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Tag: sexism

Finally, Girl Power being used for the right reason

In the early 1990s, prominent feminists argued there was a media-driven backlash against the women’s movement, and it risked losing some of the momentum gained in the 1970s.

Then along came the Spice Girls to make “Girl Power” fun, and palatable, again.

“If you want my future, forget my past,” sang Posh, Baby, Scary, Ginger and Sporty.

It turns out it wasn’t just their predominantly teen-girl fan base who thought the way forward was through exclaiming “You go girl!”, it was marketers looking for a fresh take on how to sell the same old stuff, with a new pro-female spin.

So addicted have advertisers become to using the rhetoric of empowerment that it is now used to sell everything from cleaning products (“Get the power — the power to clean anything”) super-elastic, stomach-sucking knickers (“Spanx — Power Panties”, insert pictures of svelte women posing with arms on hips), cosmetics (Bobbie Brown’s “Pretty Powerful” range) and even workshops for teen girls that claim to want to empower teens via fashion makeovers.

Because nothing says equality quite like learning what colours best suit your skin-tone, or how to dress to maximise those socially acceptable curves, and to minimise the male gaze’s exposure to others.

Yet when marketers tackle sexism convincingly, their campaigns become viral sensations.

The Dove “Real Beauty” campaign has been running for more than a decade and is considered the industry leader in this genre; their 2013 “Real Beauty Sketches” commercial remains the most watched video ad of all time.

Feminine hygiene company Always’ “Like a Girl” campaign exposed the destructive impact messages we give to tweens about what being a young woman means can have on self-esteem; it has had more than 63 million views on YouTube.

Although many find it hard to believe Dove’s parent company Unilever is genuine in their commitment to fostering positive body image (they also sell slimming products, skin whitening creams, and run the notoriously sexist Lynx advertisement campaigns for boys), and some question how Always pushing panty liners is compatible with moving beyond limiting stereotypes about girls, for many of us it seems it is at least easy to get behind messages that build women up, rather than tearing them down.

The new “I’d like to see that” advertisement for the AFL women’s competition harks back to the popular 1994 AFL men’s campaign of the same name, but the female creatives behind this version have ensured it kicks a goal not just for one of the fastest growing sports (the recent television broadcast of an women’s AFL exhibition match reached more than one million viewers), but for team feminism.

The ad features female AFL players in action alongside prominent Australian sporting figures such as Turia Pitt and Cathy Freeman. They tell us they would like to see “girls who never give up” and “more women making Australian sporting history”.

It is incredibly inspiring (only the most hardened misogynist could fail to be moved by the shot of Melbourne captain Nathan Jones holding his giggling little girl in his arms and declaring: “Our daughters wearing our numbers one day? I’d like to see that”).

But what makes it unique is that it isn’t selling pop music, lotions or sanitary pads. It’s selling female participation in sport and their right to be taken seriously.

In the week since the ad was launched it has racked up more than 300,000 views online. Last weekend the millions who participated globally in the women’s marches proved the push towards equality has well and truly regained momentum.

Feminism is alive, hitting the streets and demanding more. What more would I like to see the women’s movement do? For a kick off, I’d like to see us move beyond messages of faux empowerment.

This post was first published in The Daily Telegraph newspaper 27/1/17 and online at RendezView.

Sleazy pick up lines now available in a size 000


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“Hide your daughters.”

“I’m only here for the ladies.”

“Stud Muffin.”

You might expect to see these kind of slogans brandished across a T-shirt worn by Benny Hill or Hugh Hefner; by a bloke who hasn’t yet got the memo that being viewed as a player is no longer fashionable.

But thanks to Best & Less, these very slogans are being offered up for babies in its latest catalogue. Heteronormative stereotyping and sexism sold from a tiny size 000.

It would be tempting to dismiss these baby rompers as nothing more than a bit of harmless fun. But why must we impose limiting gender stereotypes on little boys and encourage others to view them as having one-track minds, or more bizarrely still, as the type we need to protect our daughters from?

