Tag Archives: Melinda Tankard Reist

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.

If you see a child as “sexualised” there’s something wrong with your vision

4 Mar

On morals campaigner Melinda Tankard Reist’s website you’ll find this breakdown of a survey conducted by Girlfriend magazine on the sexual habits of their young readers. The magazine’s demographic is girls aged between twelve and seventeen.

The survey found that 75% of Girlfriend readers are not sexually active. The reasons given:

  • 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 appear to differ from reasons given by young women over the last few decades. It’s also possible, though unverifiable I imagine, that over the last few decades 25% of young women have engaged in some kind of sexual activity for a variety of reasons, just as they do today.

The Girlfriend survey appears to contest anecdotes such as those in the article “Stealing the innocence of children” published yesterday in the Fairfax Press. Using language such as onslaught, obsession, bombardment, and phrases such as “placing the child in a sexualised space,” “increasingly sexual and sexualised culture,” “hyenas circling” our young, and “people conditioned to see themselves as ‘product,’” the article paints an alarming picture of an apocalyptically sexualised society, controlled by a terrifyingly nebulous “them.”  The closest I can come to identifying “them” are as the manufacturers, producers, distributors  and marketers of a perceived “sexualised” and “pornified” popular culture.

They are further identified in the article as  “the seamier side of humanity” which has persuaded K-Mart, Target and other retailers to provide children’s clothing modelled on the imagined uniform of sex workers.

Children’s primary carers are obliged to buy  this inappropriate clothing and give it to kids to wear, causing them to look “hot” and “sexy.”

It takes a particular kind of perverted vision to see a child as “sexy” or “hot,” no matter what the child is wearing. I do not see children dressed in “sexy” clothing as “hot.”A child dressed like an adult looks to me like a child dressed like an adult. If the child is perceived as “sexualised” or “pornified” it must be the gaze of the adult viewer defining her as such, not the clothing and certainly not the child. It is impossible to “sexualise” and “pornify” a child by dressing her or him in any kind of clothing. Only a sexualising and pornifying gaze can impose that interpretation.

Further, I’d suggest that those currently most responsible for “sexualising” and “pornifying” children’s appearance are the very campaigners who complain most loudly about it. These people are demanding that we all adopt the pedophile gaze, and interpret a child’s appearance as “hot” and “sexy” rather than seeing it for what it is: children imitating adults. There is no innocence lost in the imitation. The innocence is destroyed by the adult’s sexualising gaze.

To others less inclined to make moral judgements based on bits of cloth, children are neither sexualised nor pornified. They are children in bits of cloth, funny, silly, imitating their elders, remarkable or unremarkable, but they are children. If you think they are sexually objectified, the problem is with you.

Is there any space more sexualised than that of an institution such as church or family, in which the child is raped? Is there anymore devastatingly sexualised, objectified and “pornified” child than the child raped in the home, church or other institution outwardly dedicated to her or his welfare? When a child’s body is used to gratify adult desire, that child’s innocence has indeed been destroyed. That child has indeed been sexualised and pornified. And the number of children whose innocence has been thus stolen is incalculable.

Yet is any of this mentioned, even in passing, in an article titled “Stealing the innocence of children?” No. It is not. It is far easier to blame a nebulous “them” for the  crime of clothing and music videos.

This is bandaid stuff. What actually demands our attention is the numbers of adults only too willing to see, to describe, and to use children as sexual objects, even those who perceive themselves as being on the side of the good. Campaigners such as Tankard Reist, Steve Biddulph, Emma Rush and Steve Hambleton unwittingly reproduce the pedophile gaze with their own determinedly sexualised readings of popular culture.  The pedophile claims in his defence that  “she looked like she wanted it,” even if she was only three. The campaigners are in great danger of saying something very similar, albeit for very different reasons.

If you want to protect the innocence of children, don’t impose your sexualising vision on them. If you want to let kids be kids just do it, by recognising that they cannot be sexualised by the clothing they wear, but only by your interpretation of what that clothing signifies.

