Woman Tankard Reist, Melinda

Social Commentator and Writer

Written by Ann Standish, The University of Melbourne

Melinda Tankard Reist was born to a farming family in Mildura, Victoria in 1963. She attended high school in Mildura before going on to study journalism at RMIT, Melbourne, and California State University, Long Beach, USA. After graduating, she worked as a staff and freelance journalist in the United States and Australia for about ten years from 1983. In 1993, she began working as an advisor to the independent senator Brian Harradine, a position she held until 2005.

Since 2005 she has become increasingly prominent in feminist debates in Australia as an influential voice in social issues relating to women. In her books, columns and blog, MTR, she positions herself as an 'advocate for women and girls', specifically by campaigning against the sexualisation of girls, pornography and abortion. She has described herself as a 'pro-life' feminist, which has raised debate as to whether it is possible to be both. The first book Tankard Reist co-edited and contributed to, Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief After Abortion (2000), is a collection of first-hand accounts of women's experiences post-abortion. From these accounts, in conjunction with scientific studies, she argues that women who have abortions are far more likely to suffer later mental health problems than those who don't; consequently there should be greater information and access to alternative solutions for women with unwanted pregnancies.

There has been some controversy over the extent to which Tankard Reist's claims come from a feminist position of concern for the greater social welfare of women in general. Questions centre on her work for Senator Harradine, an independent Catholic senator who in deals with the Howard government in 1996 heavily restricted the availability of the 'abortion pill' RU486 both in Australia and in countries in receipt of Australian aid. As a result a drug that enables safer, less painful and less invasive abortive procedures, widely available throughout the rest of the world, was prohibited not only to Australian women but to women in developing countries where Australia had instigated family planning programs. Tankard Reist's own deep adherence to her Christian faith has also led to suggestions that her stances against abortion and pornography are driven by conservative moral and religious beliefs rather than a social commitment to ensuring the concerns of women are publicised and improved.

Tankard Reist has co-edited or co-authored three books since 2005: Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics (2006), Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (2009) and, with Abigail Bray, Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry (2011). She has also promoted her views through her blog, numerous newspaper columns and the organisation Australian Women's Forum, of which she was founding Managing Director, from 2005 to 2009, and the campaign Collective Shout. Through these forums, her opinions have reached a wide audience and gained a great deal of support, particularly amid growing concerns around the sexualisation of girls.

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