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Month: October 2011

Sexting: the big picture.

On Thursday last week I attended the Sydney launch of Big Porn Inc, Exposing the Harms of the Global Porn Industry. This important collection of essays by leading experts and activists is edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray. The talks given, particularly by Ms Bray, were deeply moving and the personal toll that contributing to this book has taken on the writers was visibly apparent; what brave women they are to delve into the darkness so that we may see the light. Inspired by the contributors’ resolve, I committed to reading this book over the weekend and whilst I cannot say I enjoyed it, for it is (in parts) absolutely harrowing, I did find it deeply thought provoking. Works like this, which dare to challenge the rhetoric of porn as liberation or nothing more than a bit of fun, have the potential to help us reclaim and reshape our sexuality – which has unarguably been hijaked by an industry that increasingly views woman as nothing more objects to be used and abused for sexual gratification. 

Nina and I at the launch of Big Porn Inc

This week I wish to share with you an edited version of the chapter contributed by Nina Funnell. Nina is a sexual ethics writer, author and women’s rights advocate. She was awarded the Australian Human Rights Commission Community (Individual) Award in 2010 for this work.

Sexting and Peer-to-Peer Porn

Historically debates about children and pornography have tended to play out in two directions. Either children are discussed as being the victims used in illegal child pornography, or alternatively they are constructed as the damaged consumers of adult pornography which they inadvertently or deliberately access.

Both the “exploited victim” and “damaged consumer” approaches have produced a wealth of research that has contributed to public debates about pornography.

However, while these approaches have offered certain frameworks for understanding and discussing the harm caused to children, they have not been able to account for a recently emerging trend whereby young people are not merely accessing and consuming pornography, but indeed are now the active producers of pornography – specifically child pornography.

In recent years academics have been tending to the ways in which young people are incorporating technology into their dating, courtship and sexual socialisation practices. While many young people report that technology has enhanced their social lives, others have expressed concerns over the ways in which technology (such as digital photography, mobile phone cameras and webcams) has contributed to a paradigm where privacy is compromised.

The ease with which photos are now produced, the speed at which they travel, combined with the permanence of those photos once online has meant that young people’s private lives are now being shared and recorded in ways never seen or imagined before.

The advent of the smart-phone which allows users to access the World Wide Web directly from their personal phones also means that young people are now able to upload and retrieve digital information from anywhere and at anytime, with few time-delay barriers that might otherwise give an opportunity for reflective thought.

Of particular concern is the ways in which young people are now uploading sexualised personal content which is then immediately available for by peers and others. According to one study completed by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy in America, as many as one in five teenagers has electronically sent a nude or semi-nude image or video of themselves. This statistic, which has been widely reproduced in media articles, has alarmed parents and children’s rights groups everywhere.

Blended with the concern that young people may be jeopardising their reputations and employment prospects is the fear that such photos could fall into the hands of paedophiles as once those photos are online it is virtually impossible to control how they circulate or where they end up.

But beyond personal safety fears, there are additional concerns regarding the legal risks that children and teenagers face.

In 2009 three teenage girls in Greensburg Pennsylvania took nude and semi-nude photos of themselves on their mobile phones before sending those photos on to three boys. When the images were discovered on the boys’ phones, the girls (for photographing their own bodies) were threatened with charges relating to the production and distribution of child pornography, and the three boys were threatened with charges relating to the possession of child pornography.

In the media commentary that followed, a debate erupted over the definition of child pornography and the application of the law in cases involving teens who willingly photograph their own bodies.

On the one hand, some claimed that prosecution was an appropriate response that would serve to deter other teenagers from engaging in a behaviour now known as “sexting” (that is, the production and distribution of sexualised personal photos via mobile phone or online).

But there are other questions that should be raised Why, for example, are laws which were initially intended to protect children now being used to criminalise teenage sexuality? Is it appropriate to group sexually curious teenagers in with convicted paedophiles? How can a girl be both the victim and the perpetrator of the same crime? What possible good can come from labelling these teens as sex offenders and putting them on a sex offender register for the rest of their lives? Shouldn’t we preserve that register for criminals who pose a real threat to society?

Eventually the Pennsylvania case was dismissed after the American Civil Liberties Union launched a countersuit against the District Attorney for threatening to lay the charges against the teenage girls. But the significance of the case is clear: the laws have been utterly outpaced by the speed at which the technology had evolved and are now woefully ill-equipped to respond to the current paradigm.

