16 Jan 2012, Comments (17)

Melinda Tankard Reist doesn’t speak for me

Author: Helen

It appears MTR (also the acronym for the right-wing Melbourne Talk Radio, which is funny, in a way) is the Feminist of the Moment for the mainstream media. And a large part of her appeal, it seems to me, is that feminism, as she defines it, is a conservative, bourgeois feminism, threatening to specified corporate interests – She’s done good work with Collective Shout and her opposition to the pornification of little girls in general – but generally unthreatening to entrenched patriarchal systems.

This was illustrated by this nauseating letter from Neville Wright in last Sunday’s AGE – “All power to Melinda Tankard Reist. I have long wondered when the feminists would wake up…” (scroll down to “Feminism Reevaluated”). Gag.

She has just issued a legal threat to another blogger, No Place for Sheep, for speculating on this interview by Rachel Hills, and asking why MTR’s religious affiliations weren’t given prominence. For those unfamiliar with Tankard Reist, she’s a “pro-life feminist”, that is, anti-abortion.

I don’t really care what Tankard Reist’s religious affiliations are. What matters to me is that she was employed as a bioethics advisor to the ultraconservative, anti-choice senator Brian Harradine for twelve years. Twelve years. That’s not just a brief stint in a job to pay the rent. That’s a longstanding association with the Australian equivalent of, say, Pat Buchanan. Brian Harradine used his position in the Senate to further a “traditionalist” and antifeminist agenda, such as banning RU-486 and the imposition of Australia’s version of the Global Gag Rule.

With the still-widespread notion of feminism as a monolithic hivemind, with a spokeswoman (used to be Germaine Greer, remember – anything she uttered was assumed to be written in some Feminist bible somewhere), I’m afraid MTR will become (has already become) the next “spokeswoman” in the popular imagination.

Feminism is a broad movement and has some eccentric offshoots. MTR, despite her sometimes valuable role in speaking up for little girls, is one of them. Anyone who identifies as feminist should be able to do so, but it doesn’t automatically validate every part of their ideology as feminist. Melinda Tankard Reist doesn’t speak for me.
Crossposted at Hoyden About Town

Comments (17) »

  • She doesn’t speak for me, either.

    The problem is the MSM believes there is only room for one feminist at a time, and MTR is currently their go-to feminist. We need to force them to include other feminist voices. Part of it is lazy journalism – interviewing one person and thinking the job is done. And part of it is the MSM’s love of stories about twitter, because MTR is very good at using twitter to bring about change. So, this year I will be a feminist in public.

  • Elisabeth says:

    I’m with you here, feminism is not monolithic, but it might suit some to wrap it up that way. That way certain facets like pro-life – what a mis-leading term, as if those who support freedom of choice oppose life – can hide underneath other issues like anti-pornography. We are far more complex individuals.

  • Tammi says:

    It doesn’t help with feminists regularly decrying other feminists’ status as feminists, hey? One of my favourite things about this post is the way you’ve acknowledged the complexities of being and recognising feminism, and therefore feminists. Perhaps if all of us took this approach (and didn’t declare things like ‘feminism is eating itself’ or ‘the pharisee pheminists’, etc), it would be more obvious to the MSM that we come in many guises, with many voices. It’s hard though, when we see/read other feminists doing things we think are holding us back collectively… but then, most things worth doing are pretty hard. Like @newswithnipples, I intend to be a more public feminist this year.

  • Helen says:

    Welcome new commenters – Some of you have commented before but the shiny new blog is treating you as new. Hope you feel suitably rejuvenated.
    +1 to being a more public feminist in the coming year.
    The comments from both Hill and Eva Cox re, if you disagree with MTR you need to work harder to establish the alternative:
    MTR incorporates her brand of feminism in her paid work. So does Cox.
    I have to do it in my spare time. That’s all. We can’t whack every mole. (That would have had a very different meaning in the 1970s.)

