Tag Archives: Religion

Abbott’s ‘War on Everything’

13 Jan

Before the September 2013 election, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a staunch Catholic who once embarked on training for the priesthood, revealed that he prayed to God every day that he would win the contest, and form the next Australian government.

It would be interesting to ask the PM how much of his victory he attributes to God hearkening to, and answering his prayers. I assume Abbott gives no small measure of thanks for achieving his deepest desire.

I also assume that as well as a believing in his mandate from the people, Abbott believes he’s mandated by God. At least, it feels safer to assume that is the case, than to pretend it couldn’t be thus. Know thine enemy.

This aspect of Abbott occurs to me every time I hear he has declared war on yet one more issue. His ‘wars’ seem to be based on moral assumptions infused with traditional Catholic morality, argued like the crafty theologian he almost became. As an example his statement on November 15 2013, on torture: ‘My government deplores the use of torture but we accept that sometimes in difficult circumstances difficult things happen.’ This sentence seems to me to encapsulate the trickiness of being simultaneously moral and amoral,  a talent I have long associated with some theologians, most recently those who’ve argued for the Catholic church in the matter of child abuse.

Perhaps it’s being too generous to assume any morality in the statement at all, rather it gives merely a token nod in morality’s direction.

So far we’ve had the war on scientists and the entire body of climate change science, the war on education, the war on drunken louts ‘king-hitting’ innocent bystanders, the war on Holden, the war on NDIS, the war on the NBN, the war on same-sex marriage, the war on everything the previous ALP government introduced for apparently no reason other than that it was introduced by them, and then we have the war on people smugglers. This latter war is perhaps the only ALP policy Abbott has chosen to retain and build upon.

I imagine Abbott envisioning himself as a war-time PM, chosen to implement the policies his deity wants to see enacted, some of which include a good deal more attention to said deity’s alleged preferences than we are used, as a secular state, to allowing. What little we are allowed to hear the PM say is invariably infused with moral references, even the ‘liberation’ of those sacked by Holden has moral overtones in its implication that an opportunity for self-improvement has been offered to the newly unemployed, and it is their moral duty to avail themselves of it to the utmost.

There is much in Abbott’s sanctimony and righteousness that reminds me of Tony Blair at the height of his zealous and wickedly dishonest prosecution of the invasion of Iraq. The notion of a ‘just war’ got all Blair’s boyish juices flowing, and I imagine the same can be said of Abbott, even if he has not, as yet, had any war of global significance that he can use, as did Blair, to thoroughly establish his faux gravitas at home and on the world stage. We have as yet seen only glimpses of Abbott the unctuous moral crusader, disguised in the garments of a benevolent guardian, solemnly assuring us that it, whatever it happens to be, is for our collective own good. I suspect we are in for a good deal more.

The two Tonys even look a bit alike:TonyBlair

Abbott also appears to hold a traditional conservative Christian perspective on the natural world, that is, it is here for man’s [sic] use, not as a source of wonder, pleasure and enrichment, but rather as a resource for exploitation. So there’s a war on the natural world and all its sentient beings as well.

The war paradigm would seem to be Abbott’s central organising principle. His natural state perhaps, a mentality born of the confluence of ignorance, fear, prejudice and profit, a mentality shared by enough of the voting public to get him into office. This paradigm is closely related to the law and order paradigm so enthusiastically embraced by that other Liberal head of state, Campbell Newman. Deterrence and incarceration are its hallmarks, supported by the Christian virtues of teaching, reproving, correcting, cracking down with the full force of the law, and training in righteousness for those who are conspicuously lacking in these qualities.

