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Month: May 2008

Too sexy, too soon

Beyonce’s (Sesame) Street Walkers: Sexualized Girls in Dereon Ads

Welcome to “Girls Gone Wild,” Little Tykes Addition. These ads featuring Dereon Girls clothes ( a clothing range designed by Beyonce’s mother)  might provide a momentary laugh if they came out of an old “dress-up box” or if the girls were doing a mock “Pussy Cat Dolls presents Girlicious” audition. But the idea that they’re aimed for public view is alarming.

Still raw from the Miley Cyrus Mess, people are weighing in and they’re not happy with what they’re seeing.

According to New York Post’s Michelle Malkin,

If you thought the soft-porn image of Disney teen queen Miley Cyrus – wearing nothing but ruby-stained lips and a bedsheet – in Vanity Fair magazine was disturbing, you ain’t seen nothing yet. [The young models] are seductively posed and tarted up, JonBenet Ramsey-style, with lipstick, blush and face powder…The creepiness factor is heightened by the fact that women were responsible for marketing this child exploitation. So, what’s next? Nine-year-olds performing stripper routines?

So why are these sexualized images such a problem?

Media, such as magazine ads, TV, video games, and music videos can have a detrimental effect on children.

Not only has the sexualization of girls and women in the media lead to mounting public concern, researchers continue to find that the images can have a profound affect on the confidence, body image, dieting behaviors and sexual development of girls. Dr Eileen Zurbriggen, associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the chair of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls is scrutinizing these issues;

“The consequences of the sexualisation of girls in media today are very real,” said “We have ample evidence to conclude that sexualisation has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development.”

What do they mean by sexualization?

When researchers speak of sexualization, they’re referring to when a person’s value come from their sexual appeal (looks) or their sexual behavior and when the person is looked upon as a sexual object, to the exclusion of other characteristics such as character, intelligence, and ability.

Examples:

  • Dolls with pouty lips, mini-skirts, and fish-net stockings aimed at the 4-8 year old market place
  • Thongs (g-strings) marked for young girls ages 7 to 10 years old (some printed with slogans like “eye candy” and “wink wink” on them).
  • Young pop-stars and celebrities dressed provocatively or inappropriately
  • Video games with sexualized images
  • Cartoon-clad thongs (g-strings) for teens

But are children and teens really that impressionable?

While there hasn’t been a body of work that directly links sexualized images in ads and electronic media to problems in girls, individual studies strongly suggest that a link may be evident when it comes to media and eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression in girls. For example;

  • Adolescent girls who frequently read magazine articles that featured articles about dieting were more likely five years later to engage in extreme weight-loss practices such as vomiting than girls who never read such articles.
  • Middle school girls who read articles about dieting (compared to those who did not read such articles) were twice as likely to try to lose weight 5 years later by fasting or smoking cigarettes. These girls were also three times more likely to use extreme weight loss practices such as taking laxatives or vomiting to lose weight.
  • The average person sees between 400-600 ads per day
  • About 7 of 10 girls say that they want to look like a character on TV
  • After just 10 minutes of exposure, the researchers found that the groups that had watched the music videos with the thin, attractive stars, exhibited the largest increase in body dissatisfaction in comparison to those who simply listed to the songs of completed the memory task with the neutral words. In addition, and perhaps the most troubling, it did not matter whether the girls had high or low self esteem to begin with—they were all equally affected.
  • About 41% of teen girls report that magazines are their most important source of information with regard to dieting and health and 61% of teen girls read at least one fashion magazine often.

But here’s the real deal:

Be vigilant about the media that’s delivered through your mail slot. Be conscious about the messages that are conveyed in your living room. If you don’t like what you see:

Don’t buy it: Beyonce may make the clothes but you make the decisions. Only you can determine what comes through your doors from the mall and what goes out your door to school.

Shut it off: No; you can’t be with your child at all times but it’s important to supervise the media flow into your household. There are plenty of parental locks and internet blocks that can put your in control.

Talk about it: Let your child know your values and why you don’t think what the ads are portraying is a smart choice for her or your family.

