Porn, family violence linked to surge in child-on-child sex abuse cases
The number of children sexually abusing other children has risen steeply, with treatment services reporting that pornography and family violence are fuelling the trend.
Children as young as four are being referred to programs for problem sexual behaviour as more parents and schools detect abuse in the family home and in the playground.
The Royal Children’s Hospital’s Gatehouse service saw 350 new cases in the past financial year – more than double the previous year. Of those children, 60 per cent were abusing a sibling; more than 90 per cent had experienced or witnessed family violence.
Experts say the seriousness of the sexual acts has escalated in recent years and that online pornography is often being used as a “teaching manual” for abuse…
…”One of the most concerning cohorts for us is the very young kids – the children who are under 12 or even under 10 and their sexually abusive behaviour is quite severe. We’re seeing a lot more of anal, oral and vaginal penetration of younger children,” said forensic psychologist Russell Pratt, who spent 12 years with the Centre Against Sexual Assault and is one of Australia’s leading authorities on sexualised behaviour in children.
…Social commentator Melinda Tankard Reist, co-founder of Collective Shout For A World Free of Sexploitation, said a tipping point had been reached and government regulation of online pornography was needed.
“How much worse does it have to get? How many more five-year-olds do we want to have in treatment programs until we say maybe it shouldn’t be a free-for-all where kids can access torture porn and rape porn and incest porn? Children are being groomed to think this stuff is normal.” Read full article.
Executive produced by George Clooney and Abigail Disney, the film is critically acclaimed and has been screened around the world, including many times at the US Congress.
‘Playground’ takes a sensitive look at the underground epidemic of young children being forced into prostitution in USA, where some 100,000 children are trafficked each year, and where more than 300,000 are ‘at risk’.
Libby has also spearheaded several Congressional hearings, and her advocacy work has helped shape legislation to better protect young victims of sexual exploitation in the USA.
Libby Spears is also the founder and Executive Director of NEST Foundation and the new community movement, Campaign 13, which advocates for an intelligent, holistic and urgent response to sex trafficking of minors in America.
CHEAPER TO SELL KIDS, THAN DRUGS
“Sadly, the commercial sex trade of children has increased because it is now more profitable and less risky to sell kids, than drugs,” she says.
“Demand is high because sales can be executed anonymously over the Internet.”
The US Department of Justice has said that Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children is the world’s fastest growing form of organised crime.
“We also know that in child pornography, of the 5.9 million pornographic images of children online that have been reported, only 874 children have been identified,” says Libby.
AUSTRALIA IS NOT IMMUNE
“I am here with a message that Australia is not immune to this.
“Sex trafficking in Australia remains severely under-reported and improperly understood.
“It is happening in your neighborhoods, as it ours, and it’s time we put more focus on it, upskill and empower our community to deal with it.”
A national online survey completed by the Australian Institute of Criminology found that 75% of respondents believed they would not be able to identify a trafficked person.
Overall, the survey revealed a high level of confusion regarding the definition and scope of the human trafficking issue facing the Australian community.
“People often associate the word ‘trafficking’ with something that happens overseas, or an act that involves moving people across borders. We need to understand that trafficking is any form of commercial sex act where the child is induced by force, fraud or coercion.”
RESEARCH IS BADLY NEEDED
Australia is trailing the rest of the western world when it comes to research and awareness regarding the sexual exploitation of children.
The last national inquiry was conducted in 1998 and published in ‘Youth for Sale’ by ChildWise, which found anecdotal evidence of more than 3000 cases of underage commercial sexual activity.
“We know that commercial sex exploitation of children has sky-rocketed in the past decade, so these figures would be significantly higher now in Australia,” says Libby.
In a report by the Australian Government ‘Tomorrow’s Children’ in 2000, it said that: “given the clandestine nature of the activity it is unlikely that Australia will ever truly have available, reliable national data relating to the prostitution of children and young people.
Alongside Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton, Libby Spears was recently named one of the ‘150 Women Who Shake the World’ by NewsWeek Magazine. Libby has more than 15 years’ experience producing and directing critically acclaimed films that can be seen in more than 100 countries around the world.
