Melinda Tankard Reist on the sexualisation of girls

Melinda Tankard Reist, editor of Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls,  is in the country to address a Family First-hosted conference, The Forum on the Family, and says that ‘Raunch culture’  “has set back women in Western societies more than 50 years”. Tankard Reist said Western culture had developed a highly sexualised and homogonised view of females in the past decade.


“A scary view about what women and girls are good for has developed; they are merely here to service the sexual satisfaction of men and if they don’t succeed they’re worthless,”

“And we’re now applying adult concepts to children: our culture is repackaging young girls as sexually interested and available.”

She said many girls strived to meet the myth. It was driven by sexualised music videos, magazines, billboards, toys, games, clothing and marketing.

As a result, girls developed physical and mental health problems such as eating disorders, depression and anxiety.

Girls as young as seven were “self-surveying” and being hospitalised with eating disorders.

The culture was driven by marketers targeting pre-teens with disposable incomes, the rise of pornography and the mainstreaming of pornographic messages, she said.

In the past five years it had also been especially perpetuated by the internet.

“This is really not fair. It’s harmful to girls as the message they are getting about how they have to act and look is very negative,” she said.

“They are made to feel they are never good enough and they’re looking at images that are airbrushed, they’re not real.”

From The Herald article:

[Women’s] liberation has now come to be seen as the ability to wrap your legs around a pole, or flash your breasts in public, or send a sexual image of yourself to your boyfriend so he can pass it around his mates. Girls think that empowerment lies in their ability to be hot and sexy.””Raunch culture has taken us back. It’s an absolute tragedy. These were issues being raised by feminists in the 1950s and 60s.”

First up: I have no idea whather this has set us back 50 years or not, but I wholeheartedly agree with the point that girls are growing up trying to live up a a myth (myths, even), and, as a result, feeling like they aren’t good enough.

I’m not a young girl (or even a teen girl), so I can’t speak to the actually reality of whether girls that age do feel pressure to be hyper-sexual (I can definitely say that I do, though!), or to take nude pictures of yourself, or whatever. But I do agree that far too much emphasis is placed on sexuality, and being sexual, and it wouldn’t suprised me if young girls (who are general vulnerable and impressionable, as young people tend to be) do feel pressue, and feel overwhelmed and insecure about themselves because of it.

Tankard Reist says that people need to make their voices heard about this issue to goverments and regulatory bodies, and that we need to develop a counter culture to provide an alternative perspective to young girls and women. Additionally, she says that parents need to say “no” to their children and monitor their media consumption, which is not necessarily realistic given that peer influence can also be a big factor, and children can also consume media in situations outside of parental control (at school, with friends, billboards on the street, etc).

I hadn’t planned to write about this, because I feel like this topic has been spoken about very eloquently before (‘Female Chauvinist Pigs’ by Ariel Levy is an easy read, though I did throw the book down in a huff a few times while reading it!), but the I let my guilty desires take over and my eyes drifted downwards to the comments on the Herald article. Oh yes, they are always so amazing.

“Sorry ladies you wanted equality now you have to face the price. I imagine if you delve into the people behind the “Raunchy” magazines and advertising creators you ill (sic) find a high percentage of aggressive feminists so dont lay the blame solely on guys.”

Be careful what you wish for/you got what you asked for, stop whining-ism? Check! Shout out to “aggressive feminists”? Check! Hilarious (and probably accidental) allusion to a feminist conspiracy to infiltrate the media and then feed messages to children? Check!
“Well said. The consequence of females copying male bad behavior is just more bad behavior – nothing else. Boys used to always want sex and girls often said no. Boys would start stupid fights and girls would stop them.

Boys would often become stupid drunks and girls would stay sensible and sober. But that’s all in the distant past. The feminist movement demanded girls should be able to behave just as badly as the boys. So now its the girls who are the more active in looking for casual sex, getting drunk and fighting.”

Blaming the feminist movement? Yep, that’s there too. (Along with some tasty gender stereotypes and fond memories of how things were back in the day).
Luckily, most of the comments there are sane, but there are always a few gems that make my day.