Whether or not Abbott will wage a war on women remains to be seen. His views on abortion are well known, as evidenced in this piece authored by him and titled ‘Abortion rate highlights our moral failing.’ Personally, I doubt anything dramatic will be done by this government to offend women, rather, there will be a slow erosion in the form of the reduction of services with a timely dollop of theatrical distraction so we hardly notice what’s happening until it’s too late and they’ve changed the legislation enough to cause us inconvenience and distress. With Cory Bernardi and DLP Senator John Madigan doing all the dirty work, Abbott doesn’t have to say much. There’s also a strong group of anti-choicers in the ALP and we’ve learned, to our amazement, how certain moral panics can bring about the allegiance of very strange bedfellows, such as the Christian right and radical feminists in the matter of pornography.

By far the most cruel war currently being waged by Abbott is his sustained and increasingly vicious attacks on asylum seekers. Abbott and his Minister Scott Morrison, another Christian, though of different variety, unashamedly use the full-blown rhetoric of war when justifying the government’s position on refugees arriving here by boat. The efforts of these two publicly religious men to beat hapless asylum seekers into submission, as detailed in the above link, beggar belief, from a secular point of view at least.

When asked what is the best piece of advice he could ever give anyone, Abbott replied ‘Avoid the occasion of sin.’ So if he is committed to his war mentality, one can only assume that for him every war he’s fighting is a just one. This, for mine, makes him a dangerous man.

Or as Yeats observed in The Second Coming: The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ are full of passionate intensity.

Abbott intensity

Abbott’s religiosity is no basis for policy

11 Jul

A couple of days ago on July 10, Tony Abbott took part in a radio interview that the Australian headlined: Abbott slams boatpeople as unChristian

“Asked on ABC Perth radio why his attitude to asylum-seekers was unchristian, the Opposition Leader responded: “I don’t think it’s a very Christian thing to come in by the back door rather than the front door…But I think the people we accept should be coming the right way and not the wrong way…If you pay a people-smuggler, if you jump the queue, if you take yourself and your family on a leaky boat, that’s doing the wrong thing, not the right thing, and we shouldn’t encourage it.”

Abbott doesn’t answer the question about his perceived lack of Christian charity towards those in need. Instead he attempts to blame Muslim asylum seekers for acting in a manner he believes is unChristian. Abbott does this as if people who are not Christian are at grievous fault for being not Christian. That failure taints every action they take in their lives, it seems, and they should be held accountable, mostly by being excluded.

Presumably Abbott is aware that the majority of boat arrivals are Muslim. Presumably Abbott is aware that the largest Islamic democracy in the world is our neighbour, Indonesia. Dog whistling? Following Scott Morrison’s anti Muslim strategy?

Morrison sees votes in anti-Muslim strategy. The opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, urged the shadow cabinet to capitalise on the electorate’s growing concerns about “Muslim immigration”, “Muslims in Australia” and the “inability” of Muslim migrants to integrate… Lenore Taylor, Sydney Morning Herald, February 17 2011.

Oh, yes, most boat arrivals aren’t Christian, unlike Scott Morrison who is a member of the Assemblies of God Pentecostal Church. Not all Christians cultivate an aura of entitlement, privilege and absolute rightness, but too many Christian politicians in Australia today seem to hold those beliefs about themselves. Not all Christians consider other faiths to be lesser faiths, but too many Christian politicians seem to hold those views.

Abbott might as well have accused the asylum seekers of being unAustralian. Either way, what is on display is Abbott’s inability to envisage cultures other than his own as legitimate and equal, and his inclination to judge those cultures in terms of his own limited experience. Abbott’s lack of sophistication coupled with his religiosity, are not qualities we look for in a leader.

However, they do in part explain why Abbott seems arrogantly convinced that he can bully the Indonesians into letting him send back the boats. The Indonesians had a nickname for former Liberal Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock They called him “the minister with no ears” because he harangued them but didn’t listen. Is it Abbott’s aim to inherit this title as he perpetuates the disrespect for a culture he doesn’t care to understand?

Abbott also believes he has the right to bully the navy into towing back boats, in spite of considerable advice as to the undesirable possibilities of taking that course, both in terms of life threatening risks to asylum seekers and navy personnel, as well as disruption to our relations with Indonesia.  “He will not be able to have a constructive relationship with Indonesia and tow boats back,” Philip Coorey quotes an official as remarking, in his recent National Times piece. How much of Abbott’s arrogance in this matter is fuelled by a sense of Catholic Christian superiority to a Muslim nation?

