Can you hear us now?

Australian women raise a collective shout against the pornification of culture and the harm it is doing.
Melinda Tankard Reist | Aug 31 2010 | comment  



Melinda Tankard Reist with schoolgirls.

Australian women raise a collective shout against the pornification of culture and the harm it is doing.

When Melinda Tankard Reist’s latest book, Getting Real: Challenging the sexualisation of girls, was published last year, a reviewer described it as a “collective shout against the pornification of culture”. “I liked the phrase so much I decided to give it to a new grassroots campaign I’d been thinking about,” says the Australian advocate for women and girls. Here she talks to MercatorNet about the impact that campaign is having.

 

Mercatornet: What is your overall aim in confronting the pornification of culture?

 

Melinda Tankard Reist with schoolgirls.

Australian women raise a collective shout against the pornification of culture and the harm it is doing.

Melinda Tankard Reist: The aim of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation is to name, shame and expose advertisers, corporations and marketers who objectify women and sexualise girls to sell products and services. We are at the forefront of nation-wide action to pressure them to recognise their corporate social responsibility not to depict women and girls in ways that harm them.

 

Our overall aim in confronting various forms of objectification is to make them unacceptable. We want companies to think twice before using exploitative, hyper-sexualised imagery of women. We also want them to think twice before marketing inappropriate sexualised toys, games, clothes and other products to children. We want them to recognise what the research says about the connections between over-sexualised imagery and negative physical and mental health outcomes in young people and children especially.

We also oppose the ultimate outworking of repackaging little girls as sexually interesting, which is the global trade in their bodies. We challenge anything that treats the bodies of women and girls as appropriate elements of sexual commerce and fuels the global industries of pornography and prostitution.

How long have you been fighting this issue personally? Who else are you working with?

 

Melinda Tankard Reist with schoolgirls.

Australian women raise a collective shout against the pornification of culture and the harm it is doing.

I have been interested in this issue for a long time. It is connected to so many human rights violations against women around the globe. Last year my book on the subject, Getting Real: Challenging the sexualisation of girls, was published (Spinifex Press 2009). One of the contributors described it as a “collective shout against the pornification of culture”. I liked the phrase so much I decided to give it to a new grassroots campaign I’d been thinking about. I felt it was time to harness the widespread concern on the issue into an organised and strategic campaign.

 

Collective Shout’s team comprises researchers, child advocates, eating disorder specialists, academics, journalists and campaigners and advocates. We join forces and collaborate with other groups working on the same issues, both in Australia and internationally. We also have the support of prominent experts in the field.

What have been some of your main campaigns, and what success have you had?

We have had a combination of ‘instant response’ campaigns against certain products and advertising, as well as more thought out, longer term campaigns which are ongoing. The former include successful campaigns against sexualised clothing (Best&Less push up bras for tween age girls, Cotton On’s sexualised baby clothing), a bus advertising a strip club using a large image of a prone semi-naked woman, and an on-line rape simulation game for boys. Other campaigns have been against Supre for a range of sexual slogans on tween girl t-shirts and against menswear store Roger David for t.shirts depicting women bound, gagged and semi-naked.

We regularly campaign against sexualised advertising. Our members post various action items on the website. We have an on-going campaign against porn in corner stores, milkbars, 7-11s and petrol stations, much of it containing illegal content which promotes sex with under-age girls, rape and incest. We are calling for an overhaul of our classification system, which has failed us.

We are about to launch a campaign against Lynx (LynxStynx) for its highly offensive sexualised depictions of women as mindless sexual robots. We will highlight the hypocrisy of Lynx being owned by Unilever which also owns the Dove ‘real beauty’ campaign. We will also soon launch a campaign called ‘Bye Bye Bunny’ to expose the mainstreaming of Playboy, and another called “Crossed Off” which will be a list of brands and products not to purchase this Christmas – ie cross them off your Christmas list.

How useful has the internet and social networking been?

Our campaigns are run through an interactive website, which is the lynchpin of our operations. Our Collective Shout community ‘gathers’ there, finds out what is happening and is empowered and equipped to act. We are heavy users of new forms of social media and social networking sites. Collective Shout has a twitter account and FaceBook page. I write on the issues regularly on my own website as well, and am active on twitter and FB also. Many new members find us in these ways and our message reaches a broader audience. We have been asked to establish CS overseas as a result.

Are the news media helpful?

We have a significant media profile, with media seeking comment from us most days. I am a regular on morning television. There appears to be heightened interest in and awareness of the issue.

Do you think much of the public is with you? What are the signs? Any surveys on this issue?

We don’t have statistics, however I believe much of the public is with us. Many people tell us how they are now emboldened to take action because they know they are backed by an organisation. We have had a significant sign up to Collective Shout in a short period of time. Our members are from a diverse range of backgrounds. We receive encouraging emails most days. I can barely keep up with the request for speaking engagements on the issue. I think for a long time many people held their concerns to themselves, and perhaps thought they were the only ones who felt this way. But now they feel they can express their views because they know they are not in a minority.

Are politicians taking the issue seriously? Are they taking any effective steps against sexploitation?

Some of them are, but not enough of them. We are working on educating them. There was a Senate inquiry into the sexualisation of children in 2007. Most of the recommendations have not been acted on. We will continue political engagement and lobbying until real action is taken. The (so far – could change any moment!) opposition leader committed to reviewing the classification system if elected, so we will make sure that happens. The Prime Minister (again, this could change) also indicated some concerns about sexualisation in a recent media interview, so we would hope to meet with her and take this further as well.

"The standard you walk past is the standard you set." This is one of your favourite quotes and it's a telling one. However, porn is so prevalent that tackling everything we see could be a full time job. Do we need to be selective? What can the average mum or dad do to raise standards?

That’s true. We just have to do what we can to expose the globalisation and proliferation of sexual imagery and do what we can to make known the harm it is causing. I’m co-editing a new book on the subject called Big Porn Inc to be released next year.

Parents of course have a role to play in trying to protect their children from porn exposure and to talking about it with them in age-appropriate ways. But the task is much too difficult for parents on their own. We need our regulatory bodies and governments to act as well, for example on ISP filtering. There is a growing body of research on the harms caused by pornography. In Australia we are seeing a rise of child-on-child sexual assault, which the Australian Crime Commission has linked to exposure to sexualised imagery. We need Governments and regulators to acknowledge this and act.

The porn industry is largely a male affair -- right? Is this also true of the wider sexualisation of the culture? What role are women playing in this trend?

The porn industry is primarily operated and run by men. It is certainly men who produce the most hardcore, violent and degrading pornography. In terms of the broader sexualisation of culture, yes of course women are involved, especially in fashion, women’s magazines and the beauty industry. Women can participate in their own objectification and in the objectification of other women. We are trying to help them see the harm this is causing and make the necessary changes within the industries they are involved in.

Is there a need for a Collective Shout initiative from men?

Collective Shout is open to men and we have many male members. It would be great to see men refuse the pornography industry’s plan for their lives. Just last the weekend after addressing 2000 young adults at a conference in Sydney, three young men approached me and said they wanted to do all they could to battle the industry and help other young men avoid its grip.

Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra author, speaker, commentator, blogger and advocate for women and girls.



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