  1. Boganette says:

    I thought Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy was a good read. And ever since I fist read it I’ve been very interested in “raunch culture” debates but I’m not a fan of Melinda Tankard Reist. I don’t trust her motives. For one she’s anti-choice which not wanting to hijack this thread but I don’t believe you can be a feminist and be anti-choice. Two – She’s also deep in with the religious right. I mean she’s speaking at a Family First convention FFS. I do agree with some of what she says – I’ve been worried about raunch culture for a while. BUT I do question where she’s coming from. Often I don’t see the attacks on raunch culture being that different to the modesty arguments from fundamentalists. Is she focusing on the dangers of raunch culture? Or is she talking about keeping girls in their place, covered up and virginal? I can’t really speak eloquently on this issue – It confuses me. I just know that Melinda Tankard Reist makes me nervous. And I think we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Sexual freedom and embracing your sexuality (even as a teenage girl) is important. It’s about doing it in a safe way. And I think as soon as people say “the sexualisation of children” they can pretty much say whatever they want afterwards and people will agree – because obviously NO ONE is in favour of the sexualisation of children. I mean by saying children shouldn’t be “sexualised” what exactly do they want to do to stop that sexualisation? Do they want to stop sex-ed in schools? Access to the pill? etc? I mean “raunch culture” and the sexualisation of children are two different issues. But they get lumped together – and often by fundies doing it as a sneaky thing. Like everyone hates kids getting sexualised so hey we’ll jump on that bandwagon etc.

    Ughh that doesn’t make much sense does it. I’m over-tired.

    • steph says:

      No, it makes perfect sense to me!

      I too am interested in “raunch culture” debates, but also worry when they end up being co-opted by people who are using a faux-feminist perspective as a front for their concerns about keeping girls and women at home with their chastity belts firmly on until marriage. I agree with you; sexual freedom and expressing one’s desires (in what is hopefully safe and healthy way) is very important for everyone, and I would love it if girls were able to do that freely (as I’m sure that many already can/are); that, to me, is an awesome thing.

  2. Amanda says:

    One of the things that leaps out at me in debates like this is “parents should moderate what their kids are watching”. I have to ask: HOW would the parents know what to moderate? Because if the parents were socialized in just the same sexualized culture, or they’ve never learned to critically analyze media images of child/teenage sexualization, they may just give it a pass. “Oh, it’s OK, I grew up on that so it’s ok for my kids.”

    I think about this in relation to my peers/age group – we should be a pretty enlightened group, but it horrifies me how peers my age are STILL adhering to gender binary, stereotypes and socialization for their kids.

    • steph says:

      Same here. Gender biases/stereotypes are so ingrained, and normalized, which is one of the reasons they are so dangerous! We can not even realize we are reinforcing them or implicitly okaying them. And I still know so many people who blindly adhere to them, even people I thought were enlightened.

      Your point about moderation is excellent: how do parents police a system they have essentially been indoctrinated into and are often oblivious to? (Not trying to place blame or say “those dumb fools!” or anything, because we all grow up being socialized in this culture, so there is no “me/us vs. them” distinction here!).
      And, on a purely practical note, how does a parent actually police what media their child consumes? When I was a teenager I bought Cleo and Cosmo (full of their own insane junk and aspirational imagery) of my own accord, without my parents having any idea (that I know of). Could a parent ever actually regulate what their child is exposed to, all the time? It isn’t exactly realistic.

      • Amanda says:

        It’s frustrating. It’s like the moment you become a parent, you’re supposed to know everything to bring up a well adjusted child, nanny state and cultural policing be damned.

        Ugh reading the comments on the Herald piece is like reading brain spew: abdication of responsibility in cultural debate is so damned privileged and ultimately sexist – “you’re the parent (read:mother) , DO something about your wayward child!”. And yet here we have a piece asking society to do something about policing these cultural norms and all people can do is throw up the usual hands and say “not my problem! It’s too big!”

        And gawd, the comments about how feminism is to blame for everything, from low wages to slutty women just makes me want to find a quiet brick wall.

  3. Amanda says:

    Oh lawdy, the comments section on the Herald article has devolved into something that’s turning my brain to squish. There’s one commenter in particular who’s language and women hating would have him booted off any other moderated forum. He sounds like Garth George. Hmm, I wonder….

    But since Herald YV isn’t moderated, we can expect brain farts like this getting air.