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How do we stop young men exploiting the naked selfies of young women?

The discussion and debate surrounding women’s bodies and sexual agency is not a new media trend. The Western media have seen a number of ‘leaks’ of naked selfies and sex tapes, ranging from high profile individuals such as Kim Kardashian, to regular women and teenagers. However, a recent Australia-wide nonconsensual pornography ring that was uncovered in August 2016, spanning across seventy Australian high schools (, 2016) has prompted a number of articles surrounding the issue of women taking naked photographs of themselves. The mass victimisation of teenage girls and the tragedy of having pornographic images of themselves shared without their consent has prompted a litany of articles warning against the dangers of ‘naked selfies’ or calling for a shift in the way that young boys are educated to respect women. In Mia Freedman’s article ‘The conversation we need to have: taking naked selfies is too much of a risk’ she provides an evaluative and recommendatory stance against taking naked photographs, arguing that the only way to prevent this from happening is by never taking a naked selfie. In contrast, Clementine Ford in her article ‘The Epidemic of Rape Culture in schools can no longer be ignored’ appeals to precedence and consequence to present her claim that men must be educated on rape culture to prevent non consensual pornography rings such as this from taking place. Both articles take a recommendatory and evaluative stance on this issue, and both posit completely different claims surrounding the root cause and ultimate solution for this epidemic.

In a discussion of this severe crime, both Ford and Freedman are assuming their audience should share the same worldview that this is unacceptable and morally reprehensible behaviour. They convey this through sympathetic language used towards the victims of the crime, Freedman uses emotive adjectives such as “helpless, vulnerable, exploited and betrayed” to describe one of the women, and this acts as an appeal to emotion, to ensure that the readers are made aware of the extremely negative affect that this behaviour has had on the women implicated. When Ford describes the men who have been charged for various similar crimes, she uses emotive and strong descriptive language such as ‘toxic,’ ‘depravity’ and ‘rancid.’ Both authors presume that their readership shares the same educated and feminist worldview, and this is demonstrated through the use of terms such as ‘rape culture’ by Clementine Ford, which is used both in the title and throughout the article with no overt explanation or definition of this term. She also uses phrases traditionally associated with academic gender studies such as ‘homosocial bonding’ and ‘toxic masculinity’ which may be alienating or confusing for those who are not already educated on these topics. Freedman assumes this audience as the platform that she has used to publish this article,, is targeted solely to a feminist and educated readership. Therefore both articles assume a base level of shared sympathy for the women targeted in the pornography ring, and a base level of condemnation of the men who committed these crimes, rather than a completely impartial and unaffected reader.

Clementine Ford’s principal claim is that rape culture is pervasive in Australian society, and the only way to prevent non-consensual pornography rings from happening is by addressing rape culture directly with men. To justify this she uses an appeal to comparison to demonstrate that rape culture is so pervasive that it is becoming harder and harder to identify. She states:

“Let’s be reminded again that the perpetrators of these crimes (and they are most definitely crimes, not least of which is the distribution of child pornography) are not what broader society likes to comfortably imagine sexual predators to look like.

They aren’t middle aged outcasts rotting in their parents’ basements or trenchcoat-wearing deviants loitering outside public playgrounds. These are teenage boys and young men who are colluding with each other to violently degrade the women they know, and seeking to reinforce the intoxicating sense of power they feel they rightfully wield over them.”

Ford is using an appeal to comparison in order to justify her claim that rape culture is pervasive. She does so by emphasising that the ‘sexual predators’ committing these crimes are not the stereotype she presumes the readers to have of a sex offender. Ford creates a stipulative definition of the contemporary sex offender through her explanation that they are not ‘trenchcoat-wearing deviants’ and rather ‘teenage boys and young men.’ This stipulative definition reinforces Ford’s principal claim that rape culture is so embedded in society that crimes like this are being committed by ‘normal’ teenage boys. She creates a strawperson argument by describing how these men are ‘colluding’ to ‘violently degrade’ women, lumping all these men together as malicious deviants. Ford also creates an appeal to facts by naming these incidents as crimes, one of which being ‘the distribution of child pornography.’

Throughout the article Ford mentions multiple crimes of a similar nature. This acts as an appeal to precedence and facts to justify her principle claim. Ford cites a case at Brighton Grammar in which an ‘Instagram account shaming ‘sluts’’ was created by boys at the school, who shared photographs of girls ‘as young as eleven’ and another Victorian case at St Michael’s Grammar in which a student is being charged for ‘distributing child pornography’ via a Dropbox account that he used for sharing naked photos of female classmates. This appeal to precedence is effective, as it outlines all the incidents of a similar nature, to prove that this case is not isolated and that a lack of respect for women is fostered through the repetition of similar incidents. Not only is this an appeal to precedence, but it also serves as an appeal to facts, Ford’s reference to previous crimes of a similar intent reinforces her claim that this is common behaviour in masculine spheres.

