I’m finding myself drawn and attracted to the actions of ‘older’ women. Perhaps it’s because I’ve now entered my 50’s, perhaps because I have many women friends a decade or more older women have cared for and mentored me, perhaps it’s (hopefully) wisdom gained through the years where you place value on deeper insights into life, on substance over shallow and on what matters. On Saturday night I had the great pleasure of hearing American blues singer-songwriter, musician, and activist, Bonnie Lynn Raitt who is touring Australia currently. Sassy, smart, passionate, she had us in her hand with her silky smooth voice and command of her guitars. She is 67.
It caused me to reflect further on this piece by Lori Day, an educational psychologist, author, consultant and parenting coach in the US. It sparked huge interest when I shared it on my Facebook pages. So many women related. Some urged their daughters to read it. Lori writes:
‘Ageism is a life-altering injustice affecting women in ways that are different than the effects on men — different in age of onset and degree and personal consequence. If we continue to be erased in the second half of our lives, we will remain stuck in a perpetual cycle of conflating youth with greater social relevance in the first half of our lives, and the patriarchal axiom that women are only valuable when they are young, hot and fertile will continue unchallenged’.
Aging while female is not your worst nightmare
by LORI DAY
I’m going to tell you a story that is so common and so troubling it is effectively split off from the emotional lives of young women, tucked away into whatever neural recesses exist for the purpose of shelving information that feels irrelevant yet distantly threatening. I wonder if young women will read this? The irony is that they probably won’t, and the silently nodding heads will be ones that are graying, like mine.
After passing out of childhood and into puberty, I, like most women, entered a three-decade phase of my life that included an adolescence and young adulthood that was peppered with the sexual harassment, sexism in the workplace, mommy wars, pay gaps, and gendered put-downs that few females escape. It was a huge chunk of time. The issues feminism took up during those years were critical, and they continue to be. I am grateful to all of the women and men who fought and continue to fight for women’s equality, reproductive rights, and freedom from violence and harassment. It is brave and necessary work.
But then something happened, and if not for the mirrors in my house, I would be very confused about what changed and why. Young women, you’ll experience this too, some day. You’ll catch your reflection and your breath at the same time and be abruptly reminded that your exterior no longer matches how you feel inside, and that it now undermines the power of your voice, the voice that took decades to build up. I was talking about this to a friend recently who is 50, one year younger than I am. She said, “Oh wow. I remember my grandmother telling me the exact same thing about being shocked by her reflection in the mirror because she still felt like a young woman inside, and she was 80.” So this probably will not end for me, nor for any of us given the gift of not dying young. It bears remembering.
Men do not catcall me anymore, and I’m happy to have aged out of that, although some of my friends are not. My daughter is grown, so the mommy wars rage on without me. I’m now happy to be self-employed—an escape hatch from workplace sexism that is not available to all women, and one that I fully appreciate. I charge what I want as a consultant and will never again stumble across information at the office that a male co-worker who is younger, less educated and less experienced than me makes more money than me simply because he belongs to the penis-owning gender. I am not free of the physical and sexual dangers all women live with, but they have receded somewhat for me at this stage of my life.
All of this liberation, however, is not entirely freeing. I have simply been transported into the next phase of sexism that comes with middle age, and it’s a dramatic change well illustrated metaphorically by the female body that is ogled and objectified transforming into the female body that is invisible. If the loudest and most heralded voices of contemporary feminism most often belong to the youngest and most sexually appealing women, is this not a hypocritical replication within feminism of what happens in our patriarchal society at large?
I’m looking at perhaps three more decades of my life that will be shaped to some degree by not only misogyny, but by the intersection of misogyny and ageism. That’s a whole bunch of years I never gave the slightest thought to when I was younger. No older woman ever demanded that I think about the fact that it would eventually happen to me. No one asked that I care about it, respond to it, and recognize the unfairness of what can sometimes feel like a one-way feminist street. I temporarily stopped the oncoming freight train of ageism right in its tracks with my indifference, like everyone else my age did. Even in my late-30’s, middle age seemed light years away. I did not read articles like this. They were not about me.
