncomfortable.
What better way to start life in the real world than by visiting the real world – and gaining awareness, preparation and perspective as a result?
If ever there was a case for re-considering the traditional schoolies ritual, it’s here in the stories of these two young women.
This so-called rite-of-passage – more like a week-long binge – sees hundreds arrested for serious assault, drunk and disorderly conduct, drug possession and obstructing police. Scarce resources are deployed to mop up the mess.
Many girls suffer sexual violence. Some families are left grieving the loss of a child who died at a schoolies event.
Of course young people should be able to let off steam, have fun and say farewell after being together with the same people for over a decade. We want them to revel in freedom and new beginnings.
But has the good wish to prove and redefine oneself, to grow and move on, turned into an empty, hollow and even toxic initiation?
It appears that young people themselves think so.
In fact most wish they’d never gone. University of Wollongong research found seven out of 10 of teens attending rated the experience as negative.
Why can’t we offer them something better? Provide incentives to participate in something affirming and positive, which won’t leave them with sadness and regret?
Fortunately there are a number of alternatives already on offer which deserve more publicity so that next time girls like Scarlett will have healthy options. Here’s a sample (check in your area for other programs).
• Schoolies Revolution
An initiative of HopeBuilders International, this not-for-profit work to break the cycle of poverty. It “challenges young people to step out of their comfort zone and do something radical. By turning away from the traditional “schoolies” young people are given the opportunity to give back to world’s poor”. This year students helped build a school, visited slums, visited prisons and looked after orphans in Uganda.
• Operation Timor-Leste (Rotary Club of Kerang)
Kalamunda schools (W.A) join a team to engage in community building activities in a small East Timorese village. The aim is to help young people think and act as global citizens, develop mutual cross cultural awareness and achieve personal challenges,
• Shepparton Schoolies Alternative
Students from a Lutheran College in Adelaide work with young refugees in Shepparton. The school hopes to strengthen and grow the connections with refugee communities.
Crossroads is a two-week pilgrimage for Year 12 school leavers from the Melbourne, run by the Melbourne Catholic Archdiocese. Students engage with remote communities, where they do volunteer work.
• ‘Coolies’ Program
Run by De La Salle College, the Coolies program takes 12 school leavers to for a month to work as unskilled labourers (‘coolies’) in rural villages and try to improve the lives of the poor. Students have built a new primary school classroom and toilet block.
STORM Co. is a youth initiative of the South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It sends teams of trained young people to work for, learn from, and encourage individual communities, especially in remote parts of Australia.
I ASKED a group of Year 12 female students what message they would like me to deliver on their behalf to an advertising conference I was about to address.
Their profound and carefully worded message?
Not exactly poetic. But they were tired of the way advertisers covered the public domain with unrealistic, sexualised, hyper-thin images of women, eroding their self-confidence and self-esteem and making them feel inadequate.
Of course, it’s not just the ad industry. Girls receive distorted messages every day from popular culture, magazines, clothing and music video clips.
New research shows attempts to help girls feel better about themselves don’t work – because there’s no let-up in the barrage of messages telling them they’re not good enough.
Mission Australia’s 11th national Youth Survey – the biggest annual poll of 15,000 people aged 15-19 – found 43 per cent of young women were significantly concerned about body image, which was in their top three concerns.
Mission Australia’s national manager of research Dr Bronwen Dalton echoed what many of us have been saying: current interventions are a failure. “Well-meaning efforts to combat the problem by governments and others have failed to make an impact,” Dr Dalton says.
“Unrealistic and unachievable images of physical perfection seems to have entrenched high levels of concern among young women. Magazines are some of the worst culprits when it comes to feeding young women’s negative views of their bodies.”
There’s too much emphasis on positive self-talk without demanding any changes from those who promote, prey upon and profit from the body dissatisfaction of girls.
Telling girls to repeat over and over “I’m beautiful as I am” isn’t going to cut it.
We have a meaningless body image voluntary code of conduct, with no penalties.
A code with no teeth was always doomed to fail.
That only 15 companies entered the Federal Government’s inaugural body image awards showed what they thought of them.
The winner was Dolly – just after it revived its model competition upholding the body ideals of the global beauty industry.
A runner-up was the Dove Body Think Program. Dove is owned by Unilever, which also owns the Lynx brand, known for its degrading depictions of women. As for the other entrants, we don’t know who they are – I’ve been waiting five months for the list from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
The body image code was claimed to be a world-first attempt to regulate the industries contributing to increased rates of body shame and eating disorders.
Minister Kate Ellis wanted industry professionals to “move beyond the ‘business as usual’ approach and take real action to promote positive body image”.
The aim was to gather the beauty, fashion and advertising industries in a partnership to address the growing problem of body image dissatisfaction. But industry didn’t really care.
Even Mia Freedman, then head of the National Body Image Advisory Group, said the code she helped create has been given the “fashionable middle finger”.
Another problem is that even well-meaning programs still emphasise looks.
Butterfly Foundation’s Stop The Fat Talk campaign encourages girls to love their bodies. For example, they can say “I have a great butt” and “my hips are sexy”.
CAN’T we appreciate their marvellous design and function without falling in love with our bums?
The “love your body” emphasis could create more pressure, implying all women should feel beautiful all the time. I imagine there are a lot of women who don’t feel beautiful – but that’s OK, because beauty shouldn’t have to define self-worth.
Perhaps it’s time for a Love Your Mind campaign to help girls see they are more than their bodies.
One of the advisory group recommendations states: If, after a sustained period of continued developments, there is a broad failure of industry to adopt good body image practices, the Australian Government should look to review the voluntary nature of the code.
We haven’t yet had the “sustained period of continued developments”.
A voluntary approach hasn’t worked, and the Mission Australia results prove it.
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