Archive | September, 2012

Conroy and the perils of unfettered legal power

29 Sep


I was distracted from my current pre-occupations yesterday by Minister for Communications Stephen Conroy’s comment that he has “unfettered legal power” in his portfolio, and that if he told telcos to wear red underpants on their heads at spectrum auctions they’d have to do it.

There is a very good reason why no single individual in government should have “unfettered legal power” over anything: absolute power corrupts absolutely. When one has unfettered power there is no longer any need to engage and consult with others, one can simply, as Conroy’s boast exemplifies, force one’s will on everybody else. It is the antithesis of democracy and democratic process. That a Labor politician should hold this belief about himself and feel confident enough to trumpet it for the world press whilst in the US, makes me wonder yet again what the hell the ALP is about these days.

The following is a quote from a piece by Dr Robert Aziz in his Huffington Post blog on the subject of power and corruption:

So why does power corrupt? It corrupts because it gives license to unconsciousness and neglect. It corrupts because it licenses individuals to unilaterally, unreflectively and thus arbitrarily impose their will on others. It licenses individuals to impose their will without having properly engaged and processed through the Reality at hand. Power inflates the ego and through it the ego is erroneously led to believe it has the power to make people, ideas and even Reality itself disappear without due process. In the big picture nothing is further from the truth. Power corrupts because it gives license to unconsciousness, and in so doing it not only destroys the growth opportunity of the victim of such imposition, but no less the growth opportunity of the victimizer. Failure to engage another in consciousness, not only does the other individual harm, but it no less does serious harm to oneself, for in both cases the precious opportunity to extend consciousness by way of self-organizing nature is altogether lost, corrupted.

While I don’t take Conroy’s example of forcing others to wear red underpants on their heads literally (though who knows with this man?) his delight in his own raw power is revealed in his unpleasant desire to humiliate and demean others by forcing them to make themselves look ridiculous, just because he can. What does this say about Stephen Conroy?

To me it says we are likely dealing with a little man, one who lacks the wisdom and intelligence to hold high office, one who has already been seduced by the power bestowed on him by his portfolio, and one who will not hesitate to exercise that power for his own psychological benefit without any awareness at all of what he is doing. It sounds as if Stephen Conroy has lost sight of his purpose and instead has come to believe the unfettered exercise of power is his right and his priority. These are dangerous beliefs for anyone to hold, particularly if they are in charge of communications.

Conroy’s ongoing mission to control the internet takes on new dimensions after his latest megalomanic claims. He wants unfettered legal powers over the world-wide web as well. These ambitions are infantile, as is the example of red underpants as an exercise of power over others.

Conroy was out to crassly impress his audience, not with what he has or might achieve in his position, but with the raw power he believes he has. Power in itself means nothing. It’s how it’s exercised that is the measure of the man.


Sexualisation in the city

24 Sep


This extended stay in the city has brought me into much closer proximity with many more human beings than is normally the case, living as I do in a tiny village in a rainforest girt by sea and the mighty Clarence river.

Even living at Bondi Beach doesn’t do as much as one might imagine to relieve the constant pressure of humanity and its leavings, given the domination of buildings and people overwhelming the landscape, but even so I’d rather be here than inland.

Sometimes at home, sitting in my feckin Swedish chair in my peaceful work room from which at night I can hear the sea, I wondered if the entire sexualisation of women and girls moral panic might be passing me by, simply because I didn’t see enough. I was protected from intrusive advertising in public spaces, and most of all, from the observation of women and girls in great numbers going about their daily lives dressed as they saw fit.

Perhaps it’s because Bondi, but there’s a lot of very tiny very tight shorts  about. What I think when I see them is oh my gods, that must hurt you are cutting off the blood supply your lady bits will atrophy what about thrush there’s no air in there doesn’t it chafe when you move…and then I remember in my twenties and thirties lying flat on my back on my bed so I could zip up jeans that sat just as snugly. I remember wearing very short skirts and midriff tops even in a London winter. I remember a period of shoe fetish when I teetered about on stilettos holding babies, a practice that ought to be forbidden for the babies’ sakes. It was fun. It was costuming. But it wasn’t “sexualising.” “Sexualising” was what was done to me as a child through sexual abuse.  There is a world of difference.