My story is as isolated an incident as the existence of Walmart stores
There’s this idea that trafficking happens ‘over there’ somewhere, in some God-forsaken hellhole. There is little understanding that the selling of girls happens every day in so-called enlightened Western liberal democracies. Carrie Bailee’s story of being sold by her father into a child paedophile and pornography ring in Canada is one example.
Here’s another, told by ‘Jane’, of being prostituted by her family in the US. This is much more common than we realise! We need to re-frame the way we think about the issue and address it on our own doorstep as well as globally.
If you’re expecting my “sold into child slavery” story to begin with guys in ski masks bursting into my bedroom and snatching me up in the night, the actual story is worse, in a way. One night, my stepdad just pulled me out of bed and said, “Come here, uncle needs to see you.” There were zero uncles downstairs. But there were several creepy, creepy men who passed me around from lap to lap and paid him for the privilege. If you’re asking yourself where my mother was, well, she was right there, watching.
My stepdad and mother would have people over all hours of the night, drinking and smoking crack. Sort of like family game night, as directed by Darren Aronofsky. She was in on the decision to do what they did (and if you want to give yourself nightmares, try to imagine the conversation that led them to broach the subject). When I was that age, it didn’t go beyond “sit on uncle’s lap.” I’d do as I was told and they’d call me a good girl and that was that — I obviously had no idea what was going on. Then I got a few years older, and they started sending me off on “private sessions.” Yes, that means exactly what you think it means. Let’s not kid ourselves.
The next question that’s flashing through your mind is probably, “Why didn’t you tell someone?”
I did — I was just 6 years old when I (accidentally) mentioned something about my “uncles” to a teacher — I just said something like: “My uncle’s came over and we had fun,” because those were the words my mom always used. If you think at this point a SWAT team raced to my house and busted everyone, you and I live in different worlds. What happened instead was the teacher called my mom, and she talked her way out of it somehow. When I got home, she beat me up, I think to block out her entire Terrible Person Bingo card.
What a crazy, unusual situation, right? If you saw it in a scripted movie, you’d think the writer should go see a therapist. But here’s the truth: human trafficking (forcing someone into labor or sex acts against their will) is a $9.5 billion industry in the USA — to pick a random comparison, that’s four times what the Burger King chain takes in. Recent stats found 83 percent of sex trafficking incidents in the U.S. involved victims that were U.S. citizens, and nearly half of those were minors — just like I was. It’s estimated that right now 300,000 kids are in this situation or are at risk. Just this June, the FBI freed 168 kids who’d been sold into sex slavery across 106 American cities. Since 2008, at least 4,000 kids have been freed from similar operations. Six years. So, yeah, my story is as isolated an incident as the existence of Walmart stores. Read more
In the pornified music world populated by churned-out female pop stars pumping and grinding to a sexualised script, cavorting semi-naked and presented as sexually insatiable, we see Miley Cyrus simulating sex acts while denuded of real sexuality.
While many around the world condemned what was seen as an overtly sexualised performance at the recent MTV music awards, her crotch-centred routine – which included rubbing the groins of herself and Robin Thicke with a giant hand possibly stolen from a Coles ”down, down, prices are down” ad – was one of the most desexed stage performances I have seen.
Miley Cyrus is a business. Her mostly male management would have scripted every plastic fake sex move. In an industry dominated by men, Cyrus thrusted and writhed because these same men thought there would be money in it.
The view of some young people whose thoughts I sought in schools last week was that it was less an expression of sexuality than of ugliness. For them, Cyrus’ performance represented a distorted version of female sexuality. And if Cyrus’ management thought the act would shore up her fan base, they have misjudged.
Almost without exception, the girls groaned and rolled their eyes when I asked them about it. Grace, 13, says: ”The performance portrayed a negative image of women.”
Alex, 13, drew attention to the shaping of boys’ thinking. ”It shows boys that’s how we are, our image.”
Megan, 12: ”She thinks it’s cool, she’ll attract more people, but she hasn’t.”
Emma, 11: ”I felt overexposed to something I shouldn’t have watched.”
