Women’s advocate to talk on new media at Congress

By Beth Doherty

Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra writer, commentator and advocate who has developed a profile over the last 20 years through her work on issues affecting women and girls.

A media commentator, tweeter and blogger, Melinda is someone who dares to speak out, even when it attracts abuse and vilification.
Because of her outspoken stands against the objectification of women, sexualisation of girls, pornography, prostitution, trafficking and violence against women, as well as being one of Australia’s first expressly ‘pro-life feminists’, Melinda’s name has become synonymous with controversy, drawing strong opinions from all sides.

In January, journalist Rachel Hills wrote a cover story for Sunday Life magazine called “Who’s afraid of Melinda Tankard Reist”, sparking a fierce debate on her work, resulting in personal attacks via email and Twitter. Melinda was forced to disengage from online involvement for two months.
The author/editor of four books on issues affecting women, Melinda has no intention however of backing off from her work on behalf of women in developing countries, victims of trafficking, people who have suffered the effects of the porn industry, and women with unsupported pregnancies.
Melinda will be one of two Australian keynote speakers at the Australian Catholic Media Congress 2012. Her presentation will focus on how she has used social media to grow a grassroots campaign and spread a message.
Collective Shout (www.collectiveshout.org) is an activist movement which Melinda and her colleagues founded in 2010 to expose advertisers, corporations and marketers who objectify women and sexualise girls to sell products and services.
Collective Shout has already had a number of wins against big name brands, and much of their success of Collective Shout is thanks to social media. We have run entire campaigns through Twitter, Facebook and blogs and seen amazing results,” Melinda says.
“For example a win we achieved over Harvey Norman took four hours on twitter – and that was on a Sunday afternoon!”, she said.
Melinda and her team have a significant focus on addressing the pornification of culture, speaking out against the mainstreaming and normalising of sex industry inspired messages in everything from children’s clothing to billboards.
Collective Shout succeeded in getting Playboy products removed from a jewellery chain; having Bonds recall bras for six-year-old girls, K-Mart remove sexualised underwear for little girls, and having billboards suggesting violence against women removed. The group has also taken on radio shock jocks for sexist and threating on-air comments and called on youth retailers to stop selling porn-themed t.shirts.
“Hypersexualised messages have become embedded in the public space. Children have been socialised and conditioned to think sexualised representations of girls and women are normal.
“Research tells us that sexualising treatment contributes to negative mental and physical health outcomes in children and young people.”
Melinda is media savvy, which is one of the reasons she will speak on new media at the Australian Catholic Media Congress.
She knows what works and what doesn’t – as a result of being a working journalist, media advisor in Federal parliament and media commentator over a 20 year period.
A frequent guest on Q and A and Channel 7’s Sunrise program among others, she comes across as convincing and articulate in the public arena.
Melinda collaborates and forms alliances with a wide range of groups in Australia and internationally to achieve common goals.
It’s not easy to pin her down or label her, though many have tried. Melinda seems to traverse the usual ‘Left’ ‘Right’ divides, building movements which are diverse and welcoming of all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds to a common ground.
Melinda blogs regularly on her website melindatankardreist.com
Melinda will address the Australian Catholic Media Congress on 1 May in the afternoon. For more information about the ACMC2012, visit www.communicatingthewordACMC2012.com