There’s a good piece on what sexualisation is and isn’t here by Ray at the Novel Activist blog.

Young women in revealing clothing are not “sexualising” themselves.  They may indeed wish to look sexy. Whether they succeed or not is entirely in the eye of the beholder but the desire to look sexually attractive is perfectly normal for a young woman. How she performs her sexual power is largely dictated by the dominant social customs of the day, and I don’t think those customs have changed dramatically in the last few decades. They remain as restricted and unimaginative as ever.

To the moral campaigners a display of flesh signifies their concept of  a prostitute, and to them, there’s little worse than a prostitute. They fail to see that displaying flesh is not automatically offering that flesh for sale or use, and in their failure, they mimic the consciousness of rapists and sexual abusers. Healthy people don’t assume that a young girl wearing short shorts is offering herself for sex. Healthy people know there’s a good deal more involved in navigating a sexual encounter than mere apparel, and they know that mutual and agreement are the key words, no matter what a woman is wearing.

What the moral campaigners want is that women take responsibility for controlling male sexual desire by not provoking it with our flesh. They’d be more useful if instead they put their considerable energies to work in campaigns that focus on educating boys to become men who take responsibility for their own sexual desires, and how they enact and gratify them.

If it is true that young women feel obliged to sexually service young men to a degree previously unheard of, then surely we need to be better educating our boys in sexual manners, rather than wringing our hands about our girls’ short shorts.

Sex is everywhere and why that should surprise anyone I don’t know. It is a powerful, dominating human force. Of course it is everywhere. Of course the majority of humanity is interested in sex. Of course sex sells. Of course women and men want to be sexually attractive. I mean, get over it.

In my utopia we’d be educating girls and boys about sex at school and at home as soon as they showed an interest. We’d be preparing them for the overwhelming nature of sexual feelings and emotions. We’d be accepting the role sex plays in our own lives and passing that acceptance on to our young, and we’d be doing it without guilt and shame.

Covering the female body is not going to achieve a thing. The campaigners are very noisily barking up the wrong tree, and from what I can see around me, nobody much is listening to them.


Belief, the State and same sex marriage

20 Sep

Following on from Stewart’s piece on Sheep yesterday about belief, I’d really like to know just why the state is involving itself in protecting the feelings of citizens who don’t “believe” in same-sex marriage, and who do “believe” that same-sex marriage will in some way destroy heterosexual marriage.

This latter claim seems so ludicrous it hardly warrants comment, except to say that from what I can see, heterosexuals do a first-class job of de-sanctifying the moral and ethical ideals of marriage all by themselves. Think domestic, intimate and partner violence. Think child sexual abuse. Think of the Kardashians. Enough said.

It was the government of former PM John Howard that in 2004 amended our Marriage Act of 1961 to read:

Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
Certain unions are not marriages. A union solemnised in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man; or (b) a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.

These amendments were not based on research and reason, they were based on belief. A majority of politicians at that time and to the present day did not and do not “believe” a marriage can take place between same-sex couples. They are not required to offer any evidence to substantiate their beliefs. If I was boss of something, I wouldn’t accept belief as a valid basis from which to make public policy.

If there is one thing we should demand from our politicians it is that they do not enact laws based solely on “belief.”

Is it the state’s job to preserve and protect the feelings of believers? If the answer is yes then in order to remain consistent the state should immediately enact blasphemy laws to prevent any possibility of injuring the feelings of the religious among us.

If the state is in the business of preventing offence to believers on the matter of same-sex marriage, then there are a whole lot of citizens with strong beliefs in other areas who surely have the equal right to be protected from suffering offended feelings?

In this excellent piece on the movie that so wildly and widely offended some Muslims, Sarah Joseph reminds the reader that there is no human right not to be offended. Holding a belief about a spiritual leader, or same-sex marriage, does not entitle anyone to protection from the challenge of disagreement. We do have a human right to disbelieve without either being threatened with death, or being prevented by law from living arrangements available to others solely because of our sexual preference.

Opinions about the purpose of the state vary, but perhaps expectations that the state will give us security, peace, economic development, resolution of conflict, and social order via the rule of law are not overly ambitious.

