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Category: Music videos

Can we turn up the volume, but turn down the noise?

This week I wish to share spoken word poet Madiha Bhatti‘s thoughtful piece on women in the music industry, an extract from which also appears below. Isn’t it powerful?

Mu(Sick):

So I heard this song the other day
That objectified women in every way
That doesn’t narrow it down much
But it was pretty depraved
The feminists are probably still rolling in their graves
It reduced people to parts, objects to be acquired
Turned hearts and minds into mere things to be desired
And as parts of my body were assessed and sized
I thought, “What a way to be dehumanized,”
These artists seem to be playing a game
Of how many times they call us the wrong name
Cuz I’m not a dime, those come a dozen
No I’m really not interested in all your lovin
I’m not your shawty, hoe, or trick
Your baby, lady, girl or chick
I mean can someone explain to me
How this counts as music? When you
Chant, you pant about windows and walls
Talk about a woman like she’s a thing to be mauled
Oh she got a big booty so you call her Big Booty,
If she had a big brain would you call her at all?
But it seems like I’m the only one appalled
That music can make me feel so small

 

 

You may also be interested in sharing my posts:

Claim back the music – “A British study found that watching video clips featuring skinny, semi naked gyrating women ( in other words, watching 99% of all music clips) for just 10 minutes was enough to reduce teenage girls body satisfaction with their body shape by 10 per cent. Dr Michael Rich, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics Media Matters campaign has gone so far as to state that exposure to misogynist music that portrays violence against women and sexual coercion as normal may effect other areas of young peoples lives and make it more difficult for them to know what is normal in a relationship.”

No More Blurring The Lines – I’m Talking To You Mr Bruno Mars –  “…you know what? I don’t want to hand out anymore free passes. I am calling “Enough!” “

And one by Enlighten’s own Nikki Davis – An open letter to Beyoncé (from a bewildered fan) – “So my question is, as a woman with the power to educate girls and women on what it actually means to be a feminist and why it is so important in this world, ARE YOU WITH US OR NOT?”

An open letter to Beyoncé (from a bewildered fan)

This week’s blog is by Enlighten’s Senior Presenter, and Program Director for Western Australia, Nikki Davis. You may read more about Nikki at our “Meet The Team” page.

nikki

Dear Beyoncé

I have been a big fan of yours for about ten years now. In many ways I suppose I fit the demographic of a typical Beyoncé fan – female, old enough to remember Destiny’s Child but young enough to still be able to take style inspo from your outfits. I am also an ex-professional dancer who cannot resist a great pop song with an infectious beat and an outstanding female vocal, even if the only time I break a sweat to it these days is on the treadmill.

When you released the B’Day album full of kick-him-to-the-curb anthems – climaxing with ‘Irreplaceable’ (yes I am that girl who always does the “to the left” actions when I sing along) – just as I was going through a break up with a cheating lying boyfriend myself you got me, hook, line and sinker. I became a true “Bey” fan. I now loved the heart-wrenching big belt ballads just as much as dance floor fillers.

And really, there is so much to love about you! You are beautiful – like crazy beautiful. You embrace your curves and flaunt them in leotards on stage. LEOTARDS! Who else looks fierce in a leotard? You’ve inspired me to sometimes wear the short tight skirts that the fashion world has us women believing belong only on young girls with slender, almost boyish figures. In fact you have told us honestly how hard you worked to regain your famous figure after giving birth to your daughter through exercise (take note all super model mums who cite “breastfeeding and good genes” – we don’t believe you).

I admire that you have also kept some of your private life private (we have never seen a single snap from your wedding with Jay-Z), you stand up for what you believe in (standing alongside murdered child Trayvon Martin’s mother and marching with the people in Manhattan for Civil Rights), you sing to sick children on stage (remember when you sang ‘Halo’ to little Chelsea James during your 2009 Sydney show to stadium full of crying fans – myself included?) and you speak out when it comes to equality (or lack thereof) between the sexes (more on this later).

And, boy can you sing! Your voice never ceases to amaze me. When you sang an accapella version of ‘I Will Always Love You’ during the Sydney performance of The Mrs Carter World Tour in tribute to Whitney Houston, I cried. Ok so I cry when it comes to you quite a bit – I told you I was a proper fan!

Ok gush over. You see Bey, I am having some trouble with some of your lyrics of late and well, I’m really struggling.

It began with your track ‘Girls Who Run the World’… great sounding song! But what do you mean when you say girls run the world? Um, cos we don’t. At all. Anywhere in the world. Here in Australia Bey, women make up more than half of the workforce but we still, on average earn 18% less than men. And anywhere from ¼ and up to ½ of all Australian women will experience some kind of physical or sexual violence by a man at some point in their lives. That’s kind of the opposite of running things yeah? And let’s not mention the countries in the world where women are not allowed to drive or go to school or are stoned to death for adultery.

But I know you know this stuff. You very recently wrote an essay for The Shriver Report’s Special Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back From the Brink where you agree that we are kidding ourselves if we think we live in an equal society.

And this stuff matters to me Bey. I am a feminist. I also now not only work with young women in dance but also teen girls in schools. I work with a brilliant company called Enlighten Education, empowering young women and inspiring them to really find their true voices in this patriarchal world.

But you know what? Because I love you I have been able to move past these strange lyrics. In your documentary film you tell us that this song was intended as a love letter to women, celebrating their strength. OK, cool. Perhaps the lyrics were maybe more of a wishful thinking thing?

