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Dark vision: the world of Melinda Tankard Reist

24 Sep

Last night’s Australian Story on ABCTV invited its audience into the world of the remarkable photographer Poli Papapetrou and her family, in particular that of her daughter, Olympia.

When Olympia was six, Poli took a portrait of her naked in a re-creation of a much earlier image made by Lewis Carroll, known as the author of Alice in Wonderland, as well as for his photographic studies of young girls.

Poli’s photograph caused expressions of outrage from Kevin Rudd, Bravehearts founder and child advocate Hetty Johnston, and of course my old nemesis, Melinda Tankard Reist, all of whom found Olympia’s image highly offensive and her mother even more so for making it.

Olympia, now sixteen,  has become interested in what’s known as “selfies” which for the uninitiated are self-portraits, usually taken by teenage girls in various stages of undress, and posted on the internet. Her critique of this practice can be read here.

Australian Story  invited Melinda Tankard Reist to comment on selfies, and the manner in which we gaze upon young girls in our culture. Tankard Reist declared that because our vision is so tainted by pornography thanks to the pornified, sexualised atmosphere in which we dwell, it has become impossible for us to innocently view images of girls, whether they be those made by Poli Papapetrou of her daughter, the notorious photographs of Bill Henson, or selfies.

My damn spell check will not accept selfies as a word and insists on changing it. That means something, doesn’t it.

The sudden appearance of Ms Tankard Reist in the middle of what had, up till then, been an engrossing  portrait of a loved-filled, creative family life complete with what I suspect were rescued greyhounds, was something akin to the shocking effects felt at the  manifestation of a bad fairy at a joyous christening. Dark, forbidding, increasingly grim-lipped, Tankard Reist described to us of our loss of innocence, our inability to ever see a naked child as anything other than sexual fodder, thanks to the porn saturated universe we have wilfully allowed to engulf us.

We have, whether we realise it or not, had our capacity to gaze innocently upon the young stolen from us by pedophiles. In some abominable alchemical exchange, that gaze has been replaced with their dark and evil vision, and most of us do not even know what we have lost. Obviously, it is up to Melinda to tell us.

I don’t know about everybody else, but when I see a naked child the last thing that comes to mind is sex. I don’t think, oh my, that child is sexualised!Heavens, I even take photos of my grandsons with their willies out and their gorgeous naked buttocks that I could just kiss and kiss!

Set against the backdrop of Olympia and her family, Tankard Reist’s message has never sounded so insanely deviant. Of course there are situations in which girls are exploited and abused. But to lose the ability to tell one thing from another is a dangerous tragedy. Most of us retain that ability. Tankard Reist does not. In warning us of the loss of the innocent gaze, she reveals only that hers is lost. Mine is not and no matter how many pornographic images I’m bombarded with, it will never be lost.

Olympia’s family are an excellent example of how to combat pornographic assaults on the gaze, and raise children capable of distinguishing between art and beauty, and exploitation and abuse. Tankard Reist’s dark vision has no place in this world, and indeed, brings only destruction.

Tankard Reist, Anne Hathaway’s pink bits & Girlfriend’s sex survey

4 Jan

On Melinda Tankard Reist’s website is this post by Nicole Jameson titled ‘The up-skirting of Anne Hathaway.” Jameson is an activist in Tankard Reist’s Collective Shout, the organisation that churns out on-line petitions against retailers, the music industry and various other companies and individuals who they feel are sexifying, pornifying and exploiting girls and women with their merchandise.

Jameson’s piece morally critiques paparazzi who apparently got a shot of Hathaway’s genitalia as she exited her limousine wearing no knickers. The shot went viral. Of course it did. This is, I gather, an abuse of Hathaway’s human right to go about her business sans her undies if she feels like it.

Personally, I could care less, however what is interesting in this piece is the following statement by Jameson:

The violation of Anne Hathaway’s privacy was repeated by every media outlet and media consumer who circulated or viewed her picture and by every writer or commenter who gave the peeping Tom cameraman a free pass by turning the focus away from his harassment”
 

I’m astonished to find such a statement on Tankard Reist’s website. After all, this is the woman who, in an explosion of incandescent outrage against French Vogue not only republished photos of children she alleged were pornographic and sexualised, but linked to the source so we could see more of them.

In a post here titled “Feminist Christian reproduces sexualised images of children on website” I wrote:

The point of the post is to cause outrage in readers at these sexualised images of little girls. In order to do that, I suppose their argument goes, readers have to be able to see them.

But there’s something awry about this reasoning. You don’t want these images viewed, you think it’s wrong that they are readily available in the media, and yet you reproduce them on the Internet to make a point?

You disseminate these images yourself, while at the same time railing against their publication in other arenas?

What is going on here?

On the face of it, it would seem Tankard Reist has double standards. It is fine for her to reproduce images of little girls she considers pornographic and sexualised. It is not fine, however, for other outlets to reproduce them. If the images are of an adult celebrity’s genitalia, reproduction of the photos is a violation of her privacy and every instance perpetuates that violation. Yet Tankard Reist apparently did not violate the privacy of those little girls? Or maybe she just did it in a good cause?

 

Also on Tankard Reist’s front page these holidays you’ll find a post titled “Newsflash: 75% of Girlfriend readers not sexually active.” 

Girlfriend is a magazine for 12 to 17 year olds that as well as offering beauty and fashion advice, takes on issues such as bullying, and self-respect. They have also launched a green campaign aimed at informing girls and young women about global warming.