Messages like these sow the seeds for stereotypes that harm both men and women.

And while much has rightly been made on how viewing girls and women as mere prey harms them, there has not been as much discussion on how these type of attitudes harm boys too.

Dr Andrew Smiler, author of Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Stereotype of the Promiscuous Young Male, argues that stereotypes that view boys and young men as being barely able to control their sex drive risk becoming a destructive self-fulfilling prophecy. These beliefs may lead to destructive hyper-sexuality, unwanted pregnancy, and less fulfilling relationships.

He argues too that despite the cultural assumption that boys only ever want one thing, the reality is that many young men yearn for far more than a mere conquest when they are dating. They want companionship, connection and emotional support.

In the course of my work with young men in schools through the Goodfellas program, I have found that when we first introduce the topic of male sexuality there is initially much chuckling and bravado in the room. But once my male presenters start to unpack the stereotypes, they see shoulders drop in relief and there is always a respectful, genuine interest in having a different conversation.

The boys we talk to report feeling cultural pressure to date and to be promiscuous. Those who don’t conform to the message that all boys just want one thing start to question whether in fact they are normal.

This from 15-year-old James: “I have lots of girls as friends but that doesn’t mean I only like them as I want to do something to them. To be honest, they (girls) are sometimes easier to talk to than my mates. It’s insulting to me, and to them, to imply otherwise.”

Indeed it is. And it’s vital we give all our young people the skills they need to critically assess culture in this way.

As an educator and mother to a daughter, I have given her the skills she needs to question and talk back to marketing messages and media portrayals of women that would limit her.

And I’ve given the same gift to my son too.

Because messages that would reduce baby boys to their penises? They’re for dummies.

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This post was originally published in the Daily Telegraph and posted online at RendezView 2/6/16

“That skirt is sending out the wrong message” and 5 other things we should never say to girls ( Part 1).

I often find myself frustrated by much of the dialogue that surrounds teen girls as it can in fact be very damaging. Sadly, those that use these assumptions and stereotypes are often those who may well have girls’ best interests at heart, but are possibly unaware as to how harmful the messages they are delivering really are.

I asked a number of leading feminists and educators to set the record straight for us and ensure that when we aim to support girls, we don’t  inadvertently matters worse for them. Over the next few weeks I shall share their responses.

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Image taken from Jezebel –

1. Skirt length = a measure of morality

The policing of the way teen girls wear their school uniform really concerns me. Whilst uniform guidelines are fine and part of life for both genders, framing these in terms of morality is not. So many teen girls tell me they have been told things like: “You’re a good girl, but that skirt length sends off the wrong message” , or “You’re distracting the boys…”. This is the slippery slope that excuses the harassment of girls based on their clothing choice and ultimately may lead them to feel shame about their bodies ( an idea I have explored before here).  Author, columnist and academic  Dr Karen Brooks agrees:

I think what bothers me most about this whole uniform and clothing issue is that somehow, female clothing has become a visual barometer that measures a woman/girl’s morality and ethics and somehow also controls men’s. That’s why claims that if a man or boy is distracted/loses control/rapes/abuses/harrasses etc. then it’s the girl/woman’s fault carry weight in society. We still somehow believe that a woman’s dress indicates her morality and invites or rejects (male) attention. Well, if that’s the case, why is that women and girls who wear hijabs or dress in non-revelaing clothing are still raped/attract unwanted attention/harrassed and are also held accountable for male behaviour when it is transgressive and/or violent?

Teachers surely know it’s not the short skirt that warrants changing, but antediluvian attitudes that let males off the hook.

It’s the Damned Whores and God’s Police model all over again, yet what girl’s are being told is that what they wear is a way of modifying, “policing” male behaviour and their own sexuality as well. There is a false notion circulating that women can control men and keep ourselves “safe” by our clothing choices. What utter nonsense.