But Beyoncé, with your latest release I’m stuck.

I can overlook the insane amount of time you spend on the album telling us about your sex life with your husband. And it really is, like, a lot of time. Apparently your sex life is so good it involves kitchens, temporary memory loss and accidental damage to rare works of art. Sure, none of the couples I know who have been married for a while and have a small child seem to be going all night long but if that’s the way it is for you guys then super!

I can also cope with the fact that you call your lady parts “skittles” (just) and dedicate a whole track to society’s obsession with perfection whilst appearing in every single clip looking immaculate. But hey, I love the sentiment (that’s one of the core issues I work with teen girls on) and to be honest I do love seeing your outfits/make up/nail art and admiring your beauty.

I want to say “She has done it again and pushed the boundaries even further this time with a new brand of arty-edgy-pop. Yippee!” And then cry happily at your talent and general amazing-ness.

But I can’t.

And it’s not even because the song “Flawless” is so perplexing with it’s feminist themes including a brilliant sound bite from Nigerian Feminist Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie mixed in with you repeatedly saying “Bow Down Bitches” – perhaps you were ironically using the word bitch there? Or telling men to bow down and calling them bitches? Surely Bey, you had a grand plan mixing those two elements together? I’m trying to trust you there, I really am.

However, when I listened closely to ‘Drunk In Love’ and looked at the lyrics (as it is such a catchy track and was fast becoming a favourite) I went cold.

Beyoncé, why would you include your husband rapping lines about Ike and Tina Turner in this song? You have long cited Tina as one of your heroes (and you performed in tribute to her many times including at the “Tina Turner Tribute” in 2005 – another YouTube clip in which I, of course, cried.)

But then in this super sexy number about how much you have sex with your husband, you somehow let him start making comparisons with Ike and Tina – a notoriously violent relationship and one which almost killed her. I had to consult Google and find out if anyone else was having a major, stomach churning issue with this. I found that my disappointment (scrap that – my horror)  was shared by others. Holly McNish in her opinion piece for The Mirror writes:

Jay Z – What are you saying?

“I am Ike Turner…Baby know I don’t play. Now eat the cake, Anna Mae. Said Eat the Cake, Anna Mae”. Beyoncé mouthing the words behind him, smiling.

For those of you who, unlike me, are not obsessed with Tina Turner and did not watch the film of her life story – What’s Love Got To Do With It – almost 100 times, this line is from that film…. Ike is jealous. He tells her to “eat the cake”… and when she refuses, he stands up, shoves it in her mouth and across her face. Her friend and backing vocalist tries to stop him. Ike threatens her, beats her and she runs away shouting to Tina Turner, “You are dead if you stay with him.”

It’s one of the most humiliating scenes in a film that charts the continuous rape and beating by a jealous and violent husband of his wife…”

Bey I don’t know what to say. What the? Remember how I mentioned those statistics about women and violence? There is nothing sexy about that. It’s criminal.

Holly McNish ends her piece on this with #Whatdoestinathink. I have a different question and it’s for you Bey, and it’s simply, WHY????

Actually no I lie – I have another question too…. I thought I could live without knowing this and still love your music but I’ve changed my mind… You write feminist essays but also shy away from the label of feminist – telling British Vogue in 2013 that the word “can be very extreme”. (Even though it’s correct definition – someone who believes in equal rights – is actually stated by Adichie in your song ‘Flawless’). You flirt with feminist themes in so much of your music and then confuse us by continuously using terms like “bitch” and collaborating with male artists like Kanye West who are notoriously misogynistic.

So my question is, as a woman with the power to educate girls and women on what it actually means to be a feminist and why it is so important in this world, ARE YOU WITH US OR NOT?

I’ll probably always sing along to “All the Single Ladies” (and I know many a feminist has much to say about this song too) but Bey, this new album is being deleted from my iTunes account.

Let me know if you have any answers for me and all the women out there who feel that casually referring to violence against women is not controversial or edgy but incredibly problematic and in fact, dangerous.

Yours truly

Nikki Davis – Feminist, Educator, pop music fan and serial crier.

No More Blurring The Lines – I’m Talking To You Mr Bruno Mars

Back in 2008 I blogged about my concern music no longer loved women:

Song lyrics have always been filled with sexual innuendo and pushed societies boundaries but this in-your-face mainstream misogyny is relatively new. And now- thanks to large plasma screens in shopping centers, bowling alleys and bars and night clubs – it is inescapable. It’s hate and porn, all the time.

Obviously nothing has changed – if anything, the lines seem to have become even more blurred. Robin Thicke sings about wanting to tear a girl’s “arse in two” in his song with the telling title “Blurred Lines,” because he know the “bitch” wants it. Yet it was Miley Cyrus’ twerking (suggestive dancing) to this song at the recent VMA’s ( Video Music Awards) that caused outrage – not the song itself. Blogger Matt Walsh nailed the hypocritical nature of many of the “Shame on You Miley” responses in his post “Dear son, don’t let Robin Thicke be a lesson to you”

A 36 year old married man and father, grinding against an intoxicated 20 year old while singing about how she’s an “animal” and the “hottest bitch in this place.” And what happens the next day? We’re all boycotting the 20 year old. The grown man gets a pass.

