The godification of children; the bizarre marriage of anti raunch feminism with the religious right.

10 Oct

Evangelical Christian children’s pastor Becky Fischer takes several hundred children aged from around six to early teenage, and some of their parents, to a fundamentalist boot camp at Devil’s Lake, North Dakota for a weekend of indoctrination into the principles of  evangelical Christianity (ABC 2, Sunday October 9, “Jesus Camp”)

One of these principles is founded on the belief that there’s a dire need for the merging of church and state in the USA, to be achieved through what she describes as a war to reclaim America for Jesus. This war is a just war, founded in the truth because they know The Truth,the pastor claims, and everyone else is lost to God.

Pastor Becky is taking a leaf out of the Muslims’ book, she reveals. If they can train kids to be suicide bombers for the sake of their God, why can’t she train kids to give their lives for the one true God, albeit metaphorically. She just needs them before they turn seven, she adds.

One extremely articulate and intelligent little girl tells us that some people do die for God and they are MARTYRS. Like, wow!

There’s a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush, role model for the successful integration of the two powers. There’s emotion-driven prayer meetings where little kids fall sobbing, wailing and shaking on the floor. The poor little buggers, by now in a state of frightening emotional extremity, cry out their sinfulness, thrash their arms and legs about, and beg Jesus to forgive them. The adults howl praise the Lord as the little ones noisily repent.

Once cleansed by a few drops of water out of a plastic bottle administered by Pastor Becky, the kids are declared born again, welcomed into the Lord’s army, and instruction on their mission as soldiers in the fight to get America back on the path of righteousness begins.

One of the most important battles they’ll face, they’re told, is the battle to stop abortion. They must pray to God to end all abortive procedures, a very creepy man in blue jeans and scarlet tee-shirt with “Life” printed on it in large black letters, tells them. The future of millions of unborn babies is in their young hands. They have the opportunity to make the difference between unborn babies living, or dying before they even get a chance to breathe. Jesus wants them to save the babies.

There’s not a dry eye in the house. The children are whipped up into a state of febrile fanaticism. The adults have no apparent compunction about involving young children in abortion issues, a form of child sexualization that is truly disgraceful, and never mentioned by activists as harmful.

The man in the red shirt  shows the kids little plastic models of a foetus through the stages of gestation. Kids start screaming, swaying, and speaking in tongues. Heavy metal Christian rock music gets them and keeps them in the zone. “We’re kickin’ it for Christ!” the children scream.

The man in the red shirt tapes tiny plastic babies to the palms of the kids’ hands with red duct tape. He next places the red duct tape across the children’s mouths, silencing them. Written on the tape is the word “Life.”

Then he takes the children to Washington to demonstrate against abortion on Capitol Hill.

Meantime, Pastor Becky tells them they must not read Harry Potter, for Potter is a warlock and God hates warlocks and witchcraft. Harry Potter would have been put to death in the Old Testament, she tells them. One child is bewildered and a little unnerved when later at lunch, other kids at his table tell him he looks a lot like Harry. Will he be metaphorically put to death? Maybe he needs to change his glasses?

In their ordinary lives the kids make no moves without first asking if God would like what they’re considering doing. They have no life outside of their religion. Many of them are home-schooled in creationism, and taught that global warming is irrelevant, given that we are on earth for such a short time before ascending to heaven so why worry? In fact some 75 per cent of home-schooled children in the US come from evangelical families, of which there are some 80 million.

In Australia, right-wing Christian conservative and pro lifer Melinda Tankard Reist, editor of the recently released Big Porn Inc, a collection of anti pornography writings, is also an anti free choice advocate. This is a link to an article Tankard Reist wrote for the Canberra Times in 1997, that has recently been posted on anti abortion website  “Abortion Concern.”

In the article Tankard Reist argues that the pro-choice rhetoric ignores the situations of women who’ve had bad abortion experiences.  She calls for the re-examination of the “pro-choice orthodoxy”, citing testimonials she’s collected for her book on the reactions some women suffer after an abortion.

Tankard Reist’s conclusion is that because there are women who suffer as a consequence of abortion, the procedure ought not to be allowed. Which is a little like arguing that because some women suffer adverse reactions as a consequence of marriage, all marriage should be banned. It’s the all or nothing, you’re with us or against us, George Bush fundamentalist mentality that is the hallmark of politically right-wing evangelical Christianity, and Tankard Reist is right in that zone.