These girls noted that the women on stage wore less clothing than the men. They wanted to know why this differential nakedness was acceptable. It troubled them that Robin Thicke – whose Blurred Lines song has been condemned as justifying non-consensual sex, is almost twice Cyrus’ age. (Defined Lines, a parody by three female University of Auckland students sending up Thicke’s song, was temporarily removed from YouTube for displaying sexually explicit content, while his clip containing topless women can still be viewed in full online.)
X-rated artificial sex routines have become banal. The girls expressed a desire to enjoy female talent free of predictable objectified routines. They want to see an emphasis on the song more than the body.
Lady Gaga pulls a machinegun out of her vagina, Katy Perry shoots whipped cream from her breasts and Rihanna offers S&M and bondage themes. It may be porny, but it’s far from erotic.
And, of course, there is a contrast in the judgment afforded to women compared with men. Men are so often let off the hook. US rap artist Tyler, The Creator, who sings about rape being fun, raping a pregnant woman and calling it a three-way and raping female corpses, was given a visa to perform his live misogyny at ”all ages” Australian concerts recently.
Flo Rida’s Can’t Believe It, at No. 7 on the top-40 charts, also enforces the female-artist-as-porn-performer theme. The song opens with, ”Damn, that white girl got some ass”, and the video features objectified, headless women with oversize backsides. Women are depicted visually as ice-cream and in porn-style poses.
Justin Timberlake’s Tunnel Vision clip has him in a suit surrounded by naked women whose sole purpose is to writhe around him. It is a complete double standard. We don’t see male artists gyrating their bums before the cameras.
The female students I spent time with wanted to see more female performers who defied limited visions of womanhood. They saw Adele and Taylor Swift as women who respected themselves, were devoted to their voices and who refused to conform to the standard expectations of women in the music industry. For a truly beautiful and sensual performance, give me Sade Adu, the British singer touring this country for the first time in 25 years in December. Here is a woman who understands you don’t have to take your clothes off for a lads’ mag to prove you are a real woman.
Churning out one manufactured fantasy after another, in which women are always presented as ”up for it”, doesn’t constitute an expression of female independence or agency. The girls I spent time with saw it as co-operating in your own exploitation. ”Miley exploits herself now,” says one student, 13.
They wanted something more than a singing, dancing sexual puppet. Why can’t the music industry give them that?
When murderer John Coombes was convicted for a second murder, what did the Adult Parole Board do? Let him out of prison in 2007 to murder his friend, foster mother Raechel Betts, and throw her body parts into the sea.
When violent offender William Watkins was convicted of raping a neighbour in 2000, what did the board do? Let him out of prison to rape and murder Laura and Colleen Irwin, two sisters living next door.
When drug trafficker David Clifford was convicted for physical assault and harassment offences, what did the board do? Let him out in 2008 to bash and murder hairdresser Elsa Corp.
When Steven Hunter was convicted of assault, false imprisonment and drug trafficking, what did the board do? Gave him parole in 2009, meaning he was free to murder Sarah Cafferkey three years later (just after parole ended) and dump her body in a wheelie bin.
When Francis McCullagh was convicted for burning, kicking and bashing the mother of his three children with blocks of wood in 1997, what did the board do? It let him out of prison to bash his girlfriend Melanie Harnden to death.
When Jason Dinsley committed a drug-fuelled rape at knife point, the board overlooked his 100 prior convictions and released him. He then battered Sharon Siermans to death in April with a cricket bat while her son hid in a bedroom.
And when convicted rapist Adrian Bayley was given his leave pass, he raped and murdered Jill Meagher last September.
This prompted the commissioning of the just-delivered report of former High Court judge Ian Callinan on the board’s catastrophic failures.
All these women might still be alive but for the board’s decisions.
In 1991, Bayley was given a five-year sentence for raping three women. He served only three years. In 2002, he was convicted of 16 counts of rape against five prostituted women, and received just under half the maximum sentence. In the year before he killed Meagher, the board was warned five times about his behaviour.
”There was no single documentation containing a straightforward complete chronology of his criminal history or analytical material relating to it on the files,” Justice Callinan said.
