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Month: July 2009

The Shame Files

This week in Sydney a 14 year old girl was left violated after being used as part of a 2Day FM radio stunt. What follows is a media statement prepared by Melinda Tankard Reist and Kids Free 2B Kids. I am very happy to add my support to this.

Background Reading –

Kevin Rudd criticises Kyle Sandilands, Jackie O “Rape Stunt”

Kyle Sandilands a hawking, spitting primitive.  

Media Statement

Child advocates call for protections for children in the media.

The lie detector radio stunt on 2Day FM involving a 14-year-old girl who revealed she had been raped at age 12, was a gross violation of her human rights.

The girl, Rachel, was strapped to a lie detector test, to be interrogated about school, drugs and her sexual experience by Austereo’s Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O and the girl’s mother.

Rachel was deliberately subjected to fear and distress. Her protests that she was scared and that it wasn’t fair were ignored.

It is the height of irresponsibility to hook any child up to a lie detector test. This is compounded when the intention is to expose a girl to a live outing of her sexual experience.

Regardless of any excuses about lack of advance knowledge that the girl had been raped, there is little doubt the aim was to publicly shame the child.

A young girl’s sexual experience is not relevant or appropriate for the entertainment of anyone.

Dragging a child onto the media stage to be interrogated with a lie detector about her sexuality is a horrific invasion of her rights. There is a well founded legal assumption of vulnerability and a need for protection of children at this age, which the station has ignored.

This form of public outing and humiliation is abhorrent and must be condemned. There needs to be a penalty.

What took place in the radio studio was child abuse and should be acknowledged as such. Increasing desensitisation to the needs of children needs to stop.

This program should be axed.

We call for a national strategy for the prevention of child abuse and exploitation, including in the media.

The Hon Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC, Former Justice of the Family Court and Founding Patron, Children’s Rights International

Tim Costello, CEO, World Vision Australia

Steve Biddulph, psychologist and author

Professor Louise Newman, Director, Monash University Centre for Developmental Psychiatry & Psychology

Maggie Hamilton, teacher, author, What’s happening to our girls?

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Adolescent psychologist

Barbara Biggins, The Australian Council on Children and the Media

Professor Elizabeth Handsley, Professor of Law, Flinders University

Clive Hamilton, AM, Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics

Noni Hazlehurst, AM, Actress, child advocate

Julie Gale, Director, Kids Free 2B Kids

Dannielle Miller, CEO, Enlighten Education and author The Butterfly Effect

Dr Renate Klein, women and girls health activist

Melinda Tankard Reist, Editor Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (forthcoming)

Carla Meurs, Co-ordinator, Solving the Jigsaw

July 20, 2009

Media Enquires: Julie Gale: 0412922253, Melinda Tankard Reist: 0414305378

I urge all my blog readers to complain directly to the radio station ( there is a contact form on their web site: www.2dayfm.com.au) and to vote with your feet – switch that radio station off!

Welcome to the Wasteland

Warning – this special blog post may be a trigger for some people.

For those of us who have never had an eating disorder it can be hard to understand the grip that diseases such as anorexia and bulimia have on young women’s minds. This week I would like to share a piece of writing that brings clear insight. Written by a 20-year-old woman whose anorexia and bulimia have brought her to the brink many times, it takes us right to the heart of what it means to have an eating disorder. I first met this talented young Sydney woman through my work with Enlighten, and I feel fortunate to have developed a real connection with her since. She is soon to leave hospital after spending time in treatment, and everyone at Enlighten sends her love, health, hope and peace.

Welcome to the Wasteland

If you could read my mind you would know how we see ourselves. Pathetic. Stupid. Ugly. Disgusting. Worthless. Useless. Fat. Lazy. Gluttonous. I could go on.

Yet others, when asked, will describe us with words we never imagined to be synonymous with ourselves. Witty. Intelligent. Together. In control. Hard working. High achieving. Compassionate. Energetic. Creative. Enthusiastic. Happy.

