Poldark, Prostitution and Protein World

In recent weeks several public conversations and debates have taken place on subjects that primarily affect women and girls: objectification, body-shaming, the sex trade…the usual suspects. A new way of minimising the harm of these practices for women seems to have emerged, in the form of claiming they are all gender-neutral, or at least ignoring the aspect of gender, and therefore erasing the equality issue. It’s been done before of course, notably in regard to domestic violence (brilliantly dismissed as an argument by Karen Ingala Smith here), but as a way of silencing feminist debate it seems to be growing in popularity: #NotallMen is being joined by #Don’tForgetTheMen! Men who want us to recognise that they are not *all* bad also want us to believe that they share *equally* in the oppression.

First there was the Student Sex Work Project by Swansea University. This study, based on a self-selecting online questionnaire, found that there was parity between male and female students doing ‘sex work’ and that this should have implications for the services provided to offer support to these students. There was a lot wrong with this survey, primarily to do with the methods used and the stated aims – unsurprisingly it concluded that ‘stigma’ was one of the most significant downsides of the work (as opposed to, say, threat of violence), and, more surprisingly, that ‘sexual enjoyment’ was one of the motivations to go into the trade. This is much less surprising when you note that significantly more male than female students had responded to the survey with a positive response to the question of whether or not they were involved in ‘sex work’ and that the definition of ‘sex work’ included porn acting. A lack of scepticism over this blatantly unrealistic result further discredited the project findings and, bar a couple of newspaper reports, it sank without trace.

Except that Ally Fogg picked up on it, and wrote an article highlighting the statistic of ‘male student sex workers’ and helpfully linking to another report that showed that 42% of ‘sex workers’ are male. This report relied on data from an internet site advertising adult services, and the 42% referred to the number of ads featuring men. Looking more closely though, the actual response to these ads was negligible compared to the responses to the female advertisers, and therefore the men could be seen to be ‘fishing’ rather than actually engaging in the sex industry. As with the students in the first study, it is tempting to point out that there is a certain branch of male thought which holds that to be a porn actor or ‘sex worker’ would be the perfect job – the envy of all your mates!- and possibly there are many men trying to get into the trade by advertising themselves. It doesn’t mean there is corresponding demand for their services. Ally Fogg was happy though to report on these statistics uncritically. He also does not engage with the question of who is buying the sex from the men who are involved in the sex trade, and in fact the title of his piece: ‘Britain’s Student Gigolos’ gives the impression that the customers are women when clearly they are predominantly men. (To be fair, when I pointed this out to him he agreed it was misleading but said that the title was not his. He couldn’t do anything about it. Bit lame though).

At the recent debate at Conway Hall in London: ‘Buying and Selling Sex’, almost every aspect of the argument for and against the sex trade was explored before the subject of gender came up, almost as though it was rude or inappropriate to mention it. When it was suggested by Niki Adams of the English Collective of Prostitutes that the current austerity measures have made it more necessary for women to enter the sex trade out of desperation, to feed their children, I wondered why this was not also true for men. All over the world in every different society and every social class there are women forced into prostitution. Correspondingly, all over the world in every different society and every social class there are men who can afford to buy sex. It’s not hard to detect a pattern. The small percentage of male prostitutes mostly serve other males, so although they may well experience a power imbalance due to age or race, there is not the power imbalance due to gender that women face, and therefore it is not always helpful to women to include male prostitutes in the analysis of their particular problems. If you persist in saying ‘but men too’ in trying to make the subject gender neutral, I would turn the question round and ask instead why women, as a rule, do not buy sex? That is something which would be hard to talk about without mentioning gender. The answers may seem obvious to some but that’s not usually a reason to refrain from asking the question.

And then there’s objectification. The Poldark phenomenon hit the headlines a couple of weeks ago, and was discussed on Woman’s Hour with guest Martin Daubney, presumably because the article he wrote on male objectification for the Telegraph makes him an expert. Women have apparently been ‘perving’ over Aidan Turner’s naked torso in the BBC series Poldark, and according to Daubney this is exactly the same as the objectification that women have always experienced, but, because objectification is everywhere now, we should all just learn to deal with it. Men can deal with it you see, but women can’t. Men are ‘bigger than that’, despite the fact that they are objectified EVEN MORE than women now.