The results of the Girlfriend survey would seem to undermine Tankard Reist’s moral panic about our “pornified” culture forcing our girls into acting as “sexual service stations” for the gratification of boys and men.

The reasons given by the young respondents for refraining from sexual activity are as follows:

  • Waiting to be in love (56%)
  • Not wanting to have sex (37%)
  • Feeling too young (31%)
  • No particular reason (26%)
  • Waiting to be married (17%)
  • Waiting to be the legal age of consent (14%)
  • Waiting for their boyfriend/girlfriend to be ready (8%)
  • Not being interest in ever having sex (1%)

These reasons don’t seem wildly different from reasons my generation might have given had we lived in an era when it was acceptable for magazines to conduct such surveys, or indeed, in an era when reading material such as Girlfriend was available in the first place.

Tankard Reist says she finds these results “revealing,” but revealing of what? After years of claiming that society has gone to the pornification dogs, breeding boys who become (according to her colleague Gail Dines) “amoral life support systems for an erect penis” and girls who are inevitably forced into exploitative sex long before they are ready, the Girlfriend survey would seem to indicate that things are pretty much as they have long been, and 75% of girls have the strength and self-respect to resist the demands of (100%?) brutalized males for self-gratifying sex.

Of course it would be better if 100% of girls were comfortable enough with themselves to tell the amoral life support systems to take their erect penises and sod off. But I am willing to bet the reasons they are unable to do this are to do with many complexities, not simply Diva selling Playboy bracelets or Spotlight flogging Playboy pillowcases, or even Kanye West making videos of women done up as corpses.

That so many of them are hanging out to be “in love” might be an issue, depending on just what girls and young women understand by that term.

love

 

Tankard Reist threatens defamation action against former colleague

13 Sep

As many people who visit this blog already know, in January this year I received a letter from Melinda Tankard Reist’s lawyer Ric Lucas of Colquhoun Murphy, threatening me with defamation action unless I removed material from my blog about his client, publicly apologised, and paid the expenses Reist had incurred as a consequence of threatening to sue me. There’s an entire category on No Place for Sheep titled “Defamation Threat” that records these events and their interesting consequences, in particular the “Streisand Effect.”

It now turns out that in the same week, Tankard Reist also instructed Ric Lucas to send a defamation threat to Catherine Manning, a former colleague of Reist’s who had decided to leave the group.The same demands were made: that Manning retract comments made on her Facebook page, publicly apologise and pay Reist’s costs.

Defamation threats remain active for twelve months, so Catherine and myself can be sued by Reist at any time until January 2013.

Like Catherine, I’m very wary of these things declining into unseemly playground brawls, however, a pattern is emerging of bullying, and attempts to silence differing points of view through the use of threats, including contacting the employers of those Reist feels have offended her.

I’m in possession of similar information from other people who at this stage don’t want to be named.

Manning recently wrote a piece for Mamamia in which she challenged the usefulness of Reist’s Collective Shout campaigns against girls’ and women’s clothing choices. In the comments thread Manning revealed plans for a proposed fundraiser that involved guests dressing up in the style Collective Shout aggressively opposes (my post “How Collective Shout shames women and girls” is relevant here).

The comments left by Tankard Reist supporters, and some responses by Manning and others, have, interestingly, been deleted from the Mamamia site. One of these deleted comments is from Sarah McMahon, Chair of Collective Shout, who writes:

Comments on this thread have been brought to our attention.

We feel it is important to advise that the account of the proposed fundraiser for our organisation posted by Catherine Manning above contains significant inaccuracies.

We do not feel it is professional to further engage on this matter in this forum and we will not be entering into further correspondence.

I received the following letter from Catherine yesterday. It includes emails that confirm Collective Shout had indeed been planning a dress-up fundraiser where guests were invited come, as Reist puts it, dressed as “hot nurses” and “pimps.”

The comments deleted from Mamamia appear below the letter.

Dear Jennifer,

I should be outraged over the reaction of Collective Shout and some of their supporters to my ‘shorts’ article and your subsequent post but I’m actually a little bemused and a lot relieved.  Over the past two years, I have been bullied and undermined both personally and professionally by some of those I once campaigned alongside.  This includes clandestine investigations amongst friends, threats of withdrawal of support for the company I worked for whilst I was under their employ, and aggressive emails to me directly.  It seems they don’t like the company I keep, nor the things I have to say that challenge their views.

In fact, like you, I also hold a threatening legal letter from Melinda Tankard Reist and her lawyers (dated 3/1/12) for citing the reason I was tossed from the Collective Shout fold, and lamenting that the fear and silencing of other voices stifles progress.  Of course I have documentary evidence and witnesses to support my claims.  Up until now I have remained publicly silent about my treatment, aware that by revealing their antics, my summary of events may be reduced to playground politics.  However, in light of their recent public outbursts, I feel it timely and necessary to defend my reputation.

As well as the Mamamia comments (since removed from their website)  I am also providing part of an email thread between myself and Melinda Tankard Reist about the CS FUNdraiser for those new and vocal recruits at Collective Shout, who may not have the full story.  Slut-shaming isn’t limited to just some within Collective Shout, hence my not naming any individual or group in my article, but it was they who came out swinging in response, and ultimately forced me to share this.

Catherine Manning via email 9/7/1o 10:55am …I just wanted to send my thoughts about the ‘sexualisation theme’ though, as I’m concerned it could be used against us. I understand the intended ‘humour/fun’ in encouraging people to dress up, but I think it’s risky in that when we condemn Lynx for ‘taking the piss’, it seems hypocritical for us to say we’re just doing this for ‘fun’/parody.  I personally just don’t think it’s the right event for it, if you want the campaign to be taken seriously.  I also worry about any media attention the event might attract – if there are any photos taken for papers, etc, upon first glance, assumptions will be made and minds made up before reading the ‘context’.