The campaigners are railing against a particular sexual aesthetic, one that given their reference to sex workers and aspects of popular culture may well be class-based. It’s not so long ago that girls who dressed in a certain way were described as “cheap.” That meant sexually easy, and the girls thus described were not middle class. Today “cheap” garments and attitudes are increasingly infiltrating the middle class, blurring class distinctions and causing what can only be described as a moral panic as those who are well used to controlling an orthodox conservative sexual discourse find themselves challenged as never before.

In another article titled “Save your daughter from the wild-child syndrome,” Steve Biddulph states ” If a girl is going to go wrong, it will be at 14.”  If a girl is going to go wrong? This binary of good and bad girls, right and wrong girls, is at the heart of the sexualisation and pornification panic. “Good and right” girls are increasingly indistinguishable from “bad and wrong girls” in their clothing choices. Hell, these days everyone’s looking like hookers and pole dancers! Clothes, once a primary signifier of middle class status and morality, now make  “good” girls look like they’re “bad.”

The conservative middle class, whether secular or religious, prescribes a morality that condemns the perceived sexually “easy” girl or woman. There remains, even among the non religious, a code of sexual manners that frowns upon any perceived flaunting of female sexuality.

The morals campaigners are of course never going to question their dogma about how girls and women should express our sexuality. In feminism’s second wave, we learned the folly of unquestioningly accepting the authority of the orthodoxy, and the unnecessary suffering involved in attempting to adjust ourselves to its man-made rules. We need a similar revolution in which we vigorously contest the domination of conservative sexual morality on our culture. Indeed, perhaps such a revolution is already underway, and the current moral panic is the outraged and fearful reaction.

Confusion: just because a girl wears a short skirt doesn’t mean she’s asking for it. On the other hand, the short skirt sexualises, pornifies and objectifies you so if you wear it, you look like a girl going wrong, and asking for it.

The bizarre marriage of radical feminism and right wing religious activism, occasioned to contest that other bogeyman, pornography, is an example of how the desire to censor and control is not confined to the religious. Russell Blackford considers this in his piece on Iceland’s recent initiative to ban certain types of pornography. “You can’t assume that secularism in a country’s population will solve all problems of moralism, anti-sex attitudes, and a general wish by governments and electorates to interfere with people’s lives” Blackford observes. While we know Melinda Tankard Reist comes from a Christian fundamentalist background, and Steve Hambleton is a devout Catholic, their conservative sexual politics are shared and promoted by the non religious as well.

When religious beliefs can’t be invoked to substantiate moralities, psychology, psychiatry and regurgitation of received knowledge is often as, if not more, effective. All of these traditionally accept an initial cultural premise: that there are particular ways of behaving and expressing sexuality that are unquestionably right, and veering from them is wrong. The stranglehold this perspective has on society is currently under great pressure, nowhere as evidenced in the rebellion of the young,who’s collective determination to clothe themselves like porn stars, as the horrified adults would have it, is breaking all the rules of sexual propriety and class.

The extreme manifestation of this propriety is manifested in remarks such as those made by Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, who famously declared that the virginity of his three daughters was the greatest gift they could offer anyone and he hopes they’ll wait till they marry to bestow it.

I recall a sex talk given to us fourteen year olds by the Mother Superior, in which she advised us that we should not be like cream buns in the bakery window. Who, she asked rhetorically, wants to buy a cream bun from which someone else has already taken a lick? It’s only in retrospect I can see the bawdiness of that analogy, and I’m sure Mother Dorothea had no inkling. However, her advice does indicate there were enough girls being cream buns, even several decades ago, for us good girls to be warned of the perils that entailed.

There are, of course, real causes for concern. Five year old girls ought not to be so obsessed about their weight and appearance that their mental and physical health is threatened. I suggest that’s a separate issue from the “sexualisation and pornification”   claims, but it is a habit of these campaigners to conflate all the issues (as is exemplified in the Fairfax article)  into an “ain’t it awful” catastrophic expectation, won’t somebody think of our children who will save our girls meme.

