A few days ago I wrote a post about a radio station who were running a "Win a Wife" campaign. Along with many others, I thought this was appalling. We decided to gather together like-minded people in a Facebook page to share ideas and information about why this competition was not OK, and strategies to stop the competition. In six days we gathered the support of over 1200 people!
This campaign has been a huge learning experience for me on a number of different levels.
Learning Experience #1
I have been saddened and horrified and depressed and angry at the abuse and pornographic images hurled at us. A few of the less-explicit examples can be found here. I learnt that there are a lot of people with lots of destructive anger out there. This vitriole is reason enough for us all to question what sort of sentiments this particular radio station is encouraging.
*Update: If it's all getting a bit much, the best remedy is laughter. Do check out this post with a choice selection of some of The Rock's supporter arguments.
Learning Experience #2
More importantly, I learnt that there are so many wonderful people out there who are so passionate about creating a just and equal society, and are willing to take action to make this happen. And I just loved connecting with them all. People sharing their knowledge and supporting each other. The Facebook page we created was just a vehicle that brought such people together.
It was amazing to realise that a small action (creating the page) snowballed in to something so much bigger than we ever thought it would. AND WE MADE A DIFFERENCE!
Learning Experience #3
It was a beautiful summer evening this evening. My family was here for dinner and my little boy was being particularly gorgeous. (I know, I know, I am biased, but that's him this evening in the photo below - don't you think?). But I was so angry at the world, having spent the afternoon dealing with abusive people and deleting explicit photos off the Facebook page, that I couldn't enjoy the evening. I was grumpy and preoccupied.
So I turned off my computer and went on a lovely walk with my wonderful sister. I raged about it all, and then I realised, over the past six days this campaign had consumed me. I had not been fully present with my little boy or husband, my garden is overflowing with needed-to-be-picked-yesterday produce and I have neglected my writing and positive work with teens and parents. I learned that neglecting these things I love makes me miserable.
So I decided to step down from moderating the Facebook page. (Of course I remain an passionate supporter). And I will not publish comments from others on this blog attacking my stance on the 'Win a Wife' competition. I have had every 'argument' (and more!) thrown at me about this issue and remain strong in my conviction. I have a HUGE amount of respect, gratitude and admiration for people who are continually standing up for injustice and inequality (Catherine Manning, Melinda Tankard Reist, Sue Bradford... the list could go on). I am not sure I could ever do what you do - I would certainly need thicker skin! And for all those wonderful people who are writing the letters and emails and generally spreading the word that it's not OK to treat anyone as second class citizens - you guys are awesome.
A New Zealand radio station, 'The Rock' is currently running a competition to win a Ukranian wife. Yes indeed, a competition to win another human being.
I am appalled.
People in favour of the 'Win a Wife' competition have said "oh lighten up it's just a joke". Would a competition to 'win a real African slave' be OK? Treating other humans as commodities is not a joke. Buying humans as part of a monetary transaction is never OK.
Others have pointed out that wife-buying is actually a social service - you know, 'rescuing' these poor women from their situations. Kind of like buying child pornography helps feed and clothe the child 'models'? If you really want to help Ukranian women, get in touch with the many international aid organisations and find out how to do this.
The other dismaying effect this competition has had is to legitimise the dehumanising of women. A quick look through The Rock's commentary on this competition, and the entrant's 'profiles' is profoundly depressing. Furthermore, the Ukranian 'jokes' stemming from this competition are extremely offensive to the Ukranian community.
I have been vocal in my opposition to this campaign, and have helped set up the Facebook campaign Stop The Rock's 'Win a Wife' campaign. This has been live for only a matter of hours and the response has been incredible. If you also think the 'Win a Wife' competition is a world of wrong, please join us on the Facebook page. We are encouraging people to write to the radio station's advertisers to voice their dismay.
A number of people have written excellent posts on this topic and I encourage you to read them:
**Update 16/2/11: I want to clarify when I stand on this competition, as it seems some people are wildly generalising. I have not made any comment with regards to online dating, human trafficking, analogies with prostitution or about the situation faced by women in Ukraine. This is because I don't know enough about any of these topics to comment. Many people do know much more than me, and it's been interesting reading their commentary on various blogs and forums. I still haven't come to any conclusions myself on these, so I'll just keep learning.
I DO know where I stand on this issue though: women are not commodities to be won, and this competition is legitimising the degradation of women in New Zealand, that old notion of women as second-class citizens. We're better than this New Zealand.
The following is a letter to the NZ Broadcasting Standards Authority from the Embassy of Ukraine in Australia. (They don't have an embassy in NZ, so the Australian embassy acts on their behalf).
One of New Zealand's national headlines today was "Question after school puberty talk shocks granddad".