As if to prove him right, up pops the Protein World ad and up jump the women to complain about it! If only we could learn to deal with objectification like men have done eh…? But no: there are protests and petitions and vandalism all over the place instead. And, helpfully, another piece by Ally Fogg (in which, even more helpfully, he links us to that previous piece by, you’ve guessed it, Martin Daubney!) These two are spoiling us at the moment!

This piece pays a brief bit of lip-service to the fact that there might be reasons for men and women to respond differently to objectification (in a nutshell: it’s been going on for a long time so women are sick of it!), but largely once again men apparently do it better. For Daubney it’s all about the ability to ‘grow up’ and take it on the chin, whereas for Fogg the emphasis is on the very real political and social changes men have suffered, which gives them more of an excuse than women if they respond negatively to objectification: either way they’re exonerated compared to women, who inexplicably tend to do things like ‘peevishly whinge to Everyday Sexism’.

What is missing from these smug accounts of male superiority is any sense of the context in which these objectifying images appear and impact on women’s lives. So here’s a handy guide:

  • Historical context. Under patriarchy women throughout history have had to bend towards what men want of them in order to survive. Many laws and social rules have existed to keep women dependant, so that pleasing a man was the only option available. What men have always needed from women is sex and babies, so women have always been defined by, and valued for, their biology. The march towards equality consists for a large part in challenging this narrow definition of women in order that we can be seen and respected as full human beings, equal to men. Objectified images of women reinforce the old order and remind women of their ‘place’. They remind men of women’s ‘place’ as well. Objectified images of men carry no such meaning.
  • Social context. Sexually objectified images of women exist in a culture where sex crimes are overwhelmingly enacted against women and almost exclusively perpetrated by men. Many men enjoy the idea of being objectified by women: it might mean they’ll get more sex! Many women are unsettled by being sexually objectified by men: it might mean we’ll get raped. Studies confirm what most women know instinctively: that viewing sexualised images has an impact on a man’s ability to see real women as full human beings, with, for example, the right to say no. So this background wallpaper of images in our lives can encourage attitudes and behaviours which come under the general heading of ‘thinking with your dick’ – the impact of which is not usually positive for women.
  • Media context. Media representation of men is varied, like men themselves. The oiled six-pack image is one choice amongst many for men to aspire to or identify with. If that’s not you then you could look to the nerd, the skinny rock star, the many types of sportsmen, politicians, TV stars, actors or business leaders who are successful role models whilst coming in a variety of different sizes, shapes, colours and ages. For women there is no such embarrassment of choice. We live with a media saturated with images of young, slim, white, large-breasted hotties, and the small percentage of media attention paid to other kinds of women (Older women! Black women! Successful women!) are often accompanied by criticism due to the lack of the preferred attributes mentioned. In advertising 95% of objectified images are of women. By contrast 95% of sports coverage in the media is of men’s sport: it’s not just a question of the images we see all around us, but of the images we don’t see. This is not true for male representation in the media.
  • Physical context. Women’s physical shape is much more diverse than men’s. Most of the arguments I have read assume that because the Protein World ad model is thin, the protesters must be fat, otherwise what’s their problem? But actually it’s the shape of the currently fashionable media woman of choice that is more important. It used to be that women had ‘vital statistics’ (ah, the good old days of objectification!). It was considered that a figure measuring 36-26-36 was the ideal: that meant you had a bust, some hips and a waist, and although not perfect in terms of being seen as a full human being, it did at least allow you to have a whole body. That changed over the years (and I blame the Sun’s Page 3 and the lads mags for this), until women were classified by individual body parts alone, particularly their breasts. Now we get ‘Debbie from Manchester, 32EE’- not just measurement but cup size too. And that’s important because the emphasis on the fullness of the breast has led to a corresponding reduction in the size of the back (I suppose because breasts look bigger on a smaller frame). The Protein World model, like most of the Page 3 models, has a tiny ribcage supporting relatively large breasts, and although this might be natural in the model’s case, it certainly isn’t in the main population. Analysis of the range of Page 3 model body statistics done for the NoMorePage3 campaign showed that the currently desirable shape is unachievable for 95% of the female population. It is clearly impossible to achieve for those of us who have a pear shape, an apple shape, a straight up and down shape or a wide ribcage, whatever weight we are. It is not an image which exists to inspire women to get fit and lose weight, it is designed to make as many women as possible feel bad about themselves so that they will buy your product. I would go further and say that it’s a type of image that might inspire girls to go on crash diets and then have breast enhancement surgery, neither of which are healthy choices. Sometimes I stop what I am doing in my day and wonder how many teenage girls at that particular moment in time have suddenly come to the gut-wrenching and devastating realisation that as they continue to lose weight their breasts get smaller too! (I feel for you girls…) It’s cruel to demand both skinniness AND large breasts for the ideal body shape, it’s a huge stroke of luck to have both and nothing to do with ‘working for it’. You can see why anorexia or obesity might be a solution for some young women, to escape the endless conflicting demands made on their bodies. Needless to say, this is a conflict that does not exist for men. It would be like having a continual barrage of images exhorting you to lose weight, but knowing that if you did your penis would shrink.
  • And finally, yes: it’s been going on forever and we’re sick of it.