I can’t watch shows like “Biggest Loser” because of their cruelty,and their commitment to fat-shaming, treacherously disguised as concern. No wonder little girls are scared to death of gaining any weight. They’ve got the message: everyone will hate and shame them if they aren’t reed thin. Many of them have close adult females who angst over their weight, teaching little girls that their lives will be good or bad depending on how much they weigh. I suggest this is far more insidious than any piece of sparkly skimpy cloth K-Mart has on its shelves.

Likewise, the idea of someone dressing a baby in a shirt bearing the slogan “All Daddy wanted was a blow job” is my idea of over-sharing. I’ve never seen such a shirt, though I don’t doubt they exist.

Children have always been born into a “sexualised space.” Planet Earth is a sexualised space, sex is a powerful human drive that everyone encounters, one way or another. Children are sexual beings, and understand from an early age that there is something profoundly mysterious in the adult world that is forbidden to them. Naturally, they want entry into that world, and one of the ways they achieve a semblance of belonging is by imitating adult appearance and behaviour. What kind of a mind construes this imitation as reality, and demands that the rest of us do the same?

What we need to do is really see the children, and not take flight into a moral panic that they cannot understand. There is a child at play inside the “hot” “sexy” clothes. That child shouldn’t have to choose between being a good girl or a bad girl, between going wrong or going right. Adults are responsible for the paucity of role models on offer for children to emulate. If we really care about the children, this is what we’ll address. But that’s going to be a lot harder than blaming K-mart.

innocence

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

 

How Collective Shout shames women and girls

11 Sep

 

It’s with some amusement I note that Melinda Tankard Reist’s Collective Shout claim they are not “slut shaming” women and girls who want, buy and wear clothes that organisation considers “sexualises” them.

They are not, they claim, targeting women and girls who wear the clothes, rather they are attacking the retailers who sell them. I suppose they are “slutty retailer shaming.”

If they attack retailers who sell the clothes of which they so strongly disapprove, they cannot help but “slut shame” the women who freely choose to buy and wear them. They are telling women and girls that the clothes “sexualise” them, that is, make them look like tramps and sluts available for male use and abuse. You can’t have these clothes, Collective Shout says, because they make you look available.  If you won’t stop buying them, we’ll stop them being sold.

Their argument that they are not focussed on women but on retailers is entirely disingenuous. Of course the focus is women and girls.

Their argument fails entirely to grant women who buy these clothes agency, instead promoting the notion that certain women are incapable of choosing clothing for themselves and their daughters wisely, and are being led by the nose by retailers who should be prevented from selling these garments, thereby saving women from themselves.

Whichever way you look at it, Collective Shout is indeed “slut shaming” women and girls, as well as striving to deny them the right to choose how they will dress themselves. They are attempting to impose a dress code on women and girls, one that accords with their notions of what is and is not “sexualising.” They are attempting to gain control of the appearance of women and girls by intimidating retailers to the degree that they will only stock what Collective Shout determines to be suitable apparel.

No retailer on earth stocks products nobody wants to buy, and hopes to prosper. Clearly somebody wants the clothing Collective Shout loves to hate. Not everybody shares their aesthetic. Maybe it’s a class thing. I notice they aren’t going after David Jones and Pumpkin Patch who service the middle class and peddle a different aesthetic from Target.

What’s certain is that if someone is trying to prevent stores from stocking the clothing you want because they think it’s immoral, you are being judged and shamed for your choices by people who believe they know better than you do how you should look.

 I’ve never looked at a young girl and thought, “she looks like a tramp” or more formally, “she’s been sexualised,” no matter what that girl is wearing. It’s a mystery to me why anyone would choose to first perceive a child in this way, and then speak about her in such pejorative terms.

Girls aged between seven and fourteen usually have their clothes bought for them by their mothers or primary carers. If they are allowed to shop alone, they must be given the money to do this by parents or primary caregivers and as they are living at home, presumably these adults see what the girls buy and wear. If the responsible adults don’t like what they see, I assume they can make sure they accompany the girl when next she goes clothes shopping, and exercise control over what is purchased.

