#StopBiggestLoser: The Myth of Parental Consent

Anyone who reads this blog will not be surprised by my stance on reality television. I think its the 21st century version of the 19th century freak show. Our main source of entertainment is the deliberate and malicious humiliation of vulnerable people. I have no interest in any kind of reality television from X-Factor to Dancing with the Stars to Celebrity Big Brother to anything featuring Gok Wan. They have no value except in their exploitation of people for the entertainment of others. I genuinely don’t understand why people watch them; or why people think it’s acceptable to make snide and offensive remarks about the physical appearance of the contestants.

Reality television is cruel when it’s X-Factor; The Biggest Loser takes it to a whole new level of violence. The fat-shaming is indefensible and inhumane. That is without getting into the quite serious health consequences of crash dieting. Yoni Freedhoof MD has written eloquently on the physical and emotional harm caused by The Biggest Loser in the Huffington Post linking to a study which “demonstrated that watching even a single episode of The Biggest Loser dramatically increased hateful weight bias among viewers — an effect that was heightened among non-overweight viewers”. The Biggest Loser buys into the worst kind of hateful choice rhetoric which blames individuals for their “poor choices” without acknowledging the political, social and personal structures within which their “choices” are made.

The Biggest Loser is hateful, fat-shaming misogyny at its most insidious; dressed up as entertainment for bullies.

This season’s The Biggest Loser has taken the bullying a step further and allowed three children to “participate” in the program: two of whom are only 13. They are 13 years old and their parents have consented to their public humiliation and bullying.

There are a few things which parents should be legally prohibited from consenting to on behalf of their children and participation in reality television is one of those things. No child should be placed in a position wherein the outcome would be their public humiliation and that includes MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen to Toddlers and Tiaras and it’s spin-off Honey Boo Boo. Children deserve the right to grow up safe and secure. Placing them in front of cameras and labelling them fat or spoilt or stupid is not allowing children to be children. It is adults profiting from the emotional and physical abuse of children. No parent should have the legal right to put their child in this position.

Children are not possessions and we do them tremendous harm when we treat them as such.

We need to stop treating our children as possessions and we need to stop pretending that parental consent trumps all (and that’s without getting into the whole your baby, your choice or a happy mamma = a happy baby twaddle which is used to excuse all manner of nincompoopery). There are already many things in which parental consent is invalidated due to state laws. We need to expand this to prohibit the appearance of children on reality television.

Parental consent is not a get-out clause. It is a myth. Parents should not have the legal right to make decisions on behalf of their children which will cause them imminent harm. Appearing on reality television is harmful. Allowing our children to be bullied and humiliated for “entertainment” is harmful.

But, this isn’t just about the parents who consent to “allowing” their children to appear on reality television. As I have said in the Huffington Post: “(b)efore we start blaming others, we need to check our own behaviour, examine our own privilege, and stop financially supporting an industry based on the abject humiliation of others”. We need to prohibit the appearance of children on reality television but we also need to stop allowing children to watch reality television. 

We need to stop exposing our children to “entertainment” which gives them permission to verbally abusive to others.

We need to stop exposing our children to “entertainment” which tells them that fat-shaming and slut-shaming are acceptable behaviours.

We need to stop exposing our children to “entertainment” which tells them that they deserve to be publicly humiliated for being “different”.

We need to stop telling our children that being a “celebrity” is more important than their emotional well-being.

Our reality television culture obsession needs to end.

Our children deserve better.

And, parental consent is not an excuse. 

Anne of Green Gables is a Redheaded Child Not a Blonde Playboy Centerfold

This is the new cover of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s children’s classic Anne of Green Gables. You remember Anne: a redheaded, 11 year old orphan who hates her hair and who is sent to live with Matthew and Marilla who wanted a boy; a girl who spends the first two books learning to love herself both as a female and one with a red hair. At least, it’s been a while since I’ve read the book but I definitely remember Anne being a redhead and a child; not a retro-Playboy centrefold. I definitely don’t remember Anne rolling about in a haystack like a supporting body in Dukes of Hazzard. Being 7 am, I have taken the liberty of checking with Wikipedia  to make sure I’m not completely out-to-lunch with this. They’re pretty sure Anne is supposed to a redheaded child too. Now, I do know that Wikipedia isn’t always the most accurate source of information but even they can’t confuse a redheaded child with an 18 year blonde with breasts being posed in a sexualised manner.

Has it really come to the point that one of the best books written for girls by a brilliant author which has already sold more than 50 million copies and been translated into 20 languages needs to be repackaged as if the target audience is middle-aged men with a teenage girl sex fetish? Because, they’ve never struck me as the target audience for Anne of Green Gables. And, frankly, everything else in our culture is targeted at them. Why can’t girls have one book that doesn’t erase our lived experiences?

Why does everything have to reference a pornified, heteronormative sexuality?

Why do we assume young girls won’t want to read a book about another young girl, especially since 50 million of us already have, if she isn’t sexualised?

FFS, the whole point of Anne of Green Gables is learning to love ourselves even if we have freckles, red hair and aren’t called Cordelia. It is not a book about a blond teenager learning to be a sex object. It’s a book about a child discovering themselves and loving themselves.

This is precisely the kind of shit which evidences why porn culture is so insidious.

Anne should not pass the Patriarchal Fuckability Test. 

She is a child; to pretend otherwise is disgusting and creepy. 