Welcome to the wasteland of eating disorders – contradictory in almost every way, and the epitome of self loathing. It is a world where nothing makes sense, basic requirements for human life are marked with a scarlet “DENIED” stamp and having nothing means everything. Where going down means you go up, and going up means you go down – low. It’s a place where frightened children fall into a mirror which shatters before they can escape. And where “leave me alone” actually means “please help me.”

It’s a reality carefully denied by those in its grips, and carelessly denied by those without the knowledge, experience or desire to understand. It’s an illness which affects not only those it physically hurts but almost every single person who comes into contact with that person. It’s a parasite which infects our minds and reprograms them, before we can possibly comprehend what a monster we’ve unleashed.

It’s a place where you have to watch someone fall. And fall. And fall. And fall. And often, there’s very little you can do to help them. Watching someone collapse doesn’t guarantee they’ve had their fall yet and “looking well” is merely a sign that someone is hiding their disease well. Running on empty doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve run out of fuel.

Welcome to our show – stage makeup, false smiles and all – where you’ll hold your breath and be gripping the edge of your seat as you watch us teeter on the tightrope, playing chicken. However, it’s a disease where all too often we lose our footing and we do make our spectacular final descent to earth, ending up 6 feet under. It’s up to those left behind to wonder if they could have done anything different to catch us. It leaves those of us in the grips of this illness wondering if we’re going next, or completely denying that we’re even on the tightrope.

Our community is unlike any other. We band together in mateship, each strongly denying our own illness, only to turn around and engage in exactly what we are most afraid of our friends doing. We accuse others of being irrational, frustrating and even psychotic – yet simultaneously we delude ourselves into believing that “one more time won’t hurt,” when we are in fact swiftly killing our spirits, and ourselves, and it’s only by the grace of Someone who is watching over us – or sheer fortune – that we’re still here today. We bitch about how awful our friends’ treatment teams are, but silently pray they will save them. We inadvertently collude with a friend’s disease before realising that we don’t want anyone else to be up to their necks in our hot water. No doubt our disease has also asked, even expected, others to collude with us in our scheming, planning and plotting.

We have moments of clarity, followed by moments of despair, quickly followed by denial. In that order. We would sell our mothers, our children, our lovers, for there to be silence in our heads. We dream of food, think of food, are obsessed with and possessed by food, and at the same time wave plates away with our hands and hold our breath walking past McDonalds. We eat carrot sticks in public, spending our nights eating everything in the pantry then acting out gut-wrenching, throat-shredding compensatory behaviours, which rip our bodies and minds apart. Or we’ve got the “normal eating” in public down pat yet eat nothing but soy sauce and vegemite at home, or spit out our food when no one is watching.

In recovery we take baby steps, chastising ourselves for never being the “best” at recovery. We swing between believing we need help, not wanting help, denying we need help and not feeling as though we deserve help. And back. We get up and run, crash headlong into an obstacle and lie on the ground crying. If we pick ourselves back up, we crawl, tentative, scared, knowing that it’s safe but anxious to stand up lest we crash back down to earth. We give up. We stand up and fight again. We leave treatment centres and psychologists on a whim – and regret our decision the minute we’re out the door. We take a few adult steps. We crawl again. Then we learn that things need to be taken slowly and consistently, and that even if we fall, we have the practice and, after years of doing this, the muscle tone in our knobbly, wobbly legs to actually support us.

We get frustrated. We scream. We take our unrepentant rage out on ourselves. We temporarily forget all we know about the damage we so easily inflict on ourselves and, desperate for a moment of control, fall back to our own ways. We come to terms with the damage that we’ve done – with psychologists, doctors, psychiatrists, dietitians, dentists, friends, family – and then turn around and point blank deny it. Or the truth hits us square in the eyes, and we regret everything. We swear we’ll never do it again, that we won’t make it any worse. We think “I seriously didn’t expect that to happen” even though we can recite the complications of eating disorders backwards. We end up close to dying, with all evidence before us, and repeatedly deny that we are so much as ill.