I’m not sure what “trampy clothing” is or looks like. I assume it’s clothing that reveals a lot of flesh, or is cut to emphasise certain aspects of the body that are considered erogenous and therefore sexy, and therefore “trampy.” Clothing that signifies a woman who likes sex without feeling she has to get married to enjoy it, or is a sex worker.

It seems to me one can only view the body from this perspective if one first holds a moral position in which certain kinds of sex and the female body are both regarded as immoral, except under specific circumstances such as marriage or monogamous relationships.

It also seems to me that the people creating an uproar about the “sexualization” of girls have an extremely narrow understanding of what “sexy” is, and an alarming tendency to impose this limited understanding on children.

Further, they pretty much adopt the consciousness of paedophiles, of the kind that says “the girl made me do it because she was flirting and being sexy,” because what they see when they look at a girl dressed like a “sexualised” “tramp” is not a child with a child’s consciousness, but an adult looking to attract sexual encounters. A normal adult will see a child dressed up like an adult, but still a child and not converted into a sexual object by her apparel.

You can dress a child as “sexily” as you like. You can pose her as “sexily” as you like. To a normal adult human she is still a child, and not a sexual opportunity. Anyone who is imagining otherwise is potentially a paedophile. There’s no two ways about this because we are talking about interpretation, perception and desire here. These are what “sexualise” the child, not the clothing she wears.

In order for a child to be perceived as “sexy” the adult gaze must confer on her the power to arouse the desire and sexual imaginings that voluntarily occur in the adult. Otherwise she is simply a little girl in adult-like clothing that one likes, dislikes or doesn’t give a damn about.

That there are serious difficulties for girls when it comes to how they want to conduct a sexual life and how they want to present themselves to the world, is incontestable. Girls today struggle with influences and images to a degree previously unheard of, and unfortunately those influences and images portray an extremely narrow view of beauty  and sexuality. We all labour under the tyranny of the majority, and the majority in large part sucks. Collective Shout will do nothing to address these problems by “slut shaming” girls and women who choose clothing that group dislikes, or by teaching girls to shame one another. They may temporarily win a minor skirmish with Target, but they will not bring about significant change in the life of girls. Shaming never achieves a thing, nor does imposing one’s own narrow perception of “appropriate” sexuality.

We live in a culture that attaches extraordinary value to appearances. Collective Shout only add to the obsession with their focus on the rightness and wrongness of what women and girls choose to wear, and the fundamentalist morality that underpins their beliefs about the female body.

 

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?

Tankard Reist, motherhood, and men.

4 Sep

Of course we would all love men to come to their senses and begin to lead decent lives like women have managed to for hundreds of years, but at this point in history there’s no indication they’re collectively deciding to do that.

So writes RMIT academic Dr Caroline Norma on Melinda Tankard Reist’s website, in her post titled “The disparaging and belittling of mothers: on mother shaming in the sexualisation debate.”

Her statement wouldn’t get past me in a first year essay.

If there was ever any doubt that Tankard Reist runs a website that promotes contempt of men, this observation certainly does away with it. You’d have to go a long way to see a more outstanding example of gender bias and bigotry.

Then there’s this: On a daily basis mothers are going about their lives with children’s wellbeing and welfare as their top priority, so we could learn from their example.

Really? My mother didn’t. I’ve heard the stories of many adult children whose mothers didn’t. Some mothers do. Some mothers don’t. Some mothers do sometimes.

And who exactly is this “we” who could learn from a mother’s example?

Here we have yet another George W Bush moment of good versus evil: all good women versus all evil men. All men lead indecent lives while all women are virtuous. Dr Norma reduces humans to one dimensional beings governed entirely by our biology. Penis: bad. Vagina: good, and especially good if you have a child.

If you are a woman and you have a child you have much to teach everyone, just because you have a child. If you’re  man with a child, shut up and learn from a decent woman. Your life isn’t decent and never will be  ‘cos penis.

Are we entering a new era of the glorification of motherhood?

And these are the people we are supposed to take seriously about the “sexualisation” of children.

 

 
 

When the going gets tough where are the child advocates?