When I recall how I thought about middle-aged and older women when I was younger, I realize I bought into American stereotypes and did so mindlessly. I ascribed to older women a lack of relevance and an inability to contribute meaningfully to a world and a dialogue that was no longer “theirs,” as if ownership of culture rationally belongs to any particular age group over others. My ideas came from where? Television? Movies? Magazines? How silly.
Must this lesson only be learned woman by woman, with the passage of time, and not by the perspicacious use of ones eyes and ears? Because women like me are writing and talking. Trees in the forest are falling. I ask that young women hear. Elective deafness will not stop the train. It will keep rolling down the track, silently and dispassionately. It always arrives.
For me, aging as a woman in America is less about injustices done to me than it is about a subtle undermining of my place within this society and a not-so-subtle disrespect that pops up more with each passing year. For example, if I condemn pornography as systemically damaging to women, it is my age that provokes my labeling as a prude and a pearl-clutcher. It cannot be that I base my opinion on studies and statistics and the understanding that feminism is a movement—one that supports the liberation of all women, not to be confused with individual women who choose to reduce their identities to the sexual uses and abuses of their bodies, calling that empowerment. My age sets me up for a kind of disdain only partially experienced by younger women with the same views. The wisdom that comes with age has little value to anyone but those possessing it, because wisdom is another word for old, and old is what no one wants to be.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I can tell you what it isn’t, at least for me. It isn’t to try to look or act younger. It isn’t to write blog posts about how hot/thin/beautiful/sexy middle-aged women are. They are, but wasting my written voice on championing shallow efforts at continued conformity to what is expected of women in a patriarchal society does not feel productive. It is an insidious capitulation. It entices women my age to trade away opportunities to weigh in on important matters for a chance to be among the “seen” again. I won’t play a game I despise, and that I did not create and cannot win.
To be an aging woman in America is to be constantly bombarded by imagery and media that distance your younger feminist sisters from you, because the idea of no longer resembling those youthful images of femininity and becoming invisible terrifies them. I look like a typical 51-year-old, and it is just bizarre realizing that my appearance is something many young women dread.
Ageism is a life-altering injustice affecting women in ways that are different than the effects on men — different in age of onset and degree and personal consequence. If we continue to be erased in the second half of our lives, we will remain stuck in a perpetual cycle of conflating youth with greater social relevance in the first half of our lives, and the patriarchal axiom that women are only valuable when they are young, hot and fertile will continue unchallenged.
Let’s stick together. Let’s make a conscious effort to stop putting down older women to set oneself apart from them and from an inevitable form of bigotry that cannot presently be escaped. Whatever you think of Madonna at 56, or Jamie Lee Curtis at 56, let’s acknowledge that most of us will one day be 56, if we aren’t already, and we’ll want to define for ourselves what that means.
Surely it will involve relevance and influence, whether we are singers, actors, writers, activists, or any other identity we have chosen and loved. As feminists we are stronger together than apart—women of all races, of all gender expressions, of all sexual orientations, of all socioeconomic classes, of all religions, of all ethnicities, and yes, of all ages, too.
You guessed it, I like the second one much better.
Really enjoying seeing the creative ways women around the world are messing with the original ad.
Also love the slogan I’m seeing: ‘How to be beach body ready – 1. Have a body. 2. Take it to the beach’.
Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett expressed the issue perfectly in a piece in The Guardian titled ‘Am I beach body ready? Advertisers, that’s none of your business’:
Is your body, the incredibly complex, awe-inspiring physical vessel that carts around your brain, and equipment for breathing, excreting, digesting and so much more, and is perhaps even growing new life within it, currently at a level of slimness determined as attractive according to western notions of female beauty such that it can be exposed to fellow human beings on the beach without causing them unnecessary trauma?
My colleague Caitlin Roper highlighted on twitter how only certain bodies are deemed to be fit and healthy.
In response to the backlash, Protein World publicly mocked its critics, saying they were fat and insecure. Buzzfeed (as well as providing a beautify gallery of other doctored billboards) records Protein World’s contemptuous responses here.
