Not everyone is outraged about the same things. Have you noticed? And that’s how arguments start. Because when you ARE outraged about something, you generally think those who don’t share your outrage are complacent fools. And when something DOESN’T push your outrage buttons, you tend to think those who are banging on about it are a pack of shouty, whinging killjoys.
See? That’s why I tend to steer away from angry posts on Mamamia and why Amanda Bugmum is such a genius when it comes to moderating comments and spreading lovely soothing nappy-rash cream over any angry red bits that occasionally pop up around here.
Still. Ever since this happened, I’ve found myself inadvertently Captain Of the T-Shirts-That-Piss-People-Off-Club. This is unfortunate because I like t-shirts. However, not a week goes by when I don’t receive an email or link from someone who has seen a t-shirt or an advertisement with a slogan they find offensive, exhorting me to expose this shop or that fashion label.
The thing is, I don’t feel outraged about everything. Really, I don’t. I know there are some people who do and some people who are looking for a receptacle for their outrage but they won’t find it here and I won’t do their bidding. If something truly offends or upsets me – like the Cotton On baby clothes did – then I will speak up but I can’t fake it. And, more importantly, I don’t want Mamamia to become an angry, outraged place. It’s important we discuss issues and I am committed to doing that but that doesn’t mean clambering up on a soapbox every five minutes.
But if you are outraged or offended by something, this might be of interest to you. Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra author of the book Getting Real: Challenging The Sexualisation Of Girls and she is very outraged about that particular subject.
While I do share some of her concerns, by no mean do we agree on all issues. In fact we strongly disagree on a number of very important issues. I can’t overstate that.
Melinda has recently launched a new organisation called Collective Shout to bring people who are outraged about particular things together. Here, she answers some questions about it:
You broke the Roger David t-shirt story and exposed some heinous pro-rape t-shirts recently. How did that play out?
The response was overwhelming. A number of women sent images of the Roger David t.shirts to me. I decided to blog on the t.shirts, and how the objectification of women and pimp culture had gone mainstream. (I mean, my dad buys his shirts at Roger David!) It has become almost chic to market images of women being hurt or slogans mocking their harm.
For some time I’d included in my talks some pro-rape t.shirts so I decided to include them in the blog as well to show how bad things are. I found one I hadn’t seen before, “It’s not rape if you yell surprise” and discovered an Australian company was involved so I included that.
The blog attracted 16,000 hits in a few days, 8000 on the day I posted it. In three days, 3,500 people signed up to a facebook site against the t.shirts. The most profoundly affecting comments were from sexual assault survivors who said that these t.shirts were a form of mental torture. The slogans send a message that rape was just a bit of fun. Many described the t.shirts as ‘hate speech’ inciting crimes of violence against women and girls. Some wrote about how seeing the t.shirts triggered memories of their sexual assault, re-victimising them. One colleague had to step back from the campaign because the abusive comments posted in the blog forum were too distressing.
I wonder if the creators of these shirts thought about the effect they may have on women like this, but then they probably don’t care. Abuse is, like, so hot right now. As for a response from Roger David, we didn’t get one.
How did Collective Shout come about?
Collective Shout came about as a result of a comment from Melbourne writer and blogger Tania Andrusiak (author of Adproofing Your Kids: Raising critical thinkers in a media-saturated world) who contributed a chapter to Getting Real. She described the book as a ‘collective shout against the pornification of culture.’ I like the term so much I thought it deserved an organisation! I also felt it was time to harness the momentum that had been building over the last couple of the hears, into a strategic organised campaign. So I headhunted some brilliant women to work with me to get it going and some other women who had wanted to see something like this happen for a long time came out of the woodwork to join us. We only met as a group for the first time in December and Collective Shout has just moved ahead at a rapid pace since then. The website has just gone up: www.collectiveshout.org
How will it work?
Collective Shout will expose, name and shame corporations, advertisers, marketers and media who objectify women and sexualise girls to sell products and services. It will run primarily through the website providing a description of the offending company, the offending product or service and then giving those concerned the tools for action – specifics on how to make a complaint. So many people say they want to complain but that the system is difficult to navigate. So we’ll show them how to do it. The aim is to help people recognise they do have a voice and a right to make their feelings known.
Another benefit of Collective Shout is that it is a central point to connect “shouters”. Advocacy can be a lonely exercise, especially when it seems to land on deaf ears or its value is undermined or trivialised. This is an opportunity for individual campaigners to have access to a network of like-minded activists who are equally concerned about the pornification of our culture.
Who will it target?
Corporations, advertisers, marketers, media who objectify women and sexualise girls to make money (which means we’ll be busy!). We’ll be telling them that if you are going to use the bodies of women and girls to sell your stuff in a way that objectifies, degrades, or exploits, you’ll be hearing from us. You will see your advertising on our site – reproduced, taken apart piece by piece to expose its negative messages. We’ll have a graffiti board where budding graffiti artists will ‘re-face’ your billboards and other ads. Thousands of people will be educated about how dodgy you are and will want to avoid you. Young people will log on and tell their friends at school. People will be telling others, they will be equipped to communicate what you’ve done. Who knows, you might also feature at an awards night for the most objectifying/ sexualising ad.
What about the argument that says “Lighten up, it’s just a t-shirt!” or claims that this is political correctness gone mad?
This isn’t about being “politically correct”. It is about naming and identifying the ways that women and girls are represented as sexualised, subordinate and submissive. Those with vested interests in defending the status quo – and their entitlements – are the ones who try to dismiss women’s concerns. Free speech shouldn’t mean speech (including images, representations) which cause harm to women and girls. And research tells us that objectifying women and sexualising girls leads to harm against them. In a society where we value “freedom of speech”, we need to ask why people constantly choose to use this freedom to speak harm into women’s lives. Is “speech” aimed at degrading women and poking fun at sexual assault really an expression of freedom?
We won’t be dismissed with simplistic labels put on us by those who don’t want to engage the arguments.
What do you think? Have we become too quick to cry ‘sexualisation’ when it comes to images of girls and women or do you feel under siege by why popular culture exposes you to?