Tankard Reist’s lesser known co-editor, academic Abigail Bray, is reputedly a left-wing feminist whom one would expect to be soundly pro-choice, ideologically, emotionally and intellectually opposed to Tankard Reist’s entrenched anti choice and right-wing religious position. Nevertheless the two women have managed to overcome their differences in the production of Big Porn Inc. This union of left wing and sometimes radical feminism, and right-wing Christian evangelical conservatism is an uneasy marriage, one would think, in which both parties are called upon to seriously compromise core beliefs in order to achieve a supposedly greater good, that of preventing pornography and what both parties perceive as the pornification and sexualisation of the young.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Big Porn Inc has received a good deal of promotion from the ABC, and indeed, will be launched in Brisbane later this week by the ABC’s online Religion and Ethics editor, Scott Stephens.

Tankard Reist has been described by UNSW academic Zora Simic in her 2011 paper Anti-raunch Feminism: An Australian Case Study, which can be found on her website and is a very good read for anyone interested in feminism in Australia today, as Australia’s most public feminist voice, dethroning such long time luminaries as Eva Cox of the Women’s Electoral Lobby.

Anti-raunch feminism is a feminist protest against what is perceived as a dominant cultural hypersexualization of women and girls, in which so-called “raunchy” behaviour (pole dancing, for example) clothing, make up, music etc is thought to dehumanize, “pornify” and “sexualize”  women and girls, creating a false sense of empowerment from behaviour that in reality, the protesters believe, is degrading and objectifying.

Zimic informatively unpacks Tankard Reist’s evolution from Senator Brian Harradine’s bioethics advisor during the period when Harradine managed to prevent Australian aid to developing countries from including reproductive education, and also managed to ban Australian women’s access to the “morning after” pill, RU-486.

Tankard Reist went on to found the conservative pro-life Women’s Forum Australia, an organisation supported by then Prime Minister John Howard, Pentecostal Family First Senator Stephen Fielding, and Catholic Opposition Leader and former Coalition Health Minister Tony Abbott. In 2004, Abbott called for a debate on what he termed the “epidemic of abortion” in Australia. Kevin Rudd also endorsed WFA when he was ever so briefly PM and favoured doorstop interviews on Sundays as he came out of church.

As Simic writes, it appears that Tankard Reist, with the assistance of feminists such as Bray and Nina Funnell, has managed to blend an anti-abortion platform with the anti raunch culture some feminists despise and see as a backward step for women. Both parties have apparently decoupled from their traditional women’s reproductive concerns, and neither side is at present anyway, making any reference to the other’s opposing views on abortion, or pursuing their own.

Tankard Reist is currently keeping very quiet about her pro-life beliefs and her connections to the conservative Christian Right. For example on her website where she publishes testimonials from organisations who’ve hired her as a speaker, the Australian Christian Lobby is conspicuously absent, though she has been engaged by them several times.

The marriage of convenience between anti raunch feminism and right-wing religious conservatism is to say the least bizarre. When you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas is a maxim that could be employed by either party about the other. Have the anti raunch feminists turned their backs on pro-choice, sacrificing it to some perceived greater good? Have the Christian conservatives temporarily agreed to silence their rabid anti choice rhetoric in pursuit of more mainstream and easily attained goals, such as whipping up outrage about the sexualization of children?  How long can their differences be papered over, given the great big elephants in both their rooms? Is it possible to trust any of them? Do they all have hidden agendas? Are any of them what they seem?

At least with Pastor Becky Fischer, what you see is what you get.

12 Responses to “The godification of children; the bizarre marriage of anti raunch feminism with the religious right.”

  1. paul walter October 10, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Gee, its a good article, but why spoil it by calling these people, “feminists”?
    Theyre not feminists in the way you are, or left wing feminists. They are conservatives, like the people running the indoctrination camps, reactive rather than conscious in their responses to social issues and social change. Put it down to “individuation”, but they’re as trapped in their gender roles and as unconscious as the average okker male.


    • Jennifer Wilson October 11, 2011 at 6:35 am #

      Well, they call themselves feminists on the grounds that feminism is about equality and that’s their objective, they claim. Strictly speaking they’re right, but I know what you mean, it’s kind of twisted The conservatives have co-opted the language of feminism and the left and adapted it for their own purposes across the board. The anti abortion rhetoric is the inversion of feminist argument that women have the right to control our own bodies.