Melinda Tankard Reist via email 9/7/10 11:11am‘appreciate your thoughts on this…..I have put a halt to the flyer that was about to go out and have insisted the wording be changed.  I want to focus on those doing the objectifying – the culture and the industry, not on individual women. Doing what I can to minimise the risk. I hope it’s not too late’

I was then asked to contact the organiser to advise her to reject the theme, which I obliged.

Melinda Tankard Reist via email 9/7/10 12:59pm ….‘Thanks for anything you can do to take the heat out of this.’

And the ‘damage control’ in a CS statement:

‘It has come to our attention that we have not communicated the intention of this event as clearly as we could have. The intention was not to poke fun at individual women who engage in particular beauty practices, or an invitation for people to come as ‘hot nurses’ and ‘pimps’ but to highlight the ridiculous pressure placed on women to change everything about themselves, in order to fit into our culture’s narrow definition of beauty.

What we had pictured was people dressing up in an exaggerated way that highlights this pressure and takes it to a ridiculous extreme, hence the ‘humorous protest’ aspect of the event. It was intended to be a jab at the beauty industry, the diet industry and the fashion industry, not at women. We wanted it to be funny, not derogatory.’  The Collective Shout team 9/7/10

As I stated, no matter how it was spun, it didn’t sit right with me and I began to question, but I soon learnt that questioning ‘the experts’ was not on.

The issues I raised in my article about my child sex abuse, are far bigger and more important than this sideshow Collective Shout, Julie Gale of Kids Free 2B Kids, and ‘Helen Lovejoy’ have turned it into.  I hope from here, we can move on and start discussing what is really important.

Catherine Manning

Comment thread deleted from Mamamia

September 2, 2012 at 08:27 pm Julie Gale – Director Kids Free 2B Kids Hi Catherine – I appreciate your courage to share a personal and distressing experience. You make some very valid points.
I find it a great shame tho, that you have used the opportunity to have a go at people who have tirelessly spoken out against the sexualisation of children and in doing have created significant change.
I have worked for half a decade raising awareness about this issue and so am very curious to know who are the ‘many you have worked alongside’ that have said:
‘girls dressing like women was asking for trouble’ – or –
‘if you want to project your child from predators, cover them up’.
In my 6 years of raising awareness about sexualisation I have not heard any of my ‘anti-sexualisation’ colleagues say either – but it would be concerning if someone did.
I agree it would be important to correct those ‘many people’.
It wasn’t me – so was it Dr Michael Carr Gregg – or Dr Joe Tucci – or Dr Emma Rush – or Dr Clive Hamilton – or Maggie Hamilton – or Melinda Tankard Reist – or Professor Louise Newman – or Former Chief Justice of the Family Court Alastair Nicholson – or Danielle Miller – or Steve Biddulph – or head of the AMA Dr Steve Hambleton or Professor Elisabeth Handsley?
Or perhaps it was someone from the Victorian Principals Association – or maybe you read these statements in a report from the American Psychological Association, or The UK Home office report, or The Scottish and Irish Parliament and French Government reports – or perhaps from the
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.
I’m sure I have inadvertently missed some people – so apologies.
I’ve also just read Caroline Norma’s piece 3 times and cannot find where she says or even intimates that ‘The length of a young girl’s hemline is a marker or a cause of sexualisation.’
I recently asked Wendy Harmer at ‘The Hoopla’ for the names of people who she stated had been ‘scare-mongering about rampant teenage sexuality’, and unfortunately she didn’t provide any – so I’m hoping you can answer my question.
Thanks Julie

September 3, 2012 at 10:49 am Catherine Manning Of course I can answer your questions, Julie. Thanks for asking. 1. Caroline Norma’s article was in response to those written about the Target shorts. The whole issue was that the shorts were ‘too short’. Hence my comment that ‘the length of a girl’s hemline is not a marker or a cause of sexualisation’. They were my words, not hers (that’s why there are no quotation marks around that sentence), and the classism argument she uses to derail conversation around this issue is most concerning. 2. Of all the people you list above, there are several that I have heard speak publicly and/or read books/articles, and/or had private conversations with, where the inadvertent – if not blatant – message was to promote a very conservative dress code for girls/women to protect them from sexualisation. Personal conversations with some, campaigns with others, all pointed toward slut-shaming. I am questioning the rationale behind that. If it’s not slut-shaming, what is it? (I should point out that slut-shaming isn’t just victim blaming. It’s labelling someone less holy than thou based on their clothing choices.) Of course there are genuine instances of sexualisation when it comes to clothing, such as items sloganed with ‘porn star’ or ‘flirt’ for children. Short shorts, bikinis and denim-look undies may not be to your taste, but they are not ‘sexualising’. They are just clothes. 3. I also find your own presentations where you dress in fishnets, heels, short shorts, corset top and bunny ears in an attempt to tsk-tsk those who do wear ‘that kind of stuff’, quite questionable. That is also slut-shaming. 4. I haven’t read Wendy Harmer’s comments yet and I don’t speak for her, but she may share my concern about the negative way girls are being portrayed through some claiming to advocate on their behalf. In my experience of working directly with girls, there are certainly body-image issues, in part due to the relentless bombardment of narrow beauty ideals, but they are not victims of sexualisation en masse as some commentators would have us believe. 5. I think it is the criticism of their clothing choices that is far more damaging to girls’ self-esteem, than any harm you perceive may come their way from actually wearing the clothes. I am also concerned that the APA and other reports you cite are often misused, and disingenuously held up as ‘supporting evidence’ by those pushing a conservative ideology. I should also point out that some of the reports you name here actually contradict each other. Finally, I think it’s noble that you go in to bat for your band of experts when their views are challenged, but please remember, just as there are ‘average mothers’ who don’t agree on what constitutes ‘sexy’ for a child, there are also other experts who don’t share the views of those experts and commentators you hold close. And that’s a good thing, in my opinion. It’s good to challenge some of those long-held beliefs, especially those that despite best intentions, actually mess with kids just being kids.