And so now welcome yet another grown man to the stage, Bruno Mars, with his latest single, “Gorilla.” The lyrics include:

Ooh I got a body full of liquor
With a cocaine kicker
And I’m feeling like I’m thirty feet tall
So lay it down, lay it down

You got your legs up in the sky
With the devil in your eyes
Let me hear you say you want it all
Say it now, say it now…

Yeah, I got a fistful of your hair
But you don’t look like you’re scared
You just smile and tell me, “Daddy, it’s yours.”
‘Cause you know how I like it,
You’s a dirty little lover

If the neighbors call the cops,
Call the sheriff, call the SWAT ‒ we don’t stop,
We keep rocking while they’re knocking on our door
And you’re screaming, “Give it to me baby,
Give it to me motherf*#cker!”

And you know what? I don’t want to hand out anymore free passes. I am calling “Enough!”

The first time I heard this was when I was dropping my two children to school in the morning while tuned to a mainstream commercial radio station. I expressed my dismay on Facebook and soon had many agree with me – the majority of the comments of support were from teen girls I am Friends with. Some of these girls went on to message me to say that it is no wonder the boys around them don’t always respect them, and that they feel a culture that celebrates this type of man-handling of women is making it hard to know what respect in a relationship really looks and feels like.

The messages these girls sent me are certainly reinforced by the research.Dr Michael Rich, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics Media Matters campaign has gone so far as to state that exposure to misogynist music that portrays violence against women and sexual coercion as normal may effect other areas of young peoples lives and make it more difficult for them to know what is normal in a relationship. And sadly, the statistics on sexual assault clearly indicate there is absolutely a great deal of confusion around the issue of sexual consent. A recent United Nations report shockingly revealed that one in four men surveyed in Asia-pacific admit to rape. Many respondents did not consider the act as rape, however, for they felt it was acceptable to coerce a woman into sex if she was in fact too drunk or drugged to indicate whether she wanted it. Nearly 73%  said they thought  they had an entitlement to sex, these respondents identified with statements like “I wanted her”, “I wanted to have sex”, or “I wanted to show I could do it”.

Colleague and writing partner Nina Funnell, who has worked extensively in the area of sexual assault prevention, offered the following thoughtful response to this study:

Sexual assault is just all too common and in Australia I don’t think the stats wouldn’t be all that different. I know too many women and girls who have had unwanted and non consensual sexual experiences. It is absolutely vital that we start a new conversation in relation to sexual education: we need to move beyond reproduction, puberty and the biology of making babies and start talking about consent and communication. We need to talk about sexual entitlement and its close (read: direct) relationship to sexual assault. We need to help all young people to recognise and respect other people’s boundaries. We need to focus on healthy relationhips, consent, boundaries, fair negotiation and respect. We need to empower young people to know their own bodies, instead of shaming them around their sexualities . We need a new conversation where we are brave enough to talk about the fact that these issues don’t only effect teenagers. And we need to get real about a culture that normalizes and even eroticizes non consensual acts. Most of all, we need to recognise that this is going to take time and hard work.

It is a shame that much of the nuanced discussion around the need for education was missed when the Daily Telegraph ran a story on my concerns over “Gorilla” earlier this week. It is important to note too (as it’s not clear from this article) that I am not saying the song should necessarily be banned per se, but rather there should be some guidelines for commercial radio that determine what song lyrics can be played at what time of the day – similar to what we now have for TV.

I did get the opportunity to have another say on channel 9’s Mornings show:

Surely we can offer a better soundtrack to our kid’s youth than this?

Body image and self-esteem programs: What really works?

Doing what I love: Presenting to girls

All school children should take part in compulsory body image and self-esteem lessons.

This is the finding of a three-month inquiry by the British government into young people, body image and self-esteem.

Yes! Governments are now at least trying to catch up with parents and educators who have been concerned for years that girls and boys are hurting because of the unrelenting pressure to fit narrow, impossible-to-achieve physical ideals.

I am heartened by the fact that British MPs from across the political spectrum declared that body image and self-esteem lessons should be compulsory for all children. The Australian government didn’t go quite that far when it established policies based on the work of its National Advisory Group on Body Image. The Australian policies are a start, but as I’ve discussed here before, I think they need strengthening before they will bring about the impact that is needed.

Just as they do in Britain,  kids in Australia and New Zealand need more body image and self-esteem programs in schools – and just as crucially, they need the right type of programs. So, when it comes to body image and self-esteem programs, what really works?

The British inquiry confirmed that media images of unrealistic bodies are largely to blame for young people’s body image angst and self-esteem battles. This is why we think it is so important to equip girls with media literacy skills. Policing and patronising simply won’t work, as anyone who’s ever tried banning TV, taking away internet privileges or chucking out magazines will tell you. The end result is usually a resentful girl and an atmosphere of distrust at home. Besides, no matter how hard you try to stem the tide of harmful images, they are everywhere – on billboards, the sides of buses, you name it. The best gift we can give girls is to help them develop lifelong skills to look at advertising and media critically, deconstruct them and make up their own minds. Only then will those photoshopped images representing the ideal woman lose their seductive and damaging power.

At Enlighten, what we want to see are girls with healthy all-round self-esteem based not on appearance alone but on all that a girl has to offer the world. Her brains, compassion, humour, business smarts, sporting ability, musical talents – whatever her own unique attributes happen to be. A big part of creating healthy self-esteem is building up resilience, the ability to bounce back after facing adversity. It is important for kids to have a solid sense of their own self worth so that they don’t crumble when things don’t work out as they hoped – when their marks aren’t as good as they expected on a test, their boyfriend drops them, they don’t get a role in the school musical. The stakes only get higher as kids grow up and face adversity as adults, which makes it vital to develop coping skills from a young age.