While violent sexual offenders and serious sexual offenders including paedophiles ”constituted an obvious and greater threat to society than most other offenders”, victims’ rights came second to the rights of offenders. Victims were often not even given notice of the release of sex offenders.
”I have no doubt that many of the victims of serious violent and sexual crimes do not believe that their concerns are fully taken into account by the ‘authorities’,” Justice Callinan wrote.
Victorian Premier Denis Napthine has said that a number of the 23 recommendations, including tougher criteria for release, will be adopted ”swiftly”. Why not all of them? Why not immediately? Delay could be lethal. (There have been 401 arrests for breaches of parole just this year).
Of course Victoria isn’t the only state where the criminal justice system fails women. Terrence Leary allegedly assaulted a woman in June after being out on parole for the 1990 murder of a 17-year-old girl.
In 2001, Sean Lee King, 27, beat his girlfriend Jazmin-Jean Ajbschitz, 18, to death in a ferocious, drug-fuelled murder. He was on parole for drugs and firearms offences and was facing separate assault charges.
The NSW State Parole Authority has been criticised for deciding to release murderers, sex offenders and other serious criminals based on deliberations lasting often only five minutes.
Former authority member Noel Beddoe told NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith that the ”safety of the community wasn’t always uppermost” in the parole process and that it was increasingly difficult to give complex cases the attention they deserved. Smith had asked Corrective Services NSW for a review of the handling of serious sex offenders on parole.
State governments should also take another look at sentencing. Alison Grundy, a NSW clinical psychologist in the field of sexual assault for more than 20 years, recalls a case in which a man convicted of sexually assaulting her client received a suspended sentence. But for stealing a caravan he was sent to prison for three years.
”I thought at the time – yep that about sums it up – women’s safety is not an issue and women’s lives are pretty cheap,” Grundy says. ”The right to freedom for men is infinitely more important under the law than the safety and lives of women.”
A Change.org petition calling on federal and state attorneys-general to enact stronger rape sentencing has more than 27,000 signatures.
Sentencing and release issues have become too much about the rights of offenders. More attention needs to be given to the rights of women, to value our rights to live a decent life. Or simply to be allowed to live.
A 15-year-old boy confided in me after I addressed his class at a Sydney school last year. He cried as he told me he had been using porn since the age of nine. He didn’t have a social life, had few friends, had never had a girlfriend. His life revolved around online porn. He wanted to stop, he said, but didn’t know how.
I have had similar conversations with other boys since then.
Girls also share their experiences. Of boys pressuring them to provide porn-inspired acts. Of being expected to put up with things they don’t enjoy. Of seeing sex in terms of performance. Girls as young as 12 show me the text messages they routinely receive requesting naked images.
Pornography is invading the lives of young people – 70 per cent of boys and 53.5 per cent of girls have seen porn by age 12, 100 per cent of boys and 97 per cent of girls by age 16, according to a study behind the book The Sex Lives of Australian Teenagers, by Joan Sauers.
This is an unprecedented experiment on the sexual development of young people. The Australian Medical Association says there is a strong relationship between exposure to sexually explicit material and sexual behaviour that predisposes to adverse sexual and mental health outcomes.cent of girls have seen porn by age 12, 100 per cent of boys and 97 per cent of girls by age 16, according to a study behind the book The Sex Lives of Australian Teenagers, by Joan Sauers.
The 2012 report of Britain’s Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection found that exposure to porn had a negative impact on children’s attitudes to sex, relationships and body image. Cross-country studies link teens’ frequent consumption of porn with acceptance of sexual harassment and forcing someone into sex.
The globalisation of pornographic imagery has led to destructive ideas about sex. This is canvassed in the documentary Love and Sex in an Age of Pornography, which screened on SBS Two on Friday night and will be repeated on August 15 on SBS One). Co-directed by Maree Crabbe and David Corlett, the film draws on interviews with 75 young people.
It shows how healthy sexual exploration is distorted in a pornified world. The importance of consent and respect has become clouded. Boys are imitating what they see online and find that girls don’t always groan with pleasure at porn-styled sexual pounding.
According to a 2010 content analysis of the most popular porn, 88 per cent of scenes included acts of physical aggression and 48 per cent of scenes contained verbal aggression. In 94 per cent of cases, the aggression was directed towards women who were often shown enjoying it.