The case also illuminated one other thing: that at the time when these laws were first developed no-one had comprehended the possibility of kids themselves being the ones producing the pornography.

There is a long history of children expressing curiosity over bodies and sex and there is nothing inherently wrong or unnatural about this. However when images are taken without consent or distributed to third parties without consent, the results can be devastating.

In May 2008 a young woman named Jesse Logan appeared on a Cincinnati television station to tell her story. She had sent nude photos of herself to her boyfriend who sent them on to other classmates when the relationship ended.

Logan was harassed and repeatedly labelled a “slut” and a “whore.” She became depressed, withdrawn and avoided school. Two months after agreeing to talk about her experience on television her body was found hanging in her bedroom. She was only 18.

In 2010, another eighteen-year-old student, Tyler Clementi committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bride. Clementi who was not openly gay had recently had a sexual encounter with a man in his dorm room.

His roommate Dharun Ravi and another student had secretly filmed and streamed the footage of the encounter. Clementi’s Facebook status at the time of his death read “jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” His body was found a short time after.

In 2011, another 18 year old female cadet in the Australian Defence Force Academy engaged in consensual sex with a fellow cadet. Unbeknown to her he was secretly filming and live streaming the footage to six other males in an adjacent room.

On learning what had happened the cadet, “Kate” stated that her “whole world came crashing down” and she was physically ill. Despite this, after speaking out she was subjected to more harassment and bullying from fellow cadets.

When all of these stories broke, the public responded with a mix of shock, horror and disgust at the ways the victims had been treated. Adults in particular have scoffed over the actions of the young people involved in these events.

But when we look further afield, the practice of individuals filming or distributing sexually explicit footage of other people without their knowledge or consent has a longer history and one that, in certain spheres, has gone largely uncontested.

Twelve years before the ADFA scandal a teen comedy American Pie (1999) was released. In it the protagonist sets up a webcam to film a female exchange student getting changed. The footage is live streamed to boys in a nearby home.

At no point is there any comment in the movie on the ethics of this behaviour or the likely emotional impact for the girl. In fact in American Pie 2 she returns as a love interest for the protagonist. In other films such as Porkies, Sleepers and The Virgin Suicides, groups of boys perving on women without their consent as a form of male bonding is depicted as normalized behaviour. Of course this isn’t limited to film.

In 2009 a sports reporter named Erin Andrews was filmed nude while alone in her hotel room. The video quickly became one of the most searched Google items. Video-blogging on Feministing, American writer Jessica Valenti, made the following comment:

You know you can see plenty of hot naked ladies on the Internet. It’s not that hard to fine. But folks want to watch this and people are interested in this precisely because Erin Andrews doesn’t know she is being filmed. I think that reveals something incredibly f–ked up about the way American culture views women. That what we consider hot and sexy is looking at naked pictures of women without their consent.

Looking further afield again we can see many other examples where internet users have swarmed to download sex tapes of women which were produced or released without their consent: Paris Hilton, Kendra Wilkinson, Pamela Anderson and Katie Price have all had sex tapes distributed without consent. Many adults have downloaded and watched these films.

It is erroneous to suggest that celebrities or people who work in the public eye do not deserve privacy. Such an argument falls into the trap of suggesting there are two types of women in this world: those you are allowed to abuse and assault, and those who you cannot.

Likewise, it is also problematic to expect teenagers to live up to a higher standard than we set for the rest of society. We need to be consistent in our approach to non-consensual filming and distribution of sexual content.

While digital technology and social media have no doubt enhanced many aspects of our lives, they have also extended the ways in which women and girls can be violated, humiliated and abused.

To deal with this will require more than mere education for young people about the risks associated with technology. It will require us to teach them techno and sexual ethics and it will require us, as adults, to also abide by the standards we set for them.

To do this, we need to acknowledge and redress the misogyny, sexism and deep degradation that underscores so much of our current culture.

The Big Chill

My words of advice were offered to teen girls in the September issue of Girlfriend Magazine. I have had such a strong response from teens telling me this article helped them navigate a friendship that had turned toxic that I thought it worth republishing here (with Girlfriend’s permission). Feel free to pass this on to the young women in your life who may be feeling the big chill…

Image by The Notebook Doodles. Her beautiful art work is featured in our FREE mobile phone wallpapers which may be downloaded at our shop: www.enlighteneducation.com/shop

HOW TO DEAL WITH FRIENDS WHO FREEZE YOU OUT

Just yesterday you were happily splitting bestie charms and planning holiday fun, but today the reception’s so icy that you need thermals to approach. The worst thing is, you have no idea why. The friendship freeze-out is pretty common, and if it happens to you there’s not a lot you can do to prevent it. But you can learn how to get through it. We show you how.

