Sunday, 5 August 2007

Miranda Devine agrees with Greer? Will the globe stop turning? Is this the start of a new Age of Aquarius? It seems the impossible just became possible: Devine says magazines are "driving girl-poisoning culture".

I've written about this before on this blog, first in December last year when The New Yorker entered the fray. It started earlier, though, in October, with a story by Caroline Overington. Then in April SBS's Insight program held a forum. Later in the same month I posted after watching the podcast.

To gauge the real nature of the issues, I started buying the types of magazines usually bought by young women and older girls. The most recent purchase (yesterday) was Russh, which seems to be edgier and more serious than other titles. The image below is from page 34 of the July-August issue. That a soft-porn title can get 'book of the month' billing is instructional. Also cogent is that the mag sourced it from Ariel Booksellers, an upmarket store located in a highly-prestigious area of Sydney.

In her 2001 study, Sex: A Natural History, Joann Ellison Rogers, a journalist (who interviewed dozens of scientists to make the book), suggests that sexuality is conditioned by the survival imperative.

According to Rogers, "the bodies and looks we prefer got to be that way because members of the opposite sex not only found them, over evolutionary time, to be pretty good signals -- clues to sexual desire, availability and fertility -- but also developed their own ongoing responses, even trumping the others, to set in motion sexual desire for these traits and more responses" (p. 84).

"The body's naked truth in advertising, ultimately, is a matter of survival."

I heard recently on the radio (ABC afternoon drive-time) that kids are reaching puberty at a younger age than even thirty years ago. If this is true, the imperative seems, now, in the type of cultural product Devine and Greer, Overington and Dr Joe Tucci, chief executive officer of the Australian Childhood Foundation, find offensive, to be expressing itself.

I chatted with a mate at work on Friday about these issues. He and I both thought immediately of Bill Henson. The kind of images he produced in the mid- to late-eighties appear to be prophetic. Against this imperative Devine quotes Melinda Tankard Reist, "mother of three daughters, author and founder of the feminist think tank Women's Forum Australia".

The messages in magazines from Dolly to Cosmopolitan is that "women have never-ending sexual appetites - to be satisfied they must be continually available to men for sex". Teen magazines are similarly focused on "how girls can make themselves desirable to get a boyfriend". Over time, the effect of reading such magazines, say Reist and Ewing, is that women come to see themselves and other women merely as objects to be evaluated.

It would be interesting to get some scientists involved in the debate, instead of just relying on the standard type of prolocutor: social academics, peak body heads, and think tank pundits.

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