Jake, 18, says of his first sexual experience at 15: ”First time I had sex, because I’d watched so much porn, I thought all chicks dig this, all chicks want this done to them … all chicks love it there. So I tried all this stuff and, yeah, it turned out bad …
”When a guy watches porn: ‘that’s hot, I want to try that. You, do this, this and this,’ you know what I mean? And they will just keep pressuring and pressuring. I’ve got mates who do it. They will tell you, ‘Yeah, she didn’t want to at first but I just kept hounding her and hounding her and finally she let me …”’
The level of disempowerment in the girls is disheartening. Disconnected from their own sense of pleasure and intimacy, they often pretend to like certain acts to keep a boy happy. Often he doesn’t even ask permission.
Sara, 20, says, ”Girls, they love it in porn, so maybe boys think that girls like that and, you know, when you love someone, you know, you’re always willing to just … make them happy. [if] I’m in love, then I’ll do it for you and I’ll pretend that I like it … And in the end … I just became an object … ”
Porn has also contributed to body-image dissatisfaction. Boys think they need bigger penises. Girls have their pubic hair removed because boys who regularly consume porn think it’s disgusting. Sara says: ”[Porn stars] are really pretty … like they’ve got gigantic breasts and … perfectly moulded vaginas … my body does not look like that.”
Co-director Crabbe says what was most striking to her in making the film was the pressure porn put on young people.
”Young people are receiving very unhelpful messages about what it means to be a man, or a woman, and about sexuality,” she says. ”It’s selling sexuality short. Where do young people find mutually consenting, pleasurable experiences of sexuality in a culture in which the porn industry has such a powerful voice?”
One sign of hope is the young people who want just that. They have a desire for something better than what porn offers, a quest for authentic intimacy and love. As Joel says: ”It is all about being close to that person and showing them how much you love them.”
Pouty self portraits have turned boy-girl relations into a cut-throat sexual rat race.
If social media only caused narcissism, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. Instagram and Facebook are social networks that not only breed narcissistic tendencies but transform relations into a sexual rat race.
On these ubiquitous portals, the popularity of girls is hotly contested over one big deal: how sexy can I appear and bring it off with everyone’s admiration?
That’s the reason we see mirror shots, pouting self-portraits of teenagers (typically female) and sexually suggestively posed girls in a mini-dress ”before a party last night”. They’re showing how much they like themselves and hoping that you’ll hit ”like” to reinforce the claim.
This isn’t just an interest in vanity but vainglory, being high up on a scale of ”likes” . There isn’t anything inherently wrong with uploading self-portraits.
Everyone likes receiving compliments and it makes us feel awesome that our own appearance can provide us with an ego boost. But what kind of photos produce an epidemic of ”likes?” Nothing with too much creativity but hip, titty and kiss. It’s the true scourge of the selfie.
Why are we girls competing to be the Queen of Pouts? Why do we scour through photos of celebrities and all our ambitious friends to find out who is the new princess of prurient poses? Even demure girls are tempted to strike sexually suggestive poses. But they must be careful, not because parents are looking but because they might not score any ”likes” and might then feel a failure, unworthy among their peers.
How confident can you appear at being lascivious? How credible is your air of lewdness? A girl who is just a try-hard will lose credibility and become an outcast. So a lot depends on how much support you can get from other girls.
Girls zealously scroll down their Instagram or Facebook feeds. In Instagram, they might cleverly hashtag the most popular tags, such as #me, #selfie, #instacute to get an influx of ”likes” while they are on the most-recently tagged photos, then delete all the tags as though nothing’s happened.
They’re manipulating their image into popularity. Girls spray their ”likes”. They comment: ”Wow, you’re a model”; ”Oh my god you babe”; ”F–k you’re hot”; ”You’re perfect”; ”Best body”. Occasionally it’s genuine and supportive but it can also be very calculating. Girls fake flattery to get higher on the food chain. In my mind a comment such as, ”Oh my god, you’re so beautiful!” really means: she has to ”like” and comment on my photo! Then behind her back: ”What the f—! She is such a slut … I heard she hooked up with heaps of guys and got really drunk at a party and in every photo she poses with her tits out and a push-up bra.”
