Voyeurism has its victims

Published in the Courier Mail 21 August 2007

DEPENDING on whom you talk to, the Kevin 07 campaign may or may not have been derailed over the weekend. Revelations that Rudd visited a New York strip club in 2003, while representing Australia at the United Nations, have drawn a mixed response.

Some people have already stated it’s a vote changer for them. Others claim that the affair has “humanised” Rudd. After all, none of us are perfect and we all make mistakes.

However, watching both the public response, and commentary from some media personalities, one wonders if we have missed the point. In people’s rush to excuse Rudd’s inappropriate behaviour, the nature of the activity has been minimised.

A comment by Peter Harvey, on the Today show yesterday morning, was obviously seeking to downplay the affair and shore up support for Rudd. Harvey even brought with him a bucket of “first stones”, and borrowing from the words of Jesus, indicated none of us could throw one. It was, at first, a seemingly gracious and compassionate response. However, then he kept talking. Harvey compared the club Rudd visited to the one in mafia television series, The Sopranos. He explained that you go in and “there’s lap dancing, pole dancers and everyone’s having a great time”.

The problem is, not everyone’s having a great time. And it’s not really OK for us to have to allude to the behaviour of organised criminals, fictional or otherwise, to explain the behaviour of a politician representing Australia. We’re not discussing someone who had too much to drink at the local pub. We’re discussing visits to strip clubs. And the assertion that everyone’s having a great time is quite simply false.

Of course, I’m sure that those who profit off the objectification and sexualisation of women are having a great time. It would also be a fair assumption to suggest that those who go to ogle the women employed by clubs like these are having a great time.

However, these girls are someone’s daughters, and it’s highly likely their parents are not having a great time. And I’m equally sure that the girls themselves, who are being de-humanised and commodified, are also not having a great time.

Research by Dr Mary-Anne Laydon, co-director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology program at the University of Pennsylvania, shows performers in the live porn industry have high rates of depression, dissociative personality disorder and substance abuse. In fact, a staggering 55 per cent of strippers also were found to have borderline personality disorder.

In fact, work in this industry and you are likely to develop an eating disorder, have your breasts grabbed by customers, called obscene and abusive names, or be pelted by ice, cigarettes or coins. You are also more likely than not to be followed home or stalked by a customer. Not such a great time.

In an interesting juxtaposition, while aspects of the media, and some of the public, were trying to excuse and make light of Rudd’s behaviour, John Howard was taking a very different approach to the treatment of women.

Supporting the weekend launch of the Women’s Forum Australia “Get Real” Campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the sexualisation of girls and women, Howard expressed concern regarding treatment of women in the media. Expressing his support for young women taking their place in the next generation of Australian leaders, he expressed his disquiet at the way media and marketing sexualises females, with a resulting impact on young women’s perceptions of themselves and the effect on their health and self-esteem.

This is what the social conversation should be about. The visit of Rudd and Warren Snowdon to such a place was wrong, as Rudd has admitted. However, what message are we sending to women in our society if we simply label it an error of judgment by a drunken politician, and decline to consider it any further? It’s time we gain some moral courage and realise that some activities are not appropriate, for very many reasons — and not just if someone wants to lead a country.

Ruth Limkin is a Brisbane pastor and writer