Same sex relationships are not illegal. Homosexuality is no longer a criminal offence. Gays and lesbians may be as open about their relationships as are heterosexuals. So why, then, does the state consider it has the right to prevent them marrying if they so desire?

In his piece Stewart writes:

There is growing neurological evidence demonstrating that the way in which we make judgements and decisions is less rational than we like to think and is enormously complex. Decision-making is fraught precisely because of the way in which we draw on emotion and previous experience that generate preference, rather than examining the facts with any conviction. Stereotyping, racial bias, and misogyny are classic negative examples of this phenomenon. A convenient belief will trump facts any time.

Emotion, and previous experience that generates preference, rather than facts.

Politicians such as PM Julia Gillard and the rest who voted against same-sex marriage are entitled to their beliefs. They are not entitled to exploit their privilege in order to  impose their beliefs on the rest of us. As politicians, I expect them to make decisions based on facts, not personal beliefs. They need to produce research that tells me why marriage is only for heterosexuals. I need to see evidence that same-sex marriage is bad for society. I don’t care what Ms Gillard and the rest of them “believe,” anymore than I care that some radical Muslims “believe” I should be separated from my head for not respecting their prophet.

The problem is not same-sex marriage. The problem is politicians who have forgotten what they are supposed to be doing. This is a secular state. We ought not to be favouring one set of beliefs over another. I challenge Ms Gillard to supply proof of the dangerous consequences of same-sex marriage for our society to justify her political stand against it. A position she quite inexplicably and vehemently stated, on the very morning of her ascension to the office of Prime Minister.

Because “belief” just doesn’t cut it, and yes, gods can be mocked.

An Inconvenient Belief…

19 Sep

Guest post today by Dr Stewart Hase

 I have just been listening to a boffin on a science program on the ABC. The scientist was talking about how they could work out long past climate activities in Queensland by looking at salt deposits in layers of ice in the Antarctic. Apparently, an El Nino effect causes increased rain in Queensland and in turn reduces salt in the air in the Antarctic and, hence, less salt being deposited on the surface of the ice. This is yet another example of the mind numbing complexity of phenomena that has long been described in complexity theory.

One of our many human foibles is that we like simple explanations for events. Humans are really good at inventing quite sophisticated mystical reasons for phenomena if an immediate physical cause cannot be identified. Even science has been guilty for rather simplistic linear thinking. And it is in explaining social phenomena that we take this short cuts taking in our data gathering, thinking and analysis to an extreme.

We are hard-wired to make quick assumptions based on limited data. And this makes sense from a biological and survival point of view. It saves on processing power and avoids the risk of overloading busy and somewhat limited iconic and short-term memory systems. We increase our chances of survival by not spending too much time focussed on one object and missing critical elements in the environment. You can see this working in a cocktail party where we will pick up a mention of our name on the other side of the room in a hubbub of noise while we are engaged in conversation with another group. Our perception systems are based on the ability to make wholes out of small amounts of data. When we look around a room we only take in a limited amount of information visually: our brain makes up the rest.

There is growing neurological evidence demonstrating that the way in which we make judgements and decisions is less rational than we like to think and is enormously complex. Decision-making is fraught precisely because of the way in which we draw on emotion and previous experience that generate preference, rather than examining the facts with any conviction. Stereotyping, racial bias, and misogyny are classic negative examples of this phenomenon. A convenient belief will trump facts any time.

Leaders are no less prone to these basic human traits. The different might be that the impact of poor judgements and decision-making might be greater than for others. Let me give a couple of examples. Our previous experience and preferences can affect our choice of leadership style that might be quite ineffective but we ignore what research might tell us about leadership effectiveness and carry on regardless. The same can be said for the way in which participative process is often ignored in organisations despite the fact that it leads to better outcomes. Leaders are great at locking onto a fad or a sharp talking consultant with a cookie-cutter solution to all problems. They eschew the evidence that demonstrates that all solutions need to be custom-made to acknowledge the hopeless complexity of nearly everything.

Leaders inevitably make judgements about people. Our personal preferences can make or ruin a career, and diminish or enhance team or organisational effectiveness. We can surround ourselves with people who make us feel comfortable or we can hire people who are innovative, challenge our beliefs and judgements, and who bring diversity to decision-making.