Protein World’s complete failure to demonstrate any corporate social responsibility, let alone basic civility, can only help boost signatures on this Change.org petition which already has over 36,000 signatures. Add your name today. Remove ‘Are you beach body ready advertisements’
The human rights organisation has forgotten the importance of procedural human rights
Prostitution is not just an intellectual concept to many participants in the debate; it comes with real memories, trauma, smells, sights and feelings. It is a ‘debate’ felt in the body, and survivors of all kinds of sexual violence can come away from the discussion shell shocked
The ‘controversy’ and ‘battle’ over prostitution and pornography that prevails in public debate and academia might be fun for some. For those who haven’t been prostituted, whether or not one stands in solidarity with survivors or ‘sex workers’, the debate might be an engaging intellectual challenge that gives life meaning and purpose.
The terms of argument and rebuttal on the issue are certainly rigorous and potentially invigorating for some involved as bystanders. Some of these bystanders might even be stimulated at the sight of prostitution survivors vs. ‘sex workers’ battling it out in public, like a mud-wrestling match.
Discussion on ideas and policy approaches to prostitution and pornography touches on issues of life and death for millions of people around the world. Sexual violence, mental illness, drug addiction, disease and suicide are primary factors of consideration, no matter what policy approach is favoured.
Even those of us not prostituted may understand we are participating in a discussion that has serious human consequences. We might be in awe of survivors who speak out in their own names and mobilise and educate the public on their own behalf. We might want to support and facilitate their work at every opportunity.
And so we should. In fact, the lives of millions of women and girls around the world depend on us doing so. But I think our commitment to public debate on prostitution and pornography needs to be backed by an equal commitment to safeguarding the human rights of the population at issue in the conduct of this debate, whether they call themselves survivors or ‘sex workers’.
We might begin to protect these procedural human rights through encouraging forms of public engagement that do not pit prostitution survivors against ‘sex workers’. The unedifying sight of bystanders taking sides and cheering on survivors and ‘sex workers’ as they battle it out in public is surely something to be avoided on human rights grounds.
Prostitution is not just an intellectual concept to many participants in the debate; it comes with real memories, trauma, smells, sights and feelings. It is a ‘debate’ felt in the body, and survivors of all kinds of sexual violence can come away from the discussion shell shocked.
Regardless of whether these participants take a survivor or ‘sex worker’ view, the harms are the same, and can be serious. They are particularly serious when deniers of the harms of prostitution publicly attack survivors as ‘weak’ or ‘ill-suited’, and blame them for their trauma.
Amnesty International recently set up its own mud-wrestling match on prostitution when it sought feedback from members worldwide on a series of ‘policy background’ documents that canvassed the possibility of organisational support for decriminalising the sex industry and its customers.
Rhetorically, the consultation process was framed as a discussion about support for decriminalising people in prostitution, but there is almost no-one in the organisation who disagrees with this suggestion, and this was the existing policy of the organisation anyway, so this framing was just a red herring.
Rather, the consultation process sought to gauge membership resistance to the idea of supporting the ‘human rights’ of prostitution buyers. The mud-wrestling match that ensued was predictable, and should have been anticipated by Amnesty International. It caused prostitution survivors a great deal of time, money, energy and heartache in trying to convince the world that buying prostitution is not a human right.
Amnesty International paid no mind to this cost that would be worn by survivors when it lobbed its volley on prostitution into the international arena. The organisation did no advance groundwork to strengthen or support prostitution survivor organisations so they might be less burdened by the consultation process, nor did the organisation put in any structural safeguards or checks to make sure the consultation process wouldn’t unreasonably impose harm on survivors. There was no training or education of AI members in human rights approaches to engaging with survivors or ‘sex workers’, nor was the organisation even apparently aware of the existence of international prostitution survivor organisations before embarking on the consultation.
Amnesty members worldwide have no doubt benefited from the consultation process and all the knowledge and awareness of the ‘debate’ on prostitution it has brought them. But these benefits to members have come at the cost of prostitution survivors and ‘sex workers’. Amnesty International is a human rights organisation, but it forgot about the importance of procedural human rights.
