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Month: November 2011

Life After Kyle

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which is also commemorated by the White Ribbon Campaign.

White Ribbon recognises that men and boys need to to work towards eradicating the fact that one in three Australian women over the age of 15 have experienced physical or sexual violence at some time in their lives. Disability Discrimination Commissioner Innes summed up why this day is more than merely symbolic: “…it is a time to draw attention to this grave issue in our society. It is a time to ask men to ensure their actions make it clear they are against it, by speaking out about it and passing the important message – that there is no place for violence against women – onto their family and friends, particularly to other males.” The White Ribbon Campaign encourages us to highlight the importance of respect for women and strive for attitudinal change; all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

How fitting then that both mainstream and social media are abuzz with discussion over Kyle Sandiland’s recent outburst against a female journalist. Sandilands named the journalist and said she was a “troll…a bullshit artist”. He then commented on her appearance, mocking her hairdo and ranting:  “You haven’t got that much titty to be wearing that low cut a blouse. Watch your mouth girl, or I will hunt you down.”

Using the hash tag #vilekyle, Tweets called for Austereo to sack him. An on-line petition urging sponsors to “ditch” Kyle attracted thousands of signatures. David Penberthy declared he finds him “…about as funny as the hole he has in his head where other people keep their brains” and branded him a “dictionary definition misogynist”. Miranda Devine attempted to highlight how this “living, sagging embodiment of misogyny” was a sad indictment on a culture that has become increasingly toxic for boys and men:  “We now have a generation of men brought up with rap music that celebrates violence to women while their own innocent maleness has been treated as a dirty little crime since boyhood.” Whilst, in my discussion with Kerri-Anne, I argued that it is those around him, his co-host Jackie O, Austereo, and indeed the listening audience who must also be held responsible for allowing this man the elevated platform from which he can belittle, threaten and abuse:

 

It is my belief Kyle will go. He has proven himself to be not just a shock-jock but a liability. You may recall Charlie Sheen was forgiven for his atrocious behaviour towards women (in 2006, Sheen’s then wife, Denise Richards, filed a restraining order against him, saying that Sheen had thrown chairs at her, pushed her, and threatened to kill her. In 2009, he made similar threats against his new wife, Brooke Mueller, while holding a knife to her throat.  And in 2010 Sheen went on a violent rampage at the Plaza Hotel, allegedly verbally and physically abusing a prostitute he had hired for the night). It was only after Sheen turned on his producers that he was sacked.

But how can we ensure another Kyle, or another Sheen, does not emerge to replace those that have, fuelled by their own self-importance and fury, self-combusted?

And how do we deal with the many other men who are not so public in their abuse of women, and are not currently being held accountable?

The conversations need to be kept alive long after Sandilands has been silenced.

Shaming and Taming Teenage Girls

“America’s favorite shame machine, Lindsay Lohan, has embarrassed herself yet again! …Look away now if you don’t like to watch people throw their dignity in the trash..”

Look away now if you don’t like to watch the media revel in shaming young female celebrities. The above quote wasn’t lifted from of the plethora of “trash” mags, but rather from online site Jezebel, a site that claims to be offering “celebrity, sex and fashion…without airbrushing.” No airbrushing but, it would seem, with an extra dose of female venom – or, as we like to call it, fem-ven. Sadly, Jezebel is not alone in reveling in dishing up the dirt on young women.

Much of popular culture perpetuates the idea that young women can simply not be trusted, particularly if they have money, fame or any kind of power. Think everyone’s favorite targets; Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian… Going by all the recent reports which document young women stripping off and partying on, you would be forgiven for thinking that young women are simply out of control.

Think too of the more troubling way in which teen girls are presented by those who are supposed to have their best interests at heart. How many books on teen parenting have featured either surly looking misses with arms folded on their covers, or titles which claim to help parents “survive” adolescent girls (please note – girls aren’t carcinogenic).

The general consensus seems to be that girls are running wild and must be tamed, or shamed- stat!

Never mind that teenage girls are considered more mature than their male counterparts. Never mind that girls continue to outperform boys academically. Never mind that girls aged 16 to 24 are safer drivers and have higher tertiary enrollment rates than boys in the same age group. And don’t even consider the drastically lower incarceration rates of young women compared with young men.

