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THE cyber bullies who piled onto anti-porn activist Melinda Tankard Reist last week are behaving like 17th century witch hunters, not the enlightened tolerance queens they claim to be. 

Everything always has to be so melodramatic doesn’t it Miranda? Yes, there were some comments in bad taste directed at MTR. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they were acting like Christians of that time, using their position of heightened power to threaten, and suppress the opinions of others in order to maintain the status quo…that sounds a bit more like MTR’s own actions.

Tankard Reist’s crime was to be profiled not unfavourably in a magazine which described her as “one of Australia’s best-known feminist voices”.

More accurately, the reason MTR came under fire was because of the threatened legal action. Wilson’s response to the original article was more so a critique of the blind profiling of MTR’s views without putting them into the context of her religious views, as well as a critique of the views themself (in a fashion no more cruel/inflammatory than in your own regular articles.)

This infuriated the miserable orcs who lurk in the dark recesses of twitter and the blogosphere.

I would just like to point out here, that it seems highly hypocritical to me to be lambasting everyone who has said a negative word about MTR, and then turning around and using a phrase like “miserable orcs” against them.

Up they sprang to pour calumny on Tankard Reist, a pro-life feminist and 48-year-old mother of four. She was nothing but a “fundamentalist Christian” trying to hide her religious beliefs. Therefore, her views on the sexualisation of children, the objectification of women, the corrosive effect of internet pornography, were suspect.

Yes. Everyone’s views should be subject to scrutiny, and in the case of the Wilson article a really important point was raised about the conflation of girls/women in a lot of MTR’s work. But the real issue is that a person in a position of public influence (both past and present) such as MTR should be open not just about her opinions but her REASONS for those opinions, and a person’s religious beliefs generally form a strong basis for this. Wilson just wanted that to be brought to centre stage (I assume, obviously she would be free to correct me on this. Fingers crossed she doesn’t resort to legal action to do so)

Oh, and one anonymous orc reckons she should be anally raped with a coffee cup.

Obviously a comment I don’t condone, said orc did go on to acknowledge his comment was in bad taste and continued on to engage in more rational discussion. Context changes everything Miranda, which is the crux of the original argument.

“This is the price I pay for getting a fair and decent run,” she said ruefully last week from her Canberra home, after being “driven offline” by the vitriol and forced to seek legal advice.

Forced? Really? Did someone hold a gun to her head? Or perhaps they threatened her with legal action that would financially ruin her? The truth is that on Twitter some people say horrible things. I’m sure you know that more than anyone. That’s exactly why there is a function to block users, to make your profile private, to shut the browser and turn the whole machine off. MTR wasn’t “forced” to take legal recourse. It’s important that she is able to in civil society, but it’s not a forced action, and not something that should automatically grant her the moral high ground.

“If someone has a faith, even a struggling inadequate faith like mine, you are run out of the public square.”

Tankard Reist is “of the religious right and a member of a church that preaches the second coming of Christ, the end time, and evangelism”, declared her nemesis, obscure North Coast blogger Jennifer Wilson, who describes herself as a psychotherapist.

“She’s a Baptist, and attends Belconnen Baptist Church. She is anti-abortion. She is deceptive and duplicitous about her religious beliefs. What does she have to hide?”

Well, unluckily for Wilson and her digital chums, Tankard Reist has nothing to hide. She is avowedly pro-life. She is not a Baptist, and does not attend any church.

But, along with two thirds of Australians, Tankard Reist was brought up Christian, attending Uniting Church services as a child

in Mildura. She says: “I have no denominational affiliation, but I have friends and supporters of every faith and background.

“I speak at a lot of different churches because this is a message that crosses the usual divide”.

She has never tried to hide her faith and when asked, explains she is an imperfect Christian. But like most Australians, she prefers not to wear it on her sleeve.

This is exactly what Wilson wanted to know. This whole situation could have been avoided if, instead of sending a letter through her lawyers demanding Wilson change the blog, MTR had of logged on and written in the comments

“I just want my work considered on its merits.”

This then goes back to the argument over whether someone’s background should be considered when critiquing their work.  I believe it should be. I don’t just want to know WHAT people believe, I want to know WHY.

The abuse has escalated as her profile has expanded with the publication of her book Big Porn Inc, and the launch of Collective Shout, the organisation she founded to campaign against the objectification of women in the media.