Clothing is not the issue. Society is. Yes, we need to take responsibility for our behaviours, regardless of sex. As long as we allow men and boys to shift blame for their choices, for their harassment or worse of women, nothing will be resolved. Clothes do not maketh the woman, but actions maketh the man (and woman)!

Feminist web site jezebel recently published a thought provoking piece, “Is Your Dress Code Sexist? A Guide.” This paragraph particularly resonated with me:

Look: I understand the desire a school might have to encourage students to dress respectfully and semi-professionally; out-of-the-ordinary or extreme clothing is distracting on a purely asexual level. Could you study next to a guy in a clown suit? Or a woman wearing an enormous Pharrell hat that plays music? I couldn’t. The key is to make it clear that both men and women need to adhere to any rules put in place, and that the rules are to ensure student focus is on the instructor rather than on other students.

And the reality is that no matter how careful an organization is to make sure they don’t sound …sexist…, women have more at stake in adhering to dress codes than men do, because women’s fashion dictates that women must wear less in order to be fashionable. Girls get so many sets of conflicting instructions that they’ll be punished by either their peers or their school no matter what they do. Wear revealing clothing, or you’re a dork, says the media to women. Don’t wear revealing clothing, or you’re a slut, say institutions to women. Talk about distracting.

When I asked her for her input, journalist Tracey Spicer said she thinks it is also important for us to honestly reflect on how we dressed as young women too:

What I really hate are the casually sexist comments about how young women are dressed for a night on the town. All this ‘They look like hookers!’ and ‘They’re asking for it’ stuff. For goodness sake, I used to dress in revealing outfits at that age, as I was discovering my sexuality. That doesn’t mean I’m asking to be sexually assaulted.

2. Mean Girls

Social commentator and writer Jane Caro wishes we would question the rhetoric around girls as “mean girls” :

The idea that girls are bitchy and nasty to one another, whereas boys are simple creatures who fix things with a good thump (?).

We expect women to tend relationships, to do the emotional care taking, girls know this but when they are young, they’re just learning about relationships and they do them badly. Instead of congratulating them for taking on this difficult and complex task (understanding how people relate to one another), we jump all over them & stereotype them as mean girls. This drives me nuts! I also hate the moral panic around ‘bullying’, which often ends up with us bullying the supposed bullies. We need to be much clearer about what bullying is and what it isn’t, and that most kids are both victims & perpetrators at various times. As are we all.

It is the first point Jane raises that was explored at the Festival Of Dangerous Ideas session entitled All Women Hate Each Other. I was privileged to speak at this alongside the truly awesome Germaine Greer, Tara Moss and Eva Cox. You may watch this session here: http://play.sydneyoperahouse.com/index.php/media/1654-All-Women-Hate-Each-Other.html

Melissa Carson, the Co-ordinator of Innovative Learning at boys’ school Oakhill College also believes the boys-as-less-complex creatures myth is dismissive of the complex nature of mate-ship and equally as damaging to boys: “I’ve worked closely with young men for over ten years and I can tell you they do stew on their friendship fall-outs. They report feelings of sadness, anger and frustration over their friendships and often don’t know how to resolve things. They are every bit as complicated as young women and in need of just as much support.”

3. One mistake and you’re out!

The “one mistake and you’re doomed” approach to educating young people drives me insane. I often hear this in the context of cyber training; messages like:  “If you ever post something on Facebook that’s not ideal, you’ll never be employed and will be socially shamed. And you will never be able to make that go away.” Implication? You may as well give up now if you’ve done something silly as you can’t ever make that right. Sadly, it is messages like this that lead young people to despair and to want to hide their errors for fear of being judged. Incidentally, I often wonder just who will be employed in the future if this was in fact true as I can’t imagine there will be anyone who hasn’t at least done one thing on-line that wasn’t smart at some stage in their youth. Again, Dr Karen Brooks agreed:

