“We don’t have to put up with this any more”

12 Mar 2008

By The Record

Perth forum offers hope to girls, women

By Anthony Barich
 Women’s Forum Australia has called for a new women’s movement and strategy that challenges the industries that feed on body insecurities.

Inga, 28, Emma, 19 and Michelle, 23 model Women’s Forum Australia’s new range of counter-cultural clothing. Photo: Sylvia Defendi


“WFA is building a new women’s movement in this country. We are calling
for a new strategy for girl and woman advocacy. We hope that you will
join us,” WFA founding director Melinda Tankard Reist told the “Get
Real” forum at Government House last Friday.
The packed forum, held the day before International Women’s Day and
attended by over 300 people – mostly women – examined issues around
female body image, the sexualising of girls and the commodification of
girls’ and young women’s bodies in advertising, marketing and popular
“Life has become one big beauty pageant,” Ms Tankard Reist said.
“Despite all the great opportunities on offer today, girls are
In an age of girl power, girls are feeling powerless.”
She said teenage girls are facing unprecedented social pressures.
“Their emotional and psychological well being are at risk in ways never before imagined,” she said.
Ms Tankard Reist and Kids Free 2B Kids founder Julie Gale criticised the Australian Standards Board for not doing its job.
“Many of us here tonight would like to have an Advertising Standards
Board that is just that and reflected community opinion,” Ms Tankard
Reist said, and also accused girls’ magazines like Girlfriend and Dolly
who promote “positive body image” and “self respect” campaigns of
“These girls’ magazines can’t say they’re trying to empower girls to be
strong and feel good about themselves and not be objectified then offer
them these kind of products,” Ms Tankard-Reist said, referring to
banners in the magazines that say “Free sex, just ask.”
The forum also launched Faking It, WFA’s groundbreaking research paper
on the link that sociologists, psychologists and other researchers have
made between women’s and girls’ magazines and women’s health and
“It’s International Women’s Day and I can’t help feeling we’ve gone
backwards. Every day I see a new example and I think things can’t get
any worse and it does,” Ms Tankard Reist said, who has three daughters.
She added: “We have a duty to try and raise some decent men in this
To counter the Playboy brand and other such brands that encourage
promiscuity, subservience and low self esteem, the forum also launched
its own range of hot-pink t-shirts that display the Playboy logo being
crossed out.
Selena Ewing, research officer at Southern Cross Bioethics Institute
and author of Faking It, and Enlighten Education chief executive
Danielle Miller also addressed the forum.
“WFA doesn’t believe that women should be homogenised to look and act
the same. We believe women should be encouraged to think for
themselves, form meaningful values and make a mark in the world that
goes beyond the air-headed cult of celebrity and fashion,” Ms Tankard
Reist said.
Ms Gale said consumers help foster this destructive culture.
“We can’t blame the manufacturers of Bratz dolls when we put them in
the top 10 sales for 2007,” she said, adding that sponsors will
generally change their policy if consumers bring things to their
attention which they believe are not right.
“If you write to the sponsors and tell them you will boycott their
products and will tell all your friends to as well unless they change
their advertising campaigns, that tends to have a strong effect,” Ms
Gale said, after Ms Tankard Reist said she got Harper’s Bazarre fashion
magazine to pull an ad for shoes showing a model dumped in the boot of
a car by mobilising the support of domestic violence groups.