At my last public engagement of 2018, after the other boys had left the gym where I had presented, a young man approached me. Hesitantly, hands in pockets, tears pooling in his eyes, the 16-year-old said: "I have done those things to girls you talked about. I don't want to be that kind of man. I want to change. How can I make up for what I've done wrong?" The acknowledgement of his guilt, his desire to make amends, moved me deeply. Tim and I talked a while longer. I understood his desire to change was real.
This encounter represents a shift I have noticed taking place over the past year: more boys wanting to break out of harmful patterns, narrow expectations and deforming cultural messaging that they should be dominant and entitled to take what they like from girls.
Earlier in the year there was Steven, also 16. He leapt to his feet, passionately castigating his classmates at a Tasmanian public school for laughing at images of violence against women during my talk. "How dare you laugh," he said. "This is serious, you can't just laugh it off." And then there was the 17-year-old Pacific Islander at a school in Melbourne's west who said he intervened to stop the molestation and filming of a drunk girl at a party.
Later there was Canberra student, Braden, aged 16, who, at a Catholic youth festival in the Homebush arena attended by thousands, publicly said he was sorry to any young women who had ever been hurt by a male. The place erupted in thunderous applause and cheers.
Another time, at a WA secondary school, a boy at the back of the room stood up and told of how he had no friends, how he was bullied every day at school, how his brother had lost his life to a drug overdose. He broke into sobs. A student in the front row arose, walked to the back and hugged the first boy in a gesture which took my breath away. I had to step outside to pull myself together.
The faces of these young men came to mind when I watched the now notorious advertisement We Believe: The Best Men Can Be, released by shaving company Gillette. These faces of good boys; sorry boys; boys who stepped out of the pack and did the right thing, said the right thing, at the risk of disapproval; boys who felt the sting of ostracism for calling out bad behaviour, but knew their integrity was intact. The boys who recognised there was something sick at the heart of aggressive versions of masculinity and didn't want to adopt its codes. The boys who are now part of what could become ― were we to allow it ― a cultural tipping point in dismantling and transforming harmful cultural attitudes about the way men and boys should be.
I'm not heroising Proctor and Gamble, Gillette's parent company. We need to be cynical about profit-driven corporations appropriating social movements. And the company has been implicated in child labour exploitation for palm oil extraction, which is hardly the best a company can be. But the furore over a two-minute ad extolling the central idea that men can help other men do better, reveals just how far we have to go.
The video is directed by London-based Australian-born Kim Gerhig of ad agency Somesuch. The mother-of-two is probably best known for the "This Girl Can" campaign (she has also previously explored Australian masculinity in a raw short film).
The new Gillette ad inverts the company's original 1989 slogan, "The best a man can get," then associated with muscles and attractiveness to women. Gillette said the ad was part of a broader initiative for the company to promote "positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man" ― including a $1million annual endowment for three years to projects supporting men and boys.
The ad echoes themes explored more deeply in the Representation Project film The Mask You Live In and, more recently, The Work. It contributes to a spreading movement for more compassionate, empathetic expressions of masculinity. According to the company, the ad was informed by a surveyin which it asked people across the United States what a man "at his best" looks like. The most positive traits were honesty, moral integrity, being hard-working and being respectful to others.
We are desperate for change. The sexist jokes, girls daily enduring catcalling and comments on their bodies, demands for naked selfies, wall-to-wall advertising depicting women as only good for one thing. "I'd like to f*** that!" a teen boy was overheard quipping to a mate as they ogled a Honey Birdette window display in a Westfield shopping centre, owned by Scentre Group, whose CEO professes to be a "male champion of change." Research has demonstrated that sexist views contribute to women being harmed, but that doesn't stop UltraTune's routine on-air sexism, currently featuring serial abuser Charlie Sheen as a "winner" in ads run during Channel 9's Australian Open broadcast.
Then, in the final outworking of the degradation to which women are so often subjected, Arab-Israeli exchange student Aiia Maasarwe had her life brutally taken from her in Melbourne ― as had Jill Meagher and Eurydice Dixon before her.
It is into this swirling trauma that the Gillette ad appears. I doubt that anyone would have thought that this ad would solve the problem of sexualisation and everyday violence against women. But there was at least something consoling about seeing representations of good men taking action to hold each other to account, and to be what men should be.
However, the ad has met with an avalanche of abuse. Women who publicly approved of its positive message were vilified as misandrists, feminazis, emasculators, castrators. Men who expressed approval were called "SoyBoys" (victims of a Leftist plot to feminise men). One online commenter even claimed that Gillette was engaging in male genocide. The ad's director was a "social terrorist"in a posted comment on the original YouTube clip and a "virulent Trump hater" in a BreitbartCapsLock headed sledge.
But the criticisms haven't been confined to the internet's more extreme, unregulated corners. In a piece in The Australian titled "Masculinity condemned to death ― by 1000 cuts," Bettina Arndt called the ad "dark," "shocking" and said it attacked Gillette's "customer base to announce to the world that everything about masculinity is bad, dangerous and deficient". Similarly, in the Weekend Australian, sociologist Frank Furedi said the ad "reinforces the message of male pathology" in "a crusade against masculine identity."
Watch company Egard offered its own response in the form of a "counter ad" (widely received as an "up yours" to Gillette). It depicts men as heroes in traditionally understood ways ― fighting fires, wars and other things that need fighting, with the theme, What is a man? "Is a man brave? Is a man a hero? Is a man a protector? Is a man vulnerable? Is a man disposable? Is a man broken? Is a man trying?" Alongside each question are stats about the death of men in war fatalities, homicide, among others. It concludes "We see the good in men."
