Posted by: Chasy | 12/09/2011

The Problem with Melinda

There was a debate on Twitter not long ago on who can or can’t be called a feminist – specifically, whether Melinda Tankard Reist makes the grade.

I’ll get right to the point. The answer is no.

Her religious affiliation has nothing to do with it. A woman can be devoted to her faith and still be a feminist. The many feminists of Islamic faith we see fighting for the rights of women in the Middle East are a perfect example. It may well be MTR’s motivation, but it does not factor into whether she fits the definition or not.

A lazy Google search will tell you that Feminism is defined as “[O]rganized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”

This then begs the question – how can Melinda be fighting for women’s rights and interests, when the aim of her activism is to deny them reproductive rights and sexual agency?

Her crusade against porn is one I personally have quarrel with, but I think it also helps to illustrate what MTR’s activism boils down to – anti-sex-positivism. Recently on The Drum, she said of the influence of porn (and I’m paraphrasing, because I can’t remember the exact wording of the quote, unfortunately, and don’t have the luxury of being able to watch the interview again): “Boys think girls want to be slapped, to be sworn at, have their hair pulled…”

Dunno about you, Melinda, but that sounds like a good night in to me.

My point is that, indeed, some of us do like sex that takes that form. Some of us don’t. Some of us don’t like sex at all. However, the arrogance in Melinda believing that she knows best is appalling. That does not empower women, it infantilises them. We can make our own choices. Young girls need to be made aware of this, not shielded from it. If they are not educated in negotiating sexual contact with their partner, then, of course, they are going to have sexual experiences they won’t enjoy. That is obvious. Young males, too, need this education. It is just as vital as education on the biology of sex. It draws a long bow, however, to say that means the existence of porn automatically means that women are in danger and need to be protected from it.

It surprises me, then, that a woman who researches porn as a career activity has not made that connection. Actually, it doesn’t. If her aim was to empower women, she would have made that connection from the get go. As her aim is to stamp out porn and the sex industry, she conveniently ignores it.

Oh, whoops. I got off track there. I think, most importantly, her appropriation of feminism to promote anti-abortion is the real decisive factor. To deny a woman her reproductive rights is anti-feminism. I honestly don’t know how you can argue the point. I draw your attention to this in particular:

The “Real Reform” statement cites the supposed “existence of a substantial body of research showing that many women experience significant, negative physical and psychological outcomes after abortion”. Its tactic is aimed at getting a hearing among supporters of abortion rights for the idea of compulsory counseling, under the guise of concern for women’s mental health. But “post-abortion trauma” is yet another lie perpetuated by the anti-abortion lobby. It is based on distortions and pseudo-science.

A report released in August 2008 by the American Psychological Association found that while “it is clear that some women do experience sadness, grief, and feelings of loss following termination of a pregnancy, and some experience clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety”, the report stated that there was “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors”.

Given that, I honestly don’t think Melinda Tankard Reist makes the definition of feminist. Her activism stems from conservative viewpoint which does not empower women. Manipulating the word ‘feminist’ so that she may ride on the coattails of a popular movement in order to strengthen this viewpoint weakens the movement entirely. Personally, I think it is potentially dangerous to say that this is feminism, as it is, essentially, protecting women from themselves. We need more power to uphold our rights, not more people trying to undermine them from within.

Quite frankly, if she dropped her anti-sex and anti-abortion activism and concentrated on, as her Twitter bio says, being ‘a voice for women and girls’, she’d be a bloody good feminist. Unfortunately, that cancels her out. If you can actually give me a reason why it doesn’t, by all means, let me know.



  1. Gah. This is exactly what is wrong with society. The real feminists did all the bloody hard work for us, and these misguided morons destroy the cause, whether it be a Paris Hilton wannabe or these LWFs such as MTR. As you said, the whole point of being feminist is being able to choose whether you have sex, how you enjoy it, who you enjoy it with, and whether or not you want to procreate from it.

    What we need to continue the hard work of our feminist predecessors is better education for boys and girls – lessons in tolerance, sex, respect and ethics. We don’t need these RWFs standing on soap boxes shouting into the wind that we should supress our sexual urges and basic rights. MTR is not a feminist, she’s Fred Nile with a uterus.

    • Exactly. I don’t understand at what point along the way she forgot that feminism was supposed to be about choice, but it was very convenient, regardless.

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