It’s tense because it’s duplicitous. We’re faking it, so that we get to be among the most popular, get to be ”liked” by the most popular and thereby gain popularity.
Seeing some of these images can feel too intimate. It’s almost as though we’re peering through a window. Some photos may be of girls showing skin, or girls lying on a bed. Just about all are seeking some sort of approval from their friends. The aim is not to communicate joy but to score a position.
It’s a neurotic impulse, not a happy one. I’m anxious that girls are higher up on the ladder than I am: boys are looking at her, not me. I have to look like her to be worthy of boys’ attention. Boys’ tastes are not always sophisticated. The aesthetic yardstick is what they see in pornography. So girls have to conform to what boys see in pornography. And then girls post photos to ”out-hot” the other girls by porn star criteria.
Who do we blame for this moral mess? As feminists, we correctly blame patriarchy because boys are securely at the top of the status game. Boys end up with the authority. They have their cake and eat it.
From the moral high ground, they can damn a girl for visual promiscuity, yet enjoy the spectacle at the same time, both with the same misogynistic motives: I like your form but I’m able to scorn you. You’re what I want but you’re less than me. Girls try to conform to this ”ideal” stereotype in their photos and these boys sarcastically comment, ”Nice personality” – really implying that the cleavage is their only attribute. Yet they also click the ”like” button. The boy who mocks a girl showing her cleavage is in fact the same boy who craves sexual opportunities with her.
A common adult reaction to social media is to restrict things, as if that could ever be possible. You can’t force kids to be nice. The real problem isn’t something tangible like sexting or bullying, which adults focus on in patronising and unimaginative ways. The real problem relates to conformity. Kids are compelled to act the stereotype, because those who opt out commit themselves to social leprosy. Social media doesn’t need adult control. What we need is some good taste.
‘Roxy and the “sex sells” agenda of surf corporations a la Big Surfing are completely disconnected from what we know surfing to be about: freedom. We don’t want what you are selling’
When writing my column on the objectification of women in sport, I came across the writings of American surfer and Women’s World Longboard champion Cori Schumacher. I was impressed. Cori can both surf and write. I can only write. But she makes me want to surf! You’ll see why in this piece which she has given me permission to reprint in full.
Crossing the threshold from land to sea, the weights of gender and sexuality attached to the wings of my soul fall away. It is as if the ocean itself has the power to remove the stench of centuries from this form; a body I was born with, did not ask for but have found a way to cherish despite all the messages received from a world that would label me as second-class, nearly worthless, save for a tiny window in time if I were but to follow the intense pressures to submit to an ogling gaze that deems me worthy if I relentlessly give away my true power to embrace an ephemeral faux-power wrapped up in beauty and youth.
Let us be clear as to what this ephemeral faux-power of sexualized beauty entails:
“The answer to who has the power in these videos is blatantly clear.
We are the ones constantly depicted naked or semi-naked, in hyper-sexualized ‘biting-our-lips, batting-our-eyelashes’ demure, weak and submissive poses. It’s a position that signals vulnerability. You can’t be naked, while everyone else is clothed, and be in power. You can’t be naked and be the one in control. You can’t be naked and be the one choosing. To be naked is to be exposed; to be weak. Ultimately, it’s to be powerless.
Even when women are sold the story that their beauty is power over men, it is a deceptive and temporary truth. It’s baseless power. It is the kind of power that only exists in relation to a man’s desire. In this equation, women are defined only in relation to the men in their lives; only to the hard-ons they can incite. In these videos they’re always the cheerleaders to the male ego, standing on the sidelines, prancing around in panties, smiling with a come-hither, non-threatening look…” -Toula Foscolos
When conversations around women’s sexualization rise, the most eclipsing and ignorant of responses seeks to polarize our conversations between those who are prudishly opposed to a woman embracing her sexuality and those who are in-touch and empowered through their sexualized nakedness. Please. Women and men, our sexualities, our genders, our desires, how they are exploited and maintained, expressed and repressed, are far more complex than this simple polarization, both in the good ol’ USofA and abroad (yes, that’s right, even the French are engaged in this conversation). The conversation as it stands is due for expansion.