  • This may be off topic but I wanted to share with women why I support and am pro choice. But first I must acknowledge Elizabeth that pro life is indeed a mis-leading term as if I who support any woman’s right to make a choice makes me anti life.
    As a Man I step into this arena very cautiously.
    In fact I would have spent many tens of minutes hovering over the “submit” button

    So to the core of my comment and why I support a womans right to choose. Its complex and the reasons I put forward could be misused and distorted by the so called “Pro lifers”

    Its like this; when I was born my Mother had Puluminory TB I was so ill I was given my forenames by the Hospital Nurses. (Just how they were chosen for me is perhaps for another more fun time:)

    My Mother was extremely ill so ill that she and I were separated at my birth and all she had was the sight of me being held upside down the other side of a glass partition from time to time.

    After whart must have been a short period of time she was sent to a sanatorium where she spent the next 5 years. She had have over a period of 9 years various parts of her lungs removed. Clearly due to her illness she should have been given the right to choose the birth of me. I know from discussions with my Mother later that my birth nearly killed her. My first year was spent in Foster care and was followed with almost 4 years in a children’s home. At 8 I was fostered again as my Mother was again in Hospital for a lung operation I was fostered at various times for shorter periods 11 and 13.

    Now this is where the balance is hard and distortion by pro lifers can be made made. I have a good life I have a son I love dearly but the fact is by luck a great deal of struggle by her, my Mother survived.

    My contention is that she should never have had to have undergone all that trauma or at the very least been able to make the choice. I say this because one day when I was being a particularly difficult little boy my Mother turned to me and said something along the lines of “it nearly killed me having you” So you see had she had the right of choice her life would not have been put at risk, she may have had a more comfortable life and or would not have had cause to react in that way as she did that day.

    As it was she had a tough enough life to that point in time enduring a loss of a husband also. Don’t misunderstand I’ve had a great life a great boy who knows nothing of my view but the bottom line is its a Woman’s right to choose and the likely hood is my Mother would have chosen to have me.

    To all you women who have read so far you may feel that what happened to my Mother was tragic when in fact it showed her to be heroic….a cause of celebration

    Would she have been a “feminist”? I believe she would not of this time as she is way before any “feminist bible” but she should be seen like all working class women of her time a battler. She certainly was active for World Peace

    I saw this woman struggle on marches but as a teenager didn’t recognise it, as a man in my 20s and in my 30s I didn’t recognise it. I felt too hard done by. I have woken up and to see the dialogue on twtter has been a terrific source of that awakening. I am learning and I am fiercely pro choice but I couldn’t have written this had it not been for my Mother, Thank you for reading

  • Helen says:

    Your mum’s story is incredible, Davie, as is yours.

  • I don’t agree with MTR’s stance on abortion, but I think she’s still an important voice to have out there. I agree Helen that it’s worrying if she becomes THE go-to feminist for the mainstream media – she’s but one of many voices.

    While I’m pro-choice, abortion is still troubling to me. The fact that abortion rates are so high says to me that something is wrong in our society, as we have a range of reproductive control devices that too many people seem to ignore. There will always be a place for abortion, and I fully support someone’s right to have one. Yet it saddens me that people’s (both men and women) decision-making is apparently so poor that so many abortions are required in the first place.

  • Helen says:

    ES, the idea that pro-choice women want lots and lots of abortions is a strawfeminist smear (see discussion on strawfeminism on the same post over at Hoyden). I reject it. If you follow what’s going on in the US, it’s the anti-abortion activists who are also anti-contraception, anti-harm reduction and anti-sex education; they’re the ones driving up abortion and STD rates.

  • Ann O'Dyne says:

    ES – it saddens me as well. I dearly want ProLiferz to be handing out cond*ms to teens everywhere, and teaching the male ones not to be squirting themselves everywhere when they cannot support the inevitable result.
    I need society to be minimising unintentional conceptions (which frequently become battered by non-fathering subsequent boyfriends) instead of wailing about flushing tiny blobs.