But last week she stopped turning the other cheek and decided it was time to hold the internet haters accountable. She engaged a defamation lawyer to ask Wilson for a retraction and apology. Wilson took to the web to claim Tankard Reist was suing her for all she was worth, though no one is suing anyone yet.

She didn’t claim that. She claimed that MTR was threatening legal action if she didn’t conform to her demands, and that any defamation action taken to court would ruin her financially. It was abundantly clear to people that actually read the article that it was only a threat, not an actual legal action at that stage. As was bound to happen it got taken out of context when people started weighing into the discussion who hadn’t read the articles.

The twitter hate exploded.

Towards both parties mind you.

Leslie Cannold, an ethicist, was among the more energetic defenders of Wilson, averaging two tweets every hour every day, indicating a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Tankard Reist.

“She wouldn’t be considered newsworthy if correctly described as fundie Christian. They’re all anti-porn raunch & choice.”

Just as you are supporting MTR through lambasting Wilson and her supporters, many of Wilsons friends and fans where offering her their support in what is a very difficult time. (She’s been threatened with legal action and been experiencing quite a bit of hate on Twitter if you haven’t heard)

There is more than a little envy among Christophobes at Tankard Reist’s growing influence and good standing with young women.

I would say concern more so than envy. It’s worrying that someone with a strong influence over young women holds views that I, and many others, find are restrictive to women’s liberation, for reasoning that appears to be based on a religious morality rather than rational argument.

Reist is pro-life and a feminist, and anyone who believes the two positions are inconsistent must be living under a rock. In the US, where Reist studied journalism on a Rotary scholarship in 1987, it is an honourable intellectual movement, whose founding mothers included suffragette Susan B Anthony, who held that abortion exploited women and devalued motherhood.

Just because a view is popular or has high profile people backing it doesn’t make it right. The argument that pro-life views and feminism are incompatible is explored well by Anne Summers here.

“My emphasis has always been on expanding real choice for women,” says Tankard Reist, who founded a home for mothers and babies in Canberra, in 1997. “Pro-choice just means abortion.”

Pro-Choice doesn’t mean abortion, it means pro-choice. It means that all safe options should be placed on the table for women to be in control of their own fertility. It means that restricting choices and taking safe, legal abortions off the table won’t result in an end to abortion; it will just result in stigmatised women, unwilling mothers and increased maternal mortality. It’s also backed by research e.g. here

In any case, you don’t have to be religious to be anti-abortion. The atheist late author Christopher Hitchens, Reist says, was pro-life.

Her 2006 book on abortion, Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics was launched in New York by Nat Hentoff, a pro-life Jewish atheist and libertarian.

Again, just because a position has high profile backing doesn’t make it right. (As evidenced throughout history e.g. Slavery, women’s vote, stolen generation etc)

When Cannold and other abortion enthusiasts warn darkly of Tankard Reist’s dark “past”, they are talking not just of imaginary membership of a Belconnen church, but of her 12 years working for Tasmanian independent Senator Brian Harradine. The Catholic senator held the balance of power for three years under the Howard government.

I take huge offence to the term “abortion enthusiasts” being pro-choice should NEVER be equated with being “enthusiastic” about abortion. Whilst abortion isn’t something I have personally gone through, I doubt it would be a thing anyone would be “enthusiastic” about having. Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong. Unwanted pregnancies happen, rape happens and sometimes a woman’s life is threatened by the foetus inside her. In these instances it is important that women are advised of all the options open to them. This includes abortion.

To Christophobes, Tankard Reist’s association with Australia’s most influential anti-abortion politician marks her as suspect.

So it should, MTR is clearly very active in the anti-abortion movement and this should be taken into account when evaluating her arguments. The more influence a person has the more scrutiny they should be subject to, MTR doesn’t get an exception.

For the record, I am Catholic and Tankard Reist is a friend. I admire her integrity, and her determination to make a difference for women.

Thank you for disclosing where you are coming from. If MTR was as willing as you to do this, we would never have gotten to this point.

I believe the hostility to her is driven by spite, sanctimony and anti-Christian malice. This attempt to purge Christians from the marketplace of ideas is nothing less than 21st century McCarthyism.

I believe the hostility to her is driven by the desire for open and honest debate, a belief in the importance of secular society and support for free speech. We don’t want Christians to leave the marketplace of ideas; we just want them to justify their views with rational arguments rather than religious moralism.

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