Collective Shout seem to have a very selective kind of feminism, they support some women’s rights and not others. It’s illuminating to examine how Collective Shout christians identify themselves in the broad spectrum of feminist politics. Collective Shout leader Melinda Tankard Reist has obviously given it some thought and chooses to describe herself as a “pro life feminist” and to present the conservative christianity of her lobby group as ‘radical feminism’. Her publisher Spinifex Press is aligned with feminists who call themselves ‘radical feminists’ or radfems in twitter speak. Tankard Reist quotes, appears with and endorses various radfem activists and the entire Collective Shout team fall into line behind her, also identifying as radfem.
Radical Feminism doesn’t appear particularly radical, rather it looks like a socially conservative and authoritarian sect of feminism on the right of the political spectrum. They’re typically anti transgender rights, anti sex worker rights, typically taking an abolitionist or prohibitionist stance on sex work, anti ‘pornography’ with a wide definition of depictions of sex and nudity in media and art, and anti individual women’s choices, sometimes anti abortion. They oppose what they call Liberal Feminism, Choice Feminism, or Leftist Libfems, for being supposedly too focused on individual women’s rights instead of focusing on changing the system, on dismantling the power base of patriarchy. Meanwhile some other feminists refer to radfems as SWERFs – Sex Worker Exclusionary Rad Fems, and TERFs – Trans Exclusionary Rad Fems. Radical Feminism is seen as frequently opposed to other women’s choices that don’t fit their ideology. Just like christians. There seems to also be a generational alignment, with radfems more likely to be older second wave feminists harshly judgemental of younger third wave feminists who apparently aren’t doing it right.
This post at everydaywhorephobia looks at the radfem claim that they are the only ‘true’ feminists.
This excellent blog post interrogates the RadFem construction of ‘Choice Feminism’ “We’re used to being told that ‘choice feminism’ serves power by facilitating the co-option of feminism into neoliberalism, but I’m struck by how ‘choice discourse’ often seems to be used by women with more power writing about women with less power”
Collective Shout have aligned themselves with ‘Radical’ feminism because the conservative biblical christian ideology they share to greater or lesser extent is typically anti-abortion, anti-trans rights, anti-sex worker rights, against expressions of sexuality in media and the arts, opposed to the sexual freedoms brought about by the sexual revolution, and is dismissively critical of other women’s choices. Naturally the only feminist group their politics mostly fit are RadFems, so it’s a handy banner to wrap christian intolerance and conservatism in. Of course as christians they can hardly claim to be fighting patriarchy while they believe in a deeply patriarchal religion and submit themselves to the patriarchal structures and male leadership of their conservative christian churches. They certainly do not support women’s choices to do with their sexual freedom or reproductive rights.
Caitlin as a member of the the Mormon church of Latter Day Saints is required to support the system of male supremacy in an intensely patriarchal, male dominated church. In Collective Shout she can comfort herself with the idea that she’s doing feminism tho.
Collective Shout especially support, quote and promote radfems opposed to sex workers’ rights including Julie Bindel, Rachel Moran, Caroline Norma, Meagan Murphy and others. They are quick to attack those who do not share their ideology, and there’s apparent rivalry in their interactions with other feminists on social media at times.
Collective Shout SWERFs joined other right wing christian and prohibitionist anti sex worker groups to campaign for months against Amnesty International supporting sex worker rights through decriminalisation. They took on the language of radfems and prohibitionist groups, insisting that sex work and trafficking are intrinsically linked, despite the evidence. By the end of the campaign they were calling the world’s most trusted Human Rights org pimps.
You don’t get an impression from Collective Shout’s social media branding how important fighting sex worker rights is to them, but about half of all their submissions to government have been about criminalising sex work, and they campaigned for months against Amnesty International on the issue. In context policing other women’s choices starts to look like core business for Collective Shout.
Collective Shout leader Melinda Tankard Reist released a new anti sex worker book in April 2016. Using her habitual style of anecdote for emotional outrage and titillation it is advertised as a collection of 20 prostitution ‘survivor’ stories, co-edited with RMIT academic Caroline Norma. Norma is vocal on social media in opposition to gay marriage/marriage equality, the safe schools anti homophobia program, transgender rights, and in support of extreme right wing christian bigot Lyle Shelton from Australian Christian Lobby – to give you an idea of where she’s coming from.