5 Jul

Child advocate Julie Gale of Kids Free 2B Kids, and advocate for girls Melinda Tankard Reist, have thus far been strangely silent on the Four Corners report on child sexual abuse in the Catholic church. As of ten minutes ago, I could find nothing on either of their websites.

While this particular program focused on the young male victims of pederast priests, young girls have also suffered their unwelcome and terrifying attentions, and one can legitimately assume that these crimes against the young of both genders fall within the ambit of the two child advocates.

Both women work tirelessly to halt what they perceive as the sexualisation, objectification and pornification of children and women in the media. While this is a legitimate concern in some instances, compared to the literal sexualisation and objectification of children perpetrated by pedophile rapists, Playboy flogging necklaces to little girls pales into insignificance. Particularly as a responsible adult is presumably involved in the purchase of these baubles, while no responsible adult is involved in the sodomization and rape of little girls and little boys.

Of course, we all have our own particular sphere of interest and expertise, and I’m not prescribing what Ms Gale and Ms Reist’s sphere should be. I am, however, gobsmacked that as very public child advocates with a very high profile in their field, they apparently don’t feel the need to comment on the Four Corners’ revelations on their websites.

There are no innocent bystanders when it comes to the abuse of children, and those who remain silent enable its continuation. The responsibility to speak is particularly onerous when one has a public platform as a child advocate.

I cannot imagine a more destructive form of sexualisation, objectification and pornification of children than sexual abuse.

Ms Gale’s motto, according to her website, is “What we allow is what we approve.” Indeed, that is so. Silence implies tacit approval. Or lack of courage. Or fear. Or cowardice. It really doesn’t imply concern or interest. Silence by those who should speak out causes untold damage to children already grievously harmed. Self-described child advocates ought to be at the forefront of protest, at the very least with an acknowledgment and expression of concern, and an intention to raise awareness.

Both Ms Gale and Ms Reist have a commendable record of success at persuading various commercial interests to stop selling this or that on the grounds that the product is damaging to children’s sexual develoment and self image. They have the infrastructure in place and the following, to launch a huge campaign on behalf of children who are being sexually abused. They have the means to launch a petition for a royal commission into the Catholic church’s abuse, and its cover up of that abuse. If they choose to use their power for that good. It would take an hour or so at the most. Then they could go back to their main interest: images of sexualisation, objectification and pornification, rather than the real thing in our own back yards.

Time to walk the talk, ladies?

I’m gonna stand by my woman now

18 Jun

Women bagging women is nothing new, but last week there was something of a spike in the pastime that left me wondering why we need patriarchy to do it for us.

I’m not referring to disagreement or critique, I’m talking about spite, judgement, contempt, and downright bitchiness that does nothing to progress civilisation, of the kind that feeds an exclusionary dynamic and precious little else.

First I came across this piece of anti bisexual woman contempt in the HuffPost Gay Voices blog, from radical feminist lesbian writer Julie Bindel. Ms Bindel is railing against allegedly hedonistic bisexual women “tourists” who “sleep with women on the weekends and go back to hubby on Monday mornings.” They have no sexual politics, she claims, and are exploiting full-time lesbians who have a political as well as sexual commitment to same-sex relationships.

I guess dedicated lesbians are capable of refusing to sex to touristing bisexual air heads lacking a sexual politics. I mean, nobody’s forcing them to put out for a woman who also engages with a penis are they?

Ms Bindel concludes: “If bisexual women had an ounce of sexual politics they would stop sleeping with men.” One could equally argue that perhaps if lesbians had an ounce of sexual politics they’d stop sleeping with bisexual women?

Then I read Elizabeth Farrelly’s column in the Sydney Morning Herald titled “The New Feminism: if it’s girly it’s good.” “Here’s the truth. I’m not a misogynist” Farrelly begins, perhaps not the best first line I’ve ever read. She then gets stuck into women who refuse to leave what she calls “the sewing circle” to take on the wider world of real  things. “Most of what passes for feminism these days… just legitimises girliness” she writes. I can see where Farrelly is coming from on this: I’ve moaned more than once about how feminism seems to be about body hair and lipstick these days. At the same time, I see nothing at all wrong with a bit of girliness: it is possible to have a reputable sexual politics and talk to other women about clothes and lipstick and occasionally have a good giggle over cocktails as well. This insistence on categorising is so, well, patriarchal. Real women break out of boxes, in my opinion.