      • Beste October 13, 2011 at 1:04 pm #


        What about feminists like Sheila Jeffreys?


  2. Julia. October 10, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    Agree with Paul. These women are not about equality (for either women or men). Instead of getting rid of the chains of oppression, they would bind us even tighter. I’d be inclined to consider them man-haters…like slaves who rattle their chains but not too loudly lest they upset their “Masters”…instead of making a stand for freedom they demand others (free & enslaved alke) to submit to them in their heirarchy of servitude…join in bemoaning the shackles then agree they have the prettiest “You are a woman; this is how you must think & act. I, and only I, know best.” “Oh, and here’s a religion where you pray to a male, just to console you.”

    Anti-abortion (shall I start scrubbing my kitchen table now? Sterilise the kntting needles?). Anti-raunch (whatever happened to women’s porn?…that male stuff is just toooooooo monotonously boring), anti-gays (I wonder if their names appear on the anti-gay petition that did the rounds of the churches a few years back) and I betcha who it is prepares the salads for their (male-cooked) BBQ’s. I wonder how many men join in their KYB classes (Know Your Bible), held during traditional work hours, where the main lesson is how to feel liberated whilst submitting to your husband/father/brother/male significant head of family.
    But it’s the issues they remain silent on that gives their game away.
    When did they last take a stand against the forced sterilisation of disabled women & girls? or scream from the roof-tops with Saudi women being arrested for driving? or any of the plentiful other daily oppressions? I bet they are against women fighting on the front line too.

    A fundamentalist fanatic is a dangerous person no matter what the religion/belief system. But I’d feel far safer in the stronghold rabid Islamists than with one Pentecostal hard-liner. At least the Islamist has a definite set of rules to his/her madness…the Pentie’s changes with the latest trendy interpretation of their book of myths.

    What you describe above is sickening. Where’s Child Welfare when these Hitler Youth are being indoctrinated?
    And, of course, the pic makes me wonder….who exactly burned that cross Beckkky is posing in front of?

    FFS…I’m heading out to hang off a pole with Eva.


    • Jennifer Wilson October 11, 2011 at 6:40 am #

      The religious conservatives make great demands on the state, expecting that it will act like God is supposed to, and take care of things, not through divine intervention but legislation! To this end they aren’t looking for equality, they’re looking to be taken care of by the state on their terms, and extrapolating that nannying to everyone else as well. They need a sacred and profane male guardian.

      Make sure you get a Brazilian before you wrap yourself around that pole.

      I read somewhere that an enormous number of pole dancers have or are earning their PhDs and other tertiary qualifications. More fun than HECS?


  3. Julia. October 11, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    A brazilian!!! and there I was wondering if I should tie my boobs behind my neck with a granny knot or just let them dangle on the floor…maybe I should get an entire South American…wax everything up to my chin hairs.

    The more things change the more they stay the same.
    In the 70’s & 80’s it was common to see the strippers swotting over their books between routines.

    Just over a decade ago I was, against my better judgement, persuaded to a KYB group (I lasted a couple of sessions before getting fed up needing to dumb-down so the leader (a speech pathologist/church elder/wife & mother) wouldn’t look so ignorant of the subject she was teaching to even more ignoramuses. Around the kitchen table was a Social Worker, a Dom Violence Counsellor (cough cough!…’suse me while I choke), Primary School Prep teacher, a school Religious Instructer, 2 School Chaplains, a token Single Mum, & 1 token Disabled Mum…capitals deliberate…
    At this time there was a U.N. global consultation doing the rounds of the planet re: Special Rights of the Child.
    At the end of Misinterpret Your Bible lesson it was comparing notes on child-rearing time. Suddenly one of the Chaplains produced a petition “I assume you all know aout this. If everyone would just sign this we can get on with the tea & cakes.” Out came the pens in a hurried preparation for signing. Not being a church goer on account of one brain-dead session week was already too much, I asked “What is the petition for?”
    So I was told abut the UN consultation and how the women were in total agreement with all of it…EXCEPT…the proposed right of the child to choose her/his own religion…and this objection was what the petition was about. They objected to their own children having the right to change their religion (or not have one). Horror upon horror if little Johnnie decided to become Muslim, Buddhist, Catholic, or gay (it’d never occured to me that sexuality was a religious choice)…these women wanted to be able to over-ride the kid’s beliefs. And not just their own kids either.
    “Giving kids the right to change from their parents’ religion is the Devil’s Work…it’s evil, evil I tell you.”