Describing asylum seekers as “unChristian” is an example of how Abbott frames Australian politics through the prism of that Catholic Christianity. Is he capable of making a separation between his religious beliefs and his job as a politician? Increasingly the answer seems to be no, he’s not.

Neither does Abbott speak for all Christians, many of whom are deeply involved in the refugee cause, and would likely distance themselves from his arbitrary judgments.

Whatever the problems are with boat arrivals (most of which are caused by Australia’s treatment of them) they will not be solved through invoking Tony Abbott’s Catholic Christianity and Scott Morrison’s fundamentalist terror of Muslims.  Indeed, neither have any place in the debate. We urgently need decent policy, not religious prejudice and personal superstition.

In his last solo Qanda appearance in April 2010, Tony Abbott was asked the question “When it comes to asylum seekers, what would Jesus do?”

TONY ABBOTT: Well, Jesus wouldn’t have put his hand up to lead the Liberal Party, I suspect. Or the Labor Party, for that matter.

TONY JONES: Okay. But someone who believes in principles that he espoused did do that, so it’s a legitimate question.

TONY ABBOTT: Yeah. Don’t forget Jesus drove the traders from the temple as well. Now, I mean, you know…

TONY JONES: What’s the point of that?

TONY ABBOTT: The point is…

TONY JONES: What’s the analogy?

TONY ABBOTT: …Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone. I mean Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.

TONY JONES: It’s quite an interesting analogy because, as you know, and a whip was used on that occasion to drive people out of the temple. You know, if that’s the analogy you’re choosing, should we take it at face value?

TONY ABBOTT: No. No. I’m just saying that, look, Jesus was the best man who ever lived but that doesn’t mean that he said yes to everyone, that he was permissive to everything, and this idea that Jesus would say to every person who wanted to come to Australia, “Fine”, the door is open, I just don’t think is necessarily right.”

“Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone.” And Tony Abbott of course knows to whom Jesus would say yes in 2012. This is old-fashioned Sunday School rhetoric. This is drivel. Tony Abbott is a man showing all the signs of being out of his depth. Give him a slogan, put a funny hat on his head, get him making pies, yes he can do all that. But the serious business of leadership? Of policy? Of decent public discussion?

Jesus is reputed to have driven moneylenders from the temple, and he did it violently. The analogy Abbott makes between usurers and asylum seekers is both despicable and revealing. Jesus acted because he believed the moneylenders were defiling a sacred place where they had no right to be plying their sordid trade. The story is an example of Jesus’ righteous anger, and his desire to protect his beloved father’s house from the contamination of profane activities. Jesus wanted the temple kept pure and to this end, he drove the impure out.

How interesting, then, that a Christian should choose this particular analogy to explain why not everybody who wants to come to Australia may do so, in particular those of other faiths who arrive seeking asylum by boat. Dog whistling again? Capitalising on concerns about a presumed Muslim inability to integrate into a country Abbott wants to think of as unspoiled and Christian?

“Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone. I mean Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.”

There is no place for religiosity in the asylum seeker debate or anywhere else in our politics. There’s especially no place for a future Prime Minister who believes he knows what Jesus would do, and makes policy accordingly. Jesus is irrelevant in the asylum seeker impasse, as are Tony Abbott’s projections of what Jesus might think.

Having said that I can’t help but feel if Jesus was around now, he might well stride into parliament with a stock whip and kick some arse.

When it’s ethical to disclose your religious beliefs

11 Feb

I grew up in a nominally Christian household. I was educated at a boarding school run by Anglican nuns. As a young mother I had my sons baptised. Soon I’ll attend the baptism of my infant grandson.

In my early thirties, I ceased to believe in the Christian God and organised religion. A few years later feminism gave me the analytic tools to deconstruct religion and reveal it for the powerfully oppressive force it can be for women.

