Friday, 9 March 2007

Toxic culture not empowering our girls

Today, as women around the world celebrate International Women’s Day, they’re losing the battle, wrote Melissa Tankard Reist [Courier Mail, 8th March 2007]

The advances made to improve women’s status are indeed worthy of recognition.

But we also have to acknowledge the tragic truth that the movement for the women’s equity, in many ways, appears to have failed.

We have allowed the development of a culture that is toxic to young women especially.

Rather than being seen as full human beings, equal and deserving of respect, young women are being barraged with hyper-sexualised messages that turn them into sex objects.

Liberation has come to mean a girl’s ability to get her legs around a pole, flash her breasts girls-gone-wild style, perform oral sex for schoolboys at weekend parties (daisychaining) or strut around à la Paris Hilton.

Women have been sold a false empowerment which is destructive of their real selves.

Sexual liberalism has not advanced women’s freedom – but eroded and undermined it.

Girls are living in a sexually brutalized culture.

We are seeing more harassment, stalking and rape, more alcohol-fuelled sexual abuse and plying of date rape drugs.

Females are up for grabs on cruise ships, in toilet blocks in suburban shopping malls and, in indigenous communities, awash with porn, where even baby girls have sexual diseases.

Diane Brimble lies naked and dying on a cruise ship after being given the date-rape drug fantasy. One of the men named as a person of interest by the coroner investigating her death said: She smelt ugly. She was black and a “dog” who had ruined his holiday.

A gang of 12 in Melbourne sexually humiliate an intellectually disabled girl and sell the DVD to their friends for five bucks a pop. They urinated on her, threw her clothes in the river and forced her to give them oral sex but were just having a bit of fun.

Little girls are encouraged to develop sexy personas. Bras for eight-year-olds, braletes for three-year-olds, G-strings for 10-year-olds with slogans like Wink Wink and Eye Candy, T-shirts that read “You’re at the top of my to-do list” and “hotter Down Under”.

Then there’s the Peekaboo pole-dancing kit for six-year-olds. It comes with sexy garter and DVD demonstrating suggestive dance moves. The kit promises to unleash the sex kitten inside. Soon you’ll be flaunting it to the world and earning a fortune in Peekaboo dance dollars”.

Sex is glamorised even in girls’ magazines aimed at readers aged five to 13.

Girls are exposed to sexually brutal music videos which suggest that the highest goal for a woman in life is to receive anal sex from multiple men.

Fortunately some are speaking out.

Little girls are encouraged to develop sexy persona

Last October, the Australian Institute issued a report titled “Corporate Pedophilia: Sexualising Children by Advertising and Marketing”.

The American Psychological Association just published “The Sexualisation of Girls” which concluded that an entire generation of young women was being psychologically damaged by a culture which prematurely sexualizes them.

The result is anxiety, low self-image, self-harm, eating disorders, depression and lower academic performance.

Initial research by Womens Forum Australia backs these findings.

The report “Faking It: The Female Image in Young Women’s Magazines”, will be released in July.

Why aren’t we as worried about creating an environment destructive of the physical and mental health of girls as we are about greenhouse gases?

On International Women’s Day, it’s time to empower girls and equip them to resist – and fight back against – a culture that tells them they’re no more than the sum of their sexual parts.

Melissa Tankard Reist is an author and founding director of Womens Forum Australia, an independent women's think tank.

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