A world without rapists would be a world in which women moved freely without fear of men. That some men rape provides a sufficient threat to keep all women in a constant state of intimidation, forever conscious of the knowledge that the biological tool must be held in awe, for it may turn to weapon with sudden swiftness born of harmful intent … Rather than society’s aberrants or ‘spoilers of purity’, men who commit rape have served in effect as front-line masculine shock troops, terrorist guerrillas in the longest battle the world has ever known.
—Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (1975, p. 15)
Living in a rape culture means adjusting to being hyper-vigilant about male violence to the point where risk management becomes second nature. It means living with the continuum of male sexual violence on a daily basis, from creepy and threatening looks and comments in the street, home and workplace, to online rape threats, attempted assault and actual assault. It means inhabiting a paradoxical space where the rape and murder of women is prohibited but everywhere eroticised and the object of laughter.
To take just one example of rape culture, the globally popular American fantasy series Game of Thronesfeatures a blond child bride being continually raped by her warlord husband. “But it’s all ok because a prostitute slave teaches the thirteen-year-old princess super sexy sex skills, and she proceeds to blow the warlord’s mind so throughly [sic] that they fall in love,” notes feminist Laurie Penny (2012)
Many men, when asked a simple question about why male domination exists, reply that it is because men are stronger than women. This answer seems innocuously simple-minded, but the explanatory statement that ‘men have power over women because they are physically stronger than women’ also means ‘men can rape and kill women if they want to’. There is no point replying that it is illegal to rape and kill women. The law does not come into it at all. It is as though the legal prohibitions against male sexual violence are little more than the sales pitch of a corporation eager to hide its criminal intent behind images of satisfied customers.
The majority of victims do not report, and the majority of rapists walk free (Miller et al., 2011; Fayard and Rocheron, 2011; Belknap, 2010). As the title of a 2013 articleby Nigel Morris in The Independent puts it: ‘100,000 assaults. 1,000 rapists sentenced. Shockingly low conviction rates revealed. Latest statistics also show difficulties in persuading victims to report attacks’. Although media attention on particular rapes occasionally stirs up public debate, these rapes are the exception to the norm simply because victims have broken their silence and the criminal justice system has been involved. One cannot but wonder how many people know of, or are friends with, men who have sexually assaulted women and children, and yet do nothing about it.
It has only been since the 1960s and 1970s that most western women have been able to work outside the home without needing permission from their husbands/owners. It is only in the last few decades that marital rape has been recognised in some nations as a human rights violation. In Australiamarital rape was outlawed as late as 1991 (Temkin, 2002). As late as 1993 the United Nations published the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In many countries young girls are still forced to marry their rapists.
Raping women and children continues to be a lethal form of oppression in advanced neo-liberal democracies. Victims of male sexual violence continue to be branded as ‘damaged goods’ and re-abused in the criminal justice system to such an extent that the majority of victims simply give up and opt out of the legal process (Fisher et al., 2000; Fisher et al., 2003). Lawyers are often reluctant to take on rape cases because they know they are difficult to win. Child victims of male sexual violence are subjected to ritualistic humiliation in courts (Taylor, 2004). Child pornography victims are subjected to malicious attacks by bourgeois academics in high-ranking American legal journals (Lollar, 2012).
Young women, who sustain the majority of sexual assaults, not only endure court-licensed abuse, but they are now also bullied online for daring to speak out. Raped girls are urged to kill themselves by pack verbal abuse that is all too often uttered as mocking jokes (Salek, 2013). Victim-blaming has become lethal.
In a novel by feminist academic Yvette Rocheron, Double Crossings (2009), a mother decides to commit suicide after she is brutally raped by a cousin, knowing that, if she lives, the crime will destroy her family and her life. “For her loved ones, a sublime act of love … She would go down knowingly … [T]he vitriolic defacement of women, the misguided abortions, the rapes. She was a thousand years old” (p. 271). There is no humour in this novel as the mother leaps to her death, merely a solemn awareness of the barbarism of a crime against women that leaves the murderous poison of social death in her body.
