Dear Mr Cameron

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.

http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/david-dinsmore-take-the-bare-boobs-out-of-the-sun-nomorepage3

https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/edward-timpson-mp-make-it-illegal-to-display-porn-around-children www.childeyes.org @ChildEyesUK

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17 thoughts on “Dear Mr Cameron

  1. Steve Grout November 23, 2013 / 4:29 pm

    Page 3 isnt porn. You need to get that rather simple fact into your head.

    • Not The News in Briefs November 23, 2013 / 5:51 pm

      A quick check on online dictionaries gives me these definitions : ‘creative activity of no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire’, ‘pictures etc that show or describe naked people in a very open and direct way in order to cause sexual excitement’, ‘softcore generally contains nudity or partial nudity in sexually suggestive situations but not explicit sexual activity’. I’m sure you can find other definitions more suitable for your views, but it is not at all a simple fact as you say. I have been careful to stipulate that the porn is ‘soft’ because I know the argument so well now, that because there is much worse around it means this stops being porn at all. It’s not true, and I suspect you have been desensitised by the harder stuff. The Sun has done a marvellous job in rebranding ‘porn’ as ‘glamour’ and, with respect, you have fallen for it.

      • Steve Grout November 25, 2013 / 12:56 pm

        You jump to lots of conclusions, but given the group you represent, I should not really be that surprised.

        Page 3 does not fit in to the definitions of the word ‘porn’ that you kindly supplied. Your stance seems to be that bare breasts fall into that category, and my stance isnt. I understand that the threshold limits differ from person to person. That is something your campaign really does not get and thus gets by on an existence of drumming it into everybody who will listen, and those who wont, that the existence of Page 3 is more evil than the devil himself. Therefore Stephanie’s comment that The Sun rebranded porn can be viewed as nothing more than an opinion. Its not fact.

        You talk about the Page 3 image being ‘sexually suggestive’. Expression is for me, in the eyes and smile. Pretty much most P3 images are of a smiling girl. I know context is bandied about by your group as one of your top ten words of choice, but by that definition, a girl on a beach smiling in the same way, who is topless, is going to generate the same level of feeling, especially if the girl is perhaps more visually attractive ? It just doesnt work.

        Compare the type of image (dont worry, Im not asking you to directly) that you see on P3 and in the weekly lads mags (which are also as equally inoffensive, but I appreciate thats a different argument), which usually feature the same models. There is a little more intensity in the type of image and then compare again to harder material. You really are talking about three different types.

        Incidentally, you cleverly made an insinuation that I enjoy harder material in order to quantify my alleged desensitization. I will let you into a couple of secrets. Firstly, I dont watch it. Im not a fan of watching people do things to each other or themselves. Just doesnt work for me. I appreciate this may be a surprise and naturally you will make your own mind on whether you choose to believe me or not. I leave it for other people, I dont judge those who do seek it out, I work on the basis they are intelligent enough to make their own choices. I cant say I have come across people in life that are so consumed by it that it takes over their very being. I would probably have more success picking out 1 person in a crowd of 20 who had chips for tea the night before than picking out somebody who is driven by hardcore imagery.

        I perhaps need to quantify my so called conditioning in order to get across my way of thinking to you. I was bought up with my parents and 4 sisters and we are all within 5 years of each other in age (two of my sisters are twins). We lived in Devon, by the beach in a small house. We were all bought up with healthy attitudes and respect to the human body, and growing up in an environment where seeing bodies everywhere was the norm, it contributed to a maturer attitude. Funnily enough, its since moving away from there, I have seen the extreme ends of the spectrum where people are disgusted by any sighting of the human body to instances where boys at school would pass around adult magazines (it was never Page 3, funnily enough).

        I very rarely buy any paper, and if I do its rarely The Sun. Like most (if not all of your campaign group, I dont read it). On the occasion I do see it, I look at Page 3. I suspect most men do, even if they dont admit it. The female human body has always had a degree of admiration over history – the painted designs on US aircraft in the war for instance. Its easy to apply a degree of snobbery over looking at a girl in a low rent paper, but for those watching at home, most of us are intelligent enough to be able to do this and not apply a negative attitude on women they encounter in life, be they family, colleagues, someone who gets on the same train, pass by on the street or whatever

        This has turned into a much longer response than I ever would have first envisaged, but I vigorously oppose this campaign of yours. Both the comments here, levied at me indirectly suggest I am ‘harmed’ by Page 3, which I find really quite offensive. I get the impression that Page 3’s elimination would deliver you a utopia. In the unlikely event of this happening, you would only be setting yourself up for major disappointment.