    “But what if the parents are Muslims & the child becomes a Christian?” I’ve always been one for asking the “wrong” question.
    “Oh oh. Hadn’t thought of that. Well I suppose in that case…” then the Dom Violence Worker spoke up, meekly, saying how in many repressive Third World countries many many parents (mostly women) had pushed hard for this right to be included. With good reason it turns out.
    But no, SHE didn’t think Third World women were educated enough to know what they were talking about. And after all, if their lives were in danger for becoming Christians they could simply hide the fact until they grew up…or maybe “spread the Word” by becoming good martyrs for Christ. And after some dithering, signed the petition.
    The discussion went back and forth a while longer I refused to sign, the Single Mum took a raian check so she could think about it…everyone else signed.
    Then everyone hurried off to collect their kids from school and cook dinner in time for hubbies to come home from work.

    This petition also went the rounds of the local craft groups, women’s groups, & of course the churches. Along with thousands of copies distributed throughout Australia, the petition was presented to the UN…where, thankfully, it was ignored.

    You are right…they are not about equality at all.


  4. paul walter October 12, 2011 at 5:34 am #

    Made an interesting discovery.
    If I pressed the Zimic link, I could read her remarks.
    Well done, Paul.
    Admired the castrating mother photo read the piece and then thought about the ABC and remembered the comment elsewhere about the ABC getting in on and even constructing issues within the sex reporting industry, a la Intervention,with more to follow.
    Therefore, an unpleasant thought. What if Sally Neighbour’s 4 Corners on slave prostitution, however brilliant and cold hard true in its own grey, grainy right, was part of this movement involving social conservatism, some feminisms and puritanism in reporting news. I thought of folk like Sen.Conroy and others also with influence on the Tory side, as to public broadcasting, who would rather see sex ‘n sin and “crime” (usually exclusively involving working class people) as apt subjects for reportage, against issues involving pol economics, and ethnological, sociological and cultural influences involved in societal and human dysfunction.
    I don’t for a moment beleive its true, re Neighbour- who I’ve regarded as the best of the best over nearly three decades.
    The 4 Corners episode on slave brothels is more likely a Walkley nominee.
    I was disgusted most of all at official refusals to deal with the issue against the back ground of horrific suffering presented, in that show, yet saw no great army of activists in place to DEMAND action from governmental cowards on a life threatening REAL rather than faux exploitation issue (altho I despise raunch culture as another form of “commodification” ( brain washing?)
    when the term is used in a more discursive sense.
    Yet the brothel story willl be forgotten very quickly, despite its savagery- obviously, vested interests are at stake, unless I misunderstand Neighbour’s report. Meanwhile, the Bible bashers run amok on their campaigns to stop their cossetted daughters losing their virginity to blue collar scum, or expect better from marriage than “submission”, when they marry some nice boy with good financial prospects, instead.
    And while the public’s attention is focussed on the Minogue sisters butts, politicans will the easier be able to escape accountability on serious issues ignored in the meantime.


    • Jennifer Wilson October 12, 2011 at 6:34 am #

      Yeah!! Links work!!
      I didn’t watch 4 Corners, I just couldn’t take anymore horrible stories that night. But I’m blown away by your conspiracy theory! Heck, there’s a grain of truth in just about everything isn’t there 🙂

      I enjoyed and lol at your last two paras – “Cossetted daughters losing their virginity to blue collar scum” reads especially well. You do have a good turn of phrase, PW


  5. paul walter October 12, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    That’s not what everyone says.
    Thanks for allowing a bit of latitude for metaphor, allusion and sibilance..