I have lost count of how many women—friends, students, colleagues, relatives, and acquaintances—have told me they have been raped. All of the rapists have gotten away with it while the women are burdened with years of unspeakable shame and self-hatred, or shunned by their families for daring to speak out about male relatives who raped them. The stories involve horrendous child sexual abuse, rape at knifepoint, abductions in vans, group rapes, women being drugged and raped, rapes by colleagues, partners and ex-partners. A woman who was raped by her grandfather told me recently that it took her 30 years to understand that her body belonged to her. Another woman, a feminist activist and journalist, after going public about being raped at knifepoint, was subjected to online abuse along the lines that she should be ‘raped with a box cutter’. When I read the comment about the box cutter it took a few moments to sink in that the man who had posted the comment was saying that he wanted to butcher her vagina with a knife. Not surprisingly, many women keep quiet about being sexually assaulted. And all of this occurs in a world in which women who speak out about male sexual violence, or any form of male domination, are routinely subjected to online rape threats (Lewis, 2011). Again, the majority of threats never result in prosecution and women are often told to ‘get over it’, ‘toughen up’ or ‘lighten up’ or have sex with a man. ‘She just needs a good fuck’, is how the all too familiar saying goes … Oddly, having sex with men is meant to dispel fear of being raped, as though women who have an accurate assessment of the dangers of rape culture are hysterics who just need sex. The idea that women enjoy being raped still persists (Suarez and Gadalla, 2010); and if women are assumed to enjoy being raped then their protests about being harmed by rape can easily be reduced to a farce.
More about Abigail’s book and how to order can be found here.
Another example of the abuse women receive for speaking out
By Caitlin Roper
Last week, The Australian newspaper reported that Channel Seven’s 7mate would be broadcasting the Lingerie Football. To all those who are unfamiliar with this spectacle, yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. While many accomplished women’s sporting leagues in Australia are both competitive and successful, media coverage is reserved for those women’s leagues where the uniforms consist of lingerie.
Some supporters of the Lingerie Football League, including players and men who didn’t like their access to sweaty, lingerie clad women challenged, referred to my petition on various pages on Facebook. They googled me looking for something they could use against me. I was labeled a “jealous bitch”, obviously fat and ugly, and most likely bitter that my husband was fan of Lingerie Football. I was too ugly to land a partner. I should be sent to “Guantanimo (sic) Bay” (an overreaction I thought, but still) and I probably think “walking to the kitchen for another jam donut counts as exercise” (that last one is true.)
A small sample below:
I considered responding with some facts- that I am happily married, that I work out several times a week and that I am not ugly. Then I recalled this was a classic silencing tactic I had experienced many times before– tearing women down by criticizing their physical appearance.
Women in our hyper-sexualised culture are valued for their physical attractiveness and their ability to please men sexually. Conforming to limited, stereotypical, pornified ideals of beauty and sexuality, we learn, is where our power lies. As Gail Dines writes in Pornland:
“In a porn culture, our power lies, we are told, not in our ability to shape the institutions that determine our life chances, but in having a hot body that men desire and women envy.”
In a porn culture, women can be either “f*ckable” or “invisible”. With this in mind, being regarded as an undesirable woman with nothing to offer could be potentially upsetting.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been subjected to abuse for speaking out against sexism and misogyny.
It is telling that my opponents’ first course of action was to call me fat and ugly, and that these were perceived as the most stinging insults they could unleash. What if I was fat or ugly? What if I am? If my face and body are not sufficiently pleasing to the male gaze should I be rendered voiceless?
I have more to offer than my body and I have more to offer than being pretty, as do all women and girls. Our obsession with being hot is merely a distraction.
Women are more and should be viewed as more. Unfortunately, from my experiences, the day women are recognized for their contributions and not their bodies still seems a long way off.
Lingerie Football: An open response to an open letter
An open letter “To those who oppose the LFL in Australia” was posted on our [Collective Shout] Facebook page yesterday.
Elise – an athlete who has recently joined an LFL team – asked us to read and consider her views on the LFL.
You can read Elise’s open letter here. (Opens PDF)
Thanks so much for writing to share your views on the Lingerie Football League.
Firstly, we do understand that the owner of the League has changed the name and brand to “Legends Football League” and has very slightly modified the bikini/lingerie style uniform he requires players to wear, by removing some lace and a garter and modifying shoulder pads.
The changes are so minor we don’t understand how anyone could take this seriously. The rebrand is nothing more than a cynical attempt at making the League more appealing to potential sponsors who may be put off by supporting a “Lingerie Football League.” (Readers can view the big announcement here.)
Despite a “rebrand”, the essence of the “sport” remains the same – providing titillation for men at the expense of women’s health and safety. Hence, we’re not buying into this “rebrand” and will continue referring to it as the Lingerie Football League.
Lingerie Football – whatever one chooses to call it – is not a sport. It is not recognized by the Australian Sports Commission. They do not support it.
The LFL has drained the bank accounts of former players in the US by not providing adequate compensation for serious injuries. Players understood that their injuries would be covered when they paid the insurance premiums offered by the LFL, but were instead left thousands of dollars in debt. Players who spoke out publicly about these experiences were threatened with legal action. As you’re probably aware, the US does not have the same healthcare system enjoyed by Australians, so adequate health insurance should be the highest priority for the LFL, particularly when safety equipment is the lowest priority.
Sport can indeed be an expensive pursuit and athletes are not always compensated for participation unless they are sponsored.