September 3, 2012 at 05:28 pm Julie Gale – Director Kids Free 2B Kids Your feedback is interesting Catherine – but does not include names of people who have purportedly said these things – so they remain straw man arguments unless a particular person can be quoted and then challenged.
I must answer your very judgmental comment about my presentation tho…
In fact, it is interesting how you have interpreted my choice of clothing for some of the presentations I have given. I have only ever worn clothes I have bought from stores marketed specifically to young and teenage girls… and have never worn fishnets or a corset – so it’s fascinating to me that this is your interpretation of the clothing.
I quote professor Marika Tiggeman from Flinders university and her work about ‘appearance culture’.
Of course it is for comedic impact as well – as I have always aimed at breaking the stereotype that anyone who speaks out about the impacts of sexualisation is a prude/wowser – and as a comedy writer and performer, I am neither. I wear the bunny ears to speak about how effective ‘Playboy’ has been in mainstreaming their brand and I discard them when I speak about the success of getting Girlfriend magazine to stop advertising Playboy products (and when I challenged them about their free giveaway playboy t-shirts).
Curious that you interpret this as slut-shaming.
I have spent years shaming corporates and a culture that tells girls their whole value comes from their appearance… but I have never shamed young girls – and nor have I ever heard any of my colleagues do so.
I am sorry that you have used this public forum to judge my work.
I really just wanted the information that I requested – otherwise they are straw man arguments. These sorts of sweeping statements are very destructive to the evidenced based (global) advocacy work of so many.

September 3, 2012 at 09:27 pm rebecca I can’t believe Girlfriend magazine was advertising Play Boy products and giving away their t-shirts. September 3, 2012 at 09:49 pm Julie Gale – Director Kids Free 2B Kids Hi Rebecca,
Hard to believe but true. It was as couple of years ago and with input from Dr Michael Carr Gregg, (who writes for Girlfriend) they saw the error of their ways regarding advertising free giveaway Playboy t-shirts – that were ‘a must in every girls wardrobe’ and also advertising Playboy products.
But campaigning also got Dolly and Girlfriend magazines to stop advertising backgrounds for mobile phones that said for example…
‘Sex when it’s good it’s really good – when it’s bad it’s still pretty good’
‘Save a virgin – do me instead’
‘Free sex just ask”
‘I’m a good girl trapped in the body of a slut’
‘Naughty hunk get’s it off for you – to order this hot and sexy video text Dolly”
I show copies of these (and more) in my presentations.

September 3, 2012 at 08:03 pm Just a kill joy Catherine, I have to wonder along with Julie here, what experts exactly do you mean? You still do not name or provide evidence of any. I am sure by experts you do not mean journalists, social commentators or some media studies graduates who never actually work with any children on a daily basis. Please could you provide the peer reviewed work of your claims. With all due respect, I know that you go into schools, but you do this perhaps once a month or so, with the organisation you are with? And then after a 5 minute conversation with a few girls, you leave. That sounds far more like anecdotal ‘evidence’ to me, than any of the empirically based studies or daily work of psychiatrists, child psychologists, paediatricians, school counsellors or even PDHPE teachers have. The experts I trust are those who have first-hand, long-term experience with children. THEY are the ones that are indicating concern and they are the ones used in research. Not because they are slut-shaming or simply conservative, but because they honestly see the effects on child behaviour every single day. They don’t have some kill-joy agenda – they genuinely care about the kids. Also, I am not saying that going into schools is a bad thing, it is very powerful and I have heard some speakers from your organisation do a really brilliant job. But to use your time there as ‘evidence’ for what young people need, is a little bit of a stretch. Just as an aside, I have seen Julie Gale perform at Generation Next conferences. You must have seen some other actress, otherwise you would know that the act that you describe is not Julie Gale’s. You would know what she has and has not worn (not what you describe) and you would understand the power of satire.

September 3, 2012 at 10:14 pm Melissa Recently the Australian Medical Association said we need to hold a government inquiry into the sexualisation of children. The impacts they are seeing from sexualisation are very real.