I look back to my time with the nuns with great gratitude, but I no longer subscribe to their beliefs.

What I learned about being a Christian is that a follower is expected to live his or her faith. It isn’t some abstract concept that is trotted out on Sundays. It’s supposed to imbue every aspect of life, every action the believer takes is to be taken in God’s light, and when a Christian encounters difficulties of any kind, a Christian prays to God for guidance and sustenance. No matter what one’s profession, one is expected to perform it as a Christian, according to Christian values.

I don’t know if all Christians learn this, but we certainly did.

Followers are also expected to identify themselves in the hope that others will “see their good works and glorify their father in heaven.” And, hopefully, join the religion.

These seem to me a commendable set of expectations. Transparency, honesty, willingness to share, and to extend invitations to others to join you in what you believe to be the best way to live a life here on earth.

As long as they remain strictly invitations.

So I am entirely unable to comprehend the attitude held by Melinda Tankard Reist that her religious faith distracts from her work and she doesn’t want to talk about it for fear of being “labelled.” Labelled what, I’d like to ask. Labelled Christian? How and why does Tankard Reist believe that being labelled as a Christian distracts or detracts from her work?

In an interview with Reist on Mia Freedman’s website mamamia is this observation: Ms Reist herself has said in the past that she is reluctant to discuss her stance on religion because people tend to use it to ‘colour’ the rest of her work.

My understanding is that a Christian is supposed to “colour” their work, indeed colour their whole lives with the presence of God. Why is this “colouring” regarded as negative by Reist to the degree that she is reluctant to discuss her religious views and appears to distance herself from them when the question of their influence on her work arises?

In the same interview a comment from Herald Sun journalist Jill Singer:

Worst of all, in my view, is that Tankard Reist protests robustly if anyone dares question what it is that informs her strongly held opinions. Specifically, she gets very, very edgy if anyone dares suggest her Christian beliefs influence her opinions.

If you are proud of your beliefs, and are living a life based on them, why would you become “very, very edgy” if anyone suggests those beliefs influence your opinions?

As she is a Christian we can legitimately expect that Reist comes to her morality influenced and guided by the morality of her faith. If this is not the case, then one has to wonder what kind of Christianity she practices, as the concept of a Christian who is Christian in everything other than her morality is somewhat baffling.

When Reist in her role as the morals police seeks to influence public morality and public policy, it is entirely reasonable for her audience to ask if her morality is influenced by her Christian beliefs. Christians have very specific moral positions. They are not all the same, and unless Reist reveals what hers are, we can only make assumptions. To claim, as does Reist, that her Christian beliefs are in some way different from her moral campaigns and can’t be discussed as they will “distract” from those campaigns, is more than a little bizarre.

Ethically, Reist is required to reveal how her Christian beliefs influence her opinions.  The public is not required to sit meekly by and unquestioningly accept a social order likely designed according to Christian morality, particularly if that morality is in some way concealed.

My Christian upbringing taught open-ness, pride, and joy in that faith. The idea that faith would detract from a moral message is simply incomprehensible. Does one build compartments, then? In here my faith, in there my morality and the two have no relationship?

The ethics of the situation are obvious. If Tankard Reist is a practicing Christian then there is no doubt that her faith guides her moral values. If she has a relationship with God in which she seeks through prayer advice and instruction on her work, as Christians are required to do, then she is ethically obliged to disclose this.

If she is seeking to morally prescribe for the public then we need to know if she does this in conjunction with her relationship with the Christian God, or if she is acting entirely alone.

Why? Because there are millions of us who do not believe in that God and do not wish to be forced to live our lives subject to any Christian morality. We have a human right to live free of religion and the imposition of religious morality.

We have the right to ask, is Tankard Reist acting in the best interests of human beings or in the service of her God? Because the two do not always coincide. The bottom-line with just about all religions is what many of the followers perceive to be God’s will, and not necessarily the welfare of human beings. We have overwhelming evidence of this priority.