Now that the Lingerie Football League has a “contract” with Channel 7 and 7 Mate, will players be paid?
It doesn’t look likely. LFL owner Mitch Mortaza stated just this month to US program Inside Edition (watch below) that the league could not afford to pay players. It has been suggested by a US sports commentator that the Leagues foray into Canada and Australia is motivated in part by our health care system. Mortaza will pocket the profits from these events and Australian Medicare will foot the bill for injuries if private health insurance offered to Australian LFL players turns out to be inadequate.
The athletic skill of the women involved in the Lingerie Football League is not in question. There is no “attack” on the players of the LFL. If there is an “attack” it is directed firmly at the owner of the LFL and any corporation complicit in his exploitation of women for profit.
Some players have commented that they are not “skinny” and therefore promote positive body image. The question is asked “would you rather your daughter look like a Victoria’s Secret model or an LFL player?”
Are those really the only options? And why is physical appearance so important?
We would rather our girls not be pressured to look a certain way at all and instead be recognised for their skill and expertise in whatever activities they choose to participate in.The LFL reinforces that physical appearance and conforming to a narrow standard of beauty is what is most important, over and above athletic skill.
If Lingerie Football is about skill, then unfortunately fans didn’t get the memo. The sexist, degrading comments on social media and elsewhere about LFL player’ss bodies and what sort of sexual acts fans would like to perform are absolutely disgusting. (example) The “sport” is marketed in such a way as to invite and allow this behaviour and creates an environment that is hostile and discriminatory to women and girls. This is institutional sexual harassment. No sporting body should promote or allow this behaviour but sexual harassment is built into the business model of the LFL.
Yes, the League exists because it is “marketed well.” There is a huge market demand for pornography, prostitution, stripping and other forms of sexual exploitation. Men have not suddenly decided to embrace women’s sport. Channel 7 and 7Mate has not decided to embrace women’s sport and therefore, the LFL will not encourage other stations to embrace women’s sport. The LFL is not some new cutting edge concept, this is not the “fastest growing sport.” This is not sport at all, this is the same old sexual objectification of women, repackaged and “rebranded.”
To say if “we don’t like it don’t watch simple!” – Yes, that is a very simple statement, but it is a completely ineffective response to sexual objectification in our culture.
I don’t like it, I don’t watch it, but I have to live in a community with people who do. I have to live in a community with people whose sexist attitudes towards women are reinforced by sexploitation events. I have to live in a community with people whose ideas that women are objects of sexual recreation are affirmed by these events.
A culture in which women and girls are seen as sexual objects is one in which relationships between men and women suffer and sexual harassment and violence against women thrives. I and other women and girls are harmed by this toxic culture, even if I have never personally played football in my underwear, participated in a beauty pageant or stripped off my clothes in a nightclub.
Sexual objectification of women and girls harms all women, not just those who say they choose to participate. “Don’t like it, don’t watch it” makes as much sense as saying “don’t like pollution, don’t breathe.”
Elise, we thank you for taking the time to share your views and to provide information about the recent developments in the LFL. These minor changes to the League- if they can be called changes at all – do not change our views on the exploitative nature of the League.
Clearly we disagree on this and will continue challenging the Lingerie Football League’s introduction to Australia. However, we do wish you and your fellow athletes all the very best.
Molly, 16, (at their request, only first names are used) was asleep in the home of a friend after a party a year ago when a boy snuck into the room.
The schoolgirl from regional NSW says she felt powerless. ”I felt threatened. I guess I knew he wasn’t going to take no for an answer, that all he wanted was sex.
”I do think he knew I didn’t want to do it, but he also knew he would be able to force me to anyway, and I do believe he had power over me.”
When others heard about it they called Molly – a virgin until then – an ”attention seeking slut” who was ”asking for it”.
Aurora, 16, was at a party where a drunk boy tried to assault her. If not for her friend’s intervention, she would have been raped.
”A friend had to pull him off me so I could get away. If she hadn’t been there I don’t know what might have happened. I am, petite, 5’6′, he was at least 6’4. He could have easily overpowered me.” She was shaken and distressed for days. Neither girl reported what happened.
This is the reality for so many girls in their sexual experiences. And the pressure isn’t just from strangers.
An idea floats around that girls are sexually freer than ever. That they are exercising ”agency” in their sexual decisions and having great sex lives. That’s not what I’m hearing as I talk to girls all over the country.
For so many girls it appears the boy calls the shots. It’s submission disguised as freedom. Many feel they are not allowed to say ”no”.
And the stories girls used to tell me at 16 and 17, they are now telling me at 13 and 14.
Somehow, despite the women’s movement, despite ”Girl Power” sloganeering, girls have become disempowered.