But do you know what I’m also sick of? I’m sick of being misrepresented as a woman and as a feminist by men just trying to score cheap points for their own gender off the back of women’s protest. Writers who should be intelligent enough to analyse and understand the bigger picture, and even have some human empathy, or at least imagination, to inform their judgement, are instead characterising women as moaning whinging jealous losers who just need to grow up a bit. Martin Daubney, as a former editor of Loaded, used to get paid to misrepresent women in pictures: now he’s getting paid to misrepresent women in words. But it is this final paragraph from Ally Fogg that hit me the hardest:

Boys do not need to be shielded from aspirational or sexualised images, they need to be secure that they have a meaningful role in society beyond zero-hours contracts, the call-centre and brief respite in the gym. They need to feel like they have more to offer the world than a perfect set of abs. Achieving all that will take more than removing a poster from the Underground.

Because, you know, God forbid that anyone should show that amount of empathy for a woman. Try substituting girls for boys and breasts for abs in that paragraph, and you have the perfect illustration of how it is for girls. Only a hundred times more so.

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Happy Birthday No More Page 3 !

Not The News in Briefs

I wrote this blog a whole year ago, to celebrate the first birthday of the NoMorepage3 Campaign and the diversity of its supporters. Whilst I would rather there not be the need for a second birthday, this year there is even more to celebrate. Signatures stand at over 200,000, the campaign has attracted support from many more politicians, including Ed Milliband, more and more groups and associations, such as the Girls Brigade and Mumsnet have added their voices, and the media coverage has grown and grown. On top of that, the Sun’s Irish edition has dropped the Page3 feature, and, despite increasingly desperate efforts at promotion such as the misguided CheckemTuesday feature and the failed World Cup giveaway, sales of the Sun have been decreasing all year.The NoMorePage3 Campaign has sponsored some fantastic women sports stars: Cheltenham Town Ladies FC, Nottingham Forest Ladies FC and Scottish mountain biking champion Lee…

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An Object of Beauty is still an Object

Debating on behalf of the No More Page3 campaign can sometimes feel like a thankless task, but it certainly helps to hone your opinions and arguments when you are constantly challenged on your beliefs. I have been thinking lately about the argument that comes up time and time again about women who oppose Page3 as being ugly, bitter harridans, jealous of the models’ looks because they are not beautiful enough to be models themselves. This is in fact one of the most popular points of view expressed by opponents of the campaign, and it always makes me ponder, because a) it is one of the most popular points of view expressed by opponents of the campaign, and b) I am *actually* not beautiful enough to be a model myself. So – maybe they have a point…?

Well, except no…

I have thought carefully about whether or not I appreciate beauty enough, and whether my own lack of the required standard might influence my views. When I am told repeatedly by Page3 fans that it is a question of  ‘seeing, valuing and celebrating women’s beauty and sexuality’, it can make me feel a bit churlish for not joining the party, for miserably finding the whole premise problematic. Because the real question is not whether some women are ugly and therefore jealous of other women who are beautiful, it’s the fact that we are framing women in these terms at all. Hordes of people, as far as I know, aren’t spending all night on Twitter defending and arguing about MALE beauty. Beauty is a concept, and it is a concept which has traditionally been identified with the female, but it is still only a concept, divorced from a real human being. There have always been women famous for their beauty, from Helen of Troy onwards, and the idea of beauty being a female attribute which is desirable above all others has permeated art, literature and history throughout the ages. Conversely, and famously, Anne of Cleves was too ugly for Henry VIII to bear consummating his marriage to her. Female beauty is very very important. You don’t want to be one of the ugly ones.