A human rights approach to engagement with oppressed, tortured, violated and vulnerable populations does not further disadvantage these populations in the process, nor does it use these populations as tools of education and awareness about human rights issues. Amnesty did not uphold this important principle in its recent ‘consultation’ on prostitution, and for this the organisation needs act. The current consultation needs to be dismantled, and a new process respecting procedural human rights put in place.
Dr Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, and member of Amnesty Australia.
Indigenous women and girls will be more vulnerable to prostitution and trafficking if Amnesty’s draft policy is endorsed
Petitioning International Secretariat of Amnesty International and Salil Shetty
Recognise that Amnesty International’s draft Policy on Prostitution endorses condone and promote the violation of human rights if passed at the Australian National AGM.
Abolish Prostitution Now
A PLEA FROM AN AUSTRALIAN INDIGENOUS WOMAN ON BEHALF OF ALL WOMEN
Dear Sisters, survivors and allies,
I am speaking as an exited prostituted woman and the grand-daughter of a Latje-Latje Indigenous woman in Australia. As many of you are aware Amnesty International have drafted a policy in favour of full decriminalisation of prostitution. They are actively opposing the Nordic Model which protects the prostituted from prosecution and decreases demand in favour of a policy which has been informed by the sex trade and one notable pimp.
Indigenous peoples are the most exploited peoples on Earth.
AI’s policy on prostitution seeks to ensure that the buying and selling of (mostly) women be seen as inevitable and just any other job. ‘Sex Worker ‘unions claiming to be helping prostituted women are actively promoting AI’s policy ensuring they too profit from our enslavement.
Many of you have written/co-signed letters from survivor groups and written as individuals
These have been an invaluable resource.
At this time here in Australia, a small and dedicated team have taken on our local Amnesty International branches. We have had some success, with two AI branches endorsing the Nordic Model and one calling for a halt on the policy until survivor’s voices have been heard.
However, we are soon going to take this to a National AGM and ask that you lend your support.
The pro-prostitution lobby is fierce, well-funded and we need your help.
I want to deliver a letter signed by Indigenous women worldwide.
Prostitution is not inevitable. Women are not commodities.
I ask that add your name, whether survivor or ally, after mine to our letter written below. This National AGM is taking place July 5-6 so we have very little time to collect signatures.
With sincere respect I ask that you support us in this significant time of change for women.
In solidarity and Sisterhood,
Simone Andrea (Watson) of Abolish Prostitution Now Amnesty Action
“To the International Secretariat of Amnesty International and Salil Shetty
We the undersigned demand recognition for the violation of human rights Amnesty International’s current draft Policy on Prostitution will endorse condone and promote if passed at the Australian National AGM.
As Indigenous survivors and allies of our Indigenous sisters worldwide we fully and without reservation demand that AI acknowledge on our behalf
* That Prostitution is not inevitable – but the result of demand
*That prostitution IS violence against women
*That trafficking and prostitution are NOT two different industries but each feed the other
* That AI’s current draft policy focuses on “harm minimization” and profit for pimps rather than prevention of our abuse and this is NOT acceptable.
* That full decriminalisation and legalisation of prostitution increases trafficking and further violence against Indigenous women and children.
*That in passing this current draft policy Amnesty International will go down in history as one of the worst offenders in human rights history along with colonialists, slave owners and human rights criminals.
*That Amnesty International concedes and thereby endorses the Nordic Model as the best way forward to end ongoing human rights violations against women as a caste globally.
Indigenous women of Australia and globally reject AI’s policy in its current form and demand that our voices be heard.
International Secretariat of Amnesty International and Salil Shetty, President
Simone Watson, Petition promoter
Recognise that Amnesty International’s current draft Policy on Prostitution will endorse condone and promote the violation of human rights if passed at the Australian National AGM.
The male orgasm is unimaginably trivial in comparison to the human rights devastation that prostitution inflicts on whole swathes of the globe’s female population, writes Caroline Norma.
Amnesty International ran a Stop Violence Against Women campaign between 2004 and 2010 to hold governments to account “for their failure to protect women” and urge them “to live up to their duty to stop this violence”.