So we love what Geelong Grammar is doing. Teachers there are following the principles of “positive education”, which was developed by US psychologist and educator Martin Seligman, who is probably best known for his book Authentic Happiness. In positive education, students are taught not only traditional school subjects but also the skills to be happy and resilient.

This is not about kids walking around with a smile on their face, ignoring critical human emotion. It’s about a flourishing person who is in control of their emotion, who can deal with adversity, knows that adversity is going to hit them and there will be sad times and bad times, but they can bounce back from that. Geelong Grammar Vice-Principal Charlie Scudamore

Some public schools in Victoria have adopted a similar approach and are seeing great results, and South Australia is doing a pilot study with Seligman to see whether they should introduce positive education in all schools in the state system.

Feeling the love: Me with a beautiful girl who brought her well-worn copy of my book for teen girls along when I presented at her school

Positivity is crucial when working with girls, because only by embracing the positive and connecting with girls’ hearts can we truly effect change. Often girls shuffle into our presentations expecting the usual lecture – do this, don’t do that – but leave on a high because we create a positive, loving vibe and an atmosphere of fun in order to get very serious messages across. We see the results in the faces of the girls as they light up, and we know that the impact lasts long after the girls have left school for the day. We hear it from parents:

I had two daughters come home this afternoon absolutely passionate about their experience with Enlighten Ed today, it seems to have been able 2reignite all the girl power I’ve been sending their way since they were toddlers, except in a fun, fascinating, non-dorky-mother atmosphere. Thanks for trying so hard to equip our little girls for the harsh and hideously sexualised world that lies ahead 🙂 – Olivia Brasington

And we hear it from educators and the girls themselves. One of the schools we work with in Tasmania drafted a reflective survey for their girls one year after we presented there. When asked if the presentation made a long-lasting change to the way they behave towards other people, responses included:

Yes, I believe it did. I have a better perspective of my life, and how I see myself and other people.

Yes, I have come to respect who people are and what they believe in.

Yes! I have stopped basing everything on looks and started looking at the inside of people. I’ve realised I can have amazing friends that don’t need to be popular or pretty. I’ve started being more happy with myself.

We are always trying to find new ways to get serious messages across in playful ways that engage girls. Recently we produced these stickers designed to go on mirrors and provoke thought and discussion. The stickers are on sale at our site, where we also offer free resources to engage girls, such as our beautiful-looking iPhone app and wallpapers with inspiring and empowering messages.

A school where we regularly present has ordered a sticker for every school bathroom mirror . . . including those in the boys’ toilets. The school told us:

It’s exactly the type of message we want our students to understand and it is delivered in a way which will engage them and get them thinking and talking.

And this is the most important part of all, the key to any program or intervention with young people: get them thinking, get them talking. Create a supportive environment for ideas to take root and flourish. Win their hearts, so that their minds will follow. And always, always keep the lines of communication open.

 

The real barriers to women in leadership

I was honoured and thrilled to receive an Australian Leadership Award at the ADC Future Summit. But, oh irony of ironies, one of the lasting impressions I took home from my trip to Melbourne for the summit was just how much work we still need to do to give our girls the opportunity to shine in leadership.

Picture me sitting there with more than 50 business leaders. I looked around, and I realised that I was one of only 5 women in the room. We made up less than 10%. Do women contribute less than 10% to the world’s wealth and wisdom? If that were the case, then I guess a less-than-10% representation in leadership could be expected. But it’s not the case, is it? If any proof were needed, according to APEC, women are vastly underrepresented in leadership positions compared to their contribution to the economy and business, and their level of education.

Some of the barriers to women becoming leaders are tangible, such as inadequate childcare and lost chances for promotion for many women when they take maternity leave. But most of the barriers are culturally embedded, which makes them far more slippery and hard to pin down. Research has shown that in our culture there is a deeply ingrained belief that the qualities of a leader are assertiveness and competitiveness, and that these are male traits, while women are meant to be nice and compassionate. (Why our culture sees being nice and compassionate as at odds with leadership is an interesting question in itself.)

The workplace that today’s girls will inherit is undoubtedly a fairer one compared with previous generations, as there is now legislation to protect them against discrimination and harassment, and to enshrine their right to maternity leave. But you can’t legislate against cultural constructs. In fact, legal and accountancy firms and banks have found a way to get around the legislation so they can keep clinging to a deeply rooted cultural construct: that one of women’s roles in the workplace is to provide “some eye candy for the boys”, as Nina Funnell wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald. (Karen Brooks also wrote a great piece about this, in the Courier-Mail.) The law prevents senior management from telling female employees how they should look, so increasingly, companies are bringing in independent style consultants to tell female employees how they should look. (The men get to stay at their desks and keep working. I guess their wives and girlfriends should sort out their clothing choices for them, right? *Sarcasm alert!*)

In these “training” sessions, what do the stylists suggest women do to be taken seriously in their careers? Keep up with fashion. Wear high heels. Wear conservative makeup — and that means lipstick only, no lip gloss.

Okay, ladies, what are you waiting for? Now you’ve been let in on the secret, get out there and boost those statistics for women in leadership!

Danni vs the fashion police -- I do love a nice kaftan

I felt like a rebel at the ADC Summit and updated my Facebook status to: “Channelling Nina and Karen today in the fight against the corporate fashion police. Am one of only 5 women in a room of 50+ business leaders. Every one is in black or grey. I’m wearing my uber bright kaftan and have daringly glossed my lips.” How crazy is it that the act of wearing colours and lip gloss can feel like a radical statement for a woman?