As for the cyber mistake. Oh puhleez! Yes, we need to educate young people that what they post could be potentially damaging and may impact in the future, but when and if they do post something inappropriate, we should also rally to ensure they understand that they can overcome this. In fact, understanding you can move beyond the inappropriate photo or posting can not only build resilience, but instil valuable lessons in how to cope with negative feedback, distressing reactions, how to negotiate an emotional and psychological minefield, but also how important it is to own what you’ve done/posted. Take responsibility and learn from it and move on (nothing to see here!). If it hits you in the face in later years, then take responsibility again, but also contextualise it and demonstrate how much you grew from that moment and what lessons you took away from the (bad and silly) experience to become the person you are now.

Yes, we catastrophize to ours and the kids’ detriment. So much for resilience, we’re teaching them to fall apart at the first mistake and to cry “my life is over!”. Ridiculous!

Author, speaker and advocate Nina Funnell concurred:

The most dangerous thing we can ever say to a young person is that there is no way forward, no light at the end of the tunnel, no possibility of recovery. And yet this is exactly the message they hear when we tell them that once you post something online, it is there forever, the damage is permanent and will never lighten. If a young person has made a mistake, catastrophising the situation will only lead to catastrophic outcomes and already we have seen one case in America where a teen took her life following a school seminar which reinforced the notion that she could never get a job or a university degree since she had already made an online mistake. Instead of this doom and gloom approach, we need to help teens develop resilience, the strength to overcome setbacks, and the insight to be able to put their mistakes into context.

More things we need to stop saying to girls NOW next week. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. What messages do you think we deliver to young women that are harmful? 

Girls’ Attitudes to harassment

Back in 2008 I shared the excellent GirlGuiding UK report on Teenage Mental Health: Guiding The Way. 

This week I want to share some of the findings of this organisation’s latest report on what girls say about equality.

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Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 9.36.08 AMFirstly, the report makes it very clear there is still much to be done. Figures like the ones shared here on sexism and sexual harassment are based on a survey conducted with 1,288 girls aged between 11 and 21. The results absolutely reflect the experiences of the many thousands of girls we at Enlighten work with here in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, and are supported by the concerns both parents and educators share with us too.

But it was this research collated on sexual harassment that I think we urgently need to explore further:

The majority of girls and young women experience gender-based harassment, starting when they are at school.

Girls aged 11 to 21 are as likely to be exposed to harassment at school as on the street: 60% have had comments shouted at them about their appearance at school and 62% have been shouted or whistled at on the street (rising to 76% of 16- to 21-year-olds). This behaviour has a clear impact on girls’ sense of safety – 78% aged 11 to 21 find it threatening to be shouted or whistled at if they are on their own. It also affects younger girls, with a third aged 7 to 11 having experienced such harassment at school (31%).

Among girls aged 13 and over, seven out of ten have experienced more intrusive forms of sexual harassment at school or college. Half have experienced sexual jokes or taunts (51%), four in ten have seen images of girls or women that made them feel uncomfortable (39%), a third report seeing rude or obscene graffiti about girls or women (33%), and over a quarter say they have experienced unwanted sexual attention (28%), unwanted touching (28%) or unwanted attention or stalking (26%). Exposure to sexual harassment increases sharply with age – just over half of 13-year-olds report experiencing such behaviour (54%), rising to 80% of 19- to 21-year-olds.

Co-incidently, only this week I received an email from a young girl from a school here in Sydney:

Hello Dannielle.. I’ve met you a few times and I even got a signed book from you and I think you’re absolutely empowering and inspiring woman. I really need your help today though. I’ve started noticing that teen boys at my school have become quite.. invasive towards girls and at times just plain rude. I know that some say it’s just boys being boys but I find it quite appalling, all girls deserve respect. Even some of my friends have been affected by this and it’s come to the point where I have just had enough and I’m not sure what to do. I want to help solve this but I’m not sure how to do it without coming off too forceful and rude…

Girls need to know what is ok, what isn’t, and how to respond. Nina touched on the need to equip girls to know how to set boundaries and respond assertively to harassment in this excellent interview she gave on Sunrise about our latest book, Loveability – An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships. 