September 4, 2012 at 11:21 am Anon Hi Julie- I think it’s really important to be able to talk about this complex debate. Sexualisation of children is a real issue and I applaud your work in the area. Victim blaming is also a real issue and one of the things that makes it difficult for victims to speak out is the issue of dress and slut shaming. This means that it’s a very very delicate subject area- and it’s difficult to talk about sexualisation without also engaging in slut shaming/ victim blaming. Which gets me onto my next point. While I think the debate is an important one to have, there is a time and place. Catherine has just disclosed a sexual molestation. Regardless of whether or not you agree with her politics, or the way she mounts an argument, she has only JUST disclosed sexual abuse. She’s done this trusting that the MM community would back her up and support her- not interrogate her and nit pick her arguments. If you want to take some of the issues up with her, that is of course your right- but please think carefully about whether this is the appropriate context for that. Also please think carefully about the fact that Catherine isn’t the only survivor reading this thread. Victims often fear being interrogated when they disclose. And while you haven’t interrogated her over the abuse, you have demanded quite agressively that she prove things… this is actually quite distressing to watch since this is also what happens to sexual abuse victims when they disclose- please by all means take up the conversation about sexualisation and the debate- but please please be mindful that this is not the appropriate forum or time to do that and that there will be victims watching this thread unfold thinking “I knew it would be a bad idea for me to ever disclose- because this is what will happen- I’ll get attacked and told to prove things and treated aggressively”. September 4, 2012 at 04:35 pm Melissa As a survivor, I confessed my sexual abuse to a church leader who proceeded to interrogate me- why was I there, why didn’t I leave, basically, why had I put myself in that situation? At the time this was devastating, as I was already in a very fragile emotional place. I agree that critiquing and interrogating victims of sexual assault only does more damage. But this is not my perception of what is going on here. Catherine Manning made some representations about the nature of sexualisation and the attitudes of those fighting the legitimate fight against it. I feel that Julie Gail is well within her rights to respectfully question Catherine’s opinion. I couldn’t see any evidence of interrogation about sexual abuse.

September 4, 2012 at 07:56 pm Helen Lovejoy “Catherine has just disclosed a sexual molestation. Regardless of whether or not you agree with her politics, or the way she mounts an argument, she has only JUST disclosed sexual abuse.” Sorry, but what?? Catherine Manning has not ‘just disclosed sexual abuse’, she has used her story as ammunition in a very political battle about child sexualisation. The fact that she is a survivor of sexual abuse – as so many of us are – is tragic, but it’s not a trump card that can be pulled out to silence those who disagree with her (or who she attacks in a public forum). Given the context, Julie’s questions seem both relevant and valid, and I am watching with interest to see if Catherine answers them.

September 4, 2012 at 08:16 pm Novel Activist In no way was Catherine using her experience as a trump card to silence others. Be careful of accusing her of doing so in order to silence her.

September 4, 2012 at 10:37 pm Julie Gale – Director Kids Free 2B Kids You are quite right Anon, I certainly did not interrogate Catherine about her abuse. Nor did I make any personal comments about Catherine at all. But the article was more than a disclosure of abuse. The article contains serious accusations that those campaigning against sexualisation are blaming women and girls for their own sexual assault. If the concern is about ‘shaming’ it is also not ok to shame people for views they do not hold and things they did not say.
In all my time campaigning on this issue I have not worked with one person who would hold the view that girls or women are responsible for their assault due to their clothing choices. Given the seriousness of the claims and the fact that as an ‘anti- sexualisation’ campaigner I am implicated in those accusations, I feel warranted in asking for clarification. Your anonymous post, in contrast, is very personal and an excellent example of public shaming.
I will not be participating in any further comments. September 4, 2012 at 11:40 pm Leesa Interesting that Catherine is being blamed for shaming people when she never mentioned anyone by name….

September 4, 2012 at 05:58 pm Novel Activist Julie, That’s an interesting list you’ve provided. I’m glad you’ve included the Scottish report. It is regarded as one of the most comprehensive and balanced of all the reports. But I have to wonder if you’ve read it. Interestingly it is very critical of some of the other reports you mention, the one written by Emma Rush (and Clive Hamilton through the Australia Institute), Corporate Paedophilia – and the APA report (perhaps the most misrepresented of all). The Scottish report says of it that “Despite its comprehensive and apparently systematic nature, the APA report is problematic on a number of grounds.” The Scottish report was also interested in the definition of sexualisation, concluding that “There is a lack of consistency and clarity about the meaning of ‘sexualisation’, and the crucial distinction between ‘sexual’ and ‘sexualised’: other related terms (such as ‘objectification’) remain poorly defined and theorised.” One of the more astounding statements, given your mention of Melinda Tankard Reist (and by association, Collective Shout) is this: “Despite the apparent public concern about this issue, our research data does not allow us to state with certainty that ‘sexualised goods’ in fact represent a major problem for parents, as compared with other matters.” It also raises concerns about the moral dimension of the sexualisation debate, cautioning that. “Much of the research rests on moral assumptions – for example about ‘healthy’ sexuality, about ‘decency’ or about material that is ‘inappropriate’ for children – that are not adequately explained or justified.