Ask questions: You may be surprised by your child’s view of the media. They may be more savvy than you think. Ask what she thinks about what she’s seeing—be present—and listen.

Expose her to positive images: There are several positive role models in the media. However, don’t put all your eggs in one basket (we saw what happened with Miley and Jamie Lynn Spears). Open up your children’s world to actual living, breathing, 3-Dimentional role models in your community so that they can be inspired by something well beyond what they see on TV or in clothing ads.

Some decision-makers might be making fools of themselves by “pimping out” little girls in ads or draping a 15 year old tween queen in a sheet and sending it out to print, but you’re still the parent. Continue to instill values in your young children and they’ll be more likely to focus their attention away from these tween tarts and dolls gone wild and towards more appropriate activities; like playing dress up and watching Sesame Street.

Dr Robyn Silverman.

If you want to read more on the opinions of Australian researchers and commentators, I recommend you read the many excellent and thought provoking submissions received by the recent Senate Inquiry into the Sexualisation of Children in the Contemporary Media Environment –

http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/eca_ctte/sexualisation_of_children/hearings/index.htm

 

 

The standard you walk past is the standard you set

You may recall me sharing my outrage with you over sports commentator Caroline Wilson’s treatment on the Footy Show. The charming Sam Newman decided to dress up a mannequin in skimpy lingerie, staple her picture to its head and thrust it’s crutch into the face of his fellow co-presenters. By all accounts – this was deeply offensive.  

Even more offensive – Sam responded to the ensuing outrage by saying that women who complained were “liars and hypocrites”.

The fallout has been really interesting to observe. And it is not just women who are complaining. In a move that media commentators say is virtually unprecedented, the ANZ bank has directed its advertising away from the show. The Age newspaper has also redirected advertising from the show to other Nine programs after Newman attacked the newspaper and its journalists. Women’s Forum Australia is considering requesting more companies boycott the program. Director Melinda Tankard Reist (a regular Butterfly Effect contributor) has made WFA’s stand crystal clear:  “The program has caused a great deal of hurt to a lot of women and if The Footy Show can’t respond in a proper manner, then maybe they will respond when they start losing money.”

I was particularly taken with writer Catherine Deveny’s assessment of the incident in the Herald on the 21st May. I have attached the link to the full article but really it is just so powerful that I feel compelled to quote from it extensively here:  

I’ve seen Wilson take the lads on. She’s quick and outspoken. So what took her so long to write about her treatment in Mannequingate?…

I’ve often been confronted by jarring or offensive behaviour and chewed it over silently for a while before realising that I’ve been put off my own instinct by an invisible electric fence in my head.

I hold my tongue while grilling myself — “Am I overreacting? Am I being uptight? What will they think of me if I say something?” — before concluding “No, you’re right. That’s wrong. Speak up.”

By the time I’ve got past the invisible electric fences, it’s often too late.

When the blokes encourage you to play the dignified silence card, that’s code for “pipe down, girly, or we’ll demonise you”. Then you won’t be able to do the job you so obviously love and you’ll end up the loser. There’s always an implication that they’re doing us a favour, letting us play with the boys.

Look what the media does to Cherie Blair, Germaine Greer and Hillary Clinton. Any opportunity newspapers have they run the worst possible photograph of them. One that makes them look mean, ugly and hysterical. Punishment for speaking up and refusing to stay within the fences…

If a bloke had been the victim of such premeditated humiliation, the advice would have been “sue the pants off the bastard, Stevo. You don’t have to take that. Stand up to him. What do you mean ‘dignified silence’? Where are your balls? You can’t let him treat you like that. Shirtfront the bastard. And call a lawyer.”

Ignoring iniquity and injustice doesn’t work. The mere presence of pigs in suits reinforces and vindicates other pigs and lowers the expectation of all male behaviour. Letting it go normalises the whole thing and establishes some kind of precedent along the lines of “these things happen. And they blow over. Boys will be boys.” No. Pigs will be pigs. And it needs to stop.

It’s not good enough to be sorry about this kind of debauched behaviour after the fact. We have to stop it happening, and not just in the media. In workplaces, schools, social situations and under our own roofs.

And within our own invisible electric fences.”