Given my line of work, I was intrigued. Apparently, following a evening sexuality education evening, an 8 year old girl asked her grandfather about the size of his penis. After reading the article, I came to three conclusions:
1. This is ridiculous journalism
'Sex sells' and sexuality education portrayed as outrageous also sells. One man unhappy with one school's sexuality education evening does not constitute national headline news. Particularly when the public health nurse at the optional "mother and daughter" evening spoke only about puberty and the associated changes, and did not talk about penis size or go into any sexual detail.
A fantastic sexuality education programme wouldn't be considered 'newsworthy" by mainstream journalism. Imagine this: Happy parent comes home from sexuality education parent/child evening, calls up local journalist to report what a great evening it was and how they all feel so much better prepared/informed on how to face the questions and changes that will be happening in their child's life. I can't imagine that making ever making the national headlines.
(If any journalists disagree with me and would like to write a positive article on quality sexuality education I would be more than happy to help them out!)
2. Ridiculous journalism leads to inadequate sexuality education for our children.
With negative journalism such as this, it's no wonder that the Education Review Office (2007) report The Teaching of Sexuality Education in Years 7 to 13 found that "The majority of school sexuality education programmes are not meeting students’ learning needs.” In order to avoid potential negative publicity, today's headline makes it more desirable for schools to ignore the Ministry of Education's sexuality education requirements.
3. A teachable moment was lost
The child's question immediately had an adult's framework put on it. Children don't see sexual topics in the way adults do. For a child, asking about the length of a penis is akin to asking the length of your finger, how tall you are, how fat/thin you are. Kids are curious and are exploring their world and the least we can do is give them honest answers to questions. Even if you 'suspect' an ulterior motive to a question, the best way to diffuse it is to give it an honest answer. Students have certainly tried to 'catch me out' in class by posing explicit or weird questions - the way I respond to them determines the outcome.
Sure, kids will ask the adults in their lives questions that may embarrass them - but it's the adult's responsibility to respond maturely and with integrity.
Given that this grandfather went to the media about the question his granddaughter asked him lead me to assume that a HUGE deal was made out of her question. I think that right now this girl would be rather confused about things.
A real teachable moment was missed. The conversation could have just as easily gone like this:
Girl: "Grandad, are you worried that your penis is too small/big/short/long/fat/skinny?"
Adult: (smiles, because hey, it's an amusing question) "No Jane, I am not worried at all. Everyone's body parts come in all different sizes. Just like I am fatter/taller/skinnier than your Dad/uncle/brother, our penis' are all different shapes and sizes too."
Girl: "Oh, OK, I was just wondering. Can we go to the park now/eat dinner now/watch TV now?"
(The girl had a question, it was answered honestly without drama, and they moved on with their day).
Meanwhile, I applaud St Paul's School in West Auckland, for hosting a 'mother and daughter' evening. I hope that other schools see this type of journalism for what it is and are not put off offering their students quality and comprehensive sexuality education.
Thanks to Boganette for alerting me to this article. You can read her post on this issue here. After commenting on her blog I felt compelled to write more about this issue myself.
'I think [Liz Hurley] will be thrilled by the endorsement'
Dear John Key,
My team and I at Enlighten Education support girls to understand that it's NOT all about who is hot and who is not, that it's NOT all about who is the sexiest and who is not.
But John, your comments recently tell us that it IS all about being hot. Did you really need to publicly mull over which women would make it on to your hot 'wish list'? You have succumbed to the media's preoccupation with women as body parts, women as sex objects whose bodies are there to please males. How about a media conversation focussing on the top female scientists, the top female educators, the top female writers, the top female business leaders?
I would never lambast men for having a private 'hot' discussion. But John, as the prime minister, what you say and how you act publicly has greater repercussions. I understand that you are trying to appeal to the 'average kiwi bloke', but in doing so you have lowered yourself to the lowest common denominator. You are providing fantastic fodder for the media, further objectifying women.
I look forward to further 'high achiever' lists, this time not based on 'hotness' please.
I will start it off - congratulations to 17 year old Jamie Fenton who has just been awarded Young New Zealander of The Year for her all-round abilities as a youth role model, academic achiever and inventor. Amazing girl, fantastic achievements!
*Postscript: The fact that John Key's original conversation took place live on air with a man who hopitalised his partner in a domestic violence incident (fracturing her back) makes this talk about women all the more inappropriate.
Today's guest post is written by Dannielle Miller. Dannielle is a highly respected and experienced educator, author and media commentator on issues affecting teenage girls. She is CEO of Enlighten Education, an organisation that works with thousands of teenage girls across Australia and New Zealand each year. Dannielle writes a thought-provoking weekly blog, and hosts a Facebook page, where an active community of students, parents and teachers and provide an important forum for discussing issues relating to girls and education. Dannielle is also the author of The Butterfly Effect, a book on raising happy, confident teenage girls by forging deeply connected and loving mother-daughter relationships.