      • weareunfinished November 25, 2013 / 8:18 pm

        The dictionary definition says it all. Page 3 is clearly intended to be sexually gratifying to a proportion of the Sun’s readership. And as you say Helen, that’s adult content that does not belong in a newspaper, which is accessible to children. Again today, I had the misfortune to sit next to someone on the tube reading the Sun, openly. I did not to share his morning porn with him. David Cameron’s turn the page tip is useless.

    • Abi November 25, 2013 / 8:56 pm

      Steve Grout – page 3 is hardly representative or all-encompassing beauty, its not something you’d want to show your grandmother and it certainly isn’t published for an audience of loving admirers. You can label it however you want – yet as we have seen from the hundreds of thousands of people who support NMP3 it isn’t unoffensive and it has no place in a family newspaper.

    • John December 27, 2013 / 1:04 pm

      This is tricky, is it inappropriate and is it offensive? Feels like two separate but overlapping questions. It’s hard to see how we could regard a semi-naked woman as ‘appropriate’ without the clout of ‘newspaper’ behind it. Arguments about freedom press, freedom of speech etc. can all be invoked as defence when such an image appears in a newspaper but it would be hard to defend it otherwise.
      As to whether these images are offensive, I think this is far more subjective. Like Steve pointed out we needn’t be shocked by the human body: God knows enough women get enough bother about breast feeding in public that we can be safely assured that there will always be people who are appalled to see breasts, regardless of context. However, the context and the intentions of the viewer of an image are very different to the context surrounding a woman breast feeding in public.
      Perhaps some page 3 enthusiasts are looking for more aesthetically lofty reasons but my impressions of page 3 as a teenager were far from lofty. I liked the semi-naked girl because she was semi-naked, I’d agree I much preferred to see them smiling, it made you feel like they were OK with the picture.
      The thing is as I grew up I realised that her attitude to the picture wasn’t all that mattered. Because these images appear in a national newspaper everyone can, and often do, see them. It can make many people uncomfortable and I have to admit I’m not looking forward to explaining them to my sons when they (inevitably) come across them as there is no doubt in my mind about the reasons for page 3 images. To be honest I’d rather not explain porn (even if it is extremely soft-core) to my five year old son. I’m not being prudish here, I have no problem explaining where babies come from, I just don’t think he’ll be able to understand the nature of desire yet, it’s just too emotionally advanced for a 5 year old to understand properly.
      Put simply page 3 is just a simple way to guarantee a sale to guys who enjoy a bit of publicly sanctioned titillation (sorry couldn’t resist the pun) on their commute/lunch break. Take away page 3 and you get a sensationalist newspaper that would be unlikely to appeal to quite the same extent. We can try and pretend otherwise but we’d just be fooling ourselves. Would we be OK with male models showing themselves off in a national newspaper (even if they kept their trousers on) in a similarly sexualised manner? Some would and some wouldn’t but it would no doubt spark a similar debate.

  2. stephaniedaviesarai November 25, 2013 / 9:50 am

    Brilliant response Helen. The Sun unilaterally rebranded porn as ‘glamour’ in 1970 so they could put it in the newspaper and the number of people who now believe that Page 3 is ‘not porn’ just shows the power of 43 years of conditioning.

  3. rosietallant November 25, 2013 / 10:19 am

    I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head there when you mention those boys’ sense of entitlement. Page 3 (along with other aspects of our society) raises boys to think they have ownership of womens’ bodies and that they have the right to view them as and when they please. I see this sense of entitlement everyday, in the men who shout at me in the street, in the teenage boys who stare at me on the bus. It is not a healthy attitude for our boys and men to have and it cannot lead to healthy, respectful relationships. We have to end this.

    • Steve Grout November 25, 2013 / 12:57 pm

      Thats not entitlement, thats just rudeness.

      • weareunfinished November 25, 2013 / 8:24 pm

        And that’s just semantics Steve – entitlement or rudeness, whichever word you choose, it still doesn’t make it right

  4. Ian November 25, 2013 / 11:33 am

    The ‘conditioning’ here is surely the couple of thousand odd years that both men and women in our society have been taught that breasts are special, sacred parts of the body? There are, and have been, societies in the world where open display of breasts is as normal as open display of, say, arms. I imagine Page 3 wouldn’t have as much appeal in a society like this.

    This social conditioning can be seen in the reaction of those boys at the end of the article – they already realise that breasts are some ‘special’ part of the body they’re not allowed to see but, as boys, should want to see. It can also be seen in the reason the Sun are willing to print Page 3 – men will buy it because all of them have been taught that breasts are special. It can also be seen in the writer’s assertion that printing pictures of breasts devalues women more than printing pictures of arms. All of these reactions have been taught to us by our society.