Shannon is bright, articulate and confident. I met her at a Tasmanian school recently. She is a leader among her peers. Yet she captured what so many girls are experiencing: a struggle to assert themselves in relationships with males.
”I felt this overwhelming feeling of being lower than my boyfriend,” she said. ”I felt as though he was the male therefore he was dominant over me and I was there purely to fulfil his physical needs.
”I feel my needs, both sexually and emotionally, come second to my partner’s.”
At a private girls’ school in Melbourne, girls shared their experiences. Jen, 16, said: ”When you are in love they are allowed to treat you however.”
”If you say you want to wait, you are asked ‘why?”’ said Marly, 16.
”Girls want love and they are willing to compromise themselves to get it,” said Marina, 16. ”They need that validation. Boys feel they have more worth. They often think when they are in love, even when he treats you badly, they think this is meant to happen, I deserve this, this is how relationships are meant to be.”
”We are stuck in mindset of them having power over us,” said 16-year-old Micaela. Samantha, 16, believes girls are taught by media and popular culture that having sex will give them a sense of worth. ”If you don’t have sex he will leave for someone else.”
A 15-year-old Tasmanian student, teased for being a virgin, was planning to ”get it over and done with” with a 19-year-old she had met twice. He was happy to oblige, telling her feelings didn’t have to come into it. She told me this with tears streaming down her face. It was clear she wasn’t ready.
Girls say that it’s hard to keep feelings out. ”Girls get affected more, they are more emotionally connected and think they are in love,” said Marly.
”For girls sex is more of a sacred thing with someone you love. With boys it is seen as more of a joke … they have a different mindset. Girls have different attitudes, guys don’t seem to care that much,” said Jen.
Girls describe being touched inappropriately, frequently pushing away unwanted hands.
”At parties boys come up and just touch you,” said Micaela. ”You are there as an object. If you don’t do what they want they call you frigid”.
But girls are growing tired of being reduced and degraded in these ways. They are increasingly demanding respect-based relationships in which their wishes and desires are treated equally, not last. ”I stand up for myself now,” Aurora told me.
The sexual landscape is grim, but let’s hope more girls are empowered to follow Aurora’s lead. Listening to girls’ experiences and supporting them to stand up for themselves – as well as calling boys out on their abusive and too often criminal behaviour – is more helpful to them than persisting with media fantasies about the wonderful and liberated sex lives of Australian girls in the 21st century.
A female teacher at a Tasmanian school where I spoke on the objectification of women could not stay to hear the end of my talk.
The images I showed were too confronting, bringing back traumas suffered two decades ago.
”The very acts that have become part of my trauma were there on display as a part of mainstream culture,” she said.
Do advertisers, editors, fashion, music and video-game producers think about how their violent images traumatise female survivors of sexual abuse and degradation?
T-shirts in surf stores depict women naked, bound and splattered in blood. Mainstream advertising shows women pinned down in simulated gang-rape scenes, tied up in cars boots, buried, chopped into pieces, decapitated. Women are shown as passive, vulnerable, often naked and as sex aids.
These images, among 200 in my presentation, took Genevieve back 20 years.
Once an idealistic young person, Genevieve worked hard to turn her love of acting and performing arts into admission to a prestigious performing arts school.
”It went without saying that you did not get in just on talent, but on marketability,” she says.
”I remember consciously dressing in a low-cut body suit and tight jeans aware that my acting skills were only part of my ticket in. From that moment on, I was a commodity and accepted treatment as such.”
Groomed by a lecturer, she ended up drugged and sexually assaulted for three days by five men. Each played out fantasies that were listed in explicit writing on the walls. Because of their power and status, she didn’t go to the police, fearing retribution.
She also felt that being cross-examined in the courts would retraumatise her. She had seen what had happened to other victims.
What Genevieve suffered came back to her as I spoke. Seeing my images caused her to panic. Her heart beat rapidly, she went into a hot sweat and she felt herself dissociating and losing time.
She says she felt retraumatised. ”I could feel a rising wave of fear. I’ve spent 20 years rebuilding my life. Every day I have to make a wall between me and the world. I’m so busy trying to protect myself. Deviant behaviour is now on public display every day.”
Do those who profit from the images they use to sell things even care about the impact on women like Genevieve? She is worried about the normalising of these images to children. ”What hope do my boys have of knowing where the line is? What hope does a girl who experiences these things have of getting understanding and support when she is confronted by constant exposure to images that say it is OK?” Genevieve asks.
Two years ago, Brian McFadden (his fiancee at the time, Delta Goodrem, was an anti-violence ambassador) released a song titled Just the way you are (Drunk at the Bar), which contains the lines: ”I like you just the way you are, drunk as shit dancing at the bar, I can’t wait to take you home so I can do some damage … I can’t wait to take you home so I can take advantage.”