If anyone seeks to morally prescribe from such a position, I am entitled to know that and to make my decisions accordingly. In those circumstances it is, to my mind, completely unethical to refuse to discuss one’s relationship with religion and its influence on one’s very public work.


Wilson and Dines: together at the ABC Religion and Ethics website

21 Dec

It seems my review of Big Porn Inc annoyed the world’s foremost anti pornography campaigner, Gail Dines. She’s written this piece in response and Scott Stephens, editor of the ABC’s Religion and Ethics online, has put my review up as well, in the interests of balance.

If you look at the list of relevant articles beside my piece, you’ll see mine is the only one apart from Professor Alan McKee offering an alternative point of view, so they’re probable going to have to publish quite a few more before balance is attained.

Porn debate moves to ABC religion/ethics; end of Catalonian bull fights; go the f***k to sleep

26 Sep

And while we’re on the subject, for some reason articles on pornography seem to have been removed to the Religion and Ethics section of ABC’s The Drum from the main Drum Opinion pages, where they always drew a great deal of very varied commentary. My  first article there, Pornify This, resulted in some 472 comments before the thread was closed.

Why the ABC no longer appears to consider the pornography debate a mainstream issue is a mystery. Apparently it only concerns those who come to it from a religious and ethical perspective, and those are the terms in which the debate has now been framed on the public broadcaster.

Pornography is a mainstream issue, as those who rail against it are forever reminding us. It’s everywhere we look, they claim, from Bill Henson’s photographs, to women’s magazines, to outdoor advertising, to the cosmetic industry, to fashion houses, to Barbie dolls. So how come the ABC has marginalized the topic to Religion and Ethics?

On the positive side, at least the extremists aren’t getting the coverage they used to enjoy when their articles were front page. That’s not all good, though, because the debates their convictions inspired were lively and full of engaged energy, ample proof, I would have thought, that the topic is of great interest to a lot of people.

Three years ago in a Barcelona square on a hot July afternoon, I signed a petition to end bullfighting in Catalonia. I’d just given a conference paper titled: The Experience of Being Injured: an Otherwise Perspective at the Myth, History, and Memory Conference at Barcelona University.  Today, bullfighting is finally ended, in Catalonia at least.

This is just a small example of how anybody can help make a change, even at the other side of the world.

I’m away for the next few days attending the birth of a grandchild, up there on the list of my life’s very bestest experiences. Seeing my children with their children almost makes motherhood worthwhile.

I’m taking Mr Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck with me in the form of cereal bowls and cups, as well as Go the F**ck to Sleep, made (in)famous by Noni Hazlehurst‘s reading here on YouTube, a gift for the first-time parents who have told me a million times that the baby isn’t going to make any difference to their routines. A wise woman, I say nothing.

See you in a few days.

Become a school chaplain: no qualifications needed, just believe in God

28 Jun

Here is the description of the School Chaplaincy Program taken from website of the Department of Education,Employment and Workplace Relations:

This voluntary program assists schools and their communities to support the spiritual wellbeing of students. This may include support and guidance about ethics, values, relationships, spirituality and religious issues, the provision of pastoral care and enhanced engagement with the broader community.

School chaplains are not required to have any qualifications at all, in any field. Yet they are charged with the responsibility of “guiding” students through the minefields of relationships, ethics, values and spirituality.

It’s intolerably negligent of the government, and schools participating in this program,  to permit any one in a school community to “provide guidance” to school students in the complex and sensitive areas of ethics, values, relationships, and spirituality, without any training at all in these areas, or any other for that matter.

The provision of these unqualified “support” chaplains in our schools is costing us $165 million over three years.

Do we have unqualified nursing assistants in hospitals? Do we have unqualified teachers’ aides in schools?

The program overview continues:

While recognising that an individual chaplain will in good faith express his or her belief and articulate values consistent with his or her denomination or religious belief, a chaplain should not take advantage of his or her privileged position to proselytise for that denomination or religious belief.