This is the cover of the edition I have. Notice that Anne is both a redhead and a child; not a blonde woman being posed in a sexualised manner.

Plus, let’s be totally honest here, there is NO WAY Marilla would let Anne prance about in a boy’s shirt.

This is from the Mumsnet thread I started today. I thought it needed sharing:

FastidiaBlueberry Thu 07-Feb-13 12:04:17
Who is the publisher?

This really is pernicious and a brilliant example of porn culture.

Any child buying this book is receiving the message that being a girl means being sexy before being anything else. Even if the words in the book say something completely different and don’t even talk about the need to be fuckable, the subliminal message is that even when you’re busy doing other stuff, sexy is where it’s at. If this goes on, it will almost be impossible to find pictures of female humans which don’t emphasise their fuckability above every other aspect of them. Are we to look forward to a representation of Hermione Granger suggestively holding her wand in her mouth, or near her arse or something, a la 50 shades? WTF?

Who the fuck thought it was a good idea, is the publishing house full of child-molesters or something?

I mean seriously, what possesses an otherwise normal person, to imagine that the best representation of an 11 year old red-haired girl with freckles (something the book is very specific about) is a sexualised picture of a teenager? There’s something actually quite sinister about this, what is wrong with the adults who authorised this cover? I really do think they should be forced to make a statement about why they felt it was appropriate to pornify the image of a child on a book whose target market is female children. It’s beyond disgusting, it’s actually amazing – as if peadophiles are working in the office and deciding the artwork and the normal adults there are accepting the paedophile view of the world, that every child is a potential fuck. 

And of course, we’re all going to be told that we’re overreacting, it’s only a picture and it’s fine for 8 year old girls to be brainwashed in this way.


The LFN protests against the Polanski Retrospective

This is a quote from Alison one of the organisers of the protest last Saturday against the BFI’s retrospective on child rapist Roman Polanski. I felt it needed to be shared [and is shared with permission]:

Just a quick line about why I am helping to organise this protest. Polanski has fled from justice for the rape of a girl, and is living freely in Europe –  this sends a clear message (one of many) that men remain free to rape women and girls with little consequence, especially if they are rich and powerful, and there will probably be minimal attempt, if any, to stop them. Far from being rejected by the mainstream film industry, he is embraced, he continues to have a successful career, and the satisfaction of being lauded as a brilliant director. He continues to benefit financially, personally. So there is the issue of Polanski and his failure to face justice, as well as drawing attention to the misogyny of the industry and individuals within it who are happy to ignore abuse of women and girls particularly when it is carried out by powerful or ‘brilliant’ men.  There is also the timing. When the Savile scandal is so fresh, with investigations continuing into sexual abuse of women and girls at the BBC, or by well-known media personalities, another institution, the BFI, sticks its fingers up to that and goes ahead with a two month retrospective of Polanski’s work, making no reference to the fact that he is a child rapist. (and actually in the year prior to the rape for which he was convicted, I have seen it reported that he had a ‘romantic relationship’ with the 15 year old Nasstasja Kinski (he was 43), so raises a question of whether he, like others, had a pattern of pursuing very young women and girls. He married his current wife when she was 23 and he was 56.   

Outside of that, there are many stories every day of rape and murder of women and girls, or of misogyny and sexism, and so at the same time it isn’t that this story is remarkable. I wanted an idea to take along to the last London Feminist network meeting, something current, something we could develop into an action. And I became aware of the retrospective on a forum where women were expressing their anger about it, encouraging each other to complain to the BFI, and wondering what other actions they might take, and so I could see that there could be support for a protest. But it is quite random in that sense – it could have been so many issues.

I wanted to share this because it demonstrates just how effective one small piece of activism can be. It feels like we are constantly fighting a war that we will never win and I get so tired of the same thing coming up over and over again. These protests, organised by so many amazing women, inspire and motivate me. As someone who can’t physically take part in many protests, being able to support these women is a privilege. 

The Right to Sex?

Ann Tagonist brought this case to my attention. Her brilliant shredding of the news story is here. It is a must-read. 

There is so much wrong with this story that I don’t quite know what to say (or that Ann hasn’t already said) which is why I’ve been retweeting her blog piece rather than writing about it myself. However, this thread on Mumsnet has concerned me because it is being dominated by pro-‘sex industry’ people who don’t seem to be considering quite what actually happened in this case; at least, as it is presented in the news.

There are several competing issues at play here:

1. Is sex a basic human right? 

2. The legality of prostitution and the concept of therapeutic sex. 

3. If the patients who were groping members if staff would be classed as legally responsible for their behaviour, then why were they not charged with sexual assault? Being “frustrated” is not an excuse for sexual assault; to claim otherwise is to minimise sexual violence. 

4. If they were competent to make the decision to sexually assault staff, then why were they basically rewarded for committing a crime? 

5. If the patients were not legally responsible for their behaviour, then why did the care home not look into better procedures to protect it’s staff?

6. If they were not legally responsible, then how could they possibly consent to engaging in sex with a prostitute?

7. If the patients were not legally competent to consent, then surely the care home is now complicit in their sexual abuse?

I genuinely don’t know what to say about this case. This is just so wrong on every level and the idea that this case is about the legalities of prostitution seems to be deliberately misrepresenting what actually happened.

* I want to be very clear here that this is about the structural and political legalities of the purchasing of sex.