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Moral panics and whistling up the dogs

By Craig Minns - posted Monday, 29 August 2016

I’ve been watching with interest the latest moral panic being perpetuated by a loose grouping of (mostly) women in the media and related industries. This one is about the existence of a website on which schoolboys are sharing images of schoolgirls, which are, apparently, principally the work of those girls themselves in the form of “selfies”. What’s been most amusing has been watching the efforts to justify the right of these young women to take and share images of themselves in various states of undress, while condemning those boys who do as the girls apparently intend by enjoying looking at them. Of course, if a boy sends her a similar token of his passion it’s a “dick pic” and a clear demonstration of his commitment to “rape culture”, whatever that is…

For the most part, moral panics have been traditionally associated with the more Conservative side of the socio-political spectrum: those like Cory Bernardi perhaps, who fear an erosion of social structures as a result of a failure to uphold certain models of behaviour. However, it’s a tool that’s increasingly been co-opted by the Fabian (or Progressive) Left and its most militant arm, organised feminism.

As with all moral panics, this one is primarily intended to spread a largely unfounded fear and thereby enhance the authority or power of those who have already placed themselves on the side of the morally “good”, which is to say, the promoters of the moral panic. It’s fantastically low-brow politics, but it’s often startlingly successful, especially among those who are drawn to authoritarianism, which disproportionately includes women who feel under some form of threat.


There are a couple of intriguing aspects of this latest salvo in “the war between the sexes”. The first is that it is remarkably prurient in an age in which sexual morality has become notably liberal. Perhaps that reflects a certain lack of sexual self-confidence in the promoters. The second is that it is based on the behaviour of the young, but is being used as a vehicle for the expression of outrage by people who are much older, entirely for their own purposes. While other moral panics lead by the Left have been based around sometimes quite egregious misuse of statistics in relation to female employment and family violence, both of which are subjects that fit within a standard Leftist rubric, sexual morality and the (mis)behaviours of youth are much more notably the province of the “Religious Right” than the “progressive Left”. So what on Earth is going on?

Feminism as it has been promoted through the second and third wave has been based to a very large extent on pseudo-Marxist ideas of class struggle, with men cast as the class enemies of women and latterly, girls. It’s an easy narrative to sell to stay-at-home Mums, resentful at yet another boring round of washing and vacuuming while Dad goes off to have “fun” at work. It’s an easy story to sell to women who have a biological clock ticking away that drags them from a career at its peak. It’s an easy sell to women who choose or are forced by circumstance into low-paying work. It’s an almost too easy sell to women facing marital breakdown and divorce. Nothing is your fault girls, it’s those terrible men (and boys) oppressing us! If only we had women in charge…

As a result of the success of feminist advocacy within the middle-class there really isn’t anything significant left to “fight” for if there ever was and middle-class feminists have never been much good at fighting for the interests of women outside their own class, despite the Marxist decorations. In fact, it is arguable that bourgeois feminist inspired policies are having a strongly negative impact on outcomes for women, children and men in poverty. So, like other ideologically-heavy movements throughout history, feminism has moved into quasi-religious moralising. It’s a peculiar version of that art, since it isn’t based on much more than the nest-feathering intentions of those doing the moralising, but hey, that’s worked for several other quasi-religious movements, like Hillsong for example. Like those other movements, there is an acute awareness of the necessity to enrol new members as young as possible, in this case, girls (of the right social class, of course).

So what? Who cares if a few well-heeled (“they’re Jimmys, Darling”) women want to engage in a bit of vanity-posing as feminists while they sip the cheap chardy at gallery openings?

It seems to me that feminism is and remains a very important school of thought and it is a tremendous shame that it has fallen into such fumble-fingered, self-interested (although impeccably manicured) hands.

In Australia we pride ourselves on our egalitarianism, on our sense of a fair go, on our barracking for the underdog. These are all meant to be things that feminism is intended to achieve! It is well past time feminist women took a good hard look at the people they’re allowing to set their agenda and even at just what that agenda should be in this 21st Century. Do we really want to exclude our boys from their right to a decent education, as Jane Caro advocates? Do we really need a feminism that is about having a “fight”, as Anne Summers would like? Do we really need aggressive ratbags and rabble-rousers filling our media with hateful talk of the interminable irredeemable flaws of men as perceived by said nitwits?


I say that none of those things or their self-interested promoters have any part in our modern political discussion except as illustrative examples of the negative consequences of extremist thinking. They should be relegated to the dustbin of historical curiosity as soon as possible and a modern feminist model developed that reflects the genuinely inclusive culture of our modern nation.

So here’s a challenge: what are the big issues facing women, children and men today that are worthy of being properly considered within a feminist model? Surely we can do better than moral panics about slutty schoolgirls and horny boys?

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About the Author

Craig is a man. He lives in Brisbane. He loves his children. And his dog, except when he raids the bin.

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