Many young women tell me that it is through a collective response that they feel they can make the most impact – hence they are drawn to feminism. Teen girl Lilly Edelstein shared her story of on-line harassment, and her desire to build a strong community of women who could make a stand, with me recently: Reclaim The Night. In our workshop on Real Girl Power we too find girls find a powerful collective voice and learn that together they are a force to be reckoned with. The teen girls at a school I worked at in early 2012 in Sydney were so inspired by Real Girl Power that, at lunchtime, a group of them waltzed up to a particularly sexist boy in their year group. Samantha, the group’s nominated spokeswoman, told him, ‘You always like to say, “Go make me a sandwich,” whenever we say something you don’t agree with in class. Guess what? There will be no sandwiches for you. And you don’t have to like what we say, but you do need to listen. If you try to dismiss us again, we are all going to start clapping loudly every time you speak. It’s going to really shine the spotlight on you, and we’re not sure you’re going to like that.’ There were no more orders for sandwiches, Samantha emailed to tell me. And we realised that collectively, we were strong. You could see the fear in all the boys’ eyes after that … LOL. I loved that this made her laugh – there is indeed a joy in claiming one’s power.

But frankly I am irritated the onus seems to always be on young women (the victims) to deal with this. Schools should be safe places for all students and they must make a collective strong stance against all forms of harassment. I’ve discussed this at my blog before: Facing up to sexual harassment in schools.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, a good school sexual harassment policy includes:

  • A strong statement on the school’s attitude to sexual harassment
  • An outline of the school’s objectives regarding sexual harassment
  • A plain English definition of sexual harassment
  • A definition of what sexual harassment is not
  • A statement that sexual harassment is against the law
  • Possible consequences if the sexual harassment policy is breached
  • Options available for dealing with sexual harassment
  • Where to get help or advice.

The Human Rights Commission stresses that a written policy is not enough. Ask yourself:

  • Are people aware of the policy? Do they have a copy of it?
  • Is it provided to new staff and students?
  • Is it periodically reviewed? It is available in appropriate languages?
  • Are there training and awareness-related strategies associated with the policy?

Also, we urgently need to do more work with boys too. As Nina said in the interview above, writing the Guide for boys may well be our “Plan B.” Nina and I both also now run workshops for young men on issues like gender stereotypes, combatting violence against women, and what defines masculinity. But really, we also need good men to stand up now. I’ve posted some excellent videos featuring men who urge for this to happen in the past and these are worth a visit and a share:

I’m Sorry Anna Nicole 

Sydney Boy’s High School Gender Equality Project 

and perhaps my favourite – Violence Against Women – It’s A Men’s Issue.

 

Time to Talk

Recently I took my 10-year-old daughter, Teyah, on a trip to a shopping centre. Mother’s Day was coming up, and I needed to buy a gift for my mother and a new outfit for Teyah to wear out for our family lunch.

Rather than enjoying this experience, I found myself increasingly frustrated, and in fact furious, because of some of the ridiculous and simply toxic messages my daughter and I were presented with.

First stop: the girls-wear department at Myer, which caters to children aged 8 to 14. Recently renovated, it now has an instore Weight Watchers shopfront smack bang in the middle. Why, Teyah asked, do they need to promote dieting in the girls’ section?  Girls are still growing, so they are constantly moving up to bigger clothes. With Weight Watchers located right in this part of the store, she wondered, is there a risk that girls will think their ever-changing dress size is a sign they are getting fat? Wouldn’t the adults’ section of the store be a more appropriate place for a dieting program?