In response, one survivor wrote in a comment on my blog:
”So, Brian McFadden, do you think this is something to poke fun at? Does my story deserve its own catchy tune and rounds of laughter and applause because you were so clever to come up with something witty that ultimately diminishes the trauma of my experience and belittles my feelings about it?”
Such imagery and words, as used by McFadden, create a harmful cultural narrative about what it means to be a woman today. Media and popular culture reflect values. Any reading of the social landscape tells us women are really only good for one thing: to be used sexually.
Anti-violence campaigner and sexual assault survivor Kate Ravenscroft points out that one in three women is a victim of violence, yet the trauma of their experience is diminished and belittled.
The cultural messages that make violence appear sexy are part of the same culture in which victims of sexual assault have to survive.
”Seeing that violence treated flippantly, carelessly, can be devastating,” she says.
Women like Genevieve battle to control rising panic most days, everywhere they go, because the acts done to them are on display so casually, with the tacit approval of governments who love to repeat a mantra that self-regulation is working. It’s not, and it’s real women who are hurt because of it.
Last month I posted a piece by a woman named Carrie, a survivor of child trafficking. She wrote about our amazing reunion 14 years after I was involved in attempts to secure asylum for her and her unborn child. I said then: “Her story is remarkable. Her suffering indescribable. Her resilience and love for life unmatchable.” Since our reunion Carrie has started to join me in my talks to students. Her story of survival and rising above great suffering, has blown the girls away (more on that later). Today she posted a piece on her blog, which took special courage. I wanted you to see how brave she is and hopefully be inspired to rise above personal difficulties and no longer be burdened by things of the past. You can also read her extraordinary poem ‘Sold’ here.
LITTLE GIRL LOST – IF I KNEW THEN WHAT I KNOW NOW
Last week I shared my story for the first time so candidly with a group of grade 10 girls. A few days prior to the school visit I had written my most vulnerable blog entry but hadn’t the courage to publish it. I figured, if I was brave enough to share it with the girls and their response was favorable, I would ‘dare greatly’ and put it out there. In my wildest dreams, their reaction to me could never be as astounding as it was. They have been so affirming in their acceptance of me that I found in them the courage I was lacking. So as promised to the girls and to myself, here is my most vulnerable piece to date.
I often wonder if men and boys ever consider the damage their unwanted hand on the unwilling bodies and souls of girls does to us. Would they still abuse, degrade and objectify even if they knew the end result 100% of the time at the very least leads to shame? And at the worse leads to irreparable damage to the girl’s self worth. How she views her body. How it impacts her sexuality and spirituality. Impairs her ability to trust and be intimate and many times threatens her desire to even live?
Shame is a topic I have become somewhat of an expert on during the course of my life. I remember the first time I felt it, how it consumed me, how it made me view myself as unloveable and how it kept me disconnected and silent for years…
…As a child, I walked around in a state of such dissociation, I often wondered what it felt like to be alive. I would watch other kids play while I sat on the sidelines pulling out my eyelashes and have no ability to connect with their joy. Other times, I would somehow manage to play but it was never really me doing it. Even when I laughed, a sound and expression so foreign to me in my early years, I remained so far away that I became the silent observer to the shell of myself that showed up every day in the world to represent the facade.
As a teenager, I got even better at sending the “representative” girl out into the world. My humor became the lie that would hide the truth of my pain. I knew what I was hiding no person would understand, and so for years I stayed silent. Out of fear of the threats I received and most probably because I believed at a deep level I was as bad as I was told. And so I would try to be as good as my damaged soul allowed. But anger consumed me, shame blinded me to my own potential and I hated myself for existing. I hated my mother for hating me, I hated my sister for all the times I protected her and I hated my father for destroying my soul daily before the divorce and then every other weekend there after. But mostly I hated life for not ever giving me a chance to become the person I could have been had it been different for me. Read full post on Carrie’s blog ‘Paving the road to freedom’.
‘In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality’
By Ori Golan
It’s on billboards, in newspapers and magazines; it proliferates on television and social networks. Toys, songs, graffiti, advertisements, internet and iPhone applications all promote it in one way or another. The hyper-sexualisation of women. From subtle sexist innuendoes to base pornography, women are routinely degraded and used as commodities to generate commerce or score political gains. Former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was relentlessly targeted for misogynistic attacks. Whether it was her attire or body parts; or her personal life, it was all fair game. The list of epithets includes, among others: dog, bitch, witch, old cow, deliberately barren, and menopausal monster.