But how do these depictions defeat those in the first ad? Can't they all be held together? The Egard ad has men trying. So does the Gillette ad.
Critics say men disproportionally suffer suicide, mental and physical health problems and dysfunction (as if we are all competing in some suffering competition). What is missed here is that collective male socialisation and codes of behaviour put men in straightjackets and make them sick, too: is it not possible that they are in crisis because they are playing a game that is making them unwell?
Positions on the Gillette advertisement were so diametrically opposed, you had to wonder whether everyone was watching the same thing. Why was it so threatening? Did those leading the pile-on not hear the narrator say, "We believe in the best in men"? Did they miss the bit about men being part of the change, that good men can hold one another to account and model good behaviour to boys and other men?
The ad is aspirational: it rewards the men who don't excuse bad behaviour, don't look the other way, as men to aspire to. It prioritises these men and holds them up as models. They can perform the role of the interrupter, protector, fighter on behalf of the vulnerable (including young boys). Yes, we are all sick of virtue signalling. But does this mean there is no room for virtue encouraging? What is so wrong with urging men to be their best selves? Perhaps it is easier to rail against the company than to engage in self-reflection and evaluation. After all, to have to re-evaluate and examine one's behaviour can expose any of us to unpalatable truths.
This reflexive defensiveness poses a serious problem. The risk is that an ad campaign, which could contribute to a deeper cultural reckoning, will instead be lost in a tsunami of backlash causing a battening down of hatches, a justification of poor behaviour, an emboldening of the bad. It would be more than unfortunate were this to happen because of a fundamental misunderstanding about terminology. Toxic masculinity is being read as "men are innately bad, defective and pathological," whereas what is (mostly I think) intended is "certain expressions of masculinity are problematic" ― learned through collective social conditioning, including from institutions, culture, political systems and family-of-origin.
This was what the American Psychological Association guide was trying to address in linking adverse codes of masculinity with negative mental health outcomes in its first ever Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men, which were developed over 13 years and drawing from four decades of research. The guidelines identify rigid norms, stoicism, dominance, aggression and competitiveness as potentially harmful for men. The more men conformed to "traditional masculine ideology" the more their psychological development was limited, and the more they considered risky health behaviours ― such as heavy drinking ― normal. There was a reluctance to admit vulnerability or seek mental health services. As The Washington Post commented, "The more men cling to rigid views of masculinity, the more likely they are to be depressed, or disdainful, or lonely."
"We sacrificed worthwhile emotional experiences or connection, but we demanded power in return," writes Luke Hart, a campaigner, with his younger brother Ryan, against domestic abuse after his father murdered his mother, Claire, and 19-year-old sister, Charlotte, in 2016. Echoing this need for connection, in a Guardian article titled "The fear that lies behind aggressive masculinity,"British writer and activist George Monbiot writes:
Those who urge us to shut down, man up and grow a pair push us towards disaster and despair ... Emotionally damaged men all too often rip apart their own lives, and those of their partners and children ... Those who deny their own feelings tend to deny other people's ... What sort of a man are you if you have to go to such lengths to prove your masculinity? The confident construction of identity does not require crude cultural markers, but emotional literacy and honest self-appraisal. The more we proclaim our strength and dominance, the weaker we reveal ourselves to be.
But Monbiot sees hope: "In normalising our frightening conditions, in connecting with others who have been suffering in silence, we find a collective strength we cannot find alone."
It's this collective strength I want the boys I address in schools to find, so that doing the right thing is less lonely. Boys can overcome negative social forces and their own conditioning to see the attainment of emotional intelligence, kindness, empathy and compassion as all part of the best a man can be.
Melinda Tankard Reist is a writer, speaker and co-founder of Collective Shout. She co-edited Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Porn Industry and Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade.
As published on ABC Religion & Ethics
At my last public engagement of 2018, after the other boys had left the gym where I had presented, a young man approached me. Hesitantly, hands in pockets, tears pooling in his eyes, the 16-year-old said: "I have done those things to girls you talked about. I don't want to be that kind of man. I want to change. How can I make up for what I've done wrong?" The acknowledgement of his guilt, his desire to make amends, moved me deeply. Tim and I talked a while longer. I understood his desire to change was real.Read more
"Pornography is now the main sex educator for young people"Read more
Stop the mutilation of women’s bodies for profit!
If you missed ABC Four Corners searing expose of Australia’s cosmetic surgery industry and its callous disregard for the health and wellbeing of women, you really should take a look.
You will see how the cosmetic surgery industry preys on the body angst of vulnerable women and girls to get them to conform to harmful constructions of ‘beauty’ for profit. And the physical and mental injury to some of the brave victims who have come forward to tell their stories. Seeing healthy flesh being cut into, seeing deformed ‘enhanced’ breasts, seeing gigantic swollen backsides, and women’s bodies covered in bruises, was at times, like being witness to a crime scene. It’s time these barbarians were reigned in. And it’s time we overturned the dictats of a global beauty industry – aided and abetted by its celebrity handmaidens which lies to women about what beauty should look like. Reflecting on the program afterwards, I realized just how much I love looking into the unadulterated, natural faces of women and girls who have refused to succumb to false messages about how they should look and be in the world.Read more
SONY has blocked the Western release of an 'adult role-playing game' that saw the player undress schoolgirls and fondle their breasts while on a quest for the holy grail.
