Here’s a possible paradox. Can you be pro-life and call yourself a feminist? How much about one’s religious (or lack thereof) background should be disclosed when offering opinions on social issues?
Does it matter? These are just some of the questions ejected into the public debate this week after a wide-ranging profile on self-described feminist and anti-abortion activist Melinda Tankard Reist was published earlier this month.
The Sunday Life profile had this to say on the controversial campaigner:
“Melinda Tankard Reist is a woman of strong opinions. She is also a woman about whom people have strong feelings. If you’ve seen her proselytise on pornography on TV, read her opinions on the sexualisation of girls in the newspapers, or watched her go after do-badding companies on Twitter or through her activist group Collective Shout, chances are you have a few opinions about her of your own.
She’s a wowser. A no-nonsense political crusader beloved by both teenage girls and their mothers. A religious conservative in feminist clothing. A brazen careerist. A gifted networker and generous mentor.
Reist has threatened to sue (but has not yet sued) blogger Jennifer Wilson who writes under the name No Place For Sheep for penning a piece that questioned the believability of the profile if its author had never directly questioned Ms Reist about her alleged ‘fundamentalist Christian’ influences.
Ms Wilson wrote:
“Demands that her lawyer, Ric Lucas of Colquhoun Murphy, the firm that successfully sued Bob Ellis after his Abbott and Costello book, has insisted I must not publish, in another attempt to bully, intimidate and control me. Mr Lucas does not want me to reveal to anyone what those demands are.
The two statements I made that offended Tankard Reist, according to her lawyer’s letter, are 1) I stated she is a Baptist, which he claims in the letter she is not, and 2) that I expressed my opinion that MTR is duplicitious [sic] and deceptive about her religion.”
It’s a background Ms Reist claims not to hide – that she is a Christian. She claims to object, however, to the allegation she is sneaky about it. Certainly, there have been passing references and chatter about her Christian roots for quite some time. Anyone who served as an advisor to the conservative Senator Brian Harradine for more than a decade from 1993 must surely jigsaw somewhere into that fundamental landscape.
But the central claim is this: is she misunderstood or does she misrepresent herself? Ethicist and author Leslie Cannold argued that it’s about full disclosure. How much we, as an attentive public, should be briefed before somebody opens their mouths with an opinion:
“The credentials of individuals and organisations provide us with important clues about the expertise and motives of those seeking to influence us. They give us the chance to evaluate for ourselves whether an individual or organisation’s contribution is influenced by memberships, affiliations or sources of funding and, if we believe it is, to adjust the weight we give to those views.
We put several questions to Ms Reist so that she might be able to answer the criticism directly. On the pending defamation action she had this to say: