The first thing I got riled up about as a brand new parent was the sexualisation of little girls. In fact, it is one of the first things I started writing about on this blog. It is enormously disappointing to me that Melinda Tankard Reist has become the voice in Australia for this topic.
Tankard Reist has a very narrow view on what are appropriate expressions of sexuality for adults. This means that it is easy for opponents to dismiss criticism of the sexualisation of children as being anti-sex. I think the denial of children’s sexuality actually harms the movement because it falls short of calling for children to be given the space to explore their sexuality for themselves without adult exploitation, manipulation and commercialisation. It tangles children up with the wrongful policing of young women’s sexuality, which has the effect of bringing the ‘small l’ liberals out in defence of advertisers, marketers and ‘free-choice-perfectly-informed consumers’. I find much of Tankard Reist’s work to be tinged with a kind of slut-shaming tone. Personally, I don’t think the problem with Bratz dolls is that they look like whores, I think the problem with these children’s toys is that they look like an adult version of sexuality and materialism. I also think there is a problem with someone thinking ‘whores’ are the very lowest expression of sexuality and therefore the very worst thing a girl could imitate.
And secondly, I just don’t find her feminism very analytical. Tankard Reist is good at picking up on examples of sexism and spreading the word on them – and I’ve enjoyed a lot of what she’s written in this area – but, she’s not so good at identifying the deeper themes beneath the sexism or in moving a stalled public conversation forward. This is why I was so very excited when I first heard Shelley Kulperger speak on the topic. Because yes! feminist analysis uncovering who is really most vulnerable when it comes to the sexualisation of children (hint: has something to do with intersectionality), and also, hey, what is therefore so wrong with the liberal defence of ‘sexy children’s advertising’, and hey, not being anti-sex either.
Tankard Reist is also a self-proclaimed anti-choice feminist. I don’t have a problem with feminists being personally opposed to abortion, but I have huge problems with women believing they can be feminist and at the same time actively campaign against the choice of abortion being available to other women. If you think you know better than women what they should do with their own bodies, you are not a feminist. If you think a better world would make abortion obsolete for women, then you better be directing all your attention towards making it a better world for women rather than closing options for women who exist in this world right now, because otherwise, you are not a feminist. If you hang about with the Right to Lifers, I’m going to damn well question your feminism. Right to Life harasses and terrifies women seeking abortions, this is not feminism. If you’re a feminist and you feel some urgent desire to work with Right to Life then you better be bloody campaigning within to get them to stop treating women that way. The so-called Feminists for Life in my state wrote a newsletter for a long time with the word ‘feminists’ unwittingly misspelled in the title – frankly, it is difficult for me to believe that women who couldn’t spell ‘feminist’ were anything but opportunistic in using the term to describe their group.
Media, stop using Tankard Reist as the voice of Australian feminist motherhood.