The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Archive for June, 2009

A Sentence Reflects Its Crime – But What Is “Less-Serious Rape”?

Posted by Clem Bastow on June 30, 2009

Initially I began reading this report on the sentencing of serial rapist John Xydias with a sense of justice being served, a feeling that at times can feel increasingly rare when it comes to the sentencing of sex criminals. Victorian Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Warren sentenced Xydias to 28 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a history of criminal sexual behaviour that almost beggars belief (particularly upsetting is the fact that many of the victims were not aware of the assaults until they had been shown the video tapes by police):

He pleaded guilty to 86 charges, comprising 25 of rape and 61 of sexual assault, in a series of sex attacks on 11 women between 1991 and 2006,

He rendered the women unconscious, probably with the date rape drug Rohypnol, before sexually assaulting them and filming the attacks.

Too often, rapists receive sentences that in no way reflect the seriousness of their crimes (particularly in light of the ongoing damage it wreaks on their victim’s life) – that is if they receive sentences at all.

However, I was shocked when I read this particular passage of Justice Warren’s sentencing (emphasis is mine):

“Your offending was sustained over a period of 15 years, your conduct was not low-level or less-serious rape.”

It’s particularly disappointing as I feel it lessens the impact of a sentencing statement that otherwise conveys the severity of Xydias’ crimes. As she then continues:

“The worst aspect of your conduct was the degrading and dehumanising of your victims,” she said.

“The community will not tolerate the abuse, degradation and humiliation of women as you have carried out.”

All true, but I read the entire thing but what stuck in my mind was the passage I emphasised previously.

What on earth is “low-level or less-serious” rape? Would “the community” tolerate these supposed “low-level” offenses, thus necessitating a lighter sentence? Rape is rape. I appreciate that she perhaps was referring to relative levels of physical violence with regards to the act, but even then, surely the core issue is that the rape itself – the sexual assault – is the most damaging part of the crime for the person who suffers the attack?

The perceived semantics and language of rape – witness the ongoing debate about “grey rape”, “marital rape” and “date rape” (with many pundits and politicians seemingly believing the latter two don’t even exist) – are doubly frustrating because the fact that we even need to argue about the impact of language in these situations demonstrates that the seriousness of rape is still doubted or misunderstood. If a man rapes me, no matter whether I am given a black eye, a slit throat, a drink laced with drugs, or a bunch of flowers afterwards, a man has still raped me. When will the wider community (and, importantly, the legal world) realise that the issue is not (primarily, at least) what happened before, during or after the rape, but the rape itself?

What do you think?

(PS go here for Hoyden About Town’s excellent discussion of the use of passive voice in reporting rape and sexual assault – something that, in rare respite, hasn’t happened in today’s coverage of Xydias’ sentencing.)


Posted in Media Watch, Politics, Sex Crimes, sexual assault, violence against women | Tagged: , , , | 8 Comments »

Your inner sexpot consumer

Posted by Nic Heath on June 24, 2009


american apparel

The image accompanying The Age article

A couple of Sundays ago The Age website featured “Cheeky ad campaign or sexploitation?” – an article about “a popular clothes retailer using highly sexualised images of young women – many of them company staff ” in its advertising.


There are tons of photos of women in provocative poses on the Models page of the American Apparel site. I’m not arguing for the complete removal of sexual provocation from advertising images – sex has a place in the public arena – however some of the photos have no discernible relevance to American Apparel products. In this slideshow, for instance, Hannah Lee is pictured topless, with no American Apparel clothing in frame. Sunday’s Age article describes Hannah as ‘very young’ and the pictures ‘all provocative poses and barely covered breasts.’

The DIY aesthetic of many of the photos – taken in front of door frames, on couches, but mostly on white-sheeted beds – gives the viewer a sense of the voyeur. The many pictures of Natasha look like they were taken by a lover. Sophia, on all fours, arches her back and cocks her hips. Veronica, looking over her shoulder towards the camera, juts out her buttocks. Many of the other photos stick with this soft-porn script.

It is not hard to work out why businesses such as American Apparel opt for overtly sexual images to advertise their product. As Daily Finance points out, this strategy has been very effective for Calvin Klein in the past. “Every year or so, Calvin Klein manufactures a fresh “controversy” with a button-pressing, taste-defying ad campaign calculated to generate stories on the evening news without quite crossing the line into outright indecency of the sort that would provoke the authorities.”

I followed the Daily Finance article to this early incarnation of teenage sexual innuendo as a marketing strategy, when Brooke Shields reminds us nothing comes between her and her Calvin Kleins.

Do these images constitute the “caricatures of female hotness” identified by Ariel Levy? Last year the Herald Sun reported that many women “felt the way they were portrayed in advertising and marketing harmed their ability to be taken seriously in the workplace.” Citing the results of a survey conducted by Splash Consulting Group, the article said “most of the 500 women surveyed said they would go out of their way to boycott a product or service if they were offended by an advertisement for it.”

While the sexualisation of women in advertising uses women as commodities, as Monica Dux and Zora Simic point out in The Great Feminist Denial, young women ‘make ideal consumers’. Will women use their buying power to render obsolete exploitative advertising?

Posted in Media Watch, Watching The Ad Breaks | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

This Just In From The Pointless Sexism Desk: Miranda Kerr Poses Nude To Save Koalas!

Posted by Clem Bastow on June 1, 2009

Picture, for a moment, this scenario: Rolling Stone Australia are to launch their inaugural “green issue”, which will feature a handful of environmental issues discussed by favourite celebrities – a noble idea, you might think; maybe ‘the kids’ will look into some conservation charities or turn off a few power points at the wall. So how do they spin it? By getting Miranda Kerr to pose nude on the cover, chained to a tree, of course!

the forthcoming issue of Australian Rolling Stone; koalas not pictured

She says she decided to go “au naturel” to raise awareness of the environment, specifically koalas.

“I feel strongly about the need to protect our natural environment because it supports our life – it really is that simple,” Kerr tells the magazine, in stores on Wednesday.

Kerr shot the cover for Rolling Stone’s first “green issue” in Sydney in January, with photographer Carlotta Moye behind the lens.

The day-long shoot also included a real koala named Koral, as Kerr is the face of the Australian Koala Foundation’s No Tree, No Me campaign.

The campaign aims to protect koalas’ natural habitat, hence Kerr’s only prop for the shoot is a chain locking her to a tree.

“It’s a sad thing – there are only about 100,000 koalas left in Australia,” Kerr said.

In an odd way I feel for Miranda in this instance; she believes she’s making a statement that will give strength to the cause, and I’m sure that’s how the cronies at RS headquarters pitched the shoot to her, too. I have visions of publishing fatcats schmoozing, in between puffs of Cuban cigars, “Yeah, baybee, get your gear off – that will really help raise the profile of the No Tree, No Me campaign!”

Unfortunately the only thing being raised here (apart from the obvious gutter colloquialisms) is Rolling Stone‘s sales, which will surely go through the roof for the July issue, and not because the readership suddenly develop an environmental conscience en masse. As for the whole ‘chained to a tree’ angle, I’m having nightmare visions of PETA’s various “women = battery hens” protests.

When did naked women in bondage become the international visual slang for environmental/ethical protest? What does Miranda Kerr’s (clearly beautiful but here, completely irrelevant) naked body have to do with anything held within the pages of the Rolling Stone Green Issue? I am aware that the magazine is far from a paragon of feminist (or even just non-sexist) excellence, but this is taking things to a new low.

Am I the only one who finds this whole debacle deeply depressing?

Posted in Celebrity, Fashion, Film & Television, Media Watch, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 11 Comments »