But it is not just women in key positions. Girls of every age and walk of life are routinely urged to trade on their looks. Advertising and film industries focus heavily on women’s sexual features rather than attributes such as intelligence or work capacity; they are often depicted as objects in positions of inferiority, subordination and low social power. Seldom are women depicted as protagonists who are feisty, intelligent and charismatic. A cursory glimpse at media outlets yields images of prepubescent beauty pageants, teenaged girls smothered in makeup, women in suggestive poses and models with perfect curves.
Psychologist Sarah McMahon from BodyMatters Australasia, a clinic which specialises in body image issues, warns against this highly prejudiced and dangerous objectification of women. “When we talk about the negative role the media has on young girls” Sarah says, “I think we automatically defer to the narrow beauty ideal that is perpetuated through the homogenised look of models and the overuse of photo-shop”.
Indeed, on a daily basis, our senses are assaulted by aggressive advertising campaigns presenting body-perfect models with unattainable dimensions to promote films, food, designer labels, underwear, diets and games.
Cosmetic surgery is a spin-off from this industry, in the pursuit of the ideal body. It is a colossal global market, raking in millions of dollars in profit. Across the globe, 15 million people turn to plastic surgery to enhance their looks – the vast majority of them women. According to the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery (ACCS), cosmetic procedures in Australia, which include breast augmentation and liposuction, generate over $1 billion a year.
There is also another, darker and more sinister, aspect to this prolific gender exploitation: the propagation of DVDs and video games of a highly sexual nature depicting incest, rape and appalling sexual violence against women. Many of these are available for quick, unfettered purchase in shops and service stations.
More than ever before, young – often very young – people are bombarded with hyper-sexualised messages. Pornography is invading their lives at unprecedented rates.
So, what are the consequences and effects of such pervasive invasion of sexualised material?
Speaker, columnist and advocate, Melinda Tankard Reist, has no doubt that the consequences are direct, insidious and long-term. As the co-founder of Collective Shout which runs a tireless campaigner to end the sexualisation of girls, Melinda is well placed to speak on this matter. “We are seeing a sharp decline in women holding key roles, an increase in eating disorders and a rise in physical violence against women. Collective Shout takes upon itself to name and shame corporations, advertisers and marketers who objectify women and sexualise girls to sell products and services. Melinda has spearheaded numerous campaigns against a major corporations to remove highly offensive advertising or merchandise which exploits or degrades women.
Watching the film Miss Representation, by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, brings these points into sharp relief. This outstanding documentary puts the spotlight on mainstream US media where women are routinely demeaned, sexualised and limited to stereotyped roles. The facts speak for themselves: women are grossly under-representation in positions of influence in the US; is still 90th in the world for women in national legislatures; it is now a country where women hold only 3% of high positions in mainstream media. Given such appalling statistics, it is hardly surprising that there is a dramatic drop in the numbers of aspiring young women. Marian Wright, President of Children’s Defense Fund, puts it succinctly when she says: You can’t be what you can’t see.
But there’s worse: a staggering 65% of American women and girls have eating disorders as a direct consequence of the relentless glorification of thin women in the media.
The problem is, of course, not restricted to the US.
Inês Almeida, Executive Director at the Brave Girls Alliance and Founder of TowardTheStars, is keenly aware of the cause-and-effect between the sexualisation of girls and the three most common mental health problems effecting girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. “Substantial research shows that mass media influences girls and young women’s beliefs about themselves”, she affirms.
According to Inês, in 2012 some 913,000 Australians were recorded with eating disorders, two thirds of them women. To compound the problem, the concerned age-group is becoming increasingly – and alarmingly – younger. “Both the Westmead Hospital in Sydney and the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne have observed that eating disorder cases have increased substantially in the under-12 age group”, she says.
Inês is poised to combat this devastating trend. Last year she launched the TowardTheStars campaign; a movement that provides gifts and resources that inspire and enable girls to be strong, smart and daring. “In a world overwhelmed with messages that tell girls that their value comes from their external appearance”, she explains, “it is imperative to showcase girls who are courageous, strong, bold, determined, accomplished and athletic. We need to see more girls who are leaders, scientists, adventurers, politicians and, of course, superheroes!”
On October 11, the UN’s International Day of the Girl, the Brave Girls Alliance plans to take over Times Square. “With enough supporters, we’ll rent a billboard to flash brief girl-positive messages 40 times per hour, 20 hours per day, for 7 days”, says Inês.
Alex McClintock is a journalist, male and full-fledged feminist. “If you think the parliament is full of misogynists, then maybe you should take a look in your local pub or nightclub on a Friday night” he advises, alluding to the grossly sexual and misogynist bravado so common among men. “Men can be feminists too and the best way to do it is by being active in masculine spaces like locker rooms and pubs.”