When modern men talk about their right to look at beautiful sexy women, there is often the claim (the excuse) that this is a natural urge which historically men have always had, and that to go against it is somehow to go against nature itself. The argument is that men are hardwired to want to look at sexy women, to the point that it is cruel and unnatural to attempt to restrict their access by, say, removing a daily picture in a newspaper. Fair enough if you believe that, but to these men I say that in order for you to assert your ‘natural’ sexual characteristics, a woman often has to repress hers. It is not ‘natural’ for a woman to be an object: she may take the role in order to please a man, or to earn some money, but she is not ‘hardwired’ to do it. It is not ‘natural’ female sexuality to pose passively and obediently and to subsume her own desires in favour of the male’s. In the past the male of the species has been capable, I believe, of mating with a female without the benefit of readily-accessible images to feed his desire, despite all this talk of hardwiring and male ‘needs’.

What is undoubtedly natural is for people to fancy eachother and to want to have sex with eachother. Everything else is culturally determined, and therefore organised according to the prevalent beliefs of the day: homosexual and mixed-race relationships, adultery, monogamy, polygamy, covering up, letting it all hang out, being a ‘slut’ or a ‘prude’… all these ideas are invented and policed by the societies we live in, and are therefore changeable. The same goes for beauty and desirability: there is not one gold standard that men simply can’t resist, and there never has been. There are well-known examples of the lengths some cultures have gone to in order to constrain women’s lives with extreme and dangerous ideals of desirability: the Chinese practice of foot-binding, some African and Asian societies’ elongating neck rings, and the practice of female genital mutilation are all examples of the ways in which women have been forced to conform to a damaging ideal in order to be attractive to a potential husband. I’m guessing that the men who claim that their love of Page3 is only natural male behaviour are not ALSO lusting after the above examples of beauty. That will be because it’s not natural, it’s culturally conditioned.

In our own culture the beautiful, sexy, desirable attributes of women have been commodified to the point where often the real woman is left behind. Whereas Cleopatra for example was a woman *renowned for* her beauty (that is, a woman first), today Page 3 gives us the beauty without the woman: beauty (or ‘hotness’) has become an end in itself and the individual has been erased. Tina, 19, from Weymouth, doesn’t really exist, she’s become the sum of her parts, interchangeable with other young women who fit the template. This ‘ideal’ is as manufactured as the other examples of female beauty mentioned above. Today’s beautiful women are constrained by the need to be waxed and groomed to acceptable modern standards, to the point where there is a widely held disgust for natural female body hair even for those women (the majority) who are not in the beauty business. The ‘correct’ body type has been selected and repeatedly refined so that it now rules out 95% of women. Cosmetic surgery and invasive procedures are acceptable and promoted, so that the idea of cutting a body up for the sake of beauty is becoming normalised. The boob job has replaced foot-binding as the acceptable face of female bodily mutilation in the quest for desirability.

When certain sexist men take up the subject of FGM as their feminist cause celebre, I can’t help feeling that they do so partly because they don’t stand to lose anything by it. It is not their culture so it is not their sexual ideal that is being challenged. When they use the FGM issue to throw ridicule on the NoMorePage3 campaign, as Neil Wallis, former deputy editor of the Sun, is fond of doing, I am even more suspicious. At the risk of generating a few ”NMP3ers say Page3 causes FGM!!!” headlines, I would say there is a link between cultures which are prescriptive about the representation of female sexuality to the point where surgical procedures are a normal part of the picture. The more that men like Neil Wallis insist upon their right to view photos of slim, large-breasted, airbrushed, photoshopped, clear-skinned and glossy-haired young white women every day over their morning coffee, the more they are encouraging the view that to attain acceptable standards of beauty today a little bit of surgery might be needed. But to acknowledge that possibility would be to risk losing the privilege of access to your particular sexual preferences.