  6. paul walter October 13, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    Beste has a quiet post up amongst the longer stuff, but it’s quite a question for someone like me.
    I take it Jeffreys has sympathy for the MTR line?
    I quickly took the coward’s way out and Wikkied Jeffreys- an individual in no way dismissed easily.
    My impression is she follows a “rad” tradition amongst feminists like Gayle Rubin.The corpus within this school of thought is now long established, there IS rationality, these people are legitimate scholars and the school is well versed in general cultural/crit theory, pol economy, sociology ethnology, is cross disciplinary.
    To what extent human behaviour is finally determined by what combination of cultural and biological factors, I suppose is still being researched, hopefully Jennifer Wilson, a psychologist, could embellish, were we to ask her as to her ideas on this.
    I do know, just the moment, that I accept feminists and lesbians on their terms, living entities like myself and I’ve reached the stage where I’m sick enough of feminist bashing, or lesbian-bashing, or any other form of bullying. Women do not exist in the abstract and are out living their lives with similar day to day pressures that I or most other people likewise must deal with and at the mo am more likely to see them as fellow subjects of the human condition.
    At the moment I’m re-seeing feminism through a lens forgotten, reacquired after viewing the horrific 4 Corners on brothel conditions earlier this week and for some reason Andrew Bolt. It brings back the rationale for Rubin, et al’s comments about protest and separatism, because the conditions depicted in the episode represented an intolerable alternative for anyone with above single digit IQ.
    I suppose you are maybe following an ethnological approach, that the constant of gays to others within a given social unit over the history of the species is a natural evolved and evolving constant, after Richard Dawkins, say- that is, perhaps an evolutionary ploy developing that lubricates the social group, altruism /self preservation and survival through time till now.
    If that’s the case, it probably offers the best hope of eventually understanding a culture.
    I do suppose that if lesbianism is normal, if orgasm is normal, then perhaps my male appetites are evetually normal also. Like the Bonobos, we’ll all do better when, “we make love, not war”.
    So we are back to historical change, history, capitalism etc and the question of to what extent history and politics have disrupted any purportive Rousseauist “organic “culture- or not. Perhaps we are just camping in the ruins, after all?
    And even if it is a process we are subject to, we can still attempt to civilise it, even if that may be doomed to failure also?
    Whether things can be improved or not or should be, is what brings people of goodwill together.
    What divides them is what things, for what reasons.
    It’d be fascinating if people as different as me and Sheila Jeffries could swap bodies for a day, she has not had first hand experience of being a bloke as I have not had personal experience of woman’s experience, altho Jeffreys would probably empathise if I said I had a headache, or me if she said she had a really sore toe, because I know what a sore toe is.
    Re the censorship issues, most would agree that commodification or exploitation of people of whatever type is wrong, but folk like Dr Wilson and perhaps myself feel the MTR approach is too simplistic, doesn’t alter preconditions or demolish memes exceptin adversarial terms or alter zeitgeist and is coloured through a lens of current politics, involving an astroturfing of sincerely concerned people for the purposes ofprecisly those who have most at stakein retaining the current arguably flawed society we live in. We’d all love to haul the pimps off to jail, set free the kids used for gonzo porn and get rid of the images of them in the depths of their abjection.
    But there are corporate people out there with clout eager to make a quid, despite the “Occupy Wall St” demonstrations and they’ll ensure whatever makes money for them and gives them power, regardless of anything any of the rest of us will say. Ignorance helps feudalism survive, creates manipulable fear and loathing and I suspect, it is induced through suppression and censorship, then emotive politics.
    Hence the scepticism.
    I’m not saying MTR or any other pro-censorship feminist is not well motivated or without some idea of why, but I think there are factors and assumptions that some seem to ignore, that disturb the rest of us.


  7. Bronwen October 14, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    I’m a a seventeen year old girl and if i want to have an abortion, go pole dance and be abstinent there after, i bloody well will.

    Choice of occupation, sexuality and how you choose to use it should not be regulated, it should be celebrated! Women’s sexuality may in some cases within the porn industry be exploited but female sexuality is also a gift and a power we have over men. Feminism should be the celebration of what we got.

    So good job Tankard Reist for abandoning any women who chooses to be free with her sexuality, or chooses not to have her life governed by one incident, thus impregnating her, turning her into a 16 year old mother.

    What we need is a country full of well educated, savy women who know how to use their sexuality to their advantage

    Not a bunch of conservative girls, with no understanding of contraception and who are suppressed to the ideals of a religious institution, and due to unplanned pregnancy and no abortion rights, no education.


    • Jennifer Wilson October 14, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

      Well said Bronwen, and welcome to the blog! It’s so good to hear this from your generation, because MTR seems to think you’ve all been ruined and exploited!


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