The Video Standards Council (VSC) objected to its "setting within a 'school' environment”, saying it "clearly promotes the sexualisation of children via the sexual interaction between the game player and the female characters."
Collective Shout has campaigned for the end of the sexualisation of girls in pop culture, the media and mainstream marketing over the past decade. For instance, in 2016,6 Amazon was marketing a ‘Sexy Nurse Toddler T-Shirt', where the shirt had drawn in a fake cleavage, available in sizes for 2-6-year-old girls. Just recently, Collective Shout helped to remove child sex dolls from Amazon’s website. For a long time, Amazon has contributed to a culture of sexual abuse by allowing the sale of novels that normalises paedophilia. The sale of such dolls and similar material has earned Amazon a spot on the NCOSE's Dirty Dozen List for the past two years.Read more
[Warning: this article contains graphic descriptions.]
Melinda Tankard Reist is a writer, speaker and co-founder of Collective Shout. She co-edited Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Porn Industry and Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade.
"Women must be safe everywhere. On the street, walking through a park, in their homes, at work. We need to ensure that we have a culture of respect of women. We must never, ever, ever tolerate violence against women. Eurydice Dixon - we grieve her loss, we mourn with her family and we say never again."
- Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
"Women in Australia have the right to freedom of movement. It is not the fault of women if they chose to walk home from transport to their house. All of this violence is ultimately preventable and we need to tackle the enablers of violence, we need to change the attitudes of men."
- Opposition Leader Bill Shorten
She is on the run. Desperate, frantic. Wearing a head scarf, her deep dark eyes brim with worry and fear. She epitomises woman in flight, the kind of women filling our television screens, the ones with small children clinging for dear life to their mothers.
She is a woman who should evoke pity. Our hearts should lurch, we should fear for her; she is so vulnerable. Will she make it to the end of her journey unharmed?
But now, as though not terrorised enough, she is subjected to an affront so devoid of empathy it is difficult to believe. She is to be turned into porn. Refugee Porn. A displaced woman running from oppression into oppression.
"Tons of free Refugee porn videos!"; "All the hottest refugee porno movies for free!"; pick your preferences: "Syrian," "Timid Arabians," "21-year-old refugee," "Hijab pregnant porn" - and lots more. Unveiling and violating "exotic" women who are normally covered, appears to be a particular turn-on.
Refugee Porn attracts up to 800,000 search requests monthly. Sharp increases in searches for refugee porn in Germany have seen new studios springing up to service this demand, which correlates to the large number of refugees Germany has welcomed.
While some videos use porn actresses depicting refugee women, it is believed that actual refugee women are also used. Either way, the sex industry's aim is to convey and profit from a story-line - or terror plot - based on the eroticised subjugation of refugees humiliated for "dinner money."
While looking into this genre - and trying to remain sane - I noticed the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader in rare bi-partisan agreement following the death of Eurydice Dixon: saying that we must not tolerate violence against women, and that we must tackle the enablers of that violence. We are hearing pronouncements like this more and more. But while there are many enablers of violence against women, there is a particularly monstrous one that rarely rates a mention. It is the global industrialisation of the bodies of women - among them, the most powerless - as fodder for men's consumption. As Abigail Bray writes in Misogyny Re-loaded, porn and rape culture means "inhabiting a paradoxical space where the rape and murder of women is prohibited but everywhere eroticised and the object of laughter."
Enabling sexual violence
Pornhub is the world's largest provider of porn content. It attracts 80 million visits a day. The company, now owned by MindGeek, is headquartered in beautiful Montreal, where its more than 1,000 employees toil day and night to bring you the best scenes of suffering on the market.
Pornhub is both a repository and disseminator of hate propaganda. It hosts evidence of crimes against women for men to enjoy. Popular videos depict brutal sexual violence against women. Sadistic titles revel in women's inability to stop the violent assaults carried out against them. The most violent have views in the millions. Many titles are centred around the sexual abuse and rape of teen and underage girls. Men are fantasising about raping young girls with impunity while government, children charities and advocacy groups try to tackle an epidemic of child sexual abuse.
Cultural norms are taught through pornography. When boys learn early to enjoy, take pleasure in, laugh at, and get off on torture and humiliation videos, when they are fed a diet of rape porn and racist sexual abuse, does the avalanche of violence against women come as a surprise?
James Ogloff, an experienced clinical forensic psychologist, was recently quoted in The Australian: "In serious sexual offending, the motivation is often a deviant sexual interest. It is very much a sexual motivation." That deviant sexual interest has to come from somewhere. Pornhub features in the top five favourite sites of boys aged 11-16, according to ChildWise UK. Rape is on the menu for boys whose sexuality is still being formed. They see, and are taught to be aroused by, girls who are choking, sobbing, vomiting, their eyes popping, having their skin bruised, being called abusive names, slapped, kicked, pounded, hair ripped out.
Tell me this is not enabling.
Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham, whose constituency was at the centre of a child sexual exploitation scandal, produced the 2016 Dare2Care Report in which she quotes one young boy who asked: "If I have a girlfriend, do I need to strangle her when I have sex with her?" Indiscriminate porn exposure acts as a kind of social grooming for this generation of boys. Girls morph into porn fantasy sex props.
