Dear Mr Cameron
I note your views about the difference between soft porn in newspapers and the more hard core variety to be found on the internet :http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/nov/22/david-cameron-page-3?CMP=twt_fd. I agree with you that children need to be protected from the more extreme and upsetting subject matter that they can ‘stumble across’ whilst searching for other things, because they are children and some of these images can be traumatising, even to adults. Children are not equipped to deal with such subject matter and it is right to attempt to limit their accidental exposure to it.
However, I disagree with your views about pornographic images of women in newspapers, such as the Sun’s Page 3. Your assertion that parents can control their children’s access to these images has been proved wrong time and time again by all the testimonies from contributors to the NoMorePage3 campaign, the Child Eyes campaign, Page 3 Stories and the Everyday Sexism project. Women, and men, keep telling you that they cannot control their children’s access to Page 3 porn, because it is found everywhere that you would expect to find a newspaper – cafes, takeaways, hotels, public transport…I’m sure you’ve heard all this before. It cannot be emphasised enough that it is BECAUSE IT IS IN A NEWSPAPER that we have no control over it. We cannot demand that someone stops reading a NEWSPAPER! You yourself used the NEWSPAPER defence when replying to Caroline Lucas’s request that the Sun should not be available on the parliamentary estate while it continues to display naked women. OF COURSE you have a right to read all the NEWSPAPERS, anyone suggesting differently must be anti-democratic. So, just as a woman at work (even an MP) has no control over whether or not she views porn in her working day, so it is with parents sitting with their children next to a Sun reader on the bus, or in the cafe. The newspapers, and freedom of the press in a free society, are sacrosanct, and we as women and children are powerless against it.
As I said, I think you’ve heard all these arguments before, so let me try a different tack. If, as you yourself has said, parents should just ‘turn the page’ when children are around, there is some agreement here that the images are unsuitable for children, and potentially damaging. This is, after all, why we have the watershed on television, to protect children from subject matter they are not equipped to deal with. Parents who ignore the protection put in place by society, and let their children stay up all night watching inappropriate material, are widely seen as not doing their job properly. I would say that parents who buy the Sun, and leave it lying around the family home, are equally failing in their duty, but they can do this with impunity BECAUSE IT IS A NEWSPAPER. I know I keep emphasising this, but it really is the main point….
So, as I’m sure you can see, the problem becomes not just one of what your own children are growing up to find normal, but what other people’s children are internalising and learning from. You are aware I know of many recent reports charting the relationship between the sexualisation and objectification of women in the media and the legitimising and normalising of discrimination and violence against women. (See the UK CEDAW report on the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women of April 2013, the Bailey Sexualisation of Young People Review of 2010 and the Leveson report and recommendations of 2012 if you’d forgotten about these).
My argument against Page 3 then is not so much to do with the harm caused to children by accidental viewing of pornographic material. Page 3 is tame compared to what is available on the internet, and most children are not going to be severely traumatised by glancing at a pair of breasts in their neighbour’s newspaper on the bus. They are, however, likely to grow up with some strongly reinforced messages about what it means to be a woman, and what is valued about women, in the society they have been born into. This is damaging for all of us, but particularly women. The policeman who deals with your rape allegation, the jurors at your trial and the journalists who report on it are all to some extent conditioned by the norms of the society they grew up in, and if this includes a daily dose of scantily-clad, always up for it, tits-out-for-the-lads view of women, then this does not promote equality for women within the law. The earlier in life this becomes your blueprint, the more danger there is of you being brainwashed, and that is what, for me, is the main problem with our Page 3 culture.
Here’s a little anecdote to end with …
During the NoMorePage3 43rd birthday peaceful protest in Brighton last weekend I was approached by two 10-year old boys. They asked me why I wanted rid of Page 3, and seemed genuinely interested in my reply. I told them about the inequality fostered by the oversexualised portrayal of women in the press, and a little about how that makes girls feel, and about the context of it being freely available in a newspaper. I spoke to them respectfully and they listened intently. Then, when I’d finished, they looked at eachother and smirked a bit. One of them then explained to me, carefully, as though to an idiot, that the Sun was CHEAPER than buying a magazine, and they were only schoolboys so they couldn’t afford to spend any more money on pictures like that…DUH! They departed, giggling, and I was left feeling like the idiot they’d taken me for. I think these boys’ sense of entitlement to a woman’s body at such a young age is deeply troubling, but it is the attitude engendered by Page 3 and its ilk, and in that sense is hardly surprising.
What do you think, Mr Cameron? Do you still think that parents can control their children’s access to newspaper porn? Do you still think it’s a problem primarily for children? And at what age does it become ‘appropriate’ to objectify women?
I look forward to your considered response.
Yours respectfully etc etc.