September 5, 2012 Catherine Manning I am deeply concerned about the tone of your posts, Julie Gale and ‘Helen Lovejoy’, but despite that I am grateful for your questions, although I refuse to enter into a ‘name names’ scenario with you, particularly as I’m concerned that this information may be used by some in an attempt to polarise people and further stifle the debate. However, I will say this: I can assure you and ‘Helen Lovejoy’ that I do understand the meaning of ‘satire’ (the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.). Whichever way you spin it, your choice of attire for your presentations is still slut-shaming, and regarding your claim that you’d never slut-shame little girls, aren’t you inadvertently encouraging parents to do just that? That may not be your intention, but I ask you to please consider that it is the end result. I think some of those speaking out about the sexualisation of children, really don’t understand what slut-shaming means. Going back a couple of years, I’m sure you and others would recall the Collective Shout Fundraiser (aka FUNdraiser) where guests were invited to join in the theme of the night, by dressing as a ‘sex worker/bratz doll/slut’? I expressed my concerns back then about the ‘just a bit of harmless fun/satire’ that was being promoted, and the dress code was eventually changed. This incident rang one of many alarms for me, and was a turning point as I began questioning what I was really supporting and what its leaders were saying. Another more recent incident was at a very well attended and profitable parenting seminar I attended, where the presenter used a story of two girls as an example of parenting and girls gone wrong. The ‘bad girl’ went to a party, had a few drinks, had consensual and safe sex with a boy she liked from school, then upon belatedly following him back to the party room, was devastated to find him and his male friends scoffing and laughing at her from the corner of the room. She fled the party and remained silent about the incident for years. Of course, the shoddy behaviour of her partner and his friends wasn’t called to account. She was slut-shamed by them, and the speaker relating the story, for choosing to have sex with a boy she liked. The message was ‘Hmm, see what happens to ‘girls like that?’. This was as opposed to the ‘good girl’ story, where the girl decided not to have sex with her boyfriend as she didn’t feel ready, and was waiting for the ‘right time’. She spoke to her very supportive mother about it. The message for parents was ‘if you don’t want the bad girl…’ . This person is apparently a ‘world renowned parenting expert/speaker/best-selling author’, who I expected would know better than to ever pit ‘this kind of girl’ against ‘that kind of girl’. I have heard other experts/commentators engage in this type of inadvertent shaming of girls. My point is, these are the experts contributing to the reports you keep holding up as gospel. The conversation can be challenging, especially when we all have different beliefs, morals, opinions, etc., but it should never become a battle of egos, where people are required to pin their flag to any mast to join the discussion. We all want the best outcomes for children. All sides need to be listened to. I have not used my experience of child sex abuse as a ‘trump card’ (what a truly revolting and offensive thing to suggest), and I’ve NEVER said sexualisation isn’t an issue. Quite the contrary. I have simply presented my personal opinion gathered from deep reflection of both my private and professional life, and my own experiences of slut-shaming. If that’s not expert enough for you, so be it, but I am always open to hearing the views of others around me, as it has really helped me open my eyes to who and what is really at fault for our slut-shaming culture, and where the ‘sexualisation debate’ often buys in to all of that. Finally, just to reiterate Ray Harris’ [Novel Activist] comments, as the Scottish report you cite points out, there is no global consensus on evidence based research. However, your comment that my article and opinions can be destructive to that advocacy/research suggests that maybe it’s time to rethink who really does have the straw-man arguments.

MTR plays dress-ups: come as a “prostitute, Bratz doll or slut”

9 Sep

Well, here’s telling little anecdote found buried in the comments on this article in Mamamia by Catherine Manning, who dared to challenge the usefulness and wisdom of Tankard Reist’s Collective Shout actions against the “sexualisation” of girls.

It appears that participants in a planned Collective Shout “Funraiser” were asked to dress up as “prostitutes, Bratz dolls and sluts.” When it was pointed out to the organisers that if this got out, as in, like, photos in the media, it wouldn’t look so good. Dress-ups were cancelled, at least dress-ups involving the kind of clothing and shoes that represent Collective Shout’s collective vision of prostitutes and sluts.

I’m not sure about Bratz dolls. I would have thought dolls were in an altogether different category from human beings, but there you go. Lump ‘em all in together, Melinda.

I’m gobsmacked at the utter contempt this reveals for women who earn their living as sex workers, and women this gang of self-righteous harpies perceives as “sluts.”

Looks like we have to claim that word back from a bunch of self-identified “feminists” as well.

Maybe Melinda and her salacious cronies were looking for an opportunity to let their inner “prostitute, Bratz doll and slut” out for a night. An opportunity to combine a bit of  ignorant ridicule of women they don’t approve of with the chance to strut their own stuff in gear they claim condemns the female to a life of sexual slavery. Or, as academic Dr Caroline Norma so succinctly puts it, to  life as a sexual service station where men drop by to dip their hose in the tank (the last bit’s mine, not hers).

If you really feel that strongly about “sexy” clothes, why not have a bonfire and a token burning of the corrupting rags,but wear them to a party? Taint your own body with the very clothes that destroy women’s lives and ruin our girls? How could that be fun?

It might have escaped Tankard Reist and company, but just as they wanted to wear those clothes “for fun” so do many other women. So from that I take it that it’s all right for the special ones who know the special dangers to wear the clothes, but all wrong for anybody else?

All their proposed “funraiser” was, it seems to me, is an organised slut shaming exercise. It really says everything about what they think of women who they feel are lesser beings than themselves. Madonna/whore, anyone?

What is objectification, anyway?

7 Jun

The following are philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s criteria for objectification, that is, the act of treating a person as an object:

instrumentality: the treatment of a person as a tool for the objectifier’s purposes;

denial of autonomy: the treatment of a person as lacking in autonomy and self-determination;

inertness: the treatment of a person as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity;

fungibility: the treatment of a person as interchangeable with other objects;

violability: the treatment of a person as lacking in boundary-integrity;

ownership: the treatment of a person as something that is owned by another (can be bought or sold);

denial of subjectivity: the treatment of a person as something whose experiences and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account.

To which Professor Rae Langton, MIT, adds the following:

reduction to body: the treatment of a person as identified with their body, or body parts;

reduction to appearance: the treatment of a person primarily in terms of how they look, or how they appear to the senses;

silencing: the treatment of a person as if they are silent, lacking the capacity to speak.

The criteria all refer to the treatment of a person. From this I understand that objectification is enacted in encounters between people, when one party behaves towards the other as if she or he is a means to an end, and not a human being who is entitled to have her or his needs and feelings taken into account.

