Melinda Tankard Reist is a woman on a mission.
Author, public speaker, journalist and activist, Melinda is passionate about changing social attitudes and creating awareness of issues affecting women and men; particularly those which contribute to the objectification of women in society.
From the early 1990s Melinda worked with various organisations as a journalist, advisor and campaigner, and since 2009 has been working tirelessly as the founder of Collective Shout, a “grassroots organisation against the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls in media, advertising and popular culture.”
Collective Shout have achieved great success in the few short years they have been around, winning campaigns against major brands such as Mossimo, Amazon.com, Harvey Norman, Cotton On, Kmart, Typo, Woolworths, and many more businesses which objectify women through their advertising.
Melinda has also put in place global campaigns, such as that which fought to ban Kanye West ‘Monster Video’ from being shown on TV. So powerful was her research and advocacy, that MTV have refused to show the clip on their station.
Although many have argued that such ‘censorship’ takes away free speech, Melinda argues that ‘free speech’ should never be ‘hate speech’; freedom of speech should never objectify or degrade a person.
It is not extremist to say that this video – which shows West in bed with dead supermodels, holding a decapitated woman’s head, and rapping while deceased semi naked women hang from their necks – is indeed ‘monstrous’ and inappropriate for adolescent viewing (MTV’s target audience for video clips).
Although such censorship does not magically take away the problem or stop people from being able to watch this video if they seek it out, it does demonstrate to us that the media must make a decision to either support or stand against, violent sexual imagery. With children and adolescents already encountering so many graphic sexual and violent images on a daily basis, the decision from MTV to refuse the screening of ‘Monster’ is a monumental decision. It is one less place that children have to stumble across such violent and graphic imagery.
While organisations like Collective Shout are fighting to stop the hate speech and sexualisation against women in society, there are of course many who are working just s tirelessly to destroy Melinda.
Earlier this month I interviewed Melinda at an event where she was speaking, and was shocked to learn that for the past 5 months she had been the target of a vicious campaign which aimed to destroy both her and her work.
Abusive messages, slanderous hack posts on her websites, threats against her family and friends… so severe were these attacks that Melinda admitted to me she could not even turn on her computer without being constantly bombarded.
Out of respect, I pulled the Collective Shout stories I had been putting together for this particular event and discussed with Melinda alternative ways in which I could continue to support and spread her message without causing her family any added stress at the present time.
Melinda was supportive of me sharing her work on my own personal website so I will be including in this blog some of the conversations we had during that weekend, which cover issues such as the sexualisation of women, how the pornography industry is targeting children, the victories that Collective Shout have had against media, and how we as men and women of society can make a difference.
JS: Melinda, in relation to the porn industry, what are some of the most troubling things that your research has uncovered.
MTR: “We’ve found out recently that Disability porn is a big genre, there are whole genres on disabled and Down syndrome girls. I also know children who have been exposed to porn when looking up their favourite cartoon characters online. The porn industries have studied the mistakes that children make when typing things into search engines, and they know the slip up’s they will make, and they are redirecting them to porn sites. There is Dora the Explorer porn, Atomic Betty porn, Dorothy the dinosaur porn. We cannot trust the porn industry, they don’t care about our young people, they care about expanding their profits. And that’s why we have to have this conversation.
JS: Wow. I’ve found that when we start looking into all of this (the porn industry and the objectification of women), obviously it’s so disturbing that we find ourselves getting lost in it all, feeling that it’s a lost cause. Do you believe that the sexualisation of society and our children is a lost cause, or do you think that we really can make a difference?
MTR: Well it is a juggernaut, we are talking about a billion dollar industry and some days I do wonder how we can fight it. But at the same time we HAVE to fight it. If we really care about our children and people, if we really care about true authentic men and authentic expressions of sexuality, then I think we have no choice. And the more people who fight the better chance we have.
What does encourage me is the number of young men I come across who are totally disillusioned with how they are expected to behave socially, they know that pornography has a plan for their lives and that it’s not good. Just recently I’ve been connecting with a number of men who are really concerned with the need to redefine ‘masculinity’. They realise they’ve been sold a very barbaric, commercialised, plasticised version of sexuality and that it’s not real. I feel if young men can rise up and resist porn’s message, perhaps there is hope. Maybe they can encourage other men not to go down that path and to instead seek out authentic relationships with real women, not pixelated, computerised images.
Those things give me hope. The work of ‘Collective Shout’ gives me great hope.
JS: Can you tell me about your organisation ‘Collective Shout’ and what you’re doing through it?
MTR: Yes, myself and some mates founded this organisation a few years ago. We’ve had some great victories against major brands – Calvin Klein, Myer, Harvey Norman, K-Mart – naming and shaming them for pornifying culture and depicting women and girls in highly sexualised ways. We’ve been forcing them to change their behaviour, and it gives me hope. But yes, it is a massive, MASSIVE task we have ahead of us, and I don’t underestimate the nature of this task.
JS: Another thing I want to ask you is, if you could challenge women and men to take one step towards changing our culture’s views, what would you suggest?
MTR: Well obviously I’m going to say join Collective Shout! (laughs). Find us on facebook. I think it’s in the collective actions that we will achieve something; I think it’s too hard for individuals, for parents, on their own. We have to combine, we have to unite; that way we have more power to lobby government boards.
JS: So if people are really passionate about making a difference, if they want to fight against what is happening in society, how can they get more involved? Can they contact you through Collective Shout?
MTR: Definitely. Join Collective Shout.org. Sign up on Facebook, through twitter, and then get involved in the campaigns. What we do is we outline the problem and the ways they can fight against it. We make it easy for people to navigate the complaints processes in this country. We really do the hard yards, we do the research, and then all they have to do is take action.
JS: So for example, would this perhaps be something like a letter template, which people could easily fill in?
MTR: Yeah, or for example we might put together a letter that says something like ‘Diva is selling porn themed accessories for little girls, here’s how you can complain to your senator or member, to the classification or Australian advertising board’. Or, ‘here is how you complain to your local television station’.
Imagine if every person of good will, every person concerned about social justice in this country did that. Even if HALF of them did that…imagine.
JS: I think it’s great that you’ve put a lot of this out on Facebook because obviously it’s a great way to reach younger people. Like you said, you’ve done the hard yards and all we have to do is press a few buttons. On Facebook everyone presses ‘Like’ on everything! It’s so easy for us to get connected, and we’re really grateful you’ve done the work to get this started so more people can get more involved.
MTR: Thankyou. We do also have a lot of fun with our campaigning as well, which I’ll be going into more detail about tomorrow, but it’s a more radical approach…[like] messing with their campaigns (laughs).
JS: Can you give us one example?
MTR: Definitely! Oh, one of the best ones, which was one of our most recent victories, was against Mossimo. Mossimo ran a ‘peep show’ campaign where they got girls to send in pictures of themselves in their underwear, which we don’t think is a good message. ‘Peeping Toms’, the whole ‘up-skirting thing’…it’s not funny for girls to be ‘peeped on’, it’s actually criminal. [It’s like] don’t make it into light entertainment to sell your undies.
So one of our members in South Australia sent in an image of herself holding a sign which said, “Mossimo Peep Show sexist crap”, but Mossimo actually told us we couldn’t use the word ‘crap’ (laughs). So we changed it to “Mossimo Peep Show sexist rubbish”. And she won! She got the most votes. So thanks to Mossimo for upholding such ‘high’ standards in our English language, now we’ll be using the camera we won from them to document all our activism (laughs).
JS: That’s awesome! Well, I won’t keep you too long Melinda, but thankyou so much for everything you’ve been sharing, we’re very grateful.
MTR: It’s my pleasure!