IT’S GETTIN’ COLD IN HERE

The first thing to know is you’re not alone. “Teenage girls tend to isolate and ostracise their friends more than boys do,” says Dannielle Miller, CEO of Enlighten Education (enlighteneducation.com.au). And sadly, there’s usually no reasoning behind it. You probably haven’t done anything wrong, and there’s nothing you could have done to avoid it. Yes, it’s hurtful, but you can get through it. We know you can.

DEALING WITH THE FROST

Now is the time to tap into your inner strength. “Having a strong sense of self is extremely important,” says Dannielle. “It’ll help you be more resilient if others aren’t validating you the way you’d like to be validated.” Knowing yourself, and being happy with the person you are, will help you gain perspective on the sitch, and you won’t need to be defined by the people who are around you.

CAST A WIDER FRIEND NET

Creating a friendship network beyond school is super-important as it means you have someone to fall back on. Whether that be through sport, drama, or other friends you’ve met at parties, if your friendship group is broader, you won’t rely so heavily on the ones at school.

IN THE NOW

For the short term, rather than mope about the situation, use the extra time to your advantage. Do your homework, research that essay, or have lunch with a different group. It’ll feel empowering to not rely on one gang to have a good time. The other immediate action you can take is to chat directly to the group leader. “Have a one-on-one conversation, which is less threatening,” says Dannielle. Focus on how you feel and always use “I” words instead of “You do this”. It’s also important to try and end on a positive note, so Dannielle suggests something like, “I feel at the moment you girls don’t want me to sit with you. I’m hurt but I respect that’s your choice and hopefully we’ll catch up later”. Taking the high ground will have them thinking they’ve messed up.

THIS TOO SHALL PASS

We know that when this happens to you it feels as though your life will never be the same again, but eventually it will. “In my experience, this stuff usually blows over in a couple of days,” says Dannielle. However, if it does go on for longer, it could become serious bullying, and this is when you need to tell someone – because that is never OK. And remember, if this is how your “friends” treat you, perhaps you should think about what you really want in a friend – coz this sure ain’t it.

Article written by Sarah Tarca, Girlfriend, September 2011.

Twattish prudes and Playboy bunnies: Just another day at the Diva Facebook page

Jewellery retailer Diva’s Facebook fan page continues to be a hotbed of (barely moderated) comments about their new Playboy line that I talked about last week. Unfortunately, what could have been a forum for debate quickly became a cyberbully’s paradise. A handful of fans of the retailer – and many more trolls who seemed to be on the page simply to insult people – filled the page with taunts.

I posted the following comment on the page and also emailed it to Diva’s head office:

Diva your FB page has becoming increasingly filled with personal attacks and obscene language (not to mention it appears to now be haunted by young men who wish to insult women). This is a direct result of you introducing a porn-inspired range. It now means this page is no longer suitable for young girls. How do you feel about this? And, as this is your public profile, do you intend to monitor this page and moderate comments? Finally, based on the comments here it seems very obvious that the vast majority of CONSUMERS (ie: not young boys or 1-2 young women who are very brand loyal) now say they have lost respect for YOUR brand and feel alienated by this marketing decision. How do you intend to win back consumer confidence? Looking forward to listening to your responses.

My comment got 50 ‘likes’ yet I am still waiting for a response from Diva. So are scores of other people who went on the Facebook page and politely and rationally explained their concerns about Diva marketing a porn-branded product to tweens and teens.

I received a lot of positive comments but also the now almost-obligatory obscene comments (which came from a young guy who admitted he just likes stirring up strangers on the net).

The company was painfully slow to do anything about the hurtful, bullying insults all over their Facebook page. I don’t want to repeat any of the actual posts here – I don’t want to give the trolls any more oxygen – but the blog Corporate Failings summed it all up like this:

Insults relating to concerned customer’s gender, intelligence, sexual orientation, race, disabilities & weight have spewed forth unrelentingly.

One ‘fan’ even went as far as taunting a concerned customer suggesting they’d do well to take their own life because of their appearance. Diva was no-where to be found . . .

