The Alliance of Girls Schools recently invited the CEO of weight loss company Jenny Craig to speak to hundreds of teachers at their upcoming conference. Amy Smith plans to speak on women and leadership, not body image, however the invitation has caused outrage among some health professionals, who have organised an online petition with over a thousand signatures so far, claiming that by inviting Ms Smith the Alliance is endorsing unhealthy dieting practices.
I was initially confused, and thought Ms Smith was speaking to girls about Jenny Craig. Fair enough to question that I thought. But no, she’s speaking to teachers about women and leadership.
It seems to me that if health experts are enraged by Ms Smith speaking, they’re going to have to protest if any woman who has anything to do with the fashion industry, women’s magazines, the cosmetic industry, and cosmetic surgery, all of which promote an unhealthy obsession with physical appearance that ought not to be encouraged in girls, is invited to address any conference that has anything to do with people who are employed in girls’ education. Otherwise they will appear inconsistent and lacking in credibility.
I’d engage anyone in a debate as to whether Jenny Craig or Cosmopolitan is more damaging to girls’ notions of how they should look. I’d also take on the magazines that contain pages of fashion and slimming advice, followed by an orgy of food porn, followed by scorn for celebrity cellulite and muffin tops. Mixed messages, anyone?
Body Matters eating disorder specialist Lydia Jane Turner says “…the idea of this person [Amy Smith] actually speaking about inequality of girls and the economic standing of women I find incredibly hypocritical.” Ms Turner justifies her feelings by pointing out that Jenny Craig has sponsored the Kyle Sandilands show, and that Vile Kyle has a history of “fat shaming.”
I may be on shaky ground here, as I recently called Clive Palmer a “fat shit” on Twitter. However, in my own defence, the mental image that term of abuse conjures for me is literal: a great big stinky brown log that won’t go down no matter how much you flush.
To me, there is something abhorrent in demanding that anyone not be allowed to speak. For example, I was highly offended when Tony Blair last visited this country, was fawned over by the media, and addressed university students in his usual messianic fashion, justifying his part in the invasion of Iraq because he felt it was “morally right.” In my opinion, Blair is a war criminal and I don’t like the idea of a war criminal let loose to influence our young. However, petitioning to have him silenced is more offensive to me than allowing him to speak. As with Ms Smith, everyone knows where he’s coming from. Adults can make up their own minds about his message. Not everyone shares my perceptions of him, and why should I claim the right to impose my beliefs on others?
It isn’t Ms Smith’s stated intention to “fat shame” anyone. She’s a woman who’s done well in the business world, and she plans to talk about her experiences. Yes, she’s part of an industry that has a dark side. Is there any industry that doesn’t? And do we silence all representatives because of that? Cardinal George Pell had better give up public speaking for a start. There are few industries more dangerous to children than his has proved to be.
Speaking of Kyle Sandilands, this spray against his on-air partner Jackie O appeared on the mamamia website the other day. Jackie O apparently declined to describe herself as a feminist, incurring the wrath of Mia Freedman, who feels that we should all call ourselves feminists a) because we’ve benefited from the efforts of our predecessors, and b) because if we believe in equality we are feminists. This generous definition doesn’t take into account the furious public debates between feminists as to who is and is not deserving of the title, debates that caused confusion and resentment, and quite likely prompted more than one woman to vow she did not want the title anyway.
I first became aware of Jackie O when she was on the receiving end of a gratuitous attack by the NSW Minister for Middle Class Morality, Prue Goward. At the time I wrote this:
Prue Goward, recently appointed NSW Minister for Families, whatever that is, has taken a nasty swipe at radio personality Jackie O for the manner in which she fed her baby.
Apparently Jackie O gave the child a bottle while simultaneously walking across a pedestrian crossing, an action Goward likened to the famous Michael Jackson moment when he dangled his little son over a balcony in Germany and subsequently earned global contempt for his fathering skills.
Why this is a concern for the Minister for Families remains a mystery to me. An over-zealous commitment to her new portfolio? Is she going to focus on perceived child abuse by the rich and famous? If the mother had been a working class woman would Goward have even blinked?
I’m glad she wasn’t in the nursery when once, in a sleep deprived state similar to those experienced by former PM Kevin Rudd, I accidentally stuck my fingers in the wrong jar and pasted my baby boy’s bits with Vicks Vapour Rub instead of nappy rash cream.
Soon to become a dad himself for the first time, he looked at me speechless, and quite judgmentally, I thought, when I recently confessed this transgression. Too late I realised my mistake. Now I probably won’t be allowed anywhere near the new baby, but at least we know the Vicks didn’t do its daddy any damage.
My sympathies at the time were firmly with Jackie O. I’ve since had cause to reflect that her relationship with Kyle Sandilands does remind me of a variation of an abusive situation, in which Jackie plays the role of enabler. In spite of this I’ve never quite lost my impression of her as vulnerable, so when I read the criticism of her not identifying as a feminist I wanted to protect her.
The inimitable Helen Razer has her say on the matter here.
Refusing to call yourself a feminist is a crime for which there is apparently no adequate punishment, and from which there is no possibility of redemption. You just have to do as you’re told and say you are, even if you don’t feel it’s really you. Here, as with the attempts to dictate whom the Alliance of Girls’ Schools may and may not invite to address them, we see further efforts by ideologues and morality police to control our public and private discourse, to the degree that we are told we should call ourselves something we do not feel we are.
Life seems increasingly to be a battle to preserve one’s own integrity against the onslaught of busybodies who’s own life purpose seems to be telling everybody else who we should be, what we should do, who we should listen to (invariably them) and what we can see. Personally, I’m over it. The only obligation anyone has is to be upfront about where they are coming from if they want to have a public voice. Silencing people is not on, and neither is telling women how to describe ourselves. Haven’t we got enough of that already from the patriarchy and the beauty industry, and the religious people and and and and……