And it is not just our young daughters who are being told they need to shape up. I am usually a fan of Peter Alexander, the designer of leisure and sleep wear, yet on this shopping trip I was so deeply offended by his store’s window display I couldn’t bring myself to even enter. Their Mother’s Day slogan? “Spoil your Mum (after all . . . you spoilt her figure!)”

And finally, to ALDO, a shoe shop. I don’t know the name of the song they had blaring; its lyrics were so vile it must be banned from radio, so I hadn’t heard it before. The lyrics included the word f*ck and the singer was telling a b*tch to get on all fours and take it like a whore, get on the pole and spin . . .

You get the idea.

Teyah and I retreated into a cafe, and our shared experiences became a catalyst for a really interesting conversation about gender, the media and marketing messages. This impromptu “retail therapy” session got me thinking about powerful questions we can all ask our daughters, to get the discussion going. The following may provide inspiration:

Which brands do you think portray women in a positive light?

Describe an advertisement you thought objectified women. How did it make you feel?

What are the things others do that make you feel precious and special?

What are the things you do for yourself that make you feel precious and special?

What are you most proud of in your life so far?

What are five things that you love about yourself?

Describe a time when you compared yourself to someone whose looks you admired. How did that comparison make you feel?

Who is a woman you admire for reasons other than her looks? What do you like about her?

Describe a time when you felt truly beautiful.

How do you think society defines the words “beautiful” and “ugly”? How do you define them?

I would love to hear what other topics you think are in urgent need of being addressed with our girls and the conversation starters that you have found helpful.

The standard you walk past is the standard you set

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And within our own invisible electric fences.”

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

 

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

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

Sport – the real winners and losers

Back in 2006 we had the Senate Enquiry into female participation in sport. The enquiry concluded, amongst other things, that female sportswear might be a deterrent to participation.

The Daily Telegraph offered the following interviews with key participants:

ACT senator Kate Lundy, deputy chairwoman of the Senate committee that produced the report, said sports should do a survey of their women participants to see whether their uniform policy was suitable. ‘The main problem people expressed here was a risk of teenage girls being turned off sport because of the types of clothing they’re required to wear,’ she said. ‘It is a body image issue on one side, but by having a bit more flexibility with respect to uniforms, you can help support young women in improving their body image. If a girl is more comfortable playing in shorts and that will keep her in the sport, let’s go with that.’ Australian netball team co-captain Liz Ellis told The Daily Telegraph while fitted body-suits were good to play in because they kept players cool, young girls should play in whatever made them comfortable. ‘It would be great to see sports clubs look at their dress codes, for teenage girls, but especially for young women of the Muslim faith,’ she said. ‘Anything to promote young women to stay in sport would be positive.”

Have sportswear manufacturers cleaned up their act and focused on producing sportswear that is flattering, comfortable and practical? Are we encouraging our girls to get out there and get involved? Is this really just old news?

Recent sportswear campaigns and events both on and off the field clearly show this race has not yet been won.  

The following ads are for the Skins range of sportswear for women – can you believe these slogans?

“Men will love you, women will hate you. Lucky you’re not a lesbian. Skins delivers immediate results for the woman who wants to look and feel like a complete bitch.”    

Then there’s:

“Get a body to die for. And watch women queue up to help with your funeral arrangements. Skins are perfect for the woman who loves the feel of claws sticking into her back.”  

Or how about:

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 Note the line: “Get the body every other woman would love. To spit on.”

My Program Director for Queensland, Storm Greenhill Brown, originally pointed these ads out to me. As Storm laments, the emphasis on obtaining the PERFECT body is ugly enough, but pitting woman against woman? Grotesque. 

Need more? What about the Brooks Sports wear ad that promoted the company’s support of breast cancer (a great cause) but did so in an ad featuring two female runners with their breasts bouncing and the caption – “Nice pair!”   