There’s an almost constant stream of allegations of objectification through sexualisation currently being made in Western society. These are leveled by concerned citizens against much popular culture, and based largely on images of women that culture produces. These allegations presume an objectifying gaze, that is, they insist the viewer will inevitably reduce women portrayed in certain ways to objects to be used for sexual gratification, rather than seeing them as equal human beings. Clothing, facial expressions and postures are used as signifiers of objectification, as well as language.

The signifiers chosen by concerned citizens are based on a Judeo-Christian perception of the adult female body as unruly, dangerous and indecent, and requiring concealment except in specific circumstances such as marriage and other committed monogamous relationships. Clothing that reveals too much of the body’s “private” zones is regarded as transgressing moral codes, as are postures and language that imply female sexual desire, and/or stimulate male “lust.”

Here I should note that the objectification debate is heteronormative. Apparently gays and lesbians don’t objectify each other or if they do, concerned citizens don’t include this in their ambit.

To interpret the clothing, postures and movements as indecent one must first have a particular set of moral values. Otherwise the image will be attractive, unattractive or entirely uninteresting, and it will carry no moral weight.

An image may invite the objectifying gaze. The viewer may accept. However, it’s a big leap to assume that all viewers who find an image “sexy” will inevitably progress from that opinion to objectifying a woman the next time he or she is face to face with one, and will inevitably set about finding ways to use the woman as a means to an end. This assumption imbues the image with nothing less than supernatural powers, as well as denying the viewer’s autonomy and self-determination. It also denies the viewer agency. It denies the viewer’s subjectivity and it also silences the viewer by imposing another’s values on the viewer’s gaze. According to Nussbaum, these are all acts of objectification. In other words, when concerned citizens make these assumptions, they treat the viewer as less human than themselves.

An image can invite us to objectify, but it can’t cause an objectifying consciousness to develop where it previously did not exist.

The inability to perceive others as human like oneself is a symptom of several psychological disturbances, as well as immaturity. These factors are not brought about through viewing an image, and they will not be resolved by removing an image from public view.

The argument that women choose to display their bodies in these ways holds little credence with concerned citizens. The most frequent response is that women don’t understand they’re inviting objectification through presenting their bodies to the admiring and at times desirous male gaze.  Another argument is that society (patriarchy) has so “normalised” the objectification of women that only those policing it will notice when it’s happening.

It’s something of a leap to assert that a woman is, without any awareness or agency, issuing an invitation to men to turn her into an object when she steps in front of a camera in small clothes, or plays football in lingerie. I can think of many reasons why women choose to undertake these activities dressed in these ways, and none of them are to do with the kind of compulsive masochism implied in their critics’ interpretations of their actions.

Indeed, such an attitude towards a woman could be read in Nussbaum’s criteria as treating her as if she is lacking in autonomy and self-determination, and treating her as a person lacking in agency. It also denies her subjectivity, and attempts to silence her by imposing an interpretation other than her own on her actions. In other words, the concerned citizens are engaged in objectifying her.

It seems to me that the entire objectification movement is an attempt to impose a particular set of moral values on society. Notions of propriety, largely middle class, are disturbed for example, by the spectacle of women playing football in lingerie. This discomfort is pathologised as objectification, and extrapolated as threatening to all women and girls, who as a consequence of the LFL will be regarded as nothing more than sex objects for male gratification. While there certainly are males who act as if this is their opinion of women, the majority do not. The majority of people understand there is a difference between personal encounters, and imagery.

The charge of objectification is a serious one. It should not be trivialized to serve a moral agenda.

It seems obvious to me that the key to accepting the human right of others not to be treated as a means to an end, lies in education and not censorship. Attempting to build a society on the assumption that all its members are possessed of an objectifying consciousness and everything possible must be done to prevent them indulging that consciousness seems to me insane, and asking for trouble. Respect and value for others as equals is an acquired skill, and we depend on caregivers to instruct our young in acquisition and practice. It’s a work in progress for the human race. Concerned citizens would do better to apply themselves to encouraging and assisting this work, rather than attempting to impose a moral code that adds nothing at all to the civilizing project. An attempt that in its practice commits the very offences it claims to vehemently oppose.

         

Accidental nudity

25 May

I know I won’t be buying tickets to watch the Lingerie Football League because I have no interest in football. If I did and the women were good at it, I’d probably think about it.

What I do know is that players wearing lingerie neither entices nor repulses me. I have concerns about injury to exposed flesh that would make me squirm in visceral sympathy were I to witness that. However, in my experience exposure to flesh is interesting for a nano second, unless I’m personally and privately engaged with that flesh, which is a whole other ball game, so to speak.

Commissioner of moral police Melinda Tankard Reist is outraged at the possibility of the Lingerie Football League coming to Australia, to the degree that she has ordered her troops to set up the usual petition and boycott of every business with an interest in promoting what they perceive as sexualisation of women in sport.

One of the claims made by Reist’s battalion is that women who wish to play football at this level are forced to do it in their underwear because there are no options available. This is apparently untrue. A small exaggeration, by those who don’t let the truth get in the way of their propaganda. In the US, home of the LFL, there are three women’s football leagues, none of which require their members to play in their undies. So presumably the women involved in LFL are there because they want to be.

You’d never know this from reading Reist’s rant on the subject. Once again, women are positioned as victims, forced by men into sexualised exhibitionism if they want to play their sport.

In this interview with Derryn Hinch, Reist admits that she doesn’t like beach volley ball either because the uniforms, while not styled by Victoria’s Secret, are nonetheless far too skimpy. Wearing skimpy garments is exploitative of women, the argument goes, who only want the chance to play their sport. Men don’t watch the sport they watch the women’s bums and breasts, desperately hoping for wardrobe malfunctions and a bit of accidental nudity.