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How very true! Yes – this type of blatant misogyny must stop. And yes – we do have to step up and break through our own electric fences. Our girls needs to see what  strong, confident, assertive woman look like. They need to see how we set boundaries, and how we demand to be treated both within the home and by society itself. If we won’t show them, who will?  

 

News flash! With the upgrades made to Edublog over the weekend, I can now upload the audio of an interview I did last month with Prue McSween on girls and bullying. Enjoy!

  Click to listen – Dannielle Miller and Prue McSween on cyber bullying and Club 21, Radio 2UE. mp3

Teacher Resources – ready to go!

Don’t you just love good quality, free lesson plans and teacher resources? This web site one is one of my more recent discoveries:

btn_homemagazine_over.jpgMy Pop Studio www.mypopstudio.com

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Their blurb:

“My Pop Studio is a creative play experience that strengthens critical thinking skills about television, music, magazines and online media directed at girls. Users select from four behind-the-scenes opportunities to learn more about mass media:

In the Magazine Studio, users compose a magazine layout featuring themselves as celebrities. They write an advice column, explore the power of digital retouching, and reflect on the role of body image in today’s culture.
In the TV Studio, users edit a TV show where the story keeps changing but the images remain the same. They examine their TV viewing choices, comment on teen celebrities, and compare their daily screen time with others.
In the Music Studio, users create a pop star and compose her image and song. They explore the power of music in selling a product and search for truth in media gossip. The comment on the values messages in popular music.
In the Digital Studio, users test their multi-tasking abilities. They share their experiences with the challenges of digital life online. They consider the “what if’s” of social networking sites and reflect on the power of media and technology in their social relationships.”

I have played around on this site and think it will have enormous appeal as it is really educational, interactive, and fun! There are also excellent accompaning lessons and activities for teachers and parents too (all free and downloadable as PDF’s).  

 I particularly like this one on photo fakery  photo%20fakery.pdf

“After playing Photo Fakery, students look at the web site of a professional photo re-toucher and read and discuss a persuasive essay about the impact of digitally manipulated images on personal identity and cultural values. This activity strengthens reading comprehension, critical thinking, and writing skills. After reviewing the vocabulary as a pre-reading activity, students read independently and complete the questions. Afterwards, they discuss the questions provided on the worksheet.”

It would be marvellous to adapt this exercise for seniors by getting them to read through the highly controversial and illuminating article that appeared in The New Yorker this week on premier photo retoucher Pascal Dangin – “Pixel Perfect.” This article is jaw dropping.

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Pascal is the photo retoucher the magazines call in “when they want someone who looks less than great to look great, someone who looks great to look amazing, or someone who looks amazing already-whether by dint of DNA or M·A·C-to look, as is the mode, superhuman.” We are told that in the March issue of Vogue alone “Dangin tweaked a hundred and forty-four images: a hundred and seven advertisements (Estée Lauder, Gucci, Dior, etc.), thirty-six fashion pictures, and the cover, featuring Drew Barrymore.” Not surprisingly, his work is not credited in the magazines that pay him to “translate” their images. How disturbing is this observation by writer Lauren Collins: “Dangin showed me how he had restructured the chest-higher, tighter-of an actress who, to his eye, seemed to have had a clumsy breast enhancement. Like a double negative, virtual plastic surgery cancelled out real plastic surgery, resulting in a believable look.”  

Dangin is the man behind the Dove Real Beauty / Real Hypocrisy controversy I mentioned last week – in this article he claims he did the retouching on their ad’s too: “Do you know how much retouching was on that? But it was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone’s skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive.”

Used any excellent resources in your classroom? Love to hear about them!   

Worshiping the Writing Muse

65105.jpg“I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle
with human emotion.”
 

Laini Taylor

I love to read. I have always been devoted to reading. In the bath, before bed, with my children – I surround myself with words that help me make sense of the world. Words that amuse me. Words that challenge me. Words that leave me breathless with their brilliance.  

This week I struggled to make sense of some particularly disturbing events and searched almost manically for the considered insights of others. I thought I’d share some of my angst with you, and the words that helped soothe me. The pieces of writing I chose to absorb have not provided me with simple answers, but they have at least validated my own inner turmoil and ultimately made me feel less alone…

I have included links to the complete articles I quote from here in my articles of interest page.