  • paul walter says:

    [Seriously NQR sentence redacted.]
    Seriously, I think the comment alludes to the reality. Political agendas are involved, why indeed is an instance of a woman belted to a pulp less important than the persecution of someone who transgresses in making a decision to terminate? This is physical as well as psychological capture.
    Whether or not above derives purely from conscious patriarchalism, in which the law overtly attempts to justify the beating of women by men as a “good” in itself,say, or goes to the manipulation of cultural symbols by banking, press oligarchs etc employing complex psychological manoeuvres in order to sew division in a community for commercial and power-aggregation reasons remains moot, but perhaps connected, in consideration of reproduction of patriarchal mindset from generation to generation.
    If the problem of society interfering in women’s fertility is resolved or rights impinged maybe dealt with in court- in a democracy. Women go away satisfied, without necessarily being concerned or aware of more abstract issues concerned with social conditioning and the role of (manipulated) cultural atavism in the individuation of people, if democracy is healthy enough to counter subjective traits.
    I can’t get pregnant, but I can see that the precedent involved in the interference of a womans fertility choice concerns me in different ways. One, it creates sadness in observers and grief for subjects. Two, deep antagonisms between people develop because of the injustice of arbitrary interference in personal experience. Three, if repression of one social group is normalised, then I am right to look to my own skin, as the future becomes murky.
    I must stand in solidarity with my sisters if for no better reason than the same goons come for me, later.
    And there are better reasons, what’s more, that go to my sense of self-respect, what ever my conditioning, including being able see the back of authoritarianism, whether derived from patriarchal emotional tendencies or not.

  • Windy says:

    Melinda Tankard-Reist doesn’t speak for me either, but nobody seems to. I think it is possible to be very concerned about abortion and yet be pro-choice. It’s got nothing to do with wanting women to be forced into childbearing. It is about a genuine moral and humanitarian concern which nobody wants to talk about. This is concern for something which is not just a ‘blob’ but something which surely deserves some pity and some respect. Until feminism shows some moral courage in discussing this, it is just dodging.

  • Helen says:

    A genuine moral and humanitarian concern which nobody wants to talk about? Come ON Windy. The “rights” of foetuses are discussed to death regularly, and, in the US, daily. THe necessary abortion of a wanted foetus is certainly very tragic, if the parents have already bonded with it and are looking forward to the birth. If we held “pity and respect” for all foetuses we’d be having to have a day off for mourning every time we had a late period.

  • Windy says:

    I am not talking about a right-wing anti-women’s rights discussion. I am talking about the failure of feminism (perhaps from fear of a return of legal coercion) to discuss abortion and its downsides. Abortion can fit very easily into a patriarchal system. If a man wants a child, then it’s a baby, if he doesn’t, then it’s a problem to be disposed of. A woman can be coerced into having an abortion. I have seen many women scarred and grieving in its aftermath. In fact, I’ve yet to meet anyone who hasn’t been. Not saying they don’t exist, just haven’t met them.

  • paul walter says:

    Windy, Helen answered your post the first time- you added nothing in the second post.

  • Windy says:

    Not really, Paul. Helen’s answer was a contemptuous and dismissive broadside. She referred me to the kind of discussion which only takes place among those who use a concern for a foetus as a means to remove choice from women. I had made it clear (I thought) that a feminist context was the place to discuss it. This doesn’t surprise me, although the ridicule about mourning for late periods was a bit cheap.

  • Helen says:

    Windy, we could talk all day on womens’responses to abortion. The fact of the matter is that feminists, or the ones I hang out with, want women to be making the decision – pro or con – whether they carry a pregnancy to term. Whether an individual woman sails through her abortion experience or experiences intense grief depends on a whole lot of factors; but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about MTR’s long association with anti-choice activists and the implications for that as she becomes more and more prominent in the public eye.

  • Windy says:

    Take your partners folks, and dance around the room again. I acknowledge that your point is not directly about the concerns i raised re abortion. but to me it is precisely that only people like MTR will discuss it publicly. Therefore it is left to them to use and subvert genuine concern into a powerful backlash against women’s control over their own bodies. If feminists can only respond with the ‘aha! He/she’s a Catholic/fundamentalist Christian’ thing I’ll continue to look for a real conversation about this issue, which is to me a very important one.

Leave a comment

XHTML– Allowed tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>