The organisation during this time lobbied hard for governments around the world to take a strong stand on issues like domestic violence, child marriage, reproductive rights, sexual violence in war, and the history of the Japanese military ‘comfort women’.
During the same period, though, Amnesty’s international secretariat was lobbied internally by some of its own branches to take a stand on issues of ‘men’s rights’. In particular, some of its UK members wanted the organisation to stand up for men’s right to buy women for prostitution.
News of this lobbying reached members only last year when the international secretariat released a series of ‘policy background’ documents intended to, it retrospectively explained, invite discussion among members globally on the issue of ‘prostitution and human rights’. Exactly whose human right to prostitution was at issue for the organisation was, however, made clear by the secretariat in its Decriminalization of Sex Work: Policy Background Document (2013):
Sexual desire and activity are a fundamental human need. To criminalize those who are unable or unwilling to fulfil that need through more traditionally recognized means and thus purchase sex, may amount to a violation of the right to privacy and undermine the rights to free expression and health.
The push by some Amnesty branches to recommend the organisation stand up for prostitution buyers came at a time when the ‘right’ to buy a human being for sex was being challenged worldwide. From 1999, a number of countries legislated against the buying of people for prostitution. Sweden, South Korea, Norway, and Iceland criminalised the activities of prostitution buyers, and it was looking likely that France and Ireland would similarly penalise sex industry customers. This criminalisation of sex industry customers was an historically unprecedented way of making policy on prostitution, known as the ‘Nordic’ approach. This withdrawal from men of their longstanding legal right to buy women unsurprisingly attracted resistance and criticism worldwide, including from Amnesty branches. Read more
When pictures of the female players with full-forward breasts were splashed everywhere following Legends (aka Lingerie) Football League games in Sydney and Melbourne this month, it underscored what has been a losing year for women.
Little publicity is given to women’s sport in general. Did you even know there are female gridiron teams, where players wear full protective clothing like men? But attention wasn’t a problem in this case. ”It’s far better than watching netball,” wrote Aaron Langmaid in Melbourne’s Herald Sun.
The high ratio of photos to text online was significant. Camera angles captured bikini-topped flesh and skimpy undies in reports that failed to even mention the score. Women’s bodies were on display, treated as a spectacle.
There were few advances for women in other public areas either. Australia now has fewer women in cabinet than the government of Afghanistan.
The Human Rights Commission has shown that sexual harassment remains widespread in Australian workplaces and that attempts to address it have stalled. The Bureau of Statistics presents similar disturbing figures on the harassment and stalking of women.
Victims of sexual harassment and assault continue to be blamed for what is done to them. The Victorian parole board review found that deadly mistakes had been made in the release of women’s assailants, leaving them free to strike again with ferocity. Read more here.
‘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.
Your taxes at work: harassment and intimidation treated with indifference – why I went public
There’s a feature piece in The Australian today by Chris Kenny. ‘The Unkindness of Strangers’, subtitled: ‘When an ugly post goes viral via social media, victims find there is very little they can do about it.’
Sexism, pornography, social media, bureaucratic accountability and the contest of ideas; this story touches on these volatile topics and reveals the challenges of the digital age, and its propensity for hypocrisy and injustice. The way women are treated in public debate has become hotly contested ground in recent years …
It took me awhile to summon the strength to agree to go public on this story. Months of unrelenting abuse last year caused me to go under the radar for a while. Now, getting it (well, one aspect of it) out there, brings feelings of exposure and vulnerability. But I felt that what happened had to be brought to light. For eight months I was shunted, fobbed off, given the flick and ignored by the Australian Public Service Commission and Australian Tax Office regarding a complaint about a public servant who tweeted requesting naked images of me. It had started to feel like they were running some kind of protection racket.
It was over dinner with public servant friends that I learned about APS codes of conduct. It seemed tax department officer Darryl Adams had pretty much breached them all. My friends encouraged me to make a formal complaint (reprinted below) and told me how to go about it.
