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We havenít come a long way baby at all

By Melinda Tankard Reist - posted Friday, 16 March 2007

On Thursday March 8, women around the world celebrated International Women’s Day. The advances made to improve women’s status are indeed worthy of recognition.

But we also have to acknowledge the tragic truth that the movement for women’s equality, in many ways, appears to have failed. At some stage, efforts to end the exploitation of women were overtaken by the movement for sexual liberalism. Women’s freedom was reduced to the freedom to be sexual playthings for male arousal and pleasure.

“Liberation” has come to mean a young woman’s ability to wrap her legs around a pole, to lap dance a man to orgasm, expose herself girls-gone-wild style, to hook up with multiple partners in cold soulless encounters and perform oral sex on schoolboys one-after-another at weekend parties in a routine charmingly known as “daisychaining”.


Liberation means being “free” enough to undergo surgical “enhancement”, to strip like a porn star, to allow yourself to be filmed by your boyfriend to show his mates and the world wide web of on-line voyeurs.

Sexual liberalism has not advanced women’s freedom, but eroded and undermined it. We are living in a sexually brutalised culture. We are seeing more harassment, stalking and rape, more alcohol-fuelled sexual abuse and plying of date rape drugs, more predatory behaviour.

We have allowed the development of a culture that is toxic to young women especially.

Rather than being seen as full human beings, equal and deserving of respect, young women are being barraged with hyper sexualised messages that turn them into sex objects.

Women have been sold a false empowerment which is destructive of their real selves.

Females are up for grabs on cruise ships, in toilet blocks in suburban shopping malls, and in Indigenous communities, awash with porn, where even baby girls have sexual diseases.


Diane Brimble lies naked and dying on a cruise ship after being given an overdose of the date-rape drug “fantasy”. One of the men accused of her death said: “She smelt ugly”. She was “black” and, a “dog” who had ruined his holiday.

A gang of 12 in Melbourne sexually humiliate an intellectually disabled girl, and flog the DVD to their friends for five bucks a pop. They urinated on her, threw her clothes in the river, set her hair alight and forced her to give them oral sex. Yet many defended their behaviour as boys just having “a bit of fun”.

Little girls are encouraged to develop sexy personas. Bras for 8-year-olds, bralettes for 3-year-olds, G-strings for 10-year-olds with slogans like “Wink Wink” and “Eye Candy”, T-shirts that read “You’re at the top of my to-do list” and “Hotter Down Under”.

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A shorter version was first published in The Courier-Mail on March 7, 2007.

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About the Author

Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra author, speaker, commentator and advocate with a special interest in issues affecting women and girls. Melinda is author of Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief after Abortion (Duffy & Snellgrove, 2000), Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics (Spinifex Press, 2006) and editor of Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (Spinifex Press, 2009). Melinda is a founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation ( Melinda blogs at

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