All of this got me thinking about the messages we send girls when we criticise their fashion choices or shame them for turning up to school wearing lip gloss. Are we inadvertently reinforcing the sense that it’s okay to judge girls by what they wear rather than what they do?

Corporations bringing in style consultants might be a new phenomenon, but underpinning it is a very old idea: that no matter how accomplished and talented a woman or girl is, she must still fit within a narrow ideal of femininity. For teens, that ideal is expressed in music videos and ads and movies in which being a woman is all about one thing: how hot you are. In the grown-up workplace version, high heels and lipstick maketh the career woman. Hillary Clinton gets picked apart for failing to wear makeup when giving a speech. Julia Gillard’s bottom is a topic of public debate. This policing of appearance is undoubtedly a major barrier to more women taking leadership roles. As one of my Facebook friends commented, “Why would you want to leave yourself open to that?”

The revelations from my time at the summit went beyond fashion. David Moffatt, Chairman of Asurion Australia, gave the opening address, in which he discussed something very laudable: that companies should create flexible, family-friendly workplaces. He talked about his moment of truth, when his son called him at work and said, “Dad, you have been travelling for work half my life. I want you to come home.” His son was then 10 and David had indeed spent the equivalent of 5 years travelling for work. David left the office, went home, played with his son and vowed to back off on the travel. The audience were tremendously supportive and literally sighed at what a great guy he was to have rushed home and slowed down.

And I applaud him for doing it . . . but I also couldn’t help wondering whether a woman would have dared to share a similar story, for fear of being judged a bad mother. Rather than supportive sighs, I imagine she might be met with shocked silence as the audience thought to themselves: “What? She missed half her child’s life?” I turned to the woman next to me, who was looking fondly at David, and asked her what she honestly would have thought if a woman had shared the same story. “Truly? I would have thought, ‘Suck it up, princess, you made your choices!'” she said. She and I both reflected on what a long way we still have to go.

Another moment that got me thinking at the summit came when a social entrepreneur was introduced and at a particular line in his bio — “He also enjoys jumping on the trampoline with his son” — there were very warm smiles from the audience, giggles and looks of admiration. Would a woman leader have dared include this in her bio, for fear of looking frivolous and lightweight? Would the response have been the same? She might have had a tough job convincing the audience that she had a serious message to get across. There is a persistent and infuriating double standard at work: child-rearing isn’t meaningful work — unless it’s done by a man, in which case it’s not only meaningful, it’s beautiful and heroic.

I deeply respect both men for stepping up at home and for sharing their parenting stories in public. I think that if more men did both of those things, we would all benefit — men, women and children. But I question the current mind set in which male business leaders who take an active role in parenting are seen as almost noble, whilst women who try to combine motherhood and business are seen as either unprofessional at work or bad mothers at home.

In the plane on the way back to Sydney, I read in the papers about the virtues of attachment parenting (read: “attachment mothering”) and that studies have shown that children are sad because their parents work too much (given how strongly men have been encouraged to be career focused for generations, read: “mothers work too much”). Yet the surveyed children were simultaneously unwilling to help around the house to maximize the time they had with their parents at home.

Indeed, housework is a domestic battleground at my place. I don’t think my family are by any means unusually uncooperative: I am far from the only woman who walks in exhausted from a business trip to be greeted by mountains of laundry, a messy house and kids with a list of domestic grievances. The reality — and one of the most firmly established barriers to women attaining leadership — is that no matter how much women work outside the home, they are still expected to do the lion’s share of the work at home as well.

How do we get rid of this barrier for women, and for the women our girls will soon become? We chip away it, bit by bit. We try to teach our children, boys and girls, from an early age that there is no such thing as “women’s work” or “men’s work”. We play music and dance to try to make housework fun. We write long, impassioned letters to our kids about the unfairness of expecting their mother, by virtue of being a woman, to do everything around the house. (Okay, maybe it’s just me who does that!) At school, we think twice before saying, “Take this note home to Mum”, and when we notice that the girls are doing all the “housekeeping” type of tasks in a mixed-gender group project, we step in and make the boys responsible, too.

Integrity is the new sexy

Justin Bieber has been getting the media into a feeding frenzy by dishing up tiny bites of the video for his new song “Boyfriend”. Is it too raunchy for tweens? Well, from the snippets that the Bieber marketing behemoth has been teasing us with, it certainly seems that they are aiming for a more mature demographic, as Bieber himself grows up. Shadowy lighting, whispering suggestively in girls’ ears, pimpy comments about having handfuls of cash that he really wants to blow on his girl. See what you think: they play the teaser for the clip during this interview I did about Bieber’s image makeover, for Channel 9’s Mornings.

I was disappointed when I saw the teaser. It’s just so predictable. Even the squeakiest of squeaky clean teen idols has to turn 18 eventually — but I get the sense that when the Bieb did, his management hit the panic button. Quick! We need intense “Blue Steel” poses. Put him in a leather jacket and have girls pawing at him. Make sure they’re pouty girls wearing dangerous-looking jewellery that subliminally makes you think of S&M and ’90s Madonna videos (and maybe a trip to Emergency … seriously, those rings could take an eye out!). Make sure there is a wind machine sexily blowing the girls’ hair the whole time. (Honestly, I don’t know how the rest of us ever manage to be alluring given that we are tragically denied fans blowing at head height in every room. It’s possibly a global crisis that needs to be rectified, stat!)