I read this with utter incredulity. The chaplain is not required to have any qualifications, but the chaplain is permitted to articulate beliefs and values consistent with his or her denomination or religious beliefs.

As the school chaplains have no qualifications in the areas in which they are supposed to provide “guidance” for students,one can safely assume the the government doesn’t really expect them to do that. Or if the government does expect them to do that, this is a bigger scandal than that of the unqualified installers of pink batts.

Scripture Union of Queensland is a prominent supplier of school chaplains.From their website:

Working alongside other caring professionals, SU QLD Chaplains care for young people’s spiritual and emotional needs through pastoral care, activity programs, community outreach and adventure-based learning.

Most importantly, SU QLD Chaplains provide a personal point of Christian contact, care and support for students, teachers and their families within their schools.

And there we have it. School chaplains are in public schools to promote Christianity. That’s the only thing they are “qualified” to do. All the job requires is a belief in the Christian god.

It’s dangerously negligent for the government and schools to let  untrained chaplains loose in schools, giving them an entirely unearned privileged position advising students on relationships, ethics, values and spirituality. The only thing they can possibly do is advise students from a Christian perspective. In the wider world, we have a choice about who we go to for guidance and advice. Nobody forces us to go to the Christians or any other religious group. Yet in our public schools students have as their source of guidance the unqualified religious?

What happens to, say, a student struggling with their sexual identity who thinks they might be gay? Given the dominant Christian perspective on homosexuals as articulated by the Australian Christian Lobby’s Jim Wallace, which is to lovingly expel them.

The questions for Minister Peter Garrett are: why isn’t this money being used to provide more qualified counsellors in schools? Why is the government financially supporting religious activity in public schools? Why is the Minister putting children at risk by offering them guidance from people who are totally unqualified to give it?

This is a completely unacceptable situation from every perspective. Our students are entitled to qualified non-religious counselling when they’re in difficulties. To offer them religious proselytising instead is despicable.


KanYe West, Melinda Tankard Reist, and the control of the representation of desire.

26 Feb

by Lucero Design via flickr

At Melinda Tankard Reist’s website underwear manufacturer Victoria’s Secret is under attack, two hapless tools from the Gold Coast trying to sell real estate using a woman in her undies are copping it, and oh no! Not that, still! Yes, the KanYe West Monster video clip, months after we all got into that epic tussle at the Drum, is still absorbing the Tank’s attention.

Last week MTR was described by Stephen Harrington at the Punch as “Australia’s Helen Lovejoy,” for her complaints about this video clip, as well as the “what about the children” rhetoric she invokes as an argument against just about everything.

(For those not familiar with the Simpsons, Helen Lovejoy is the ultra conservative wife of the local Christian minister whose catchcry is “But what about the children!”)

Melinda pours retributory scorn on Harrington here. The West video is, she claims, a “significant watershed in the de-humanisation of women.”

That’s a bit hyperbolic, in my opinion, given the on going, grave, and global abuses of women’s human rights that certainly do de-humanise those groups subjected to them.

The psychotherapists’ interpretations

At New Matilda, psychotherapist Zoe Krupke interprets the video clip from her professional perspective, and explains that violence such as is portrayed therein can be a consequence of “denial of personal weakness and fragility,” resulting in projection of these qualities onto others, in this case the strung-up, zombiefied and helpless women.

In other words, controlling others through violence allows the perpetrator to bury feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability, and replace them with an illusion of power.

All of which is true enough, but if you read the lyrics it’s clear that they are about nothing but West’s feelings of personal weakness and fragility; rage at perceived exploitation by the music industry, and women, rage at his admitted inability to behave in any way other than monstrous; identification with other monster figures, and a pathetic plea for someone to love him.

by Maximillian Dinslage via flickr

None of which are expressed in ways that are likely to get him any of the things he seeks, but rather are an explosion of fury, frustration, and self-mockery.