We say sorry over and over. Sorry for taking up so much space. Sorry for getting in your way. Sorry for voicing an opinion. Sorry for saying no. Sorry for saying yes. Sorry for thinking. Sorry for eating. Sorry for breathing. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Yet we can change to our eating disordered selves and back without so much as a breath.

We cling to childish ideas of recovery, of finding a cure, of fairytale “and they lived happily ever after” endings. We acknowledge that we will have to work hard to achieve our idealised state of recovery, but when the going gets tough we baulk. We begin once again to listen to the voice in our heads that convinces us that we’re not sick, or, in times of negotiation, that we’re simply “not sick enough”. We pin up fairy wands in our hospital rooms and pretend to be positive when in reality we don’t feel like we will ever escape the chokehold of this disease alive.

We can remember every minute detail of our week’s food intake and the calorie content of food we’d never so much as touch, and can recite our meal plans in our sleep. Yet sometimes we can’t remember what day it is. We live in a world where intelligence is measured by how many people we can deceive, rather than what we achieve.

Welcome to the wasteland of anorexia and bulimia.

Early intervention is key to treating an eating disorder. If you are concerned that your daughter or a girl close to you may be at risk, a good starting point is your GP, who can refer her to a relevant specialist. For older teens especially, it may be easier said than done to seek professional help. If she does not accept treatment, try to keep the lines of communication open; let her know that you are there to offer support and help her get treatment if she changes her mind. 

You may find it helpful to know some of the signs that can point towards an eating disorder:

• Extreme dieting, such as cutting out entire food groups or skipping meals
• Overeating
• Weight loss or gain
• Obsession with appearance or weight
• Loss of menstrual periods or disrupted menstrual cycle
• Sensitivity to the cold
• Faintness, dizziness, fatigue
• Anxiety, depression, irritability or an increase in mood swings
• Withdrawing from friends and family
• An increased interest in preparing food for other people
• Food rituals such as eating certain foods on certain days
• Wearing baggier clothes
• Exercising to an excessive degree
• Frequent excuses for not eating
• Eating slowly, rearranging food on the plate or using other strategies to eat less, such as eating with a teaspoon
• Eating quickly
• Stockpiling food in her bedroom
• Food disappearing from the pantry
• Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals

For more information on eating disorders visit:

The Butterfly Foundation: http://www.thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/

Eating Disorders Victoria: http://www.eatingdisorders.org.au/

or US site Something Fishy:  http://www.something-fishy.org/

The Voice of Iran, and of Women Everywhere

Like the rest of the world, I was sickened by the recent death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman shot in the protests that followed the dubious election result in Iran. The 26-year-old university student was with her singing teacher at the time of her death. In Iran, women are forbidden to sing publicly, so already we know that Neda was a courageous woman. Because her name means “voice” in Farsi, soon after the mobile phone camera footage of her death was shared around the world, people began calling her “the voice of Iran.”

For Neda’s life not to have been lived and lost in vain, we should begin thinking of her as the voice of women everywhere.

She was described by her fiance and family as a woman who didn’t have much interest in politics, so her death is less about the election controversy and more a sign of women’s enduring strength and determination to stand up for what is right — no matter the repression and intimidation they face.

Even before Neda’s senseless death, I had been struck by the number of women, especially young women, who were brave enough to take to the streets in the Tehran protests. During the election campaign, Mousavi — the man the protestors believe was the true winner of the election — made a promise that he would get rid of laws discriminating against women, so it’s no wonder women have protested in record numbers. And there is an awful lot at stake for women in Iran. We’re talking about demands for basic rights that we in the West take for granted, like marital and financial equality — but we’re also talking about demands for an end to practices that seem simply bizarre and archaic to us: polygamy, the stoning of women and harassment by morality police who can punish women just for wearing fingernail polish.