The clothes may not be revealing, but the advertising campaigns certainly are – play sport just to look hot, hot, hot. These ads feed the very real risk of exercising excessively as a means of controlling weight.  Research clearly shows excessive exercise and eating disorders go hand in hand. These ads also alienate women who may not be comfortable with ruthless competition, nor with being viewed as just a pair of tits in sneakers.

And what about the treatment of the trailblazing Rebecca Wilson on The Footy Show last week? Rebecca is the first female panel member to join the traditionally blokey show. A good move from channel 9 to add her expertise – particularly when football generally is trying to reclaim its female fan base after a series of disgraceful incidents involving players indiscretions over the last few years.

So how was she welcomed to the team?  

Sam Newman used a staple gun to attach a cutout picture of Wilson’s face to the forehead of a mannequin. The life-sized doll was dressed in nothing more than a sheer, skimpy, aqua bra and underwear set. Samantha Lane from fairfax media recounts: “Inspired by a letter published in this newspaper’s Green Guide section that discussed what Wilson wears on Footy Classified, Newman made clumsy attempts to dress the mannequin but mostly he manhandled it. He flicked the top of the knickers, he put his hands squarely between the doll’s legs and he thrust it into the face of Craig Hutchison, who sits alongside Wilson on Monday nights. It was violent and vulgar.”

And this in a climate where a DVD was recently produced and launched with great fan fare for AFL players to help them develop their respect for women! Melinda Tankard Reist spoke for many women when she expressed her dismay over the need for such tuition:

So, it has come to this. We have so failed in the very basics of civilised human interaction that the Australian Football League has been forced to hire a swag of actors and a film crew to make an interactive DVD to help players understand that perhaps it’s not a good idea to pretend to be your best mate so you can have sex with his girlfriend. “R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Let’s spell it out together, boys!” The AFL wants to help the lads recognise that taking advantage of a woman who’s had too much to drink, doesn’t rank as the noblest decision they could ever made. “C-O-N-S-E-N-T: Shout it out for me, boys!”What’s next: teaching men not to bash women over the head with a club and drag them into a cave by their hair?”

Seems Sam Newman might need to spend the night in front of a good DVD… 

I’ll end on a positive.

I have praised adidas before for its fantastic portrayal of women in sport in the advertisements for their women’s range. I LOVE their latest one featuring celebrity trainer Michelle Bridges. The caption reads:

“Play a sport where the rewards are respect, self belief and inner strength. Play by your own rules.
Play gym. Impossible is nothing.”

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Michelle was made famous through her involvement with Tv’s The Biggest Loser. I have questioned this show’s emphasis on dramatic weight loss at all costs, and the promise of a new, perfect life as a direct result of the new perfect body, in a recent Opinion Piece I wrote that was published in the Herald. HOWEVER, this campaign gets it just right – the rewards for participating in sports must include self respect, self belief and inner strength. Surely the bonus is the improved fitness and toned body?

I met Michelle Bridges briefly this week and was struck by her genuine passion for what she does and her commitment to assisting her clients to feel good, not just look good. She also told me that as a young teen girl sport was her physical and emotional outlet. It kept her sane and strong. I want more of these role models for our girls! Bring it on adidas! 

Claim back the music!

What is the soundtrack to your life? What music surrounded you in your most formative teen years? What song was playing when you first kissed, when you danced at your school formal, or when you broke loose and did a hairbrush solo in your bedroom?

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As a child of the eighties Madonna rocked my world and shocked my parents by revealing she felt like a virgin being touched for the very first time. Chrissy Amphlett sung of desperation and lust. These were wild women who fully embraced their sexuality, but they were nobodies “bitch” or “‘ho.” Madonna may have been a “material girl” but she didn’t need a pimp. These girls all ran their own show. The men around them looked on with respect or desire – perhaps even with fear, but rarely with contempt.

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.

