Lumby, Catharine 1963(?)-

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LUMBY, Catharine 1963(?)-


Born c. 1963. Education: University of Sydney, B.A., Ph.D.


Office—Media & Communications, R. C. Mills Building A26, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia. E-mail—[email protected].


Educator, journalist, and art critic. University of Sydney, Syndey, Australia, associate professor and director of media and communications program. Formerly print journalist, writing for newspapers such as Sydney Morning Herald, Age, and Australian; news reporter for ABC television; adviser to South Australian Equal Opportunity Commissioner. Former lecturer at Macquarie University, Sydney.


Advertising Standards Board.


Harkness fellowship in health-care policy, Commonwealth Fund of New York.


Bad Girls: The Media, Sex, and Feminism in the '90s, Allen & Unwin (St. Leonards, New South Wales, Australia), 1997.

Gotcha: Life in a Tabloid World, Allen & Unwin (St. Leonards, New South Wales, Australia), 1999.

Tim Storrier: The Art of the Outsider, Craftsman House (St. Leonards, New South Wales, Australia), 2000.

Remote Control: New Media, New Ethics, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 2003.


After years working in journalism, Catharine Lumby completed a Ph.D. dissertation on tabloid television and joined the faculty of the University of Sydney. But Lumby, currently director of the university's media and communications program, continues to write for a broad audience and aims for controversy with her complex, contemporary feminist take on the mass media.

Lumby has appeared on television shows expounding upon her ideas and theories about feminism and the world, but she has also appeared in magazines in only a bra and panties. If her antics offend some feminists, the effect is not unintentional; throughout Bad Girls: The Media, Sex, and Feminism in the '90s, Lumby repudiates old-school feminists who hate the media, view women as its victims, and seek censorship to correct its ills. In chapters such as "Feminists, Censors, and Australian Sensibilities" and "Mindless Violence, Loveless Sex, and Family Values," Lumby disputes simplistic and inflammatory arguments on the dangers of television.

In "Why Feminists Need Porn," Lumby points out the sizeable proportion of female porn consumers and argues that feminists have shut their eyes to the diversity of interpretations and uses of porn. Similarly, Lumby more recently has researched teenage girls' media consumption, looking beyond recurrent themes on sexual vulnerability and anorexia to consider young women's agency. No single voice can speak for the diversity of women's desires and goals, though Lumby finds institutional feminism claiming such authority. McKenzie Wark explained in Continuum that, "True to the libertarian political instinct, Lumby is suspicious of the way moralising and normalising discourses, whether feminist or patriarchal, provide legitimating cover for the policing of deviance by the state. As she notes, the application of feminist anti porn policies in Canada has led to seizure of material from gay and lesbian bookshops." In her review of Bad Girls for the Web site This Swirling Sphere, Jayne Margetts concludes, "sure to outrage and catalyse compelling and fierce debate, Catharine Lumby is the new prototype and fire and brimstone avatar for women who are sick of listening to the echoes of the old 'sisterhood.'"

In her second book, Gotcha: Life in a Tabloid World, Lumby examines cases such as the President Clinton—Monica Lewinsky scandal, the death of Princess Diana, and the O. J. Simpson trial, which "is sometimes dismissed as just a voyeuristic story about a terrible killing … [but] is also a very important case about race relations in America, domestic violence, gender politics," as Lumby explained in an interview with Geert Lovink for Critiques on Contemporary Media Moralism

Lumby devotes many pages of her book to legitimating her project of analyzing tabloid media. She points out that the derision of tabloid news and daytime television is simultaneously a dismissal of "women's" news, and she argues that worries about the tabloidization of prime-time news have paralleled the rise of women's prime-time viewership as women have entered the work force. Lumby argues that the distinctions between serious and tabloid, high and lowbrow, are artificial. She recounted to Lovink that, "When I used to work inside parliament as a journalist, I was struck by how stories were put together there, very much like gossip. There would be a rumor, you would call someone to confirm it, they would deny it, but talk to you off the record, thereby adding gossip to gossip. Mostly it is about who likes who. Still, this information is regarded as very important. If you would use the same techniques to bring news about Pamela Anderson's marriage breakdown, it would be seen as the worst form of reporting."

One of the strengths of Lumby's work is that "it is based on first hand experiences of the production end of the media," noted Wark. In addition to working in journalism, Lumby trained in law and, Wark added, "was once a highly regarded art critic," in which role she developed her views on the irony and mutability of various media; Wark stated that Lumby "deviate[d] from straighter paths towards being a lawyer, art critic, journalist, or academic," instead becoming "a postmodern original." Lovink called Lumby "one those rare academic scholars, equipped with the ability to make theory accessible to a broad audience without simplifying or losing any of the points she wants to make."



Continuum, April, 1998, McKenzie Wark, "Bad Girls Do It in Public: Catharine Lumby's Appearances," pp. 83-91.


Critiques on Contemporary Media Moralism, (July 8, 2004), Geert Lovink, interview with Lumby.

This Swirling Sphere, (September 26, 2003), Jayne Margetts, review of Bad Girls: The Media, Sex, and Feminism

University of Sydney Media & Communications Program Web site, (September 26, 2003), "Catharine Lumby."*