At the Mumbrella website you’ll find blogs and discussion about “everything under Australia’s media marketing and entertainment umbrella.”
You’ll also find an article titled “Stop making sex objects of women and kids,” written by morals campaigner Melinda Tankard Reist in November 2011. This article is “one of the most commented Mumbrella has ever published” and as a consequence, Tankard Reist has been invited to speak on her topic at the Mumbrella360 conference in June 2012.
In the title of Reist’s article we see immediately the manipulative conflation Reist and her campaigners make with adult women and girls. As I’ve argued many times, we have two very separate issues here, on the one hand the alleged “objectification” and “pornification” of adult women, and on the other the alleged “sexualisation” of children. Reist and her followers make no such distinction and this is the first reason to suspect their claims are less than rigorously addressed.
Reist and her followers seem to offer an outstanding example of the “third person effect,” that is, they inhabit a psychological space in which they perceive advertising as having far more effect on others than themselves. While they can argue that themselves and their children are somehow exempt from an unwilling transmogrification into pornographic sex objects by viewing mass media advertising, everyone else outside their circle of friends and like-minded colleagues is unable to resist this hypersexualised state, resulting in a mortally crippled society in which everyone (except them) is either demanding sex or offering sex 24/7, including children. In short, only Reist and company manage to retain agency, while the rest of us lose ours at the first glimpse of female flesh.
I say this because every time I read one of Reist’s fanatical rants, I ask myself who is she talking about? She is not describing anyone in my circle of friends, acquaintances, colleagues, neighbours, extended family and community. I may lead a comparatively sheltered life, on the other hand I do get out. I’m also middle class and perhaps Reist’s demographic in danger exists in another milieu? Is Reist in the process of creating a class of deviants and their children who unlike her and hers (and me and mine) are infected with hypersexuality through their inability to resist the unrelenting assault of advertising, and are thus eroding the very foundations of our society?
WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE AND WHERE CAN I FIND THEM AND RE EDUCATE THEM BEFORE WE ALL DIE IN SEXUAL SQUALOR?
I have heard distressing reports of teenage girls feeling obliged to provide boys with blow jobs, however I attributed this more to Bill Clinton who changed the definition of sex for generations of young people when he declared fellatio was not really sex, and therefore one ought not to feel guilty about it.
There’s no doubt that there’s a great deal more flesh about than when I was a teenager. Though watching the Brady Bunch the other afternoon, I noted that the skirts the girls wore to high school were little more than pelmets, and they also sported high heels, footwear they aren’t allowed to wear to school today.
It’s also true that the representation of female sexuality in advertising is a narrow one, and we ought to be railing about the lack of variety the industry offers. Reist and her followers would no doubt argue there should be no such representation at all, and trying to work out just what they would find acceptable is a pointless task. To them it’s all “sexualised.” But as I argued here in an essay titled “How to induce a moral panic about sex ” there’s a big difference between “sexualised” and sexy:
According to the American Psychological Association’s definition (I don’t trust them about much, but they’re helping write the book on this so they’re a primary source) “sexualizing” women means denying acknowledgement of anything other than our sexuality, according us value only because of our sexual appeal to the exclusion of all our other characteristics, constructing us as “things” for sexual use rather than seeing us as people with the capacity for independent action, and inappropriately imposing sexuality upon us.
So are the researchers confusing sexualization, which according to the APA’s definition is pathological, with sexy? The definitions of which are: arousing or intended to arouse sexual desire, and being sexually aroused, neither of which are, I hope, considered pathological by anyone. There is a world of difference between the two terms. Sexualization we may well get upset about, as a particular form of dehumanization. But sexy?
Is it a case of having failed to successfully demonize the sexy, a pathological disorder is the next step in the reactionary battle to control expressions of female sexuality?
The danger is that while sexy is a description of normal human pleasure, replacing it in the vernacular with “sexualized” throws any possibility of female sexual representation out the window. Every public display of female sexuality is interpreted as sexualized, and therefore pathological.
What kind of a lesson is this to teach our girls about their sexuality?
One can only hope the Mumbrella conference will offer its audience balance, and invite a speaker who will challenge Reist’s moral rhetoric with some common sense and research-based counter arguments. At the very least, Reist needs to make it clear just who it is she is talking about, rather than continuing with sweeping generalisations about “women” and “kids.” Perhaps she could tell us how she herself avoids the pernicious influences of the advertisers to maintain her sexual integrity, and how she protects her children from objectification, pornification and sexualisation. This could be really helpful, because no matter what outside influences a child must deal with, the tools for survival are acquired in her or his family.
While Reist spends an awful lot of her life viewing (and, bizarrely, reproducing on her website for others to view) images she finds unacceptable, it seems she is unaffected by them. Why then should she claim the rest of us will be damaged, when she (and her followers) remain apparently unscathed?