What really strikes me about Bieber’s new image is that for him to cause a stir by showing a more adult sexuality, he has to do so very little compared to female stars the same age. He gets to keep all of his clothes on; he doesn’t have to thrust or grind anything; and he doesn’t offer to degrade himself. Actually, if you listen to the whole song, he says, “I can be a gentleman, anything you want.” He says he wants to talk, and he promises to love his prospective girlfriend, treat her right, never let her go and make sure that she is never alone. He vows to make her “shine bright”. A couple of years ago, Bieber was quoted as saying, “I’m just a regular 16 year old kid. I make good grilled cheese and I like girls.” And the new “raunchy” 18-year-old Bieber? In “Boyfriend” he has graduated to a romantic scene in which he imagines him and his girl “chillin’ by the fire while we eatin’ fondue”. Cute! Biebs is such a non-threatening, pro-dairy gangsta. *Swoon*

Compare this to female stars who have transitioned from tween to teen, such as Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus. For them it was all about how they were gonna get dirty, how they needed to be “rubbed the right way” and weren’t “that innocent”. It was about getting wasted and flashing their knickers (or lack thereof), doing pretend big-O-style panting and offering to do anything sexually.

In music video world, all too often the message is: when a young guy wants to show he is now a man, he can get a leather jacket and pout; but for a young woman to show she is grown up, she has to get it all off and grind. If you haven’t seen the latest Ricki-Lee video, it pretty much encapsulates the image of female sexuality I’m talking about. Sexy equals wearing your undies in public (hello?) and doing stripper moves. Getting an anonymous food vendor on the street all hot and bothered is actually an awesome self-esteem boost. And the most important thing about sex is that he likes it when you “do it like that”.

Compared to the gymnastics, not to mention the waxing regime, Ricki-Lee had to go through to project a sexy image, Justin Bieber got off pretty lightly, didn’t he?

The music industry is selling its artists and fans short by continually falling back on the old cliches. Yes, sex sells. But the sexuality we are being sold is so narrow, so confining. It doesn’t represent the range of real sexuality that real people experience. When I discussed Bieber’s new image on Facebook, Jenn Lane wrote that her daughter said to her:

Mum, I hope there aren’t really any girls who do think that’s what sex is because they will only end up hurt.

Enlighten Education’s Catherine Manning made this point:

Teen idol crushes are often also about sexual desire — I don’t see anything wrong with that at all — it’s natural. . . . Of course, the problem with music-industry-manufactured sexuality is that it’s often one dimensional and digitally manipulated, so in reality, without the lights/effects, direction, etc., a real sexual encounter is nothing much like the video clips. I think this is what parents should be discussing with their kids . . . it’s up to us to make sure our kids are media literate so that they can put it all into perspective.

Yes, sex sells. But so does honesty and authenticity and raw talent. Just look at Adele. Never once has she relied on creating a raunchy image, or in fact creating any particular image: she is herself, she sings from the heart, and people respond to that. She sings about being a young woman, about real youthful experiences of love and desire — and she doesn’t need to conform to a narrow definition of sexuality in order to do it. I wholeheartedly agree with what Pink wrote of Adele recently for Time‘s list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World:

Her success renews hope in me that the world I live in has good taste — that we still occasionally come back to what’s simple, and simply amazing.

Integrity is the new sexy. I for one am hoping that whenever Team Bieber finally releases the whole video, we see a scene of Justin not sitting by the fire twirling a fondue fork but bringing his girl a nice cheese toastie instead!

It’s hard not to make fun of this — but it’s not Justin himself or his fans that I intend to mock. Many of his fans, now growing into older teens along with him, will love his new video and song, and the last thing I want to do is belittle their very real feelings. Catherine is so right to point out that there is an element of sexual desire — and I would add fantasy — in girls’ teen idol crushes. That’s normal and natural.

It’s the entertainment industry that I intend to mock — its predictability, its lazy thinking, its near-total reliance on using sex to sell. Let’s be honest, if we didn’t laugh, we’d cry, right? If your daughter loves Justin Bieber, don’t make him a forbidden whisper. Just help her deconstruct the images on the screen, and maybe soon she’ll not only be singing along and swooning, but also giggling at the cliches of the entertainment industry.

 

 

Sugar, Spice and Stronger Stuff

Teenage girls have been getting a lot of media lately, much of it alarmist, with headlines such as ”Do you know what your daughter’s doing tonight?” and ”Lies, scams and deceit — just your average teenage girl”. In on online feature recently, Australian fashion editors had a go at girls for dressing like ”streetwalkers”.

Girls see this media coverage, too, so I guess it’s no wonder they often say to me after an Enlighten workshop that they thought it would be “just another boring lecture about the things we do wrong”.

While we must be realistic about the very real issues that girls are facing, I believe it is just as important to recognise the positives and engage with girls, not alienate them. We need to move beyond finger wagging. I know that Martin Luther King Jr wouldn’t have inspired anyone by declaring “I have a nightmare!”

Writer Emily Maguire’s piece in the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this month, “Sugar, Spice and Stronger Stuff”, touches on this issue and talks about how best to help our girls navigate the sometimes dangerous world in which they live. I am grateful to Emily for allowing me to share an excerpt with you here.

Emily Maguire is the author of three novels and two non-fiction books. Her articles and essays have been published widely including in The Monthly, The Australian and The Age and in 2007 she received an Edna Ryan Award (Media Category) for her writing on women’s issues. Emily was named as a 2010 Sydney Morning Herald Young Novelist of the Year and is the recipient of the 2011 NSW Writers’ Fellowship. Her latest book is “Your Skirt’s Too Short: Sex, Power, Choice.”