Ford’s tone then becomes cautionary, and she provides the recommendatory plea: “We are approaching a crisis point with the way masculinity is constructed and excused, particularly the burgeoning kind that is formed in school playgrounds and the hallways of cyberspace.” This acts as an appeal to authority, and the use of words such as ‘burgeoning’ to associate these heinous crimes with an idea of childhood innocence and ‘school playgrounds’ furthers this idea that these crimes are ‘homegrown’ in Australian schools and society. This also acts as an appeal to consequence, Ford is warning of innocence lost that cannot be regained, which leads the article into its emotional peak. Ford uses the tactic of moral questioning to make the reader feel implicit in this societal issue, questioning: “At what point will the scales of blame and outrage start to tip in favour of the victims of these crimes?” She then concludes by explicitly stating her major claim:

We need to accept this situation as extremely serious and act accordingly to address the massive deficit of respect that’s being fostered in our sons towards our daughters. Rape culture is real. Don’t let yourself be one of the screws that keeps its walls in place.”

In this final paragraph, Ford uses this summarisation of her argument as an appeal to emotion. She encourages the reader not to be implicit themselves in rape culture, and uses this paragraph as a call to action. This use of a direct address through the pronouns ‘yourself’ and ‘our’ centralises this argument as one that affects all Australians, and serves to conclude her argument. The use of the short and powerful warning; “rape culture is real,” acts as an explicit statement of the entire crux of the article, and an appeal to authority to address this cultural epidemic. This final paragraph is powerful, and is arresting for the reader as it so clearly displays Ford’s opinion, however it makes clear the major flaw in Ford’s recommendatory argument- despite Ford referencing multiple times the existence of rape culture, and how it must be stopped, she provides no suggestions of how (practically) to do so, for example, school education programs. 

In contrast, Freedman writes with the assumption that the readership have the worldview of a concerned parent, as her article reads as a recommendatory guide to avoid experiencing this exploitation or avoid having your children exposed to it. In fact, Freedman even explicitly lays out seven steps to avoid having this happen. The major claim of her article is that the only way to avoid having your naked photographs exploited is to not take any at all, which she explicitly states as a moral absolute at multiple points in her article, and justifies this by explaining that this is not inherently due to any issues with the selfies themselves, but the people who have access to them. Freedman immediately begins the article with an appeal to ethics:

“Any parent who is not poring over the coverage of the appalling story of the Australian website sharing these images so they can understand what’s happened and then talk about it with their kids is not doing their job.”

This strong morally coded language acts as both an appeal to ethics, implying that it is unethical to ignore this issue, and an appeal to authority, encouraging parents to act or to face the consequences. This also acts as an ad hominem argument, implying that all parents that are not doing this are ‘not doing their job.’ Freedman continues;

“Not only is it naïve to believe that social media education is not part of parenting in 2016, it’s utterly negligent.

As negligent as not teaching your kids about skin cancer and smoking and nutrition and road safety.”

This is an appeal to comparison, Freedman equates that not informing kids on these risks is ‘as negligent’ as ignoring the key parenting tenants of not teaching your kids the dangers of smoking and poor nutrition. This is a slippery slope argument that reinforces her main claim that taking naked selfies is dangerous for a number of reasons. She then provides a list of seven things she will inform her children about naked selfies, each numbered article on the list an explicit statement of her main claim which supports the worldview that the readers have children and will heed her advice. This is particularly obvious in article 4, in which Freedman states: “Taking a nude photo and sending it to someone is like getting in the car with a drunk driver. It’s an enormous risk and you can never ever be sure of the consequences.” The warrant is that the people around you may not be trustworthy, and that if they make poor decisions you will be punished for them. This is demonstrated through article 7: “Sending a nude photo of yourself to someone is like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube. Now try to put it back in. Once your photo is on someone else’s phone or computer, you can never get it back. Even with the best intentions in the world, that person cannot guarantee what will happen to your photo.” The use of appeal to analogy equates the hopelessness of trying to reclaim a stolen image with trying to put toothpaste back in a tube. This list acts as a moralistic code of warnings for parents, which is effective in cementing her point that the sharing of these images is inherently unsafe.

Freedman describes the men who share these pictures with a similar disdain to Ford, stating: “We happen to live in a vastly imperfect world inhabited by some horrible individuals who see no reason to respect the autonomy, privacy or dignity of other people – particularly women. These individuals will always exist.” The use of emotive language such as ‘horrible individuals’ who have no respect for ‘dignity’ or ‘privacy’ is effective in furthering her point that she does not think women are to blame for this issue, rather the men behind it. Freedman goes to great lengths to justify her secondary claim, which is that she does believe women have the right to take these photographs, and that she is not ‘victim blaming,’ rather being realistic. She repeatedly states that she is a ‘reactive feminist’ as well as a ‘proactive feminst’ and that; “discussions about risk are not the same as blaming victims for crimes committed against them” which sets a deliberate distinction between herself and others who enforce the same moral ideas as her. Freedman’s concludes with the statement; “There is no such thing as a safe nude selfie. The only way to make sure a nude photo of you doesn’t appear online is to not take any.” This is an appeal to consequences and authority, she reinforces that women should keep themselves safe rather than attempting to change the system, as Ford does.

An analysis of the two pieces demonstrates that Ford and Freedman are both writing to an assumed readership with a similar worldview, presuming that the readers will be concerned about these women, and the ramifications that this will have on the younger generation. However, Ford’s evaluative argument is directed at changing the way that men are educated, and the way that rape culture has infiltrated schools and male society. Freedman’s claim is more recommendatory, and rather than being politically motivated is more about providing moral guidelines for parents who hold these fears for their children. The articles when analysed together, both argue for stronger education and behavioural codes, though both suggesting very different recommendatory guidelines.

by Ruby Giles, z3420532, Tutorial H12A

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