Diva finally began removing most of the worst bullying and adding their own comment:

Hi we like hearing your views but we are not ok with personal attacks on each other, so we will be deleting any posts that are considered bullying. Feel free to post a cleaner version as we are happy for you to have your say. x

The thing is, there are still some very hurtful comments on the page – the usual stuff about weight, age, appearance, oh, and calling us “twattish prudes”. Meanwhile, we are all still waiting for an actual response by Diva to our concerns. After waiting four days, this is all we got, and some pictures of flowery brooches and headpieces:

Hey, sorry we haven’t been able to respond sooner, we didn’t expect to be so busy over the last few days. As you’ve probably seen by now we’ve had heaps of FB comments, tweets and news stuff and on top of that we had a long wet weekend here in Sydney.

So now we are catching up on all of the things that we are cramming in to 4 days! One things for sure, we love our fashion, it always comes with lots of emotions, always changes and moves so fast.

So we know you are all looking for the next trend. We are loving that it’s spring carnival and we’re totes excited about seeing all your fashion on the field this year.

Here are some great pieces perfect for the races!

I love Caitlin Roper’s response:

So just to clarify, Diva’s official response was: Look, pretty flowers!

It is deeply concerning to me that the internet, which holds so much promise as a way to connect and share ideas and beliefs, can so easily become a venue for hateful speech designed to intimidate and silence. And all too often, it is women who are on the receiving end, something I have written about before, in Sticks and Stones. Facebook itself has sat on its hands while people set up fan pages celebrating rape and other types of violence against women.

I went of Kerri-anne recently to talk about my own experiences as the subject of an online hate campaign on Facebook against me after I made a comment about girls kickboxing. A prominent member of the kickboxing community said he wanted to punch me in the face and encouraged thousands of Facebook users to join in on the abuse. I ended up personally ringing a number of these people and confronting them about it, which was very interesting because a number of them turned around and apologised profusely, not quite realising the extent of their actions. Some ended up issuing public apologies.

Even when bullying is happening in cyberworld, we can – and should – stand up to the bullies.

Someone who is doing just that is 14-year-old Sydney girl Julia Weber, who has released a book, ILY (I Love You) – One Teen Girl’s Guide to a Bully-Proof Adolescence. Julia has been subject to bullying, including cyberbullying by a group of boys at a school dormitory. What upset her most was that only a few boys were doing the actual cyberbullying but the rest, about three-quarters of the boys, just stood by and did nothing to stop the bullies. “It’s those people – the bystanders – who we have to change,” says Julia.

I couldn’t agree more.

For tips on combating bullies, and some helpful links, see Bullying: It’s time to focus on solutions.

Playboy for Diva: Now young girls can help prop up a failing porn company!

Pic credit: Collective Shout
Playboy’s profits are in the toilet. Actually, they began posting big losses at least five years ago, when their magazines started to lose popularity.

The answer? Slap the Playboy bunny logo on every product in the known universe. Adults, children, male, female – Playboy doesn’t mind. If you have money, they’re happy to take it. There are energy drinks that boost the libido, doona covers, pencil cases, T-shirts – and now a range of sparkly earrings, necklaces and rings at Diva.

Diva’s market is primarily tweens and teens. No matter what the company says about it being a store for all ages, the pink love hearts all over their website, the “BFF us on Facebook” button and the ads in girls’ magazines are all a bit of a giveaway.

In a press release, the company described the Playboy jewellery as “the perfect amount of jewels and just the right amount of sexiness” and said the range “will have every girl feeling glamorous and red carpet ready”.

Yeah . . . no. For young girls there is no “right amount of sexiness”. Nor do they need to feel “red carpet ready”.

News flash, Diva: maybe you haven’t noticed, but pretty much every child and adolescent expert has warned against the increasing sexualisation of girls. The American Psychological Association says that sexualisation has a negative effect on girls’ “cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality and beliefs”.

The objectification of younger and younger females – from padded bras to Playboy bunnies — turns girls’ burgeoning sexuality into something that’s not for their pleasure at all. It teaches them instead that they’re playthings, to be displayed and logoed and ogled. – Mary Elizabeth Williams, salon.com

The Playboy logo is creeping into our culture everywhere. The Easter bunny even visited the Playboy mansion in the film Hop. It seems that companies such as Diva want us to view this brand, which makes money out of girls getting naked to please men, as nothing more than harmless, mainstream fun.

I know some of you have been dismayed that there are girls sticking up for Playboy on Diva’s Facebook page. That is their right – but I want to make a case for what Playboy really means.

1. Playboy is not harmless, mainstream fun. It is not a cute little bunny.

2. Playboy is Hugh Hefner. He is 85. He lives in the Playboy mansion with his girlfriends, all at the same time. It’s no so much that he could be their father, more like their grandfather. Or great-grandfather. He ain’t that cool really, is he?