 

 

We need a reality check. . . . A minority of teenage girls routinely abuse alcohol or illegal drugs. A minority put themselves at risk of social stigma or criminal prosecution by sexting carelessly. A minority of those who are sexually active don’t practice safer sex. But most understand the potential dangers of drugs, alcohol and sex and make choices which minimise those dangers. Those who continue to put themselves at risk need specific, possibly professional, intervention. Impersonal, generalising panic over behaviour is unlikely to change it.

But of course, not all harm can be avoided by even the most sensible girl. There is, for example, the barrage of media messages about their apparent physical unacceptability. According to a 2010 Mission Australia survey, body image is the top personal concern for young people. Sexual assault also remains a major problem with the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society reporting that 38 per cent of female secondary students have had ”unwanted sex”.

It’s scary stuff. Little wonder that some parents are tempted to lock their daughters in a room free of TV, internet and phone. But one day those girls are going to have to step outside and then what?

Although we wish the world was a safer place and should work to make it so, we need to prepare girls to live in it as it is. This seems obvious when talking about boys: of course they need to learn resilience and determination and rebelliousness against those who would hold them back or harm them. But we’re still so damn precious about girls. We pretend that passivity and fragility are innate, even as we expend a great deal of energy on instilling and enforcing them.

. . .

In her book Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, Rachel Simmons details the ways in which adults ”discourage the emergence of physical and direct aggression in girls” and ”either encourage or shrug off” the ”skirmishes” of boys. In one study, adults told girls in their care ”to be quiet, speak softly or use a ‘nicer’ voice about three times more often than boys”.

Teenage girls are often criticised for being sullen and underhanded, for resorting to passive-aggressive silences and unexplained bursts of tears, yet we’ve spent a decade or so training them to suppress. What do you do with the natural teenage rushes of emotion and hormones and excitement and rage when you’ve been repeatedly told not to draw attention to yourself, not to argue back, not to speak unless you have something nice to say?

We know girls face a sometimes hostile world and yet we train them to be meek in the face of it.

. . .

If girls are human then they should be allowed to explore the full range of human experience. They should be allowed to look to rock stars as well as pop princesses, pirates as well as sailors, vigilantes as well as stoic victims. They should be allowed to find inspiration in rebels with or without causes.

Fictional role models are a start, but there are plenty of real-life teenagers who demonstrate courage and resilience. Jessica Watson is already a role model for many teenagers, but how about Ellyse Perry who, at 16, played for Australia in both cricket and football? How about Angela Barker who spent her teen years in a nursing home after suffering a severe brain injury and now campaigns for the rights of young people with disabilities? Or Kalinda Griffiths who began her career as an indigenous health researcher at 17? How about the 170,000 young people who are primary carers for parents or siblings?

Poster available at www.enlighteneducation.com.

These kinds of real-life examples don’t just serve as inspiration to teenagers; they serve as a reminder to adults that teenagers of both sexes are capable of much more than our society gives them credit for.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Many teenagers possess powerful self-awareness (the flip side of teenage self-obsession) and a great capacity for constant questioning and insightful cultural critique. What they tend to lack is self-control, the ability to envisage the consequences of their actions and, obviously, life experience. That’s why we adults need to have their backs. We can encourage toughness while offering advice on how to minimise damage to the self and to others.

If a girl knows you’re on her side — that you won’t treat her as stupid or fragile or dishonest or assume she can’t handle anything more challenging than buying top-up credit for her phone — then there’s a better-than-even chance she’ll listen to your advice about when to bite her tongue and when to scream like a banshee. And when something goes wrong, as it inevitably will, it’s more likely she’ll tell you about it if she knows you won’t panic about her lost innocence and vow to guard her with a shotgun until she’s 21.

. . .

There’s the example of the 14-year-old who was at the movies with her friends when a man in his 20s put his arm around her shoulder and asked her to come sit with him. She said no and he went away but she was shaken. Talking it through with her friends, there were suggestions that her outfit was ”kind of sexy” and so maybe she shouldn’t dress like that any more. Others in the group thought that was unfair: her outfit was amazing and she felt great in it. She just needed to be ready for men who thought she was older or looking for a boyfriend or whatever. Together, the girls came up with a strategy: the next time she (or any of them) had an adult man crack on to her she should say — very loudly — ”I’m 14!” and if he persisted, she would — louder still — tell him he should be ashamed of himself for trying to pick up a child.

There’s no doubt the ideas behind this solution came from a thousand conversations with adults and peers and from various forms of media. When it came to the crunch, the girls were able to talk it through, support each other and come up with a strategy that acknowledged unfortunate realities while refusing to cower in the face of them. Talk about empowering.

Unfortunately, when the girl told her parents about the incident, she was banned from going to the movies with her friends. Again, an understandable impulse but the girl feels punished for fighting her own battle and will either stop doing so or — more likely — will be sure to keep future battles a secret.

It can be dangerous out there. We can teach girls to be frightened and meek, to aim to be mere silent witnesses rather than victims. Or we can teach them to fight, not just for themselves but for others who can’t. We can teach them that the world can be terrifying, and that sometimes, they should be terrifying right back at it.