That is, an expansion in the conversation around the difference between the commodification of sexuality for the gain of profits and exposure for a few elite vs. the truly empowering freedom found in working to release both men and women from this circular conversation of a relentlessly disempowered binary that does nothing to celebrate our complexity as human beings.
Sex Sells (seriously, again?)
When I hear the hauntingly redundant “sex sells, so who is losing here” argument I wonder at the absolute lack of imagination and empathy this entails. Rather than argue abstracts, however, I find that it is much better to use specific examples to illustrate who loses when image and sex become the ideas sold rather than the promotion of agency, efficacy and non-image oriented achievement.
Anna Kournikova became the poster-child for sexualized female tennis beginning in the late 1990s. She inspired quite a bit of debate around image and achievement similar to the conversation surrounding Steph Gilmore’s recent trailer for the Roxy Pro. Though what was said regarding Kournikova cannot be said of Gilmore (exemplified by the use of the “Anna Kournikova” in the lingo of some poker card playing variations meaning a hand that “looks great but never wins”), we can look at the impact of Kournikova and the likes of Maria Sharapova in women’s tennis easily enough now that time has passed and draw parallels to who will lose when we allow this unimaginative and lazy rhetoric of “sex sells” to infiltrate surfing or other women’s sports, for that matter.
Marion Bartoli, who recently won the prestigious Wimbledon championship, has had to deal with the most disgusting and pathetic of the dark side of the sexualization of tennis. After winning her first grand slam trophy, BBC TV and radio sportscaster John Inverdale felt the need to comment that she was “never going to be a looker” to which Bartoli responded with the courageous comment featured in the above image. This however was light commentary compared to the “fans of tennis” who decided to let loose a tirade fit to inspire projectile vomiting. Even in the midst of accomplishing one of her greatest dreams, Bartoli has to deal with the sexism that persists for women in sport. This is a loss, not only for tennis, but for female athletes in the future who are no doubt reading all about this. Sexism persists.
“Sex sells” is regurgitated tripe that should be divested of its cowls. Sex sold product when sex in our culture wasn’t visible. Now that sex is everywhere, it is easy to gaze at it as an artifact of creativity and innovation, and indeed, gazing is all sex-used-to-sell is good for these days. A new generation of consumers (whose views translate to purchasing, which is ostensibly what companies like Roxy want) is more attracted to values-driven companies than lifestyle-fetish fodder (as exemplified by the fact that Patagonia saw growth over the last recession by 25%-30% annually while companies like Quiksilver and Billabong continue to lose millions). Sexy marketing once was an innovative way to fill a vacuum only to be found in magazines tucked under the beds of adolescent males, but with this vacuum filled to overflow in the culture-at-large, it has become as redundant and banal as commercials for pharmaceuticals on television.
“There was this one time that I saw an ad that objectified men and it didn’t offend me…”
I suppose it would be just as impossible to explain what it feels like to be a woman in the world and how surfing can be a moment of respite amidst the sexist noise to some as it would be to explain to these victims of sex-trafficking how Steph Gilmore’s trailer for the Roxy Pro 2013 might exemplify Steph embracing her “power” as a woman.
Although some, like Dustin Hoffman, have honestly delved into this question with moving and resonant results.
Why do women run to the sea? Ask yourselves this. What does it mean to cross-over from a culture-land of trauma into a sea of freedom and how impossible will it be to get others to understand how hard some will fight to retain this space where we can release the weight of gender and sexuality imposed on us by our culture-at-large?
If you want to embrace the ephemeral, it’s your life. No one should tell you what or how to use your body. But don’t pretend we are empowering the future here or that it is good for anyone else. This trend shows a complete lack of regard for the health of future generations of female surfers and does not bode well for the future of men’s surfing either. Do you see it yet? The first rumblings of it in the bare-chested way the top 34 male professional surfers are being presented to fans during 2013′s ASP contests?
