Thursday, December 15, 2011

It isn’t only the religious who protest the sexualised portrayal of women

I’ve read a few articles lately about young women joining the convent. Each has mentioned the way women are presented so sexually in our society. Perhaps there is more to it than receiving a calling from God. Perhaps women might look to convents when they want to step back from the way women are expected to be sexual in our culture. I know, being raised as Catholic, I’ve thought about how lovely it would be if I could live in a protected community, amongst women, and not have to worry about relationships with males (takes up so much time) and get on with working for the institution (doing some public good), and having time for my own intellectual and creative pursuits, as I’ve witnessed those in religious institutions can do. I do like institutions and communal living. I can understand the appeal of joining a convent.

I also recently saw a UK documentary on Compass by a film-maker about his brother becoming a Muslim extremist. It showed his brother’s progress from vague discontentment with modern life to finding community and communal action for social change and preparing to be a terrorist. One of his first prompts towards Islamic extremism was his objection to the way women are presented in our society. An objection I share.

Then there was a piece on The Hoopla by a mum about the highly sexualised music played at her child’s primary school disco. The title was “I’m going Amish and Taking my Daughter with me’. I can understand the feeling that there are aspects of modern life you want to protect your child from.

I thought the issue of speaking out against the disrespectful portrayal of women was a common sense issue. A feminist issue. A lets be a good society by protecting children issue. I don’t see that protesting against sexualised images of women is a religious issue.

I know Collective Shout keeps up campaigns against various businesses that display women in disrespectful ways, whether that be on t shirts, advertisements, music videos. I know Melinda Tankard Reist is a Christian, but she never mentions religion on the Collective Shout site. I consider their work to be feminist, not religious, and I support what they do. I’m glad that religious groups speak out in protest of the sexualised portrayal of women we see in our culture. I’m glad for the work of whatever group supports the cause. How unfortunate, then, that when the Australian Christian Lobby speaks out, peoples’ reactions are as ignorant as those on the comments listed here, on the Courier Mail site reporting on the protest against Adidas selling t shirts with slogans such as ‘Boobies make me smile’ and images of Kate Moss with exposed nipples.

Many comments ridicule or mock the religious protesters. While I don’t agree with the Australian Christian Lobby on many points (in fact I would argue with them on most), I agree with them on this one, and thank them for the work they are doing. It is poor thinking to dismiss the argument because the group protesting is religious.

We need to change the message that it is only religious groups who oppose this.

Where are all the other groups and individuals who are protesting? Where are the education campaigns to let people know that portraying women in this way is not ok? We need some other voices here. Second wave feminism was onto this issue. When did we stop calling it a feminist issue? And we need to let people know there are ways of protesting without turning to religious institutions. Secular people care about women too.


sister outlaws said...

The really perverse thing is that young women have been convinced to sexualise themselves and to view it as liberation. It’s like a sick patriarchal joke. It’s liberating to be pole dancer? Somehow it’s subversively clever to perpetuate the objectification of women? Liberating to objectify yourself? Fortunately my eighteen year old daughter “gets it” but many of her friends don’t and it surprises me because they are all intelligent young women brought up in middle class inner city Melbourne. I completely agree that we need more voices on this issue.

Motherhugger said...

Yes, sister outlaw. I've had the same conversation, as we all have, over and over.
I know a woman who teaches film-making at uni, and she says her students just don't see how images can place women as sexual objects. She teaches them to read visual texts, and sometimes they disagree with the meaning. I thought this type of critical reading and thinking was being taught in high school.
I wonder, now, if it is just part of youth (feeling sexually free and being confrontational about it), and wisdom comes with age.
I hope my own daughters will get it like yours does.