With an obvious and extreme selection bias Tankard Reist and Norma apparently “scoured the globe” for anecdotal tales supporting their anti sex worker ideology, producing a work with little relevance to Australia where they are advocating for the stigmatising and punishing legal regime romanticly refered to as the Nordic Model – which research has shown to endanger and be harmful to sex workers, diminishing their rights to legal protections, antagonising their relationship with police and effectively criminalising them in other ways. They held a sex work prohibitionist conference in Melbourne as a launch stunt, with Julie Bindel and Rachel Moran. As always it’s enlightening to follow the money, and question who has the power – Tankard Reist intends to profit from the business of attacking legal protections for sex industry workers in Australia, it’s not just a crusade of conscience, she does have a book to sell and a media profile to promote which will increase her political power. And in a move emblematic of the ideological nature of her campaigns and her contempt for credible research and journalism she includes a chapter written by Collective Shout Perth coordinator Caitlin Roper. What’s Caitlin’s qualification to write about the sex industry, what research has she conducted? She appears to have no research training, background or experience of the industry to draw on. But she does agree with Melinda Tankard Reist uncritically.
And the first opinion piece to appear in mainstream media about the book was of course a glowing endorsement by conservative Anglican theologian Michael Jensen. Jensen displays a stunning lack of reason and a glaring ideological bias, praising the work of fellow conservative christian, editor Tankard Reist. You can tell a lot about a group by who their friends are, who their message resonates with – Collective Shout are always supported and cheered by conservative representatives of the exceedingly wealthy and powerful religion industry. The Queensland Director of fundamentalist group Australian Christian Lobby, Wendy Francis, attended the conference and also published her approval online.
It’s no surprise that the sex worker prohibitionist campaign is cheered on by christian leaders, the religion has a historical attachment to the Scarlet Woman Trope originating in bible stories of Jesus socializing with women who sold sex. Christians need the idea of sex worker redemption and repentance. They judge them as so thoroughly sinful, corrupted and damaged that if any can be saved it just proves how powerful their god is. When former sex work ‘survivors’ agree with them they can feel justified in standing in harsh judgement on other women’s choices. Their self righteous judgement feeds on the penitent’s testimony and self judgement. And that is the purpose of Tankard Reist’s book – stories of women who now agree with christian and RadFem judgement of sex workers. Of course they conveniently ignore the many sex workers who aren’t women, because for RadFems it contradicts the assertion that sex work is 100% about female oppression, and for christians like Tankard Reist it doesn’t fit the fixation on women’s bodies & sexuality as the location of sin. They dogmatically deny women can possibly consent to sex work, refusing to acknowledge anyone else’s experience that doesn’t fit their trope, because there is nothing more threatening to the christian world view than women who choose or even enjoy sexual activity outside of the strict moral boundaries set by religion. There was significant online protest against the anti sex worker conference from current sex workers and others supporting their rights. The Collective Shout team, supporters and RadFem allies were angrily abusive and attacked sex workers asking for their voices to be heard in discussions about their legal rights, for their choices to be respected, and for their work and identities not to be stigmatised and criminalised. Several women reported feeling traumatised and bullied after the sustained online attacks and abuse of Collective Shout and their supporters.
Anyway here’s Jensen’s fluff piece –
And here’s the Australian Christian Lobby endorsing Jensen’s opinion piece opposing marriage equality for same sex couples, in case you were wondering what kind of conservative he is. He conveniently erases millenia of history, and multiple cultures with the outright nonsense that hetero marriage is some kind of eternal truth “Now, I didn’t pluck this definition from the sky, nor is it simply a piece of religious teaching. It is the meaning of marriage that emerges from all human cultures as they reflect on and experience what it is to be male and female. It is only in the last 15 years that anyone has seriously thought differently.” This assertion can only be made by ignoring indigenous and other cultures that have legitemised same sex unions for untold thousands of years, and also biblical accounts of god’s chosen rulers having hundreds of ‘wives’, priests being given large numbers of virgins as the spoils of war and holy leaders producing offspring from incest or rape with god’s approval. Mr Jensen will not be remembered as one of the great minds of our time.