Cori has a petition against Roxy at Change.org Sign here
As a teenage girl growing up in country Victoria, I was an avid reader of The Age. It inspired in me a passion for journalism. I did work experience on the local paper and went on to study journalism at RMIT. I scored a cadetship and began my life as a working journalist. A few years later I was awarded a scholarship to study journalism in the U.S. While in the States I submitted my first feature piece to Rosemary West then editor of the Age ‘Accent’ section. She ran it. I returned and began writing freelance. Now I’ve been given a gig as a columnist with Fairfax including The Age. My columns will appear every fortnight. Here’s the first, which appeared on Sunday.
Women judged to not possess hot bodies, or who fail to exude sex appeal to the ogling masses, are unworthy of sporting pursuits.This is the verdict of many voyeuristic spectators who saw French player Marion Bartoli win the Wimbledon women’s singles trophy last weekend. Her skill on the court was irrelevant. Bartoli didn’t conform to the sexy sporting babe norm. How dare she even show up with a racquet?
Worse still, this ”oily-faced bitch”, without the requisite sexy body, defeated a tall ”good-looking” blonde, Germany’s Sabine Lisicki. This was treated as a crime against humanity. Bartoli was subjected to a public shaming – a stream of eviscerating cyber disparagement for her appearance. Comments included Ellis Keddie’s: ”How is bartoli a professional athlete and fat as f—?” and London’s Stifler: ”Bartoli you fat shit. I don’t want an ugly bitch to win.”
Yet another described Bartoli as ”too ugly to be raped”. She was ridiculed as a lesbian and told to have her penis removed – ”see if she’d win then”.
In the global eroticisation of women in sport, what’s the point of a woman competing if she can’t provide eye candy to the men?
Has a male tennis player ever been subjected to such mob vilification for not conforming to a sexualised beauty? Do men endure such excessive focus on their bodies?
Shortly after Bartoli won, BBC Radio 5 commentator John Inverdale said: ”I just wonder if her dad … did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe, ‘Listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker. You are never going to be somebody like a [Maria] Sharapova, you’re never going to be five feet 11, you’re never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that.
”’You are going to have to be the most dogged, determined fighter that anyone has ever seen on the tennis court if you are going to make it,’ and she kind of is.”
Bartoli bravely dismissed the comments: ”It doesn’t matter, honestly. I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry,” she said. ”But have I dreamt about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes … and I am so proud of it.”
The hypersexualisation of female athletes means a woman’s strengths are ignored. Reinforcing appearance over talent means sportswomen are openly abused in the public space.
Remember when swimmer Leisel Jones’ body shape was pilloried during the 2012 Olympics? Jones, the first Australian swimmer to compete at four Olympics, was judged out of shape (read ”fat”). English weightlifter Zoe Smith was labelled a ”bloke” and a ”lesbian” on Twitter. She went on to break the British record for the clean and jerk. American gymnast Gabby Douglas was criticised for her hairstyle. She won two gold medals.
In this appearance-based culture, girls get the message that to play sport, especially at high level, is to be subjected to judgment. Only certain body types need apply. This is reinforced by the Roxy Pro surfing promotion featuring a slim blonde in something akin to a lingerie shoot.
Hawaiian surfer Keala Kennelly wrote on Facebook that she thought the promo looked like an ad for a gentleman’s club or escort service. ”It says to me, ‘Who you are as an athlete is not important, what is important is that you have a hot little rig guys can perv on. As somebody that has fought so hard all my life to be respected in the surfing industry for talent not tits, its [sic] just really frustrating to see Women’s Surfing going in this direction.”
In Huck magazine, surfer Cori Schumacher wrote: ”I hoped that they would be able to focus more on their surfing ability rather than being burdened by a sexually available, blonde, fit image that took much time and money to maintain. But … the trend of focusing on the bodies and sexuality of female surfers seems to have grown worse.”
Girls need to be inspired by representations of women mobilising their gifts and abilities to reach their goals in sport and life. But, by age 14, girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys, according to the US Women’s Sports Foundation.
The Roxy and Wimbledon examples won’t inspire girls to take up sport. If you don’t look ”hot”, you may as well sit on the sidelines. And that’s the last place we need our girls to be.
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