 1. Heartache – The horrific abuse of children, both in Texas (where 463 children were removed from a polygamist camp after reports of widespread sexual abuse) and in Austria (the nightmarish story of a father’s ongoing imprisonment and sexual abuse of his daughter) left me feeling deeply sad.

I love children. More than I ever thought I could – and not just my own children, but everyone’s. This love and the empathy I have for young girls in particular seems at times so very large and hard to contain. It has arrived suddenly and unexpectedly into my life and whilst it is key to my success in working with young people (they can see, smell and taste its authenticity) it does also leave me psyche wounded by reports of children being harmed.

I ached to move beyond despair and sought to discover what, if anything, these events could teach:  

There is a link between the horrific violence committed against the women of the captive Austrian family and the apparent abuse of teenage girls in Texas, and it is the same unbroken chord that connects them tangentially—but significantly—to Hannah Montana’s fall from grace. When women and girls are routinely viewed as objects, they are dehumanized. They can be seen as chattel or animals, until someone uncovers a horror so complete that we recoil from it. Yet every day around the world, women are still sold into marriage, shunned for their husbands’ adultery, and raped as sexual assault is used as an instrument of war.

No, the degradation we have seen so much of these past few weeks does not signal the end of the world. But it provides a chilling reminder that history itself, with our own culture of sexism and misogyny feeding it, still consigns women to fates no man would wish upon himself.” 

Thank you Melinda for finding these words for me. Thank you writer Marie Coco – the pieces fit. I can now move beyond despair and get angry, and once again be active.   

2. Dilemma – 

I love reading blogs and am refreshed by the immediate, unfettered way bloggers write. The on-line world buzzed with news that Dove’s “real beauties” may not be so real after all. Crikeyreported that: “In a May 12 2008 profile in The New Yorker posted online, Pascal Dangin of New York’s Box Studios is quoted as saying he extensively retouched photos used in the Campaign for Real Beauty, which, if true, could seriously undermine an effort that already has subjected Unilever to considerable consumer and activist backlash in recent months. –AdAge

Even if this latest report is not true, I still feel instinctively uneasy about Unilever’s involvement in any self esteem program designed for girls. Unilever’s other key brand is the not-so-respectful Lynx. Lynx is a brand targeting young men, it promotes hyper sexualised images of women stripping and gyrating to a guitar rift lifted from a 1970’s porn film: “Boom Chicka Waa waa…”  

I have, of course, blogged on this in previous posts. The quandary? To speak out more publicly via the mainstream media, or to remain composed. On the one hand, I have plenty to say about the wisdom of allowing Dove into schools. On the other, as the CEO of a private company that also works in schools on self esteem and body image programs,  I do not want my arguments to be dismissed as merely “sour grapes”, nor do I want to be seen as criticising The Butterfly Foundation as they manage Dove’s in school programs in Australia. I believe the Foundation is highly reputable, hard working and genuinely committed to the welfare of young women. Other women I also admire enormously have been affiliated with Dove’s campaign too – including Naomi Wolf, a woman I consider one of my feminist role models.

The words below pre-date the latest outbreak of Dove alarm, this piece was written in 2006. I find I continue to return to it, however, as it confirms my suspicions and hearing them articulated so passionately, provides a release…   

HOW comfortable would you be with a fast-food chain providing the nutrition information in your son’s biology class? How about a beauty company lecturing your teenage daughter on her self-image…

What’s going on is a sales pitch. Everywhere we look, we see the beauty industry attacking women’s body images in the name of selling products that don’t actually work. Dove ingeniously aligns itself with the critics of its industry, while doing what exactly? Selling the same you-too-can-be-beautiful creams as its competitors…

Yes, these women are big and fleshy when compared with the anorectic adolescents usually trotted out to convince us to part with mega dollars for small pots of potion. But these confident, grinning women, with their perfect teeth and flawless skin, don’t resemble those I see in my local shopping centre pushing trolleys. There isn’t a wrinkle or a saggy behind on any of them.