I don’t know if this is true or not, but if it is, it doesn’t seem so extraordinary. Heterosexual men are generally on the lookout for a glimpse of female flesh as far as I can tell, and I’ve yet to understand why that is regarded as offensive. Of course there are situations in which it is entirely offensive, but that isn’t every occasion and circumstance.

I have to admit that if I find myself trapped in a room with a television broadcasting the football, especially if it’s the Sydney Swans, I watch their bodies. I very much admire their athleticism and their bums. I suppose I’m objectifying them, but I mean them no harm. I also like to look at female athletes, especially the gymnasts. Human bodies can be powerfully beautiful. There is a very strong link in the human imagination between beauty, the erotic, and the sexual. When all is well with us we know better than to act out this link unless invited.

It is ludicrous to demand that the human gaze be bereft of sexual interest. To be sexually stirred by a human body is not to inevitably objectify. We are capable of simultaneous reactions: admiration and desire are companions.

The bottom line (sorry), as Helen Razer put it in a tweet yesterday, is that it’s demeaning to tell adult women they are being demeaned. One has to assume a position of  vast superiority in order to do this. Whatever their reasons, the women of the Lingerie Football League  have freely chosen their careers. Reist et al claim, as they always claim, that many women don’t know when they are being sexploited. These women are dumber than Melinda, in other words, and need to be taught what’s really going on here by taking their jobs away from them and telling them they don’t know their own minds.

This ongoing fight about sexualisation and objectification of adult women is really all about dress codes. As someone else said on Twitter, we wear bikinis to the beach, not bras and pants, but the amount of flesh revealed is the same. Reist and her gang start from the premise that the female body is a dangerous thing, dangerous for its inhabitants and dangerous for heterosexual men. Therefore it must be kept under control and one of the methods of control is how it is allowed to be clothed.

If to sexualise, that is to make sexual, is “wrong,” then it follows that sex outside of prescribed circumstances is wrong. To “sexualise” apparently means to display flesh and wear garments suggestive of the privacy of the bedroom.  If we “sexualise” the adult female we are apparently inciting heterosexual males who do not own her in marriage to inappropriate desire. Reist is primarily engaged in a form of attempted mind control: she doesn’t want men desiring women unless they are married to them. She is incapable of distinguishing between desire and objectification, therefore desire is her enemy.

I have no problem with Reist holding her opinions on sex and its purposes. She’s entitled to them. But what she must one day realise is that these opinions are not shared by everyone, and she has no right to attempt to impose them as the norm.

I give the final word to my friend H: “If we cannot do what we want with our own physical vessel (when it does no harm to others) we have/are nothing.”

 

Kids and pron

9 May

It was with some reluctance that I sat down last night to watch SBS Insight’s inquiry into the effect of pornography on kids. I anticipated a roll out of the usual suspects with the usual hysterical claims that porn is warping the minds of our children and nobody can have decent relationships anymore and society’s going to hell in a hand cart unless we take down the Internet and make it all stop.

What a relief and a pleasure, then, to meet a brilliant bunch of young people with more common sense than I’ve found in some adults, and very definite ideas about the role of pornography in their lives and what they want adults to do about it.

“Porn isn’t going to go away,” declared one young woman, “and we want information about it. We want to know what’s real and what isn’t.”

All the young ‘uns had encountered hard core porn and none of them were impressed with it. Some they found hilariously funny. Unfortunately a middle-aged Anglican minister in the audience was deeply affected by their nonchalance, and said he found it terribly sad they’d ever seen any of it. Mostly they watched amateur porn, they said, to learn what to do and where things go. They would like some adult guidance through the genres, they said, because how were they to know what was fantasy and what people really do?

The only other person visibly upset by pornography was a adult male who identified himself as a practising Catholic and who said that thanks to porn, he couldn’t see women as human beings because he couldn’t get past his lust for us and find our humanity. Lust blinded him. He struggled daily with his lustful feelings, and I felt very sorry for his obvious torment. He claimed that this was all due to viewing porn and he wished he’d never set eyes on it.

Sociologist Michael Flood, a well known critic of porn, made the somewhat odd statement that “Porn shifts what we think of as normal.” Who is “we?” What is “normal?” What kind of porn is he talking about? Obviously from the kids’ point of view porn doesn’t shift what is normal, because they have no idea what is “normal” and would clearly appreciate some guidance. To his credit, Flood later claimed that we need more varied and “ethical” porn, and perhaps there’s something in that.

Obviously there are kids who are negatively affected by porn, and one of the sex educators in the audience expressed her concern for girls she worked with who were intimidated by boys’ demands for the kind of sex the girls didn’t want and didn’t enjoy. So there’s a need to teach sexual manners.

However, as one young woman firmly stated, if boys want to know what a girl wants they have to bloody well ask her. Don’t assume it’s the same thing women in porn films want. It isn’t about how creative you think you are, she told the lads. It’s about what pleases the woman. Her mum, sitting beside her, nodded vigourously and beamed with pride.

All in all the show considerably lifted my spirits. I’m very fond of young ‘uns. They almost always have more smarts than I expect. And if this group is any guide, they can watch porn, even from an early age, without incurring devastating damage. But they want our help. Not censorship. They know porn is part of our world and isn’t going away, and they want to learn how to deal with it. They want guidance. They want trust. They want education.

Hear that, morals police?

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