(Photo by Hamed Saber, Tehran)

This picture of a woman taking part in a silent protest in Tehran a couple of days before Neda’s death is far more radical than most of us in the West might at first realise. No, the two-finger gesture isn’t an insult in Iran like it can be here. What’s outrageous is that her head covering is loose, she’s wearing makeup . . . and those fingernails she’s holding up in a victory sign? Oh, they’ve definitely been manicured. This is an ordinary woman, but this is also a brave woman.

In Iran and some other parts of the world, expressing feminist ideals can be literally a matter of life and death, while in Australia and the rest of the Western world, ‘feminism’ has almost become the new f-word, a word not to be spoken in polite company. I’ve heard too many conversations about gender start out ‘I’m not a feminist, but . . .’

Perhaps the women who came before us did such a good job of fighting for equality and respect that girls and young women here feel that there is little left to complain about. When our daughters grow up they will have the right to vote; they will inherit laws against gender discrimination and sexual harassment, and laws protecting a woman’s right to keep her job after having a baby. Believing that the work of feminism is complete, perhaps many young women feel that it is just an embarrassing throwback, a social dinosaur.

But the courage and strength of the women taking to the streets in Tehran should give us all pause for thought. Our reality here in the industrialised West is not the reality of all women. In too many parts of the world, women and girls are oppressed. Too many girls can’t get the same education as their brothers; they become child labour or child brides. In Haiti, says Amnesty International, the large number of girls who can’t afford schooling either go without an education or enter into exploitive relationships with men so they can pay the fees. In South Africa, women are especially at risk of HIV infection due to the high levels of sexual violence they face, and women in many countries lack protection from sexual assault, domestic violence and sex traffickers. In countries such as Iran and China, women who stand up for basic human rights are harassed or end up in prison.

Our sisters in other parts of the world are risking their lives to speak out, in the hope that their daughters will one day enjoy equal rights. When all this is still going on, how can we say that the time for feminism has passed?

The inequality women are battling against in Iran serves as a reminder of how far we’ve come in Australia and the debt we owe the feminists who struggled on our behalf.

The courage and strength we’ve seen on the streets of Tehran in recent weeks are like a challenge to us: will we take a moment to remember that these women’s struggle was once our struggle? Will we give them our support and do whatever we can to help their cause?

And finally, the protestors’ actions are an inspiration. Though we may have forgotten or overlooked it, the spirit of these women is within us all: a passion for justice and equality, a sense of self-respect and dignity, deep concern for the girls and women of the future, and a fighting spirit that won’t quit till fairness prevails.

Imagine what we could do if we tapped into these qualities. Imagine the world our daughters could create if we nurtured these qualities in them. For let’s not forget that even though it may seem that the major battles have been fought and won for women here, inequities still exist between the genders. Women’s pay in Australia still lags way behind men’s; we are still massively underrepresented at the upper levels of business; and on average the greatest burden of housework continues to fall to us no matter how hard we work outside the home. Meanwhile, too many girls and women will wake up tomorrow planning to starve themselves; too many will feel overly critical when they look in the mirror; too many will experience sexual or domestic violence.

There is still work to be done — here and across the globe — and I salute the women who are fighting the good fight today.

(Photo by Milad Avazbeigi)

There are a great number of organisations to get involved with that help women around the globe achieve the rights we all deserve, including:

Amnesty International researches, exposes and fights human rights violations worldwide. Check out their website for ways to take action against injustice.

Mahboba’s Promise is an Australian aid organisation that helps women and children in Afghanistan, which has the highest proportion of widows and orphans in the world and is one of the poorest countries. Amnesty International has noted that women living in poverty suffer the greatest human rights challenges.

Women for Women International helps rebuild the lives of women survivors of war in countries such as Iraq, Nigeria, Rwanda and the Sudan. In war, women’s rights are often one of the first casualties.

Soroptimist International is an organisation of women in management and the professions working to advance the status and equal rights of women around the world.

The UN’s Say NO to Violence Against Women campaign, for which Nicole Kidman is a spokeswoman, is a global movement demanding that governments make it a priority to end violence against women.

 

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