What’s more, and despite Dove’s assertions to the contrary, these women are models. They were carefully culled from the crowd and paid to represent a product. Same as any other casting call. They’re now celebrities, touring shopping centres and appearing on television in the United States – a marketing dream…

In the end, even though Dove may ask some useful questions and may even do some good, its measure of beauty is still calibrated by thighs not thoughts, visage not values and appearances not actions.

Dove’s definition is just as disempowering and confining as any other definition of idealised beauty.

Would Dove really be so concerned about my self-image if it weren’t trying to get me to buy its products? Would the company still bankroll its social and educational programs, if sales declined?

If Unilever, which owns the Dove brand, was really committed to the body image issue, wouldn’t it change the advertising (its worldwide media budget is $8.6 billion) for all its other beauty products: Pond’s, Lux, Pears, Sunsilk and Rexona among them? Wouldn’t it be concerned that it’s the maker of Slim-Fast?

If this was anything more than the savvy implementation of a marketing angle, would the same company have given us LynxJet, the most sexist advertising of recent times?

Call me cynical, but I guess there must be real beauty in those dollars.”

Thank you Helen Greenwood.

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Finally, thank you to Margaret Gee, my literary agent, and to Katie Stackhouse at Random House. I have just been offered a book deal with Random and am thrilled by their obvious commitment and excitement about the project.  

I too shall swirl and swing words.

Wonderful.

  

Miley Cyrus – next teen victim of the “blame and shame” game.

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This week I have been asked numerous times to comment on Disney’s 15 year old poster girl Miley Cyrus  ( a.k.a Hannah Montana) . There has been much controversy surrounding her provocative Vanity Fair photo shoot and revealing My Space photos.

Mmm…well here are a few thoughts.

First up, the magazine shoot. Most commentators seem to be debating whether she knew she was posing in a provocative way or whether she was in fact duped by Vanity Fair ( she claims they mislead her and she had been told the images would look arty not sensual). Isn’t this missing the point? For me, the real question is: what makes it ok for an adult magazine to publish images of a 15 year old girl looking so sensual and post-coital? Even if she had knowingly posed for these – this does not excuse the adults involved (both at the magazine and within Miley’s team of advisors and minders) for encouraging her to represent herself  in such an age inappropriate way. Why is Miley the one coping the flack?

Interestingly, her risque My Space pages have been leaked at exactly the same time. As evidence that she is wayward? I have viewed these, most are average pictures of a young teen in love mucking about with a boy and with her girlfriends. She seems to be exploring her budding sexuality, I can understand that. She is 15. By 15 – I had a boyfriend, I played at pouting, posing. She may well have been sick of the “perfect girl” pressure that can overwhelm all our young women. Working for Disney must amp up the pressure to be perfect by a million. 

In her own “space” she is breaking free. Thank goodness that in my day we did not have inexpensive digital cameras that make it far too easy to take and post images that are best not recorded for posterity!

On the one hand our young people seem so very grown up and IT savvy, yet they can also be incredibly naive – particularly about the possible ramifications of what they post and share on line. They think they can play around, explore, and take images that will be forever “just for their friends” to see. Nothing in cyber world is truly private forever. 

The truth? Miley is not “God’s Police” as Disney would have us believe. Nor is she a “Damned Whore”. And oh how her fans have turned on her – we hate the perfect girl when she messes up.  

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She was merely mislead and foolish. Sadly, she may have done irreparable damage to her career and reputation as society will not quickly forgive the “girl slut”. Take the recent Big 21 story in Queensland – would a group of 17 year old boys forming a “boys club” and bragging about their drinking and sexual exploits have made national news?

The other important lesson from all this – some of her My Space pictures are alarming as it is sad that she thinks playing at grown ups means flashing her bra and knickers. But let’s be realistic – at the moment – it does! She is wearing more than many of the Bratz dolls we give our pre-schoolers.

If we are going to be shocked and offended by Miley, then we are hypocrites. We reap what we sow.

And I think we need to be VERY careful in any debate featuring young people at playing sexy that we DO NOT shame them. They are victims too.