As I told Kenny: “It takes a lot of time and energy, especially emotional energy. There was a principle I thought was important: that people shouldn’t be harassed and be intimidated by officers of the crown who we pay to do their job. He is a servant of the people and was publicly requesting lewd material of one of those people.” (Actually I used the words ‘masturbatory material’ not ‘lewd’ but the Oz lawyers didn’t love that so much so it got changed).
It was this mind numbing, soul deadening, reply that sealed it for me. I knew then I had to take it higher if I was going to have any chance of a meaningful response.
From: Lowe, Anne Sent: Friday, 15 February 2013 4:37 PM To: Melinda Tankard Reist Cc: Lowe, Anne Subject: RE: ATO response to my complaint [SEC=UNOFFICIAL]
Thank you for your email of 2 February 2013 in relation to your complaint made to the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) regarding the conduct of an ATO employee.
I advise that the APSC was advised of the outcome of our investigation of your complaint in September 2012. As the recipient of the original complaint the ATO understood that the APSC would, in accordance with usual procedure, advise you of the outcome of your complaint. I regret that this has obviously not occurred.
I advise that the ATO dealt with your complaint in accordance with ATO policy and procedure and the matter has now been finalised. Due to constraints imposed by the Privacy Act 1999 I am unable to provide you with any further information regarding the outcome.
Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.
Director People Team | Health & People Management | ATO People ATO| Working for all Australians
It wasn’t until the intervention of the Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury (whose portfolio includes the ATO) that there was any real interest in my case. I was lucky – unlike most women in this situation, I had a senior contact in Government. He helped put me in touch with a senior staffer in Bradbury’s office.
After briefing the Minister, the staffer wrote a strongly worded email to the Taxation Commissioner on the Minister’s behalf, copied in to the Special Minister of State, requesting he look into the case. The email was sent at 3.20pm. At precisely 3.48pm I received a voice message from the ‘Head of People Management’ of the Australian Tax Officer, citing ‘urgent investigation’, ‘receiving full briefing’, ‘will call you again this afternoon’. He was helpful, acknowledging my complaint had been badly handled, and later wrote advising it had been upheld (though I couldn’t be told what disciplinary action had been taken). This was a year after the tweet I had complained about.
I got more action from Bradbury’s office in an hour than I got from the APS and ATO since last June and am very grateful for the Minister’s involvement. I felt like it was the first time my harassment was taken seriously. I feel sorry for those without contacts though. Do they just disappear and say nothing – like those departments seemed to expect me to do? This was the main reason I decided to talk to Kenny.
Here’s my letter of complaint to Mr Stephen Sedgwick, the Australian Public Service Commissioner.
Sexual harassment is sexual harassment regardless of who it happens to
It appeared on Huffington Post last month but I’ve only just read it. It is the kind of piece which needs to be read slowly, and a few times, it contains so much to absorb. Here’s an extract:
The problem is determining at what stage she started to cede her self and becomes, in her own eyes, mainly some (bright, young) thing other people see and use. This process begins much earlier than when a girl is 15 and maybe buying thongs.
In general, parents, schools, counselors, “concerned” adults aren’t openly confronting the unrelenting pressure girls feel to base their self worth on being beautiful, perfect creatures idealized for the sexual and breeding purposes of others. For many people, girls and women are biologically meant to be available to boys and men in these ways. Our default is “Yes!” and “Of course!” You know the kind of being I’m talking about — females whose purpose, abstracted, divine or biological, is to look out for boys and men and guide them to ultimate pleasure and eternal happiness. Hey, aren’t Victoria’s Secret’s models called ANGELS? What a visually pleasing, totally random and meaningless coincidence.
Once a self is ceded it’s hard to get back. Regardless of a girl’s or woman’s age, this kind of objectification and “sexualization” results in a performance. It’s not about being a sexual person, it’s about acting out someone else’s idea of a sex object. And… what girls and women want, feel, need and experience are irrelevant unless they help fulfill the dreams of boys and men. The impact is real, meaningful and measurable. It’s also serious and not at all entertaining.
Girls who conform well and internalize their “thing-ness” don’t miraculously stop doing it when get their driver’s licenses. It NEVER ends. Read the full article here.
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