Objectification, pornography, and Glen Canning, Rehtaeh Parsons' father

On Saturday I published a post by Emily Monaghan, “Pornography as Rape: The Rehtaeh Parsons case.” Monaghan pointed out the connections between pornography and violence against women, specifically with regard to the treatment of the case against Rehtaeh Parsons’ alleged rapists.

Such as with images of women in pornography, there is a belief that the sexual nature of women (and girls) is licentious. The pre-pubescent girl that lures the older man with her nymphic charms or the oversexed school girl whose body torments all of the boys in class. The male sexual value system classifies women as virgins or whores — Rehtaeh Parsons was labelled a whore and whores cannot be raped. The ruling on Rehtaeh’s rape emblematic of the presumed nature of women’s sexuality. We are taught to believe she brought this upon herself because she is whorish.

Rape culture, porn culture, misogyny and patriarchy are all interconnected. We have discussed this numerous times on Feminist Current. The short explanation is that, when we turn people into objects instead of seeing them as full human beings, it is easier for us to dehumanize them and hurt them, humiliate them, demean them, etc. Pornography and BDSM often sexualize violence against women, making sexual violence and, more generally, gender inequality, sexy. Male power and female subordination is normalized and sexualized in porn. Gang rape is featured regularly in porn. “Teens” or “schoolgirls” are among the most-searched terms. Pornhub [not linking intentionally] specifies that “teen-themed porn… was the most searched term in the world” in 2013 and in 2014 on their site. The site proudly notes that the term “gangbang” climbed substantially in searches last year as well, moving up 14 spots. Miss Teen Colorado In First Porn Ever was their second-most-viewed video.

via Pornhub's "2014 Year in Review"
via Pornhub’s “2014 Year in Review”

All this is to say that pornography is not gender neutral, it is not “just a fantasy” when we know full well that women and girls are raped and abused every day on this planet, that they are sexually harassed and objectified constantly, and that they grow up learning that their primary value is in their appearances and ability to attract and sexually satisfy men. Men and women alike learn that violence is sexy. Men and boys learn that it is ok to sexualize underage girls. They learn to sexualize underage girls — porn teaches how to do this.

Rehtaeh Parsons killed herself after being gang-raped by (allegedly — none have been charged with rape as of yet) four boys who photographed the assault and then circulated the images. Parsons was 15 at the time of the rape and 17 when she hung herself.

With all that said, it was hugely disappointing to learn that Rehtaeh Parsons’ father, Glen Canning, who has been central to and unrelenting in his activism on behalf of his daughter, had photographs posted on his “Model Mayhem” page of sexualized women, some in BDSM-style poses and outfits, some that looked underage.

I immediately contacted Canning via the email address posted on his website, asking if the photos were his, before finding, shortly thereafter, that they were indeed Canning’s photos and that he had been questioned about them before (but not, mysteriously, by the mainstream media who, it seems, made a choice not to publicize this information).

Blake Hunsley published a post at Frank Magazine earlier this month, noting:

While these photos, taken by amateur photographer, Glen, were all presumably shared with the consent of their subjects, there is something terribly off-putting about a grieving father who crusades against the exploitation of young women posting photos of young girls that would make an American Apparel marketing agent blush.

… Messages left with Glen questioning… the contents of the Model Mayhem account have not been returned.

One of the more questionable images I found on Canning’s public Model Mayhem page today was this one, taken in 2006. This girl looks very young to me…

There were other photos of women posted in Canning’s Model Mayhem gallery as well as on a site called “Deviant Art” who appear to be fully adult but strike me as pornographic nonetheless. There is no doubt that the images are objectifying…

via Glen Canning's gallery at "Deviant Art."
via Glen Canning’s gallery at “Deviant Art.”
From Canning’s Model Mayhem gallery (now deleted).

I looked through the images posted by others that Canning had “favorited” on Deviant Art — side by side were anti-rape images and sexualized photos of young women. Most of his “favorites” weren’t viewable as they had been marked “Mature Content” due to nudity (and I didn’t feel particularly inclined to register with an account in order to look at photos of naked women).

Canning's "favorite's" from Deviant Art.
Canning’s “favorite’s” from Deviant Art.

My goal in publishing this information is not to vilify Canning who has, no doubt, suffered tremendously in dealing with the loss of his daughter. But I find myself baffled and disturbed at his — and, of course, larger society’s — inability to see the contradiction in his enjoyment and consumption of pornographic imagery and his own photographs and the rape, pornification, and death of his daughter.