Thus the number of sexual offences recorded in the Republic of Ireland has doubled since 2003: an increase of 87%, two thirds of which has occurred in the past three years. Authorities in Ireland are linking the sex crimes to pornography - especially among teenage boys. In 2016, one in five rapes in Ireland was committed by a juvenile. Eileen Finnegan is the clinical director of One in Four, a national organization that aids and counsels the victims of sex crimes and also treats offenders. All the sex offenders in treatment began offending at 10 or 11 years of age. They developed what Finnegan calls "a deviant interest" in sexual violence. And they are getting their sex education from pornography. "The escalation is astonishing," says Eileen Finnegan, regarding the rise of rape porn and its access by children.
The UK has also made the connections. In the foreword to the 2012 report Basically ... Porn is Everywhere, Deputy Children's Commissioner for England Sue Berelowitz highlighted violence done to girls by porn-influenced boys:
"The first year of our Inquiry ... revealed shocking rates of sexual violation of children and young people ... The Inquiry team heard children recount appalling stories about being raped by both older males and peers, often in extremely violent and sadistic circumstances, and in abusive situations that frequently continued for years ... The use of and children's access to pornography emerged as a key theme ... It was mentioned by boys in witness statements after being apprehended for the rape of a child, one of whom said it was 'like being in a porn movie'; we had frequent accounts of both girls' and boys' expectations of sex being drawn from pornography they had seen; and professionals told us troubling stories of the extent to which teenagers and younger children routinely access pornography, including extreme and violent images. We also found compelling evidence that too many boys believe that they have an absolute entitlement to sex at any time, in any place, in any way and with whomever they wish. Equally worryingly, we heard that too often girls feel they have no alternative but to submit to boys' demands, regardless of their own wishes."
France is also observing the links between porn exposure and violence against women. "I am surprised that we are astonished at the violence done to women today without attacking the roots of the evil," says Professor Israel Nisand, gynaecologist and President of the French National College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians. On 15 June, with several health professionals, Nisand launched a "solemn appeal" to the government to fight against the mass distribution of pornographic images, to which children are exposed. "We observe a policy inertia," he said. We see the same policy inertial here.
The dehumanization of girls
Personal accounts of the lived experience of women and girls dealing with porn-conditioned boys and men demonstrate pornography's dehumanizing power. I've written previously about my encounters with girls who tell me about boys demanding sexual favours, demanding sex acts they don't like, being pressured to provide naked images, being ranked on their bodies compared to the bodies of porn stars.
As British writer and activist Sarah Ditum has observed, "The pornographic vocabulary of sex as the violent debasement of the female body had seeped out from screens and into the lives of women." And it is no longer only porn "performers" who are taking the hit of porn (whose experiences are shamefully still largely ignored), it is women and girls everywhere, every day.
Growing numbers of young women are saying that their partners are initiating the signature sex acts of pornography: ejaculating on faces and bodies, deep-throating fellatio and anal sex. "Rosie Redstockings" - a young student at an English university - describes her experience of porn-conditioned men. She writes:
"I'm 23. Mine is the first generation to be exposed to online porn from a young age. We learnt what sex is from watching strangers on the internet, we don't know anything else.
"Here are some of the things that I have experienced ...
"Being told that my gag reflex was too strong ... Bullied into submitting to facials. I didn't want to. He said [jokingly] that he'd ejaculate on my face while I was asleep. He wasn't joking - I woke up with him wanking over me ... Bullied into trying anal. It hurt so much I begged him to stop. He stopped, then complained that I was being too sensitive ... He continued to ask for it ... Constant requests for threesomes ... Constant requests to let him film it ... Every single straight girl I know has had similar experiences. Every. Single. One. Some have experienced far worse. Some have given in, some have resisted, all have felt guilty and awkward for not ... giving him what he wants."
Then there's the 16-year-old girl who describes oral sex as "the new kissing":
"When you have sex with a guy they want it to be like a porno. They want anal and oral right away. Oral is, like, the new kissing ... the cum shot in the face is a big thing."
A recent study found girls were being coerced into anal sex they didn't want and which they found painful. The main reason they gave for engaging in the act was that boys "wanted to copy what they saw in pornography." Younger girls who spoke to British MP Sarah Champion for her report, told her they believed it was obligatory to have anal sex or to be shared between a partner's friends if they wanted a boyfriend to remain faithful.
Alison Pearson relays a conversation with a GP who described anal tearing from porn-inspired anal sex, increasingly happening to adolescent girls:
"A GP, let's call her Sue, said: 'I'm afraid things are much worse than people suspect'. In recent years, Sue had treated growing numbers of teenage girls with internal injuries caused by frequent anal sex; not, as Sue found out, because they wanted to, or because they enjoyed it, but because a boy expected them to. 'I'll spare you the gruesome details', said Sue, 'but these girls are very young and slight and their bodies are simply not designed for that'.
"Her patients were deeply ashamed at presenting with such injuries. They had lied to their mums about it and felt they couldn't confide in anyone else, which only added to their distress. When Sue questioned them further, they said they were humiliated by the experience but they had simply not felt they could say no. Anal sex was standard among teenagers now, even though the girls knew it hurt ...
"The girls presenting with incontinence were often under the age of consent and from loving, stable homes. Just the sort of kids who, two generations ago, would have been enjoying riding and ballet lessons, and still looking forward to their first kiss, not being coerced into violent sex by some kid who picked up his ideas about physical intimacy from porn."
At a time when the surreptitious filming of women and girls is increasing - known as "upskirting" and "downblousing" - hidden cameras is another rising porn genre. The appeal, as shown in the titles, is that the woman or girl doesn't know she is being filmed: "Girlfriend doesn't know she is being recorded"; "My 19 YO Roommate undressing - My first time spying on her" and so on ad nauseam.