He brings into the discussion an issue that has not been discussed or even alluded to: how to make sense of a world from a man’s perspective. With the propagation of pornography and its proliferation on the net, making it accessible to almost any internet user, how do we deal with it? How do we teach boys to treat women with respect? How do we instil civility and parity?
“If boys and girls are going to look at porn, then we should have porn education in schools to help them make sense of it”, he suggests. This is no doubt a statement worthy of discussion in its own right.
The many issues and sentiments which a ThinkActChange debate such as this can stir, are often close, personal and painful. A member of the audience shared her experience, shortly after the event.
“I’ve been living a life full of eating-disordered hell since I was 10 years old, and now 12 years laterm at the age of 22, I am only beginning to see the damage that society and media play on young girls and women like myself. It wasn’t just me who has been suffering from anorexia. My whole family and circle of friends have been suffering as well. I can happily say now that I am very much on the way to full recovery. I am also back at university and hope to one day work alongside Sarah McMahon and the wonderful women and men out there trying to prevent eating disorders in society and help those in need.”
It is a salutary reminder, and a truly moving testimony, of the very real influence and terrible impact which the sexualising of women in the media can exert on an individual’s wellbeing.
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.
Sometimes you wonder if anything can change, if your small efforts can make a difference against a global onslaught of horror. Every day more bad news for women, more abuse, assaults, violence and suffering. (For example this done to a close friend of mine and then this, reported in the same week, to a woman I don’t know, but still of course so grievous).
But then, suddenly and unexpectedly, something comes along that takes your breath away and gives you renewed hope. That has happened for me in the form of a woman named Carrie. Her story is remarkable. Her suffering indescribable. Her resilience and love for life unmatchable. I’ll let her tell the story.
According to the Australian Parliamentary Library, in 1998, the year I applied for refugee status, there were 8257 protection visa applications lodged. Of that number, only 1834 were granted – 985 at the primary decision stage and 741 following review by the Refugee Review Tribunal. 108 were granted visas by ministerial discretion.
One of those was mine.
As there are hundreds of thousands of refugees worldwide each year, fleeing my home country and standing before the Tribunal in no way makes my story unique. Nor does the fact I was rejected for political reasons and later successful in joining that small group of 108 people who were chosen to be issued a visa on compassionate grounds. What I believe sets my story apart is the fact that I did not originate from a war torn or politically unstable country. I fled a country that actually takes in thousands of refugees each year. So of those 8257 applications I’m fairly confident that I was the only refugee fleeing Canada.
I had endured terrible abuse and degradation since I was 4 years old at the hand of my father. When I was 9, he sold me into a child prostitution/pedophile/pornography ring. I have spent more time than I care to remember in basements, brothels and the dim lit back rooms of shop fronts. Hell doesn’t scare me. I spent more than half my life living it, hoping one day I could rise above it.
When I was 20, I fled Canada and came to Australia for two simple reasons; it was English speaking and as far from my past as I could travel. I stepped off of that plane 16 years ago not knowing one person and began to build the life I had always dreamed about as a child. I reported the abuse I suffered in Canada to Australian authorities. Knowing my life was in danger and there was no life for me back in Canada, I went underground and spent 2 years hiding in shelters and women’s refuges. I was put in contact with Australia’s leading trauma therapist, Dr Helen Driscoll. She had a lengthy wait list and was taking no further referrals. I had no money, no entitlements, but she took me on anyway. And in doing so she changed the course of my life.
In December 1998, I was told to apply for Refugee Status because the dangers I faced were as real and the suffering comparable to many refugees seeking protection. My advisors said I was one of the “invisible refugees”.The problem with my case was it had never been tried before. There were no legislation, clauses, or regulations stipulating that human trafficking survivors were to be protected. We knew I would be rejected – – and I was. During my battle to seek asylum I became pregnant. It didn’t make any difference. I was going to be deported anyway. What was being said was “Get rid of both of them before she is 7 months pregnant and can still travel” and “Let her stay and have the baby. As the baby has an Australian father she will be able to stay but the mother has to go back to Canada.”
Dr. Driscoll never gave up. She continued to write to humanitarians, Members of Parliament and anyone having any political influence who might be interested in helping my plight. My case landed in the hands of dozens of people who could have at least tried to fight for my freedom. Sadly, most people contacted we never heard back from or if we did, the standard response was, “Although we empathize with your situation, there is nothing we can do.” It was difficult to not lose hope. There was no way I could return to Canada and spend the duration of my life in fear – or worse. But it looked as though my dream of gaining freedom in Australia would never come to be. That is, until my letter came across the desk of Melinda Tankard Reist. She was working as an advisor to Independent Senator Brian Harradine and handled refugee matters. Unlike the others we contacted, Melinda looked at my case and instead of throwing it in the too hard basket, she took it personally and cared enough to write a compelling letter on the Senator’s behalf to the Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock. I have never forgotten how the letter ended: “Minister, I ask you to act in the best interest of this young woman and her unborn baby.”