However Farrelly goes further. She dislikes, she says, “boring” women authors like Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson, preferring instead “writing with a higher IQ and lower pH than most women can manage…”

Ouch. That’s misogynist.

“It is clear,” Farrelly claims, “that to criticise women, or worse, poke fun is considered misogynist.”

Well, sometimes it is misogynist and sometimes it isn’t. Every time someone criticises Julia Gillard somebody else claims it’s misogyny,and while there’s certainly plenty of examples of that, there’s also legitimate criticism that has nothing to do with gender.

Then there’s Lara Bingle. About whom I know practically nothing more than the vitriol I’ve seen directed at her because of her TV reality show, “Being Lara Bingle.” I was initially confused by this title, wondering if it referenced the movie, “Being John Malkovich,” in which a miserable puppeteer stumbles across a portal into the star’s mind and charges people $200 a pop to spend fifteen minutes seeing the world as he does. Great and absorbing complications ensue, of the kind I simply could not imagine in a TV reality show about a young woman who seems to have done little other than perform in a failed tourism promotion and have a public fight with a famous cricketer who then dumped her.

For reasons I cannot fathom, Ms Bingle’s foray into reality TV has provoked quite vile criticism from many quarters, overwhelmingly from women. This caused me to ponder on the way women treat women, especially when the woman in question is young, and has the kind of beauty that is currently favoured in the mainstream. I mean, don’t watch it girls, if it hits your spite buttons. Ms Bingle is merely trying to make a life for herself, and accepted an opportunity practically every girl would if it came along.

“She decided to do it, now she’ll have to pay the price” was one piece of  self-satisfied Schadenfreude from an older woman who sounded as if she’d been waiting her whole life for Ms Bingle to fall flat on her face.

Ease up, girls. We have men to put shit on us.

Finally, this isn’t overtly about women bagging women but behind the scenes you’ll find much anti woman sentiment masked as concern and feminist politics. Many of you will have heard of Valerie Solanas and her Society for Cutting Up Men, otherwise known as SCUM. Solanas authored the SCUM Manifesto, a rabidly intense and sustained attack on men that states, among other things:  In other words, the male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion, aborted at the gene stage. To be male is to be deficient, emotionally limited; maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples, and  SCUM will kill all men who are not in the Men’s Auxiliary of SCUM.

Ms Solanas went on to attempt the assassination of artist Andy Warhol after a dispute with him about a film script.

And so to the current Australian connection with SCUM. In July 2011 the SCUM Radical Feminist Conference was held in Perth. It was advertised as being of interest to  females who want to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex. Workshops, guest presenters and social activities, plus a space to celebrate and re-member the life and work of Valerie Solanas and other radical feminists.

At the top of the updated SCUM Conference program there’s an announcement of the launch of Melinda Tankard Reist’s book, Big Porn Inc.

I was utterly shocked to discover Ms Reist’s apparent affiliation with the SCUM Radical Feminist Conference. I had no idea Ms Reist was so radical in her feminism, indeed there are some leading feminists who have publicly argued that Reist is not a feminist at all. (Another example of women bagging women, I suggest and a serious one. BTW I am the blogger mentioned in this article whom Reist is still threatening to sue. See Defamation category on this blog).

Reading through the program I discovered that Ms Reist’s publisher, Spinifex Press director Susan Hawthorne, gave a paper at the conference on feminist manifestos and SCUM.

I have yet to understand how exploitation of women and girls can be prevented through violence against males. All males, that is, indiscriminately, because they are male, and as advocated by SCUM. I fail to see the logic.

I could just be thick but to my mind, having my name and my book heading the program for a Society for Cutting Up Men conference would imply I was sympathetic to their cause.

And what would Jesus say?