The problem is not that young women are irresponsible but that the media is interested only in the few who are.

The moral panic over young female celebrities is so intense that many people forget that in some ways young men are more at risk than young women, yet curiously there is no moral panic surrounding the boys.

As women who work with teen girls on a weekly basis, let us reassure you – it’s not that amazing young women are not out there. Young women are doing great things. The problem is one of visibility. The media rarely reports on young women in an affirmative way. Apart from the odd report of a young female sportsperson or aspiring fashion model, there is surprisingly little on offer.

As a young woman, unless you fit the category of innocent virgin, or vulnerable victim the chances are the media will vilify you. But why is there such a witch-hunt for young female celebrities? Just as many young male celebrities take drugs and misbehave. Hello almost every rap star / gangsta wannabe on the planet! Hello Charlie Sheen!

So why the double standard? And how does the double standard fuel the moral panic over girls as vulnerable and highly susceptible to negative influences? More to the point, are paternalistic offers of protection really just veiled offers to control girls?

The sexuality of teenage girls produces a cultural anxiety that results in the social scrutiny of young women’s bodies and behaviours. When teenage girls develop curvy bodies and active libidos they can no longer be neatly categorised by those who would prefer to view them as asexual beings. This unsettles many in the community.

Some then deal with their anxiety by projecting it back on to the bodies and actions of young women through extreme regulation and control. Some men police young women as a way of policing their desire for them. Similarly, some older women who are threatened by younger women’s sexuality deal with this anxiety by trying to police them.

But the vast majority of teen girls have not committed any crime and are guilty of nothing more than testing boundaries and trying to make choices in an increasingly complex, adult world. When we work with young women they tell us they are sick of being “lectured”, told off for “doing everything wrong” and policed.

Setting boundaries is vital but let’s stop the vitriol and panic and aim for a more empathetic, strengths based approach to raising girls. Let’s respect the competencies they bring to discussions and let’s build on their capacity for ethical decision making.

The real crisis? The fact that we are further alienating and isolating our young women by perpetuating a self fulfilling prophecy that all girls will be difficult and deviant.

 

This post was co-written with Nina Funnell. Nina is a social commentator and freelance opinion writer. She works as an anti-sexual assault and domestic violence campaigner and is also currently completing her first book on “sexting,” teen girls and moral panics. The post was first published by US site Feministing. 


 

Australian Human Rights Awards recognise Enlighten Education!

I’m so excited I can hardly type! Enlighten Education has just been named a Finalist in the Australian Human Rights Awards, in the Business category. The prestigious award is the Australian Human Rights Commission’s way of recognising a business with a proven track record in promoting and advancing human rights in the Australian community. You may read the full press release announcing this here: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/about/media/media_releases/2011/106_11.html

We are so proud to have been nominated. And we are buoyed by the knowledge that increasingly the wider community is recognising just how much girls truly matter. When she won the Human Rights Medal last year, Thérèse Rein said she felt the medal “encourages people that they are on the right track, that their efforts are worthwhile, that what they are doing matters to others, that they are in fact making a real difference”.

We know from the way girls light up in our workshops, and from the feedback we receive from parents and teachers, that we are making a difference — but it is brilliant to receive such public acknowledgment as being named a finalist in the business category of these awards.

Enlighten is passionate about empowering girls to stand up for their freedom of identity and sexuality, have good self-esteem and body image, and make the most of educational and career opportunities — free of discrimination based on their gender or appearance, and free of restrictive, sexualising and objectifying messages from the media, advertising and other cultural influences. We are working towards a future in which all girls are encouraged to be critical thinkers, form their own conclusions, know their own minds and find their own voice!

The winners of the Australian Human Rights Awards will be announced at a ceremony in Sydney on 9 December and we wish all the nominees the best of luck.

Drunkorexia: Why girls are starving for perfection and drinking to oblivion

We are coming up to a time of celebration for girls — end of exams, school formal, schoolies week, Christmas and New Year’s — and unfortunately that means we’re also heading into the prime binge-drinking season.