I’m a monster
no good blood-sucker
everybody know I’m a
muthaf*cking monster
None of you n*ggas know the carnage I’ve seen
I still hear fiends scream in my dream…

And so on. The thoughts and feelings of a disturbed being, a rapper having a laugh, or both, depending on your perspective.

Feminists aren’t the only ones with opinions

You've Been Dickrolled. by David Jackmanson via flickr

 

What is certain (I’m sorry, at this point I can’t help myself, the only certainty is the certainty of uncertainty, thank you so much for the philosophical insight, Tony the Tool, another of the known unknown unknowns littering the political landscape, and pictured here damn near naked) is that while a feminist analysis of the work is worthwhile, it’s far from being the only possible analysis. The video and lyrics are complex, with racial references as well as those mentioned above, and to attempt to have it censored because it “dehumanises” women is, in my opinion, the kind of sadly unimaginative reaction we’ve come to expect from some media feminists these days.

What the video clip certainly is: the concretisation of one rapper’s subjective vision of his world. If it weren’t as popular as it is, there would be no need for further discussion. But it is tremendously popular, (listed in Rolling Stone’s best 30 albums of 2010) and has received critical acclaim from that magazine’s  informed commentators

These accolades suggest West’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasies strike a chord, so to speak with millions of others. It may not be the kind of chord MTR wants struck, whatever that is, and I can’t figure that out. What do these women want? Nevertheless, it’s popularity alone makes it culturally significant, and worthy of examination.

Not that I’m suggesting popularity is the only criterium for cultural significance because clearly it isn’t. The bizarre and complex vision represented in this piece lifts it out of the mundane.

It isn’t everybody’s vision of the world. Then again, neither is a man nailed to a cross, blood seeping out of his wounds and a hole pierced in his side everybody’s vision of a healthy religious experience. John the Baptist’s bloody head on a silver platter doesn’t cut it as inspiring religious commentary for all of us either.

I have a strong visceral response against most moves to censor. No matter what you think of the aesthetic quality or otherwise of the KanYe West video, it is the expression of an artist’s vision.  Are we to live in a world bereft of all dark and difficult imagery? Are we to censor all representations of emotions and passions because they make some people uncomfortable?

Cindy and that sexy thong. by Dave Lee via flickr

 

When women choose to earn their living from their bodies

Women who model for Victoria’s Secret do so of their own free will, and are well paid for their work. Likewise the women who appeared in the West clip as simulated corpses and zombies.

The luscious woman in the Gold Coast real estate agents’ ad was also, presumably, paid for her work. Many women with lovely bodies enjoy using them as a source of income. Many other women and men enjoy looking at those bodies. Is this really “objectifying” women? Or is it merely admiring, and maybe sometimes envying their beauty?

I’m not likely to meet any of them. They are likely to remain only one-dimensional images to me. So why do I have any responsibility at all to see them as anything else? Why is it wrong for me to take pleasure their beauty? How am I offending them?

If I were to treat the women and men around me as one dimensional, then I would be objectifying and insulting them. But like most people, I know the difference between an image and a fully fleshed human being.

There are some who try to make the people in their lives more closely resemble a one-dimensional image they’ve seen on screen or in a magazine. Their problems, and the problems of their partners, won’t be solved by banning the images. I’d suggest their difficulties are deep, and if no images are available they’ll manifest in some other equally unfortunate way.

The desire to be desired

The desire to be desired is a normal human need. Practically everyone at some time wants, indeed needs, to bathe in the glow of somebody’s desiring gaze. But desire and its expression and representation are intensely personal matters. Lacy panties or cottontails, stilettos or bare feet, cleavage or buttoned up modesty – there’s a place for everything, but not in the world of Melinda Tankard Reist. In that world there’s only one possibility for the expression and representation of desire, and that’s hers.

Baffled by her negativity, I’m as yet entirely unable to ascertain what her vision actually consists of. Though she unrelentingly castigates us for our unhealthily fetishistic and voyeuristic gaze, I’ve never once heard MTR give an example of how she thinks female sexuality ought to be represented and expressed.