Prevent Official Release of Kanye West’s Women-Hating “Monster” video

I have been expressing concern over music and music videos that demean women for some time. Back in 2008 in a post “Claim back the music” I questioned the growing trend towards lyrical sexism and misogyny:

Song lyrics have always been filled with sexual innuendo and pushed society’s boundaries but this in-your-face mainstream misogyny is relatively new. And now – thanks to large plasma screens in shopping centres, bowling alleys and bars and night clubs – it is inescapable. It’s hate and porn, all the time.

I went so far as to call on radio stations to devote a day to music that portrays women in a positive light:

Five years ago if you had suggested we needed Earth Hour, an hour where we all turned off the lights to remind ourselves to be mindful of power consumption and our impact on the planet, you would have been thought a radical environmental extremist. Yet as things literally heated up, the lights all went out. How much hotter do things need to get on our airwaves and on our TV sets? I suspect society will also agree we have now indeed reached tipping point and will embrace a day that seeks to claim back the music.

Smart radio stations will jump on board. Overseas, special days devoted to the positive portrayal of women in music have pushed radio stations ratings through the roof…

And as companies madly chase the female dollar, surely keeping women happy and showing them, and their daughters, respect can only be a smart and strategic marketing move?

Money doesn’t just talk – it sings too.

Sadly, rather than noting change what I have noted is just how mainstream hypersexual imagery in music has now become. Case in point? At the Australian Small Business Champion Awards held in November last year, where Enlighten were Finalists for Educational Services Business of the Year, the entertainment was a Gaga tribute band. You may recall me questioning Gaga in my previous post Lady Gaga’s Toxic Mess:

(in her film clip for “Telephone”) Lady Gaga gets thrown in a sadomasochistic-porn-fantasy version of a women’s prison; there is violence, sexual intimidation, graphic tongue kissing, cigarettes, and barely any clothes. Then her lover Beyonce bails her out so they can go on a killing spree, murdering multiple people, most of them strangers, by poisoning them. They look like they’re having a great time. They drive off into the sunset. Think “Thelma and Louise” but drained of all meaning and instead filled with product placement for mobile phones, sunglasses and other branded gear you may soon be expecting teen girls to start asking for.

There my team and I sat amongst the other mostly senior businesspeople dressed in our black-tie and ball-gown best, whilst up on stage the Gaga wannabe pretended to masturbate with a microphone and rubbed her crotch up and down her dancers, who were gagged and dressed only in silver underpants. It was surreal. Sad. Embarrassing. Where to look? What to say? “Congratulations on being named Entrepreneur of The Year. And oh I say, if you look up now on the big screens you will see a charming close up of that woman’s crotch!”

A snapshot of how women are portrayed in the musical charts at the moment also proves I am right to remain concerned. Number one on the iTunes charts is the song “Dirty Talk” by Wynter Gordon. She repeatedly tells us she is no angel, wants to “fight through the night” and likes it “hard-core”:

Kitten heels, lingerie,

Pantyhose, foreplay,

Legs up, on the bar,

in the back of your car,

latex, champagne,

bubble bath, whipped cream,

cherry pop tag team,

can you make me scream

In case you’re not familiar with the terminology, “cherry pop tag team” is a reference to her wanting to have sex with many partners – one after the other. One assumes she’d prefer this to happen whilst being made to scream.

The one-time poster girl against domestic violence Rihanna, in her song subtly named “S&M” croons:

Cause I may be bad, but I’m perfectly good at it

Sex in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it

Sticks and stones may break my bones

But chains and whips excite me

I appreciate that sadomasochism does not predispose those aroused by it to participating in or enjoying violent acts outside the metaphoric bedroom – yet I can’t help but wonder if the young fans get the distinction. Surely mainstream exposure to lyrics like this, sung by artists they admire, make it more challenging for them to distinguish what is acceptable in a relationship? As I cited in my recent post Because We’re Worth More, the most recent national data shows that one in three women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15, nearly one in five women has experienced sexual assault since the age of 15 and almost every week, one woman is killed by her current or former partner.

The reality is not very sexy or song-worthy is it?

Meanwhile HipHopConnection.com has leaked a video teaser for the Kanye West hit song “Monster.” The teams at Adios Barbie and Collective Shout gave me the heads-up on this one. So alarmed were they by the scenes of eroticised violence against women that they have put together a petition to ask for it not to be released here. They explain why it is so disturbing.

images

In just 30 seconds, viewers take in image after image of eroticized violence against women:

– Dead women, clad in lingerie, hang by chains around their necks.

– West makes sexual moves toward dead or drugged women propped up in a bed.

– A naked dead or drugged woman lays sprawled on a sofa.

If that’s not enough, a behind-the-scenes clip of the video includes a semi-naked dead woman laying spread eagled on a table in front of Rick Ross as he eats a plate of raw meat. It is likely we can expect more brutal images in the full-length video.

The victims in this video are clearly women. Only women. And the men, Kanye West, Rick Ross, and Jay-Z, are far from bothered by the female corpses. They seem to enjoy being surrounded by lifeless female bodies, apparent victims of a serial killing.

The official release date of the full-length video has not yet been announced. Let’s make it clear to Universal Music Group, the controlling company of West’s record label, Roc-A-Fella Records, and MTV that the music industry’s portrayals of women’s pain, suffering, abuse, objectification, and victimization as valid forms of entertainment are not acceptable.

We call on Universal Music Group and MTV to combat violence against women by refusing to support, promote, and/or give airtime to West’s “Monster” video.

I urge all my readers to sign this petition too. It will take less than a minute.

Enough is enough. Agree?

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