07 May 2019

College of Law Adjunct Kylie Virtue leads the fight against pornified pop culture

Published on 07 May 2019

Kylie Virtue might be best known to College of Law students and graduates as an adjunct. However, beyond her academic work, Kylie volunteers as the director and Chair of Collective Shout, a not-for-profit grassroots advocacy organisation committed to combating the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls in advertising, the media and popular culture. She is also an avid sailor and mother of three. Insights spoke to Kylie about how her involvement in Collective Shout contributes to her work as a legal academic, and what she loves most about teaching at the College.

Challenging our hypersexualised culture through legal reform

“For almost a decade, Collective Shout has targeted advertisers, marketers and media which objectify and sexualise women and girls to sell products and services. Our mission is to bring about cultural change and societal transformation to make such objectification unthinkable,” said Kylie. 

Much of her work relates directly to the law. Collective Shout advocates for greater regulation, particularly where technology has outpaced the law – such as ‘over 18’ verification for porn sites, reflecting a recent initiative in the UK. The organisation has also made numerous submissions regarding legal reform, including the AHRC National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces, the Modern Slavery Bill 2018, the Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation Legislation Amendment Bill 2019.

“Given the nature of our campaigning activities on social media, I am occasionally involved in advising our team about avoiding defamation and related risks,” said Kylie. “We've been targeted by Sexpo, which pursued a dubious preliminary discovery application in the Federal Court for alleged misleading and deceptive conduct.”

Sexpo organisers were upset by Collective Shout declaring Sexpo advertisements, featured on government school buses, a form of ‘corporate paedophilia’.  The advertisements included Sexpo’s main sponsor, a host of live porn websites.

“Thankfully, the Federal Court dismissed the action with an order that Sexpo pay Collective Shout's costs,” said Kylie.

Reducing sexual harassment and assault through cultural change

It is just one example of how Collective Shout consistently outclasses organisations with far greater resources. 

“The bulk of our work is done by just a few individuals – mainly women – assisted by a ‘working board’ of volunteers, and supported by tens of thousands of supporters nationally. We keep punching above our weight to draw attention to the hypersexualised, pornified pop culture we live in, and to highlight the interconnectedness of sexual harassment and sexual assault with the endemic culture of sexual objectification of girls and women.”

“I am greatly inspired by the courage of these women to challenge the status quo, and by the encouraging stories shared by our co-founder and Movement Director, Melinda Tankard Reist - particularly from the feedback received from thousands of high-schoolers around the country who’ve been empowered by her talks.” 

The movement was likely buoyed by publicity from #MeToo and the Royal Commission into institutionalised sexual abuse. There are clear links between an unconsciously pornified pop culture and mental health problems in girls and women, including low self-esteem, body image, eating disorders, depression and self-harm.

“I was recently struck with the realisation that so many of the serious harms afflicting our youth today can be traced to pop and social media culture that literally bombards them with hypersexualised images. This culture shamelessly treats human beings, particularly women, as mere objects for sexual gratification,” said Kylie.

“This climate has helped to position Collective Shout as a respected thought leader and the 'go to' voice on the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls,” Kylie said. “This provides more opportunities for us to engage in constructive dialogue with corporates and the advertising industry as we seek to encourage better corporate social responsibility and strategic social partnerships that uphold the value of women and girls.”

A keen sailor, and passionate academic

Kylie is also a competitive sailor; she and her husband (and their Kick’N’Chase crew) recently won the Adams 10 National Championships (2019). 

“I love being out on the water, smelling the sea, and enjoying the teamwork and excitement of tactical racing and stiff competition,” said Kylie, who will soon be cruising the Mediterranean for several months. “It's a great way to switch off from work, clear the mind and do something physical, out in the elements and completely different from being in an office or at a computer!”

Her lifestyle and work reflect the full breadth and potential of a law degree. As a College of Law adjunct, Kylie primarily teaches advocacy, wellbeing and negotiation and dispute resolution. As director of Collective Shout, she undertakes ‘legal’ work, including advocacy, writing submissions, providing legal advice and guidance, lobbying politicians and industry bodies, and working with the board on risk and compliance issues. Recently, Collective Shout enjoyed a series of victories, including the removal of a video game, ‘Rape Day’ from gaming platform Steam. They also successfully campaigned for AirAsia to remove bus and billboard advertising which was effectively promoting sex tourism in Thailand. 

The sheer variety of her pursuits make Kylie a living example of how law graduates can continue to pursue their passions outside work, which is a key theme of her College of Law Wellbeing workshops.

“It’s very satisfying to work with particularly diligent students who take feedback on board and take the time say thank you after completing a subject or workshop,” said Kylie. “The collegiality and support of my fellow lecturers and other staff from the College of Law makes the job so much easier.”