Effective leaders recognise the hopeless complexity of the social (and physical) world and the limitations of their brain that seeks simple explanations and quick solutions based on immediate perception. What they do is to use processes to try to counter this propensity. They do research, use participative process, and seek out naysayers and people who naturally challenge. They seek to recognise the emotional reasons for their decisions and judgements.

No easy task but better leadership.

Guest author Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology.Stewart blogs at


Tankard Reist threatens defamation action against former colleague

13 Sep




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments on this thread have been brought to our attention.

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

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

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

The comments deleted from Mamamia appear below the letter.

Dear Jennifer,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the ‘damage control’ in a CS statement:

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

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

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

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

Catherine Manning

Comment thread deleted from Mamamia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

I think I’m done with you now, Ms Gillard.

5 Sep

After an absolute tosspot of a day negotiating with the galaxy’s most arrogant medical practitioners ever, I come home to find that Julia Gillard is giving the keynote address at the Australian Christian Lobby Conference in October.

I have studiously refrained from criticising the PM over the last few months. I have heeded my grandmother’s caution: “If you can’t say something pleasant don’t say anything at all.”

But now the feckin gloves are off. Any woman who can support the ACL to that extent is not my friend. Keynote speaker at the ACL National Conference?  


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.



“Go Back” Series Two: human misery on prime time television with ads

2 Sep

I just watched two episodes of “Go Back to Where You Came From.” As with the first series, I again feel conflicted about the dire circumstances of refugees and asylum seekers being turned into spectacle for comfortable Westerners such as myself to gape at, and indulge in an emotional reaction of one kind or another from the safety of my couch.

It also offers an opportunity to camp on the high moral ground along with Allen Asher, Imogen Birley and Catherine Deveney.  Because even though I think Asher, Deveney and Birley’s positions are right and good and honest, and echo many of my own, we do get to occupy the morally superior position, a nice warm place to be, and that does give us the chance to look down on the likes of Peter Reith, Angry Anderson and Michael Smith who, initially at least, act like total crap.

I have to say I’m a bit bloody sick of this good and evil dichotomy. It’s all getting a bit George W Bush.

A justification for the co-opting of human misery to prime time television (complete with advertisements, I’ll get back to that) would be if three male participants whose minds were changed by their up close and personal encounters with fear, terror, hunger, thirst, illness and misery endured by millions every day were to become a voice for asylum seekers for longer than the interest in the television series lasts. Then much may be achieved, as they change the opinions of their bigoted followers and deprive the rabid xenophobes of a voice and leaders.

I’m mindful that since the first series of Go Back, things have got so much worse for boat arrivals. Clearly, whatever the personal epiphanies experienced by those participants, they’ve stayed personal, because our politicians have only got worse.

The first series hasn’t changed a thing for the better. And here we are again, gasping with outrage and emotion in between our dinner and the bedtime Milo.

Peter Reith, Angry Anderson and Michael Smith all have public platforms they could use to undo some of the damage they’ve already done to the public perception of asylum seekers who arrive here by boat. In particular, Reith was John Howard’s architect of the infamous Children Overboard affair. During that time,  asylum seekers were demonized as never before, and the mud the Howard government slung at them has stuck. It seems to me that the least Reith could do to compensate for what he now describes as a “stuff up,” is apologise for his part in that deadly “stuff up” and admit they were terribly, wickedly wrong about the children, women and men they exploited to stay in power.

The intrusion of advertising in Go Back revealed the show for what it really is: entertainment. Just when we got really involved with someone’s suffering and the whole damn disgraceful fucking situation, there’s an ad for a new car, food, furniture, whatever the hell they’re selling now, to remind us that it’s only television! It’s not our real life! Our real life is cars, food, furniture, whatever the hell else and this documentary is merely a distraction from what actually matters. An intense emotional experience brought to you by Toyota, and a bunch of people who’ll never ever own one.

I would love to believe that these series will bring about change. I would love to believe that enough minds will be changed as a consequence of viewing them. But I don’t. Which leads me to wonder what is this series really about? What is its purpose?

And what are its ethics?

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