Seven out of 10 teenage girls engage in binge drinking, consuming five or more alcoholic drinks on one occasion. Meanwhile, among 15-year-old girls, almost 7 in 10 are on a diet. And researchers have coined a new term, “drunkorexia”, for a disturbing phenomenon: a growing number of girls and young women, especially university students, who avoid eating all day so that they can “save” those kilojoules for a big night of drinking.

Risky teen behaviour such as binge drinking is nothing new, of course. As adults, most of us can look back and wince at some of the excessive drinking we or our friends did. But the whole “make sure you line your stomach” idea that was prevalent when I was growing up doesn’t make sense to girls now who simultaneously feel the pressure to be thin and to drink (kilojoule-laden) alcohol with their peers.

There is a huge emphasis in our culture on balancing kilojoules in and kilojoules out — and some girls are taking drastic measures to balance those numbers. The consequences of being starved of food and bingeing on alcohol are even more drastic on the body, heart and mind.

I am glad this topic is getting some media play this week, because we all need to be aware of this trend and start a dialogue going with our girls, especially as they get ready for the party and holiday season. I spoke about it this week on Kerri-anne and hope parents found it helpful:

It frightens me that many parents seemingly dismiss their teen daughters’ (and sons’) drinking as just a rite of passage. I have spoken to many mums and dads who are almost hysterical about the possibility their teen daughter might start using drugs or have her drink spiked with drugs, yet are not at all concerned when they hear that she has been drinking alcohol. Often parents are the ones who actually buy the alcohol for their teens. In Australia we do have a tradition of using alcohol in every social situation — to celebrate, to commiserate, to relax with friends and family — but here are some reasons that I believe it’s time we all came up with some new traditions (from my book The Butterfly Effect):

What every girl should know about alcohol

Please take into account that figures are available only for men and women over the legal drinking age, 18. Younger girls, with their still-developing brains and growing bodies, are at even greater risk.

 

Females are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol than males. This is because males and females are physically different and so our bodies process alcohol differently. When a person drinks, alcohol enters the bloodstream and then, being water soluble, it is distributed throughout the tissues of the body that contain water. Females usually have smaller bodies than males, which means that there is less water volume to take up the alcohol, leading to a higher concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream and a greater effect. This is compounded by the fact that fatty tissues do not take up alcohol and females have a higher proportion of body fat than males. With fewer tissues in the body to take up the alcohol, a female will be more affected than a male who consumed the same amount. Additionally, the body’s ability to break down and rid itself of alcohol is limited by the size of the liver and on average females have smaller livers than males.

The culture of dieting and striving to be thin also increases the impact of alcohol on females. Dieting leads to an excessive loss of body fluid and as it is the body’s water content that takes up alcohol, there will be a higher concentration of alcohol in a dieter’s system. This has serious implications for teenage girls.

Heavy drinking is risky for both males and females, but females are more prone to the acute and chronic effects of alcohol abuse. Because of our physical differences, the risk to our health starts at lower rates of alcohol consumption than it does for males. For women, the risk of premature death increases once we start drinking more than two standard drinks of alcohol a day; at that point, the risk of death climbs to 40 per cent higher than it is for non-drinkers. For men, on the other hand, the risk begins to increase at four drinks a day.

The greater the amount of alcohol a person drinks above the guidelines, the higher their risk of premature death. Hence bingeing – consuming an excessive quantity of alcohol at once, a form of drinking adopted by most teen drinkers – is especially dangerous.

Because our livers are smaller than men’s, women are vulnerable to liver damage and cirrhosis at lower levels of alcohol consumption. Alcohol increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer and the risk rises with the level of alcohol consumed. A woman who drinks three or four standard drinks a day has a 35 per cent higher risk of breast cancer than one who drinks little or none. If a woman drinks more than four standard drinks a day, her risk is 67 per cent greater. Alcohol-related deaths in women usually take the form of strokes, injuries from falls, alcoholic liver cirrhosis, road accidents and breast cancer. Alcohol poses a further physical threat to women and girls in that it may increase the risk of being harmed by violence. Lastly, there is not only the risk of intoxication leading to unsafe sex or an unplanned pregnancy, but also the risks to the health of an unborn child.

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