My reaction is similar to Hunsley’s, who writes:

After browsing through Glen’s collection of young nubiles, clicking on the link titled ‘Glen Canning Multimedia Productions’ takes you to a website that is dominated by the story of Rehtaeh, and her father’s efforts to make the internet a safer place for young women. ‘Help prevent sexual exploitation’ is the central theme of the second site. ‘Check out these fine, young hotties’ seems to be the main message of the first. The transition is jarring, to say the least.

My first email to Canning offered him the benefit of the doubt. I’d hoped either the photos weren’t his or that perhaps he’d developed an understanding of pornification and how it was tied to violence against women and gender inequality — particularly after witnessing what had happened to Rehtaeh. One hour after I sent the email, the more sexualized photos Canning had posted at Model Mayhem had been deleted. Where there were once 12 photos, there now remained only three. Seven hours after I sent the first email, I still haven’t received a response to my query, though it’s clear Canning saw my email and quickly took down the images.

I sent him a second email letting him know I had confirmed the photographs were his and asking whether he’d like to comment. I have not yet received a response. His Model Mayhem account is now closed.

Looking through Canning’s website, I found, to my dismay, that, while he hadn’t responded to Frank Magazine to comment on the images, he did respond to a “troll” who brought it up to him last spring, saying in response:

As a photographer I have done photo shoots with various models; all over 18 or in the presence of their parents (see the galleries below). I don’t hide that fact and never have, it’s up there under my name – Photographer.

This, unfortunately, implies to me that the two young-looking girls might in fact be underage, but had their parents present (which does not, to my mind, make it ok). Canning also posted links to both his Deviant Art gallery and his Model Mayhem gallery at the bottom of the post in order to be transparent and to show that he was not ashamed of these photographs — that he stood behind them as unproblematic.

People change, and it’s possible Canning has changed. These photos were taken almost ten years ago. Ten years ago I dressed up for Halloween as “a burlesque dancer”… Clearly people can learn and change. But I am extremely troubled, at this point, by his active participation in the sexualization and objectification of girls and women and his now-seemingly-contradictory activism on behalf of his daughter.

As I have argued in the past, “consent” is not the only issue when it comes to conversations about exploitation, pornography, dehumanization, sexual violence, and objectification. Even when there is consent, which Canning says there was, pornographic imagery and the objectification of women is very much connected to rape culture as it teaches men and boys that females exist for their pleasure — that we are to-be-looked-at, used, abused, and consumed. Simply because a woman or girl “consents” to this objectification does not change that message. “Consenting” to participate in the sexualization of gang-rape, for example, still sexualizes gang-rape. Sexualizing “consenting” underage girls or girls that appear underage still sexualizes underage girls.

It is this unwillingness to understand and address these connections and realities that allow for rape culture, porn culture, and the global epidemic of violence against women to continue. It is also these kinds of discoveries that make it difficult for feminists to trust and ally with men. It is these kinds of discoveries, in part, that have led me to distrust men who claim the title of “feminist” or who present themselves as leaders in our movement.

Is sexual violence or objectification only unacceptable if it happens to our daughters? Are we unwilling to look at these misogynist phenomena outside a purely individualized framing? Are certain women and girls pornifiable? The ones who “allow” it? Is it ok to objectify some women and girls but not others?

We all desperately need to start making these connections, stop making excuses, and stop compartmentalizing that which is clearly linked if we ever hope to make a dent in the fight against patriarchy and violence against women.

It remains to be seen whether or not Canning will choose to make these connections.* I hope he does.


UPDATE, 01/27/2015: Glen Canning responded to my email with the following comments:

Ten years ago I was a photojournalist for The Halifax Daily News and took on a few modelling jobs on the side. Some were paid and some were done for free. The people in my photos all reached out to me, they are all above age, or had a parent present.

There is nothing evil about it and I’m not sure how to respond to someone who sees that there is. I had no idea a few years later my daughter would be raped and tormented to death and something I enjoyed doing as an innocent hobby would be thrown in my face as if I wasn’t allowed to be outraged and angry.

My activism comes from my heart. I know I am doing the right thing and I sleep with a clear conscience because I know I’m a good man. If I had to wait until every part of my life was approved the men’s rights activists, rape apologists, and misogynists would have chased me away a long time ago.

I hope I’m not offending you but after all I’ve been through it gets tiring.

I hope this clarifies things.



Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.