It is a criminal offence to film people when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, but men are placing hidden cameras in toilets, changing rooms and rental properties. We only hear about the ones who are identified and charged. These men will face court while Pornhub hosts and profits from the videos they created. Meanwhile, Amazon Australia has been exposed for selling a how-to guide for taking "creepshots" of women, implicitly fuelling the practice.
Porn consumption and sexual aggression
There is a growing body of literature testifying to the way that boys who take their sexual cues from porn develop sexist attitudes and aggressive behaviours, which then have "trickle down" effects on women and girls.
Porn use is linked to higher rape acceptance attitudes. A major 2012 systematic literature review found that adolescent consumption of internet pornography was linked to attitudinal changes including acceptance of male dominance and female submission as the primary sexual paradigm, with women viewed as "sexual playthings eager to fulfill male sexual desires." Adolescents intentionally exposed to violent sexually explicit material, the review found, were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive than those who were not exposed. Similarly, in a 2015 meta-analysis examining the link between pornography consumption and sexual violence, the authors found that consumption of pornography was associated with increased likelihood of committing actual acts of sexual aggression.
The evidence of this is all around us. One in four young Australian men believe it is normal for men to pressure women into sex. In the UK, one in three girls have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school, while 71% hear the terms "slut" or "slag" used to describe female students on a weekly basis.
In Australia there has been a notable increase in reports of child-on-child sexual assault, with porn being cited as a key factor turning children into "copycat sexual predators." At the other end of the age-spectrum, a secret Australian Facebook group called "Blokes Advice" deals in porn-laced threats of violence and vilification. The 200,000 male group members entertain each other with graphic descriptions of gang rape, revenge porn, advice on how to force women into anal sex and incitement to bombard women with porn. Men defended the multiple threatening and violent plots against women as "a bit of a laugh."
Likewise, The Red Zone - a 200-page report into the culture of sexual assault and harassment at many Australian university residential colleges, released earlier this year - details decades of institutionalised hazing and misogyny, including male students masturbating into the shampoo of female residents and an initiation ritual involving "male residents breaking down the doors of women's bedrooms, resulting in one student being taken to hospital."
A new documentary titled Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution, is currently screening on Netflix. It exposes the brutal reality of what happens during Spring Break, when American and international students converge on places like Florida and Cancun in Mexico. The sense of male entitlement is chilling. It feels like watching a mass pack assault, with every woman viewed as meat and conquest.
Male students are on the prowl, predators looking for the next girl to grope; they pull down a girl's top (chanting "Tits out for the boys!"), ply another with alcohol, hustle for sex and, in some cases, out in the open in full daylight, participate in gang rape to a cheer squad of men capturing it all on their phones. Young men are not only becoming inured to suffering - they are turning it into home-made ritual humiliation films to share with their friends.
Sadly, the girls have come not to expect better treatment. There's a price to be paid in not complying: when a girl says "no" and walks away, she is abused and derided. (One begs "Help me" as she tries to escape an aroused cabal who are poking and prodding her and trying to relieve her of her bikini). The boys are taken aback by resistance to the imposition of their unwanted hands and grinding penises. The college boys, for their part, make no secret of their porn consumption. They revel in it. And they enact what they have learned on screen on the bodies of real women.
With sexuality increasingly equated with the consumption of cruelty and brutality, with boys learning to equate the dehumanization of girls and degradation of their bodies with pleasure, with girls treated as masturbatory props, there can be little doubt that will see more of what Di McLeod, director of the Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence (GCCASV), is witnessing. She wrote to me:
"In the past few years we have had a huge increase in intimate partner rape of women from 14 to 80+. The biggest common denominator is consumption of porn by the offender. With offenders not able to differentiate between fantasy and reality, believing women are 'up for it' 24/7, ascribing to the myth that 'no means yes and yes means anal', oblivious to injuries caused and never ever considering consent. We have seen a huge increase in deprivation of liberty, physical injuries, torture, drugging, filming and sharing footage without consent.
"There is a cost in the trickledown effect that some of us bear witness to every day ... GCCASV has experienced a 56% increase in referrals from emergency departments of local public hospitals in the past year. Women have been hurt, sustained vaginal, anogenital and other physical injuries in the perpetration of forced sexual contact ... It is rare for us to have a recent rape presentation that involves only vaginal penetration. Porn inspired sex signature acts of anal, deep throating, the money shot accompanied by choking and strangulation are the new 'norm'. Despite the sexologist saying rape and sexual assault are not relevant it is central to the women and young women whose lives have been negatively impacted."
Trying to tell boys it is time for a sexual re-assessment, or lecturing them on "consent" and "respect" simply cannot compete with the indoctrinating effect that porn has on boys. They've learned from porn to gain pleasure in violation. As Glosswitch has observed:
"They can sit in a classroom and be informed about the rights and wrongs of [consent]. They can be encouraged to think, in abstract terms, about the Woman as Person. But that is not how they encounter her in the media, nor in the minds of fellow men. Deep down, they know that their 'right' to access hardcore pornography and purchase female flesh is inviolable. The Woman as Person narrative is subordinate to the one telling them that the ultimate human right is a 'real' man's right to f**k."
We need to talk to boys about how pornography depicts sexual violence against women, and explain to them that consuming porn is not only an affront to women and girls generally, it risks hijacking their sexuality and shaping it into something that will affect their ability to experience intimacy and pleasure without violence.