3. Playboy isn’t harmless or soft porn. As Collective Shout notes, some of Playboy’s films “depict women enduring body punishing and violent sexual acts for men’s sexual pleasure”. Some of their films have titles that are sickeningly degrading of teen girls and women. I encourage you to sign Collective Shout’s petition demanding that Diva stop selling the Playboy line. Just to give you a heads-up, if you’re under 18 or sharing this with girls, some of Playboy’s film titles are mentioned on the petition, and they ain’t pretty. It is clear from the titles alone that this brand sells material that denigrates women and treats them as objects.

4. Criticism of Playboy isn’t a new thing. Writer and feminist Gloria Steinem exposed the truth of the Playboy Bunny’s life when she wrote a magazine article after going undercover to work at the Playboy Club almost 50 years ago. It wasn’t glamorous. It was badly paid, exploitative and denigrating. She pretended to the woman interviewing her for the bunny job that she had been a secretary. The interviewer looked at her and said, “Honey, if you can type, why would you want to work here?”

5. Playboy is not about women expressing their sexuality. It’s not about liberation. It’s about making money from women’s bodies. This marketing line on the Playboy site sums it up, really: “Get all these girls for 1 low price!”

Don’t be surprised if some girls seem hostile to criticism of the Playboy brand. Many teens see a brand almost as an extension of themself. They can be incredibly loyal because they have invested (quite literally) so much in a brand. One girl wrote on Diva’s page: “I personally own almost everything playboy and love the brand. In fact the phone case on this iPhone is playboy and the handbag on my knee is playboy.” To put this into context, this generation is the most brand aware in history. For instance, the average teenager in the United States has 145 conversations about brands each week.

And the fact that a girl is a loyal Playboy fan right now doesn’t mean she will be forever. At various points in my early teens, I thought the ultimate career would be supermodel or Playboy bunny. Then along came Naomi Wolf . . .

What I’m saying is, no matter how Playboy-saturated girl world currently seems, all hope is not lost. Our protests do count and we can make a difference.

We need to tell retailers it is not okay to steal our girls’ childhoods just to make a buck. The Diva website has a button on its Facebook page that says “We love your feedback” – so let’s give it to them! Add your voice to the debate going on right now on Diva’s Facebook page.

Many people have made compelling arguments on Facebook and I want to share with you Simone Patterson’s, which is very revealing of the company’s decision to keep the Playboy products on store shelves despite the possible consequences on girls:

I spoke on the phone with the GM (general manager at Diva) today, I asked her if she would agree that there core demographic was tween or girls aged around 8 – 13. She replied that yes, it was . . . Amongst many other things, I asked her to consider that what a child sees online, when they google playboy, as a result of seeing it in their beloved diva store, would be their 1st introduction to porn, and how did she feel about that. Her reply, ‘that would be regrettable.’

So far, the company doesn’t seem moved to do anything about the possible effect Playboy branding has on their young customers. The company tweeted this over the weekend: “We understand Playboy is not for everyone and we are sorry if you take offense to the new range but lots of our customers love it!” (Basically: so long as it sells, it’s okay by Diva.)

We need to keep up the pressure on Diva. I urge you to also tell Diva’s parent company, BB Retail Capital, how you feel. They have been selling Playboy-branded products through two of their other retailers, Bras N Things and Adairs, for a while. Now with the Diva range they appear to be expanding their use of the Playboy licence. They need to be told that, as Julie Gale from Kids Free 2B Kids puts it, “any company promoting Playboy products are promoting the porn industry – it’s that simple.”

I call on other companies that sell products through Diva and BB Retail Capital’s other retailers to exert pressure, too. Does Disney really want to see their brand being marketed to girls right alongside Playboy’s?

We also need to get a conversation going with the girls in our lives and encourage them to question what the bunny represents, and what wearing it truly means. Is it a fashion statement or a walking advertisement for a porn company?

Playboy’s aggressive campaign to license out the bunny logo is working. In 2010, they halved their loss from the previous year. This was partly thanks to increasing their licensing revenue by 63 percent, to $14.2 million.

So no matter which way you cut it, wearing the Playboy bunny means helping a porn company stay in business – the business of objectifying women.

Take Action!
Sign the Collective Shout petition here.
Write to Diva here: contact@diva.net.au
Let them know what you think on Diva’s Facebook page.
Tweet them here.
Phone them: 02 9938 3311 or 1300 348 228
More contact details for Diva can be found here.

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