However, we can shame the Bratz developers, advertisers and all other adults who push the “women as sex object” line onto our children.

Which leads me to sharing the following article with you. It discusses the truly shameful cyber sites we should all be really worried about.

I will save my rage for Miss Bimbo – and just hope Miley gets new advisors and a big hug.  

Thank you to Melinda Tankard Reist for this guest post…

A half-starved bimbo is not a cool role model for girls

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“What do you want to be when you grow up darling?” a mother asks her little girl.

“A Bimbo!” she replies enthusiastically.

Forget dreams of your precious daughter growing up to be Prime Minister or solving world poverty. Young girls are being given the message that their ultimate aim in life is to be a bimbo.

If it’s not enough that Paris Hilton has been lauded as the ultimate role model for girls, now there’s a new virtual fashion game to help them become “the coolest, richest and most famous bimbo in the whole world.”

It’s the sluts-r-us approach to childhood play.

Miss Bimbo requires the purchase of plastic surgery and “essentials” like motivational weight loss products for the girl’s virtual persona to win.

Each player is given $1000 bimbo dollars. Your bimbo is hungry? Buy her some diet pills – the first item on the food menu and “the easier way to eat.” They’ll help her stay “waif thin”. Since when did diet pills become food?

(Because of the international outrage over the diet pills, Miss Bimbo’s creators have since removed them from the food list. That’s very noble and all, but they should never have been there in the first place).

Miss Bimbo has to get bigger breasts or she’s got no chance of winning. “Bigger is better!” the pre-pubescent youngster is told. Does she lose points if her implants start leaking? We’re not told.

A study late last year found one in four Australian 12-year-old girls wanted to get cosmetic surgery. A Queensland surgeon says more young girls are expressing a desire to achieve the same look at the implant stuffed ex-Big Brother housemate Krystal Forscutt.

Can’t we offer girls more than an aspiration to be Miss Silicone 2008?

The site’s fashion shop offers lingerie for little girls to buy for their bimbo.
Girls can earn extra “attitude” points by buying a makeover and putting their character on a tanning bed. I wonder if points are deducted if Miss Bimbo gets cancer?

The “French kiss game” involves kissing boys in Club Bimbo where they can “dance, flirt and maybe meet a handsome Boyfriend”. Just click the “go flirting” button and our primary schoolers are on their way. “Your boyfriend will (hopefully) give you some money every day because he loves you”. Sounds more like a pimp than a boyfriend. At higher levels, girls must seduce a billionaire on vacation.

Last I checked, the player in the lead was 10-years-old.

The “Miss Bimbo” game helps entrench the belief that a girl’s sexual prowess is her main appeal – even if she’s only six, the age one player registered last month.

The game promotes being sexy and hot as the ultimate ideal for girls, diminishing their value and worth. It makes them think they have to be a bimbo to deserve attention and admiration. This puts under-age girls especially, in danger.

The game also turns girls against each other by competing to be the bimbo who “skyrockets to the top of fame and popularity.” Victims of school-yard bullying and the bitchiness of other girls are vulnerable to feeling even more self-hatred because of this game.

Should we be surprised when we learn that school girls are ranking each other for hotness and popularity and wearing their ranking on their writs, as emerged recently at a private girl’s school in Mackay? Girls who flunk out and receive low rankings end up victims of exclusion and cyber bullying when results are posted around the world.

The site’s all-male founders say the bimbo’s goals are “morally sound”. Which part of “morally sound” don’t they understand?

The game is irresponsible. Research shows that the objectification and sexualisation of girls and young women is contributing to eating disorders, self-harm, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and poor academic performance.
This game feeds on the body angst of girls. “You want to turn heads on the beach don’t you?” players are asked. And if you don’t, there must be something wrong with you.

Eating disorder experts say the game is as lethal as websites promoting anorexia. In Australia, eight-year-olds are being hospitalised with the disease. Games like this fuel a climate which makes girls feel they have to look like stick insects to be acceptable.

Why can’t game makers come up with games that make girls feel good about themselves rather than selling a message damaging to their health and wellbeing?

Melinda Tankard Reist is an author and director of Women’s Forum Australia (www.womensforumaustralia.org)

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