    If we wish to achieve equality, we cannot have a society that treats the display of women’s bodies any differently to the display of men’s bodies, for any reason. So, while we can say Page 3 is wrong because it builds on an existing inequality (the idea that women’s chests are more special than men’s chests, or that men should be titillated by the thought of them, but not vice versa), Page 3 isn’t wrong just because it displays breasts. Page 3 is a symptom of a bigger problem/inequality which nobody wants to really fix/make equal.

    The idea that printing pictures of naked breasts is more bad, demeaning, wrong, immoral or ‘harmful to children’ than printing pictures of naked arms only contributes to inequality, and increases the sexualisation of women compared to men.

    • scattyhattie February 26, 2014 / 7:41 pm

      I’d recommend Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman’ to you if you haven’t already come across it (don’t be put off by the title), there’s a brilliant section on what’s right and wrong when it comes to pornography and the sexualisation of women.
      ARE THEY HAVING FUN? (highly debatable) IS IT DOMINATED BY ONE SEX? (yes, only females for male satisfaction) CAN YOU SEE THE PERSONALITY? ((being told to smile while a photographer takes pictures of your bare chest sadly does not equate to personality) models are largely interchangeable, this objectifies them as they are seen as nothing more than vehicles for the pleasure of the reader))
      Also, it’s important to note the fact that this view of naked breasts being ‘immoral’ or ‘wrong’ is directly a result of a patriarchal society and a concept that has been internalised over the course of thousands of years. The fact that the fetishisation of breasts is wrong is kinda irrelevant – pretending as though they aren’t seen as sexual doesn’t detract from the nature of the photos. The sad truth is that they ARE seen as sexual and therefore the aim of the feature is clear. I know this was not your point, but if The Sun really was a true movement for female liberation and desired to reduce social emphasis on breasts, I can’t help but feel the feature would look wholly different.

  5. stephaniedaviesarai November 25, 2013 / 1:43 pm

    Biologically, breasts serve two purposes. One is feeding babies. Breasts are also a secondary sexual characteristic, humans are the only mammals who have them. As it is possible to breast-feed a baby with a so-called ‘flat chest’ (even men have been known to produce milk) the development of breasts is accepted to be for the purpose of sexual attraction, and their shape is designed to be sexually stimulating – much as the shape of a baby’s face is designed by nature to provoke feelings of love and nuturing.
    It is not just social conditioning which leads us to view breasts in this way, it is nature’s design, and neither right or wrong. In primitive societies living in hot countries breasts (and genitals for that matter) are far more on display and desensitisation leads to a lack of fixation on them as sexual characteristics.
    I think you’re right that in this particular culture (and especially with Page 3) we fetishise breasts to a ridiculous degree, but we can’t deny that they are a secondary sexual characteristic and are therefore seen differently to a man’s chest and other body parts.

  6. Judith Anderson November 25, 2013 / 4:25 pm

    Last week a shop assistant told me loads of school lads come in just to have a look through The Sport . That is disgusting I told her to put it high up and back to front like the Co op until they stopped stocking it

  7. Not The News in Briefs November 25, 2013 / 6:54 pm

    Steve Grout – in reply to your long post above : I don’t ‘represent’ any group, all opinions are my own. Your comparison with girls on the beach is interesting, because actually girls on the beach DON’T smile in that way, nor do they pose like that – you’ve just proved my point that Page 3 is sexualised. The freedom to go topless on the beach is fab, and would be taken up by more women if Page 3 etc hadn’t made them feel too self conscious about their breasts. The point is that sunbathing topless is not a sexually motivated act, bare breasts on Page 3 is. Thanks for pointing that out.
    Please don’t patronise me by saying ‘don’t worry, I’m not asking you to directly’, regarding porn. You have no idea how much porn I have seen, of what level, or what I thought of it, so do not make assumptions.
    I’m glad for you that you think your upbringing ‘contributed to a maturer attitude’ but I don’t see the evidence of it. Your first comment on this blog was disrespectful and arrogant and you’re lucky I let it through and gave you a voice on here. I have seen previous comments of yours on other blogs and had you down as a troll. You do not join the debate, you are just rude and offensive. The last comment I had from you on a previous blog of mine (which I didn’t let through) was just one word, and that word was ‘horseshit’.
    Now I’m sorry if you feel you have been unfairly accused of being ‘harmed’ by our Page 3 culture, but if it wasn’t that and it wasn’t your upbringing, what exactly IS it that makes you so disrespectful and dismissive towards women who are speaking out about a subject that has genuinely affected them?

  8. weareunfinished December 1, 2013 / 9:47 pm

    Ah great timing Helen, I’ve just added a link into my new piece to send people here for more background! Thanks again for this great piece of writing.

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