A 2008 report entitled “Ambivalent Sexism and Misogynistic Rap Music: Does Exposure to Eminem Increase Sexism?”, published recently in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, concluded that it is unlikely that hearing lyrics in a song creates sexist attitudes that do not previously exist. Based on their findings, the head researcher Assistant Professor Cobb went on to state,” There is not much evidence in our study to support an argument in favour of censorship.” But haven’t these researchers missed the point? Sexist attitudes may not have increased amongst their male and female subjects, but how did the female subjects feel about themselves and their bodies after being exposed to one of the songs they actually used in the study, Eminem’s song “Kill You”. The lyrics include:

“(AH!) Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore
’til the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more?!
(AH!) These mother #!!! are thinking I’m playing
Thinking I’m saying the shit cause I’m thinking it just to be saying it
(AH!) Put your hands down bitch, I ain’t gonna shoot you
I’m gonna pull YOU to this bullet, and put it through you
(AH!) Shut up slut, you’re causing too much chaos
Just bend over and take it like a slut, OK Ma?”

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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.

Even the strongest of us admit to feeling less than they were after a dose of the Pussycat Dolls and Eminem – there is undeniably a nasty after taste. Yet look around, these sounds and their associated film clips are the very fodder we now give our children as the soundtrack to their youth. The Pussycat Dolls “Don’t cha?” includes the lyrics “I know you want it…I know you should be on with me…don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me, don’t cha wish your girlfriend was raw like me?”. This anthem to the sisterhood featured on Hits for kids Volume 3 this Christmas, alongside songs by Hi 5 and Guy Sebastian. Alvin the Chipmunk sings “Don’t cha” in his made for the pre-school set holiday film release. Markets are filled with junior Eminem tracksuits and gangster accessories for the budding pimp. Am I the only one who cringes when I see small girls shaking it to “My Humps”?

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Rhinna is currently at number 1 on our music charts with her song “Don’t Stop The Music” – I agree. I love music. I’m not after censorship, just commonsense. And awareness. Would it be asking too much if there could be a day set aside to celebrate positive portrayal of women on music and film clips? A day where we didn’t have to keep our hand on the radio dial as we drive the kids to school for fear that they were going to have to listen to lyrics about yet another “Nasty Gal”?

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. In Boston “Radio Log”, a station set up to promote positive portrayals of black women and inspire open phone conversations around relationships, has received nothing but good press. Radio stations should show leadership and live up to their responsibilities of meeting societies ethical and moral standards.

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.

P.S I have asked my colleagues at Women’s Forum Australia and Kids Free 2B Kids to join me in calling for a national day that reclaims the music for women. I am hoping we might hear from a few more like minded people who want to celebrate women through song, not denegrate them – would also love the media to get behind us. Any takers?

P.S.S How infuriating is this song from the “Bom Chicka Wah Wah’s”?  Unilever promote HIGHLY degrading portrayals of women with their brand Lynx (a brand that targets teen boys) whilst attempting to take their other key brand Dove in to our schools to sponsor self esteem programs for teenagers! “Body Think” may be a fabulous program and serves a real need – bravo the Butterfly Foundation for managing this – BUT when Unilver ( Dove and Lynx) also pushes these “girls gone wild” destructive messages at our young people I say NOT GOOD ENOUGH!  Until Unilver cleans up its act and starts to show it genuinely cares about young women – and does not just choose to act responsibly when it suits them for the sake of promoting a particular brand – I’m boycotting all their products.   

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And if that wasn’t bad enough – how about the lack of respect shown towards female teachers in this ad? Her student’s scent reduces her to singing porn music. 

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Want to get really angry? Check out the “web site they tried to ban” – The Lynx Effect. Compare it to the web site promoting Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty – SAME PARENT COMPANY. Grrrrrr…. 

LOVE this Youtube clip by Rye Clifton that exposes the inherent contradiction in Unilver’s marketing onslaught (in the USA Lynx is called Axe):

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LOVE that it caused a stir too…we need to be critical of all the dangerous and mixed messages that our young people are being exposed to.

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The comments here are MUST READS…

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