So in conclusion, I’ve had  belly full this last week of women bagging women. Is that all we can do with our liberation, such as it is?

PS This Kravitz song will aggravate many people and is begging for a feminist deconstruction.

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.”

 

The footballer & the anti porn campaigner: not cool as FCUK

6 May

On Melinda Tankard Reist’s website today you’ll find this article about AFL footballer Lance “Buddy” Franklin. Franklin has another job as well as football: he is co-director of clothing company Nena & Pasadena. This company apparently specialises in tee-shirts featuring women in exaggerated sexual poses, sometimes handcuffed, and partially clothed. There’s often a slogan or two, in case we haven’t managed to interpret the images.

Reist asks: “What message does this clothing send N&P’s target market of young men about women?”

What message does this send about women?

Reist’s answer is that the message conveyed by Buddy’s shirts is that women are sexual objects, not human beings. She feels the images degrade us.  I don’t read it that way. To me, the shirts say nothing much at all about women, and everything about the fantasy lives of those who design, produce and wear them. These shirts say nothing about who women are, and everything about what the men who wear them want us to be.

I don’t believe another person’s fantasies degrade me. They don’t reflect on me in any way at all. This is what we need to teach our young. You aren’t what somebody else imagines you are. As we’re never going to control anyone’s imagination and ought not to try,  we need to focus on educating children to refuse the imposition of other people’s fantasies on their sense of who they are. It’s not rocket surgery. It’s being proactive. It requires us to dump the language of victimisation and replace it with the language of empowerment. We are in dire need of this paradigm change.

At this point I’ll refer you to this horribly sexist vintage ads site. While there’s definitely less flesh and far less overt sexual imagery, the message is the same. These ads are also a reflection of the desires and fantasies of some men, and say nothing much at all about women. They do say a great deal about a dynamic that remains consistent. These ads, like Buddy’s shirts, cast women in an inferior and tiresome role. We may have our clothes on in the vintage ads, but they are only a variation of Buddy’s fantasies.

When we protest that these images degrade and objectify us, we give them the power to do exactly that. There are always two sensibilities involved in the interpretation of any text: that of its author and that of its reader. As a reader I’m free to conclude that the text is not about me. It’s all about the author. I’m free to refuse the author’s construction of my sexuality, a construct based on the author’s desires. Why should I grant anyone that power over me?

Personally, I’ve never been attracted to clothing featuring pictures and advertising: I’m not a billboard. Even if such clothing isn’t pushing a brand, it is self-revealing: by my clothes you’ll know me. There are occasions like demonstrations, conferences when it feels good to state my position through what I’m wearing, and cartoonist First Dog on the Moon’s shirts I’ll wear anytime.

That said I do have a couple of FCUK tee-shirts, one that says “Cool as FCUK” and another proclaiming “Lucky FCUK,” neither of which I would be caught dead in outside the house, but that’s just me.

Reist then asks: “What does it say about men and women when clothed men wear t-shirts of naked women?”

A man who feels the need to wear an image of a naked woman on his tee-shirt is making a statement or a series of statements about himself, about his opinions of women, about his attitude to women. Such clothing says nothing about “men and women.” It says some things about some men. Again, women are not obliged to join such men in their fantasies and desires. We are not demeaned and objectified unless we accept the wearer’s world view. Unless we allow that world view to construct us and so become complicit in our own victimisation and dehumanisation.

That being said, I have no problem with letting Buddy know his tee-shirts say everything about him, and nothing about women, and what he’s saying about himself is pretty crap. I’ve no problem passing that message onto the shops that stock his wares, either. That’s the easy part. The hard part is changing the paradigm from first accepting then protesting victimisation, to refusal of men like Buddy’s interpretations of women and our sexuality in the first place. We do this by giving our children the tools they need to resist believing they are what somebody else says they are, and that they have to be what somebody else wants them to be. We’re never going to stop the Buddies but we can disempower them. We refuse the victimisation in the first place, then we don’t have to waste our energies protesting it.

Buddy, your tee-shirts reveal some weird things about you. You might want to think about that, mate.

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