I was eight months pregnant and all other avenues had been exhausted. This was my final stop. My fate rested in the hands of one man. All we could do was wait for the Minister’s decision and hope it was favorable.
In June 2000, nine months after receiving the request to intervene, the Minister had come to a decision. After carrying my baby for nine months without any entitlements to health care, insurance or money to receive assistance in delivering my daughter, my fight to remain in Australia was over. I had been granted asylum on compassionate grounds at the Minister’s discretion and had been awarded a visa. I could finally begin my life a million miles away from where it initially began.
Fourteen years have since passed, and I never did thank Melinda for writing that letter. After being granted asylum I just wanted to leave that part of my life behind. I had two wonderful daughters, we were safe and I was content with that. I had survived and was focused on moving forward. But I realised I could do so only because of the help of others, and when so many women in situations similar to mine continued to be left behind, it was my turn to go back and offer my hand.
I decided then to tell my story of determination, hope and love in the face of extreme adversity in a way that resonated with people and inspired them, rather than just caused them to pity me. To open people’s hearts and minds, helping them realise that they have the internal resources to rise up and not be limited by past suffering. That it is possible to not only survive trauma, but to flourish and go on to live a significant life.
And then, as it has so many other times throughout my life, serendipity breezes by and the universe helps fate along. As I started sharing my story, some significant names in the social justice arena began showing interest in what I was trying to achieve. A friend introduced me to Elliot Costello, son of Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision Australia. One Saturday morning a few months back, Elliot introduced me to his parents. We went to a cafe and they listened as I told my story. What I hadn’t expected was the twist that would surprise us all. Tim Costello seemed most interested when I started talking about never losing hope and the message I wished to convey to others about the freedom in forgiveness. When I mentioned my desire to bring awareness to the fact that human trafficking is not just a third world issue, he appeared to have had an “ah-ha” moment and told me he knew the perfect person to introduce me to – Melinda Tankard Reist, a strong advocate for women and girls and a leading voice in the anti-trafficking coalition.
As soon as he mentioned her name, my mind flashed back to the hundreds of support letters and documents I had filed away after gaining asylum. Scribbled across one document’s fax cover read, “For your records. Regards Melinda Reist.” The reason I remembered it so vividly was because after winning my freedom, I read over that support letter at least one hundred times. I quoted the closing words of the letter she drafted to anybody I told my story to. I shared it again. Elliot couldn’t believe it. Neither could Tim.
Tim looked at me with a smile and shook his head. Picking up his phone early that morning, he rang the woman who helped secure my freedom. She answered straight away. They spoke briefly and then he said, “Melinda listen, I have a young lady here with me at the moment who says you wrote a letter for her to Phillip Ruddock when you worked for Harradine that helped her get asylum.”
She then asked if I was the Canadian girl sold into the pedophile/prostitution ring. In his loud booming voice, Tim repeated her words across the table to me. I wanted the earth to swallow me whole as half the room dropped their fork and stared. Instead of nodding politely, I shot back, “Easy cowboy, I’m not printing t-shirts just yet!” Clearly she remembered me…as would the rest of that crowded cafe.
One month ago, again as luck would have it, Melinda and I were in northern Queensland at the same time. I was holidaying with my girls, and she was speaking at an international conference. We decided to catch up. I cannot begin to describe the emotions that came up for all of us. Fourteen years ago she wrote a compelling letter to help save two lives and standing before her was myself and the now teenage ‘unborn baby’ she wrote about. After spending all these years wondering how we had fared, now she could see for herself. Mother and baby were indeed very well! And now we are working to address the trafficking issue.
My life may have been tough to begin with, but I have had more good people go out of their way to help than anybody I have ever met. The blessings in my life far outweigh the tragedies. I am loving living and very excited for the journey that lies ahead.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
In this DVD, Melinda takes us on a visual tour of popular culture. “Melinda’s presentation leaves audiences reeling. She delivers her message with a clarity and commonsense without peer.” – Steve Biddulph, author, Raising Boys, Raising Girls
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It and the Ruby Who? book and DVD in one bundle for $100 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real and Faking It in one bundle for $70 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase Getting Real, Faking It and Ruby Who? DVD in one bundle for $60 and save 12% off the individual price.
Purchase the Ruby Who? DVD and book together for only $35 saving 10% off the individual price.
“This powerful and humane book is a breakthrough…Big Porn Inc shows us we are poisoning our own spirits.” – Steve Biddulph
“A landmark publication” – Clive Hamilton
“Getting Real contains a treasure trove of information and should be mandatory reading for all workers with young people in health, education and welfare” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Adolescent Psychologist
Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.