A culture built upon violation
There is thus a disturbing disconnect between condemnations of violence against women that invariably follows horrifying events like the rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon and the utter silence about the role played by pornography in enabling that violence. Failing to address pornography as a driver of male violence gives future porn-inspired perpetrators a leave pass to commit it.
ABC journalist Jill Meagher was murdered in 2012 by serial predator and rapist (and consumer of rape porn) Adrian Bayley. In a Facebook comment posted on 23 June (quoted with permission), Jill's bereaved husband Tom Meagher observed the inexplicable reluctance to locate porn in the "Rape Culture Pyramid":
"It's so frustrating to see this issue ignored in mainstream conversations about male violence against women ... Generally I quite like these type of images [like the "Rape Culture Pyramid"] as a visual tool, but I have to ask, is it through moral cowardice or deference to the profiteers and guardians of sexual capitalism that you never see any mention of any facet of the sex trade in these pyramids? How on earth can anyone with a straight face claim that the ubiquity of violent porn doesn't have as much of an influence on the normalisation of female objectification and of sexual violence as locker room talk or catcalling and how can they fail to see the relationships and interplay between all of these problems (with porn acting as a deeply regressive sexual re-enforcement of the cultural misogyny that all of those other problems exemplify)? And if they do see it, then say it! It's like we can challenge any institution of patriarchy and male violence against women as long as it doesn't impact men's right to sexually access women and dictate the terms of pornographic content through endless male demand for boundary violations and increasingly younger (or younger presenting) women. If we can criticise ordinary men for failing to address violence against women (as we should), then surely we should be criticising the billionaire profiteers of this massive woman-hating industry as well as the millions of men who contribute to its ever increasing violence on a daily basis. This is a sign of a culture refusing to face [its] problems. The huge [pre-ponderance] of violence against women and dehumanising language in mainstream pornography doesn't come from nowhere, so who is it helping to pretend it's not a reinforcing influence on men who use it, the women in their lives and the wider culture that frames it and is framed by it? I'm so tired of hearing 'it's not porn itself, it's our culture' - well of course. Our culture is built upon and sustains itself on violation, porn is informed by that, but also informs and reinforces this ideology. That's how this s**t works. Violations that are mass produced, mass consumed, normalised and specifically tailored to male demand at the expense of women need to be confronted, not hidden from scrutiny for fear of alienating the 'good' men who get off on those violations, citing 'harmless fantasy' as an obfuscating sanitisation of filmed abuse. I'm baffled by intelligent people who defend this behemoth of sexual capitalism with a limp defence of 'some people choose to do it' - I mean, that is not a structural or cultural analysis, it's anecdotal whatabboutery that neither addresses the problem nor even recognise there is one. Why can't people be braver about discussing this honestly?"
If we truly care about confronting the enablers of violence against women and girls, we must tackle porn's role as, in Meagher's words, "a deeply regressive sexual re-enforcement of the cultural misogyny." If we don't, I fear that all the talk about addressing enablers and creating a safe culture for women is mere rhetoric and cant, devoid of meaning.
Melinda Tankard Reist is a writer, speaker and co-founder of Collective Shout. She co-edited Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Porn Industry and Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade.
'Reprinted with permission of the author' See article here.
Twenty Victorian men arrested over child exploitation material depicting torture of children and newborn babies
***"Trigger warning: child exploitation''
Twenty men across Victoria have been arrested over child exploitation offences, with police seizing photos and videos of children and babies being tortured.
Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton told the Herald Sun that each month hundreds of Victorians shared millions of images of child abuse material.
“We know there are links between this type of online activity and contact offending, so it’s important that we target anyone prepared to source this type of material in any way,” he said.
Source: Victoria Police
Mr Patton said the material showed children, and even newborn infants, in sexually provocative poses and in pain.
Writing in response to the Royal Commission into institutionalised child sexual abuse, Collective Shout co-founder Melinda Tankard Reist said:
There is deep distress in the community that defenceless children are used in such evil ways. But the broader culture that encourages the abuse of the children goes unaddressed. The same loathing that is directed toward child sexual abuse has not been extended to the mainstream promotion of paedophilic fantasies for profit.
Melinda Tankard Reist pointed out that this abuse of children was also driven by a culture that normalises and eroticises child sexual assault.
We’ve exposed mainstream retailers for their promotion of child sexual abuse. Bookworld was forced to withdraw hundreds of rape and incest titles, many of which portrayed the rape of girls by their fathers as erotic and desirable.
After months of campaigning against Amazon in 2010, they finally delisted ‘The Paedophile’s Guide to Love & Pleasure”, a book written by an actual paedophile endorsing sexual crimes against children. Amazon continues to attract criticism for its sexualised content involving children and babies, including sexy nurse outfits for toddlers.
Australian sex shops sell replica vaginas for men’s use, modelled on the bodies of little girls and promoted as “fresh” and “innocent” with intact hymens. Chemist Warehouse sold the ‘Virgin Palm Pal’ men’s sex toy until we exposed them in 2015.
Major retailers sell sexualised clothing for girls, including padded bras, and advertising features children posed and styled in increasingly adultified ways, inviting us to see them as older than they really are.
Service stations around the country sell ‘barely legal’ style porn magazines featuring girls with braces and pigtails.
As Melinda Tankard Reist concludes,
We are destroying the cultural norms that once taught male adults that children’s bodies are off-limits to sexual use. We cannot fully address child sexual abuse until we reject a culture that glamorises it.