I lament the use of terms such as “liberation” and “empowerment” to sell women more and more product. In this post I want to particularly question the use of terms implying female empowerment in the growing trend to convince women to change what is surely something quintessentially female — our vaginas.
Case in point? The latest series of advertisements for Schick Quattro’s TrimStyle all-in-one razor and bikini trimmer. The ads invite you to “celebrate your inner confidence” and, using the language of liberation, “free your skin”. According to the company’s PR blurb, five everyday Australian women were photographed and filmed for the campaign wearing nothing but lingerie, in and around some very public locations in Sydney’s CBD. Men are shown gawking at them, whilst other women look on admiringly. The women do have inspiring stories — there is a single mother and a cancer survivor — yet surely as the advertisement is for a bikini razor and they are seen posed in lingerie, we can only assume that their confidence actually comes from having well-groomed vaginas.
Speaking of well-groomed vaginas reminds me of one of the most flabbergasting moments in talk-show history. In January last year Jennifer Love Hewitt famously discussed on American TV that she had devoted an entire chapter of her new book on relationships to decorating her hairless vagina with jewelled decals — a practice known as “vajazzling” that is gaining in popularity here, too. Hewitt told her host “Women should vajazzle their vajayjays . . . It really helped me.” She went on to say, “After a breakup, a friend of mine Swarovski-crystalled my precious lady . . . and it shined like a disco ball.” It really “empowered” her, she insisted (although apparently she was not quite empowered enough to use adult terms for her anatomy).
Forget the war on terrorism — if the amount of ads for decorating, shaving, waxing and electrolysis are anything to go by, it is the age of the war on women’s vaginas.
Actually, it is not just grown women who are being told they should doubt their own genitals. During the formal season last year, beauticians noted a huge increase in the number of young women wanting “intimate” grooming treatments. Girls as young as 14 were asking for Brazilian waxes. Enlighten Education’s Program Manager for New Zealand, Rachel Hansen, who is also a women’s health and sexuality educator, tells me of a school in NZ for Year 1 to 13 students that ran a beauty salon’s ad for Brazilian waxing in the school diary. Imagine pulling out your five-year-old daughter’s homework diary and an ad for Brazilian waxing jumping out at you.
It seems teens no longer even know what “normal” is. In episode one of the UK’s 2009 Sex Education Show, when teens of both sexes were shown images of women with pubic hair, they gasped in what seemed to be shock or disgust. The producers had set out to show that in reality “we all come in all different shapes and sizes. From penises to pubes, bums to boobs whatever you’ve got it’s all perfectly normal.”
Cosmetic surgeons would have us believe otherwise. As if waxing, plucking, electrolysis and decorating is not enough, far more serious procedures are being widely promoted by surgeons as important for restoring women’s “confidence”. Researcher Karen Roberts McNamara argues that women are going under the scalpel to have their vaginal openings tightened and their labias made smaller because they have been convinced this will “normalise” them and thus give them confidence:
The sanitized ideal of the clean, delicate, discreet vaginal slit, so widely used in the plastic surgery industry discourse, functions in such a way as to cast the bodies who have not undergone these procedures as necessarily dirty and unsightly . . . Scholars have noted that in years past, women rarely had the opportunity to see other women’s vaginas and thus had no sense of how a typical vagina might look. Yet with the mainstreaming of the adult entertainment industry, the situation has changed dramatically. Now, a beauty standard has emerged, one established primarily through porn actresses, nude models and strippers . . . The irony of this situation is that in pornographic films and photographs, everything from eye colour or stretch marks, to genitalia, can be modified digitally.
Amanda Hess, in her excellent piece “The Problem With Defending The Sacred Choice To Vajazzle”, concludes with a call-to-arms of sorts that I am taking up, and that I urge all girls and women to take up.
For now, the more extreme performances of femininity, like breast implantation, vaginal ‘rejuvenation,’ and Vajazzling aren’t considered the norm for women. I’m not going to be met with shock when I remove my pants and reveal to my sex partner that I haven’t converted my pubic mound into a shiny disco ball. But these days, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for him to be shocked that I’m not perfectly waxed. The body hair ship may have sailed, but vaginal modification is at a point right now where we are still in a position to fend off the tide. And my greatest fear is that someday, we will wake to find that our girls are being routinely Vajazzled upon puberty, and realize that we never stood up to say, ‘This…is . . . ridiculous.’
Rachel is a writer and educator whose fields of interest include sexuality education, gender, feminism and youth development.