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Lara Bingle Bungle

The fracas over the candid picture of Lara Bingle – allegedly circulated by footballer, Brendan Fevola and, according to sources, now on the phones of many a footballer and cricketer, has attracted public censure. Certainly, Fevola has revealed himself to be a prat of the highest order who has no respect for boundaries or others’ dignity. A great deal has been said about him and the type of person who would circulate a picture of a naked ex (whether it was during an affair or not), never mind the people who accepted the photo, kept it and/or passed it on. He’s not the first – and probably won’t be the last.

While I would never condone Fevola’s actions, they’re not, sadly, that surprising. The specific and narrow notion of masculinity that dominates too many of our football codes is shown to be alive and well. Fortunately, not all players follow this, but when something like the photo ‘scandal’ erupts, it tarnishes the men, casting aspersions on all players and putting their behaviour in the spotlight. What we see is not pretty. One can’t help but feel for Michael Clarke, Bingle’s fiance – where’s mateship in all this? While Clarke is oblivious (one hopes) to what is being passed behind his back, his sporting peers are having a perve at his lady – a perve courtesy of a sleazy ex. There’s something really unsvaoury about this.  I feel for Bingle and Clarke. It’s a betrayal at so many levels.

Speaking of betrayals, not enough has been said about the women’s magazine who saw fit to publish the photo that Bingle is now suing Fevola for releasing. One of our prominent magazines not only published a story about Bingle’s recent public ‘meltdown’ at a 20/20 match, but published the photo at the centre of Bingle’s distress. A magazine that also prides itself on being for and about women. A magazine that offers pages of advice, diet, fashion and medical tips and, of course, the ubiquitous celebrity gossip. A magazine that will put aside ethics for the sake of profit, but dress up what they’ve done in psychobabble and excuses.

When challenged as to why she saw fit to publish the photo of Bingle, in light of the angst she knew it was causing the subject, the editor, in a radio interview with Neil Mitchell of 3AW, cited as her reason the fact it was already being circulated and had been for years. Yes, that’s right. Years ago – in 2005 or some such. Yes, it was – she’s right – among a group of men – not a readership of over 400,000 in 2010. She also defended the decision by saying ‘others had published it’ (the Herald Sun) and it was ‘newsworthy’. When asked if she felt it might not be an ‘unreasonable intrusion’ the same reasons were given. By that logic, if others have done ‘it’, then it’s OK if we do ‘it’ too.

Oh please. Let’s call it what it is and say it’s nothing but a tacky strategy to sell magzines and beat others at the profit game.  Scandal and naked photos – particularly ones from a murky past, involving a pretty, popular woman, never mind the blessing of her partner being a cricketer, sell. Usually very well.

This reveals so many women’s magazines for what they are – little more than over-priced publications that feed on women’s insecurities and angst – they pretend to be your friend when they’re your femeny – a female enemy. BUt they weren’t always like this.

In her book, The Beauty Myth, Naaomi Wolf notes that ‘women’s magazines… have been one of the most powerful agents for changing women’s roles…’ for the last century. They function like a social barometer. Initially preoccupied with the home and the ‘housewife, where women were persuaded, through advertising, to become ‘insecure consumers of household goods,’ they slowly shifted focus.

With changing social forces and the rise of feminism, the female body became the object of scrutiny. The ‘natural’ state of women, the naked form, which had never been the locus of these magazines before, suddenly became a’problem.’ Magazines and marketers starting providing a range of ever-changing solutions – from diet, to hair-removal, to how achieve soft skin, to these days, anti-ageing products as well. Arguably, they have taught women to ‘hate’ their natural state and seek radical solutions.

It’s easy to accuse mags with such a focus as being trivial – and it’s a criticism that’s been levelled at them for some time. Focussing on the body, men, celebrities, diet, gossip, sexiness and fashion, these same magazines also reflect the mass culture from which they arise. They are contradictory (publishing photos of Bingle while at the same time decrying the man who initiated them). Wolf believes that ‘Women react so strongly to these inconsistencies since they probably realise the that the magazine’s contradictions are their own.’

In their book, The Great Feminist Denial, Monica Dux and Zora Simic argue that (citing Cyndi Tebbel, the former editor of New Woman magazine), feminism is the single most taboo subject in women’s magazines. This rejection of any type of feminist discourse is based on a fear that it will alienate the readership who it’s believed are only interested in men, clothes, gossip etc. While some magazines are the exception (and there are some good ones), almost all of the others dedicate over 3/4 if not their entire publication to so-called women’s pursuits. Even magazines for teens and tweens do this. They are trivia incarnate.

This persistent focus on beauty, gossip and the darker side of the feminine mystique (which is no longer so mysterious anymore), and other women’s ‘concerns’ both brings women together and drives us apart. We recognise it for what it is and indulge, believing that it’s entertaining, short-term and light. It’s escapism. But is it really? Surely, this kind of narrative, the stereotypes presented and the self-hatred it promotes,  eats away at any notion of sisterhood and support. These magazines teach us to compete, to stare, compare and despair – at ourselves and each other. They feed on our insecurities and teach us to kick ourselves when we’re down and seek succour in shopping and bitching. It also teaches us that its OK to kick others when they’re down.

This has now been blatantly exposed, arguably, by the Bingle bungle. An Australian woman’s mag kicks one of their own – someone who has graced their pages and, when called to account, they have no legitimate excuse. That’s not to let Fevola and co off the hook, but it just goes to show to what levels even a peddlar of the ‘sisterhood’ will stoop.

Sadly, it’s pretty low.

What do you think?

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