Melinda Tankard Reist as published on ABC Religion and Ethics.
"A new angel has opened his wings!"
"We need more men like Hugh in this world today."
These passionate declarations from his Facebook page are among numerous accolades for the porn merchant Hugh Hefner, who recently died aged 91.
A charming trendsetter, brave visionary, legend, pioneer, icon, folk hero - the glorification is seemingly endless.
Then there was Larry King, Nancy Sinatra, Paris Hilton (who will "miss him dearly") and Kim Kardashian, who declared her love and gratitude for being part of the "Playboy Family" (she appeared on a 2007 Christmas cover, because nothing says Christmas like breasts spilling out of a red body suit).
He "wanted to make the world a happier, sexier place" gushed CNN. One conservative journal even stated that Hefner's "work celebrates the sexual complementarity that has bound men and women together since the dawn of time."
That a pimp and sexual predator could be glorified as an angel, a role model for men and indeed some kind of saviour figure leading us out of darkness, shows how successfully the Hefner/Playboy myth has been embedded in the popular imagination.
A serial collector of women who kept women as pets, like cute bouncing creatures in a petting zoo, is being hailed a hero. A man whose harem of wives, girlfriends, mistresses and rotating cast of Girls Next Door was projected for the vicarious pleasure of millions of men, is, apparently, a modern secular saint.
While many think Hefner's entire genre involved dewy young women smiling topless in a cornfield, he legitimized and mainstreamed the sex-trade and provided the economic, cultural and legal structures for the current multi-billion dollar market of today and its more hardcore and gonzo evolutions.
By popularising the selling of female flesh through his global industrial masturbation complex, Hefner gave men permission to see woman as existing for their own pleasure - that treating women as sex objects was, indeed, what sophistication looked like. Valuing sexual conquest over intimacy and tenderness has affected probably every woman and girl on the planet ever since. (I have previously documented the experiences of girls with porn-conditioned boys.)
What Hefner achieved was not liberation. It was objectification on an industrial scale. The fact that his magazine was prized more as a masturbatory prop than for its highbrow articles is reflected in the comment in the documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel. Says grinning singer Tony Bennett: "He gave us some of the best literature of our time ... when they got past masturbating they sort of read more ..."
So progressive was Playboy, in fact, that men were also offered women of colour for their onanistic satisfaction. Somehow, objectifying black women as morsels on the masturbation banquet is heralded as a revolutionary step in the civil rights movement rather than just objectification in another colour. Jennifer Jackson was the first black Playmate in 1965 - two years after Martin Luther King's "I have a dream speech." That, it seems, is what breaking down racial barriers looks like: men can ogle naked black bodies as well as white. What a great achievement for African Americans!
All the same, Hefner himself admitted that blond, white women made up most of the models in his pages. "We try to get some ethnic diversity, but we do seem to lean in the direction of blonds," he said.
The brutality of sex with Saint Hef
So, was he really a man who merely loved women? A look inside the Playboy Mansion tests the theory. Beneath the glamorous image, Hefner's playmates testify to filthy rooms, urine soaked carpets thanks to nine dogs, bunnies having to line up and watch and wait for their $1000 a week allowance until Hefner had collected the dog faeces, and strict curfews and iron gates to keep the women in check.
As for the sex, there was no protection. Bunny girls were offered Quaaludes, which Hefner himself called "thigh openers." Although disgusted at the prospect of having sex with him, the "girls" understood that it was "part of the unspoken rules." "It was almost as if we had to do it in return for all the things we had," said one.
Our quintessential romantic needed girl-on-girl action, aided by porn playing on a loop and Viagra, to keep the romance alive.
On her first experience of sex with Hefner, Holly Madison recalls:
"I have never had a more disconnected experience. There was zero intimacy involved. No kissing, nothing. It was so brief that I can't even recall what it felt like beyond having a heavy body on top of mine."
Hefner was a man who, according to his valet, liked to see women suffer:
"He was more interested in watching. He would hire famous male porn stars, including John Holmes, with huge penises and watch them have sex with different girls he brought in. Hugh sat there in his favorite chair, smoking a joint and eating red licorice and watching. I had to go into the room afterwards and if the girls couldn't walk, I would have to escort them to the bedrooms so they could recuperate. Hef sometimes gave bonuses to the women because the sex acts were so painful."
And while Hefner kept the local cosmetic surgery practice in business, too bad if your breast implants burst:
"Hef wasn't a kind man ... He was very brutal to his girlfriends and sex partners. He made sure they had breast implants. In those days, the implants were new and they would shift and burst and I witnessed many women who had this done begging and crying to Hef to help them and he would put them back in the hospital and then discard these women. He didn't care. They were disposable."
A high number of Playmates have died young from drug overdose, suicide, homicide, or some other unnatural cause, including Bill Cosby's particular favourite who later ended it all with a bullet to the head.
Playboy: A paedophile playground
It wasn't just official Playboy bunnies who were expected to serve Saint Hef. Laurin Crosson, a fellow activist and sex industry survivor who runs a safe house for women escaping prostitution in the United States, shared this on her (personal) Facebook page:
"But especially thanks for asking me if your 'photographer' could take a picture of my vagina for your 'private collection', you asked this in front of a room of people, all seeming to laugh at my uncomfortable stutter. I was 16. I was scared and felt so pressured."
