Over the past few weeks many of us have watched with concern a snowballing campaign of vilification against Melinda Tankard Reist, her public work as an advocate for women and girls and for society as a whole. Much of this has occurred online using all manner of cyber harrassment perpetrated by trolls and pseudo-experts. Their gutless cyber threats serve only to expose their own lack of character.

Melinda has for many years campaigned against the commercialisation of childhood, the sexualisation of young people, especially girls, in the advertising and other industries and, more recently, the growing influence of pornography on the psyche of young people and society at large. Frontline clinicians, educators and professionals who work with young people are now coming to realise that these are important issues that have an impact beyond creed or caste. As we begin to comprehend the rising tide of mental illness impacting on our young people we have no choice but to examine those parts of our culture and society that are contributing to it regardless of how uncomfortable it might make us feel. Melinda has identified an important issue that is not just about one’s personal taste, values or morals but in fact about the health and wellbeing of the next generation of Australians.

It is no surprise that Melinda has hit a social nerve. She is compelling and popular not because of her personal beliefs but because there are many who immediately see the common sense logic and reasoning behind her arguments. Melinda fearlessly expresses her arguments, with presentations that are dense with research and evidence, about social trends that mainstream, average Australians have been worried about. For many, listening to or reading Melinda’s material is a turning point where they realise that there are many others who are feeling the same way about what is happening to our society as it becomes progressively more influenced by commercial interests and an increasingly sexualised culture.

Melinda is a powerful voice, and hence a threat to those commercial forces and idealogues that are driving the social trends that she criticises, because she has the ability to galvanise and unite people to stand with her against the cultural tide. It’s no surprise she has enemies, given that she and her colleagues have been so effective in making companies and advertisers more responsible about the images and ideas they use to promote their products.

That’s precisely why Generation Next chooses to work with Melinda. Generation Next educates thousands of teachers, nurses and other professionals who work with young people each year and Melinda has been an important part of our expert team that addresses large audiences all over the country. The response from the audience, more than 4,000 people last year alone, was overwhelmingly positive. The audience was not interested in Melinda’s personal philosophy or spiritual orientation because they judged her material, evidence and arguments on their merits and nevertheless emphatically agreed with her conclusions.

I have worked closely with Melinda over the last few years and have been impressed with the cogency of her messages and the authenticity with which she applies herself. I don’t necessarily agree with all her views however her work on issues that impact on the wellbeing of girls and women, such as sexualisation and pornography, stands on its own merits. There are social campaigners who engage in public debate because of their deeply sincere commitment to the benevolence of others and there are those who play in the same space for self gratification or to drive an agenda. Melinda is of the former category and many of her critics of the latter. I find it bizarre that they should label her a “secret fundamentalist Christian”. I would not label myself as a Christian, although I do believe that all the great religions warrant respect and are in fact united by a common thread of wisdom, nor am I a Feminist. In fact I don’t have time for fundamentalists or “-isms” of any orientation, yet I have seen no hint of fundamentalism in her behaviour. Melinda did tell me about her personal beliefs but it was clear to me that she was open to many ideas from other cultures and traditions. I’ve had significant opportunity to examine her substance. In my assessment she’s the real thing.

Why have they singled out Melinda for this special treatment? After all, she is not the only voice that speaks out about these issues that impact on the wellbeing of women and girls. The reason, I believe, is because she is the most prominent, convincing and unrelenting. The sincerity of her commitment is self-evident and that’s one of the reasons why she is so compelling- and so dangerous!

What’s evident to me is that her critics don’t just disagree with her views, they hate her guts. They hate her because they fear her. They’re afraid of her authenticity, her genuine commitment to the welfare of the women and girls in our society and her wish to contribute toward a better world for them. Her critics find it difficult to counter-argue at a rational level simply because their counter-arguments don’t hold up to logical scrutiny. So they have resorted to character assassination and for some reason they are currently getting away with what many believe is an out and out campaign of defamation.

Labelling Melinda as a fundamentalist does not neutralise the inherent logical power of her arguments about the impact of sexualisation and porn on our society. In fact, those critics that dismiss her work on this issue because of her purported fundamentalism, simply expose the fact that they have not examined her arguments on their merits and hence must themselves be driven by an agenda other than an interest in getting to the truth on these matters.

There are many industries, ideologies and personalities who have waited a long time to get square with Melinda and they are certainly making the most of the current opportunity. They are desperate to kill the messenger before the message gets any more traction….a bit like big tobacco tried to kill off its critics thinking that they could prevent the truth from surfacing.

We at Generation Next will be standing by her and we challenge all those who have worked with her, who know her to be real in her words and deeds to also show their support – it’s as much a litmus test of their authenticity as it is of Melinda’s determination.

We’re proud that she’s part of our 2012 speaking line up and Generation Next not only endorses her, we think she’s the kind of authentic Australian that makes our events so popular and respected. We encourage you to support her and her colleagues who work in this very difficult space for the betterment of our young people.

Melinda, you are in the process of finding out who your real friends are. It’s a painful but ultimately invaluable process. You are better off with handful of real friends than a bunch of wannabes trying to leverage their own ambitions off the back of your track record as a succesful and effective cultural warrior. You’ll soon find out that you don’t need them because you are drawing from a deeper pool of strength than your enemies can ever hope to.

I’ll end with a quote that has helped me through some tough times: 

“Illegitimi non-carborundum”

Now sharpen your blade and get back in the fight!

Dr Ramesh Manocha, Convenor, Generation Next

Dear reader, many of you will recall Melinda’s powerful and moving lectures at our events and the way in which she inspired all of us to take action against the use of sexualised images and ideas that negatively influence our young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Now it’s our turn to show our support for her work. Click on the share buttons below and share this article with as many people as possible on email, facebook, twitter, linkedin etc etc. With just a few clicks you can make a difference!