We should pretend we aren’t sexual beings, and deny that we love to look at each other, even though much of the time society requires us to do that with a furtive gaze?

We should pretend that erotic zones are not of intense interest to us, starting when we emerge from the latency period laughing ourselves silly at jokes about underpants?

If every publicly revealed body is an exploited and objectified body, are we all to cover up to protect ourselves from a gaze that MTR would have us believe can only be interpreted as exploitative and objectifying?

The battle for the control of the representation of desire

by Breezer, via flickr

 

MTR is fighting a two fronted battle for  the right to determine not only what we should look at, but how we should look at it. She wants to be inside our heads, telling us how to see things. Where she see exploitation, so must we.

She wants to control the representation and expression of human desire. She wants to control the interpretation of the gaze.

MTR seeks to superimpose her moral vision upon everyone else, a vision that cannot allow the possibility of a benign desiring gaze, a vision that insists the desiring gaze is always dangerous, unless it is confined to encounters between to consenting adults (preferably married) in the privacy of their own homes. Once desire is provoked outside of the marriage bed, her thinking goes, it must inevitably result in damage of some kind. I have long suspected this to be at the heart of MTR’s crusades. Now she’s proved it, by taking on Victoria’s Secret.

In her vision, the free flow of desire in the world, far from being a driving creative force, is miserably reduced to a threat to women.

This is why MTR does not offer her vision of an acceptable public representation of female sexuality. There isn’t one in her moral framework.

In this, she’s a bit like the followers of Sharia law.

But feminists fought for freedom

MTR and her followers justify their desire to impose their desire, by dressing their arguments up as feminist rhetoric, and indeed there are some conjunctions.

But feminists fought for freedom. If a woman chooses to use her body to earn her living then it’s nobody’s business but hers. Melinda Tankard Reist makes an unfortunate conflation between free choice and exploitation. That exploitation and abuse of women exists is not at issue. However, it does nobody any good to confuse the two, and in the process attempt to shame women who are making a free choice, and attempt to deprive them of that right. That’s an anti feminist move, in my book.

The argument that we’re brainwashed to think we must do our best to look like underwear models or we’re inadequate, holds some water. There’s a great deal to critique in fashion magazines that manipulate insecurities in order to get us to go out and buy something to address those perceived failings.

On the other hand, one of MTR’s fellow campaigners, journalist and researcher Nina Funnell, whose tirade against the KanYe West video can be read here recently took part in a Cosmopolitan (October 2010) competition to find the year’s most influential woman. All the competitors were young, and had the Cosmo look, including killer heels, and sexy masks. There were obviously initial selection criteria that had everything to do with the contestant’s physical appearance. Only after those requirements were met, were the women’s career and personal achievements considered.

There were no older women in the contest, baffling, given that older women are often excellent mentors and influential figures.

In my book, an outrageous and insidious abuse and objectification of women right on our doorstep, sending the message that how you look matters much more than what you do and are, from a magazine read by thousands of young Australian women. Yet not a  murmur was raised in the MTR camp.

To wrap it up…

The Gold Coast tools are pretty funny, I thought when I watched their video clip on Melinda’s website. Their ad is so over the top as to be bordering on a spoof of using sex to sell. It wouldn’t make me want to buy their penthouse, so in that sense it’s an advertising failure.

Corset, Paris 1902. Unknown via Wikimedia

Corset, Paris 1902. Unknown, via Wikimedia

As for Victoria’s Secret well, good luck with that one. While the sight of stunning women in lacy thongs and balconette bras might not be everyone’s idea of beautiful or sexy, it is currently a dominant cultural expression of those qualities. Once the sight of an ankle did it for us, and who can forget the practically (in my opinion) only good bit in Jane Campion’s The Piano, when Harvey Keitel caressed Holly Hunter’s leg through a hole in her stocking? Aaaargh, the recollection can make me shiver with delight even now.

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