Hefner liked to display the charms of the younger members of the female species. They were used as centrefolds and playmates, diversifying the masturbatory mix on offer to his loyal followers. This truth relating to Playboy's girl-child centrefolds and bunny-eared girl children has not been properly acknowledged - certainly not by the writers of rosy obituaries. How could this practice go unremarked by so many?
Playboy linked "innocent children with strong Playboy orgasm-based stimuli" in the words of U.S. researcher Judith Reisman, who documented Playboy's treatment of pre-pubescent girls. Playboy, Reisman found, was deliberate in its eroticisation of girl children. In one year alone, 39% of Playboy centrefolds were of children under 12. Brooke Shields, then 10, was posed as paedo-fantasy material in Playboy Press 1975 publication Sugar N Spice, made up to look like an adult woman in a girl's body. Eva Ionesco, at 11, became the youngest model ever to appear in a Playboy nude pictorial. One image, depicting a girl lying face down naked with a doll on Disney sheets, is captioned: "BABY DOLL. It's easy to feel paternalistic toward the cuddly type above. Naturally, she digs forceful father figures, so come on strong, Big Daddy."
Then there were the child sex abuse cartoons, also documented by U.S. psychiatrist and feminist Linnea Smith. While denying it would ever publish such offensive imagery, Smith located published pictures of children in sexual (abuse) encounters with adults.
Sexual violence, and other forms of "Entertainment for Men"
Playboy rape cartoons, making a joke out of the gravest human rights violation experienced by women, were also popular. In 1986, radical feminist Andrea Dworkin appeared before the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography observed of the rape porn genre:
"When your rape is entertainment, your worthlessness is absolute. You have reached the nadir of social worthlessness. The civil impact of pornography on women is staggering. It keeps us socially silent, it keeps us socially compliant, it keeps us afraid in neighborhoods; and it creates a vast hopelessness for women, a vast despair. One lives inside a nightmare of sexual abuse that is both actual and potential, and you have the great joy of knowing that your nightmare is someone else's freedom and someone else's fun."
Wife beating also fit within the magazine's "Entertainment for Men" subtitle. As recently as 2000, Playboy published a Romanian article entitled "How to Beat Your Wife... Without Leaving Prints," which provided instructions in carrying out wife battery without getting caught.
Behold, then, your hero of the sexual revolution: paedo-fantasies, girl children depicted being violated, rape comics, sniggers over sexual harassment in the workplace, wife battery as the stuff of humour - on these evils, Hefner's celebrity sycophants have nothing to say.
Hefner feminism: Exploitation, not empowerment
As if these crimes were not enough, Hefner also helped colonise the world with porn culture: his tentacles extending to Playboy-themed products for children - including baby jumpsuits and dummies - and young people. Just take, for instance, accessory store Diva selling Playboy-themed necklaces to girls (including "Playmate of the month" themes), Priceline selling Playboy makeup ("Hef's favourite lip gloss"), Adairs bedding store selling Playboy sheets, and Bras N Things with its Playboy range.
Bras N Things dutifully posted a tribute to Hefner on its Instagram page: "The man that inspired it all ..." On this we can agree.
Glosswitch, writing in the New Statesman, describes the depth and reach of Hefner's harmful impact:
"Hefner feminism is all around us. It's the feminism of pre-teen girls seeking designer vaginas; of men who rent out vaginas and wombs; of women who diet, shave, starve and never say no. We're not free from oppression, but oppression is no longer stigmatised. Isn't that enough?"
It is also the feminism of many young women known to me, who subject themselves to porn-flavoured photoshoots and post their images on Instagram with the hashtags like #feminism and #empowerment alongside - because this is how empowerment is packaged to girls in porn culture.
But Hefner was not about equality or empowerment for women. (The self-interested funding of abortion rights doesn't count - after all, pregnant bunny girls didn't make nice centrefolds and what self-made Playboy-aspiring man wanted to be saddled with some kid he'd unfortunately sired when all he wanted was sex?)
In a 1999 interview with Hefner, NPR's Terry Gross commented on the 52-year age and power disparity between Hefner and his "girlfriends," his life experience and the fact he has amassed a fortune; she observed: "They're not even out of college yet so it wouldn't be possible to function as your equal." Hefner replied: "Is that of some importance?"
Female equality was not important to him - so why are so many people saying it was? Hefner sold a commodified view of women, and branded it as a form of freedom. What he did was, more accurately, orchestrate a diabolically effective backlash against the perceived "womanisation" of America. It is no wonder, then, that "sexual freedom" came to look an awful lot like a male fantasy.
But this propaganda, outfitted in bunny ears and cottontails, has resulted in a putrid, retrograde and destructive legacy which no amount of post-mortem deification can sanitise.
In a final indignity to the most famous woman he famously exploited, Hefner is to be buried next to Marilyn Monroe, whose image he used on his first cover without her permission or payment. Though born in the same year as Hefner, she was dead at 36 after being "digested by the culture that consumed her." And it is this culture which is the house that Hef built.
As published on ABC Religion and Ethics.
And how a pornified world harms our ability to achieve gender equality
“Pornified messages are bombarding our young people and giving them distorted ideas about their bodies, about relationships, and about sexuality,” says Melinda Tankard Reist, in this podcast interview, “According to global research, (this is) making our kids very unwell.”
We are seeing a rise in negative physical and mental health outcomes, eating disorders, anxiety and depression, self harm, low self-esteem and poor academic performance.
“I believe we are facing a significant crisis amongst our girls,” says Melinda.