What starts off looking like a celebration of female beauty and sexuality quite clearly becomes an issue of power and control when challenged, and in a culture plastered with a wallpaper of sexualised images of women it is hard to stand up and be the ‘ugly’ one. When I argue against Page 3 I am quite sure I am not arguing against beauty. To ‘celebrate’ women by erasing what makes them unique and insisting they conform to an increasingly narrow ideal is to promote their object-ness, and as a woman myself I’ve always had the radical idea that I am human.  I love beauty as much as the next person, but an object of beauty is still an object.

 

 

 

Page 3 on a Train

I got a lot of flack last week for taking a photo of a man reading Page 3 on a train, and then posting the photo on social media. Even though the Sun reader himself wasn’t in the photo: it was just the newspaper splayed across his knees open at Page 3, a few people took exception to the ‘invasion of a stranger’s privacy’ and accused me of public harassment and of spying on a member of the public. The state of my mental health has also come under question several times. Personally, I was pleased with the photo: I thought it captured that moment very well where a man *gets on a train, sits next to a random woman and displays a soft porn image right in front of her face*. I thought I might call the photo ”If You Don’t Like It Don’t Buy It”, in a kind of ironic way, because OF COURSE it proves the point that Page 3 can be, and is, seen by people who have not chosen to view it. Actually I was quite lucky that this experience, which many of us have had so many times, happened to me at a time when a) I had my camera phone with me, and b) I was feeling confident and bolshy enough to use it. The Sun reader didn’t even notice. Too busy looking at tits I expect.

Page 3 on a train

Anyway, the usual arguments ensued – is it porn, isn’t it porn, why does it matter etc etc, and that pejorative word ‘offended’ kept being used, as in: ‘Just because you’re OFFENDED by the sight of a pair of tits, it doesn’t give you the right to blah blah blah..’ Hot on the heels of the ‘offended’ word often comes the advice to JUST look the other way, ignore it, grow up, get a grip… and if you’re really lucky the trusty old Diet-Coke-Man and David-Beckham-in-his-pants examples are trotted out to show that men get it too but they’re just better at dealing with it than us. More mature. Less insecure. Less easily ‘offended’. What really IS the problem with catching sight of Page 3 on a train? How IS that offensive?

Well I agree that all else being equal, and, say, the history of misogyny not being what it is, and gender relations not being a bit one-sided, then it would be a bit of an over-reaction to get all hot and  bothered about one picture of a topless woman accidentally glimpsed in a public place. But however much you try to invoke the image of a kind of delicate Victorian sensibility, blushing and fanning and reaching for the smelling salts at the sight of a nipple, the fact is that there is a historical context to female sexual objectification which gives it a meaning, and there are valid reasons why a woman might find it genuinely threatening to come across soft porn in a public place. A lot of men understand this and would not wish to be the source of a strange woman’s discomfort or embarrassment, but there are some that persist in minimising the problem, based on the fact that they were once unsettled by a picture of a hunk on the front of Men’s Health magazine, and GOT OVER IT.

These men remind me of the worst kind of white tourist, who feels entitled to say, after a two week safari holiday in Kenya, that they REALLY UNDERSTAND racism now, and how it feels to be in a minority ethnic group, and what THEY’D do when faced with a racist slur, would be to just ignore it, work at feeling good about yourself, nobody can MAKE you feel bad unless you let them…

Or the kind of government minister who, for a gimmick, spends a week living on benefits, and comes out feeling able to give advice on how to choose cheap fresh ingredients (it’s not that difficult!) and cook from scratch, in order to make the budget go further…

Or the girl in Pulp’s ‘Common People’ who fancies a bit of rough for a while, but never has to ‘watch her life slide out of view’ because at the end of the day Daddy’s there to bail her out…

So, that’s what I think of you, you men who think women are overreacting, making it up, being over sensitive or insecure – I think for a start that you’d have to experience a lifetime of being underrepresented except as a sexual object, frequently marginalised in other roles; as well as an awareness of your physical weakness compared to the opposite sex, and a whole load of rape and violence statistics that weren’t in your favour. And because breasts are the sexual feature that women are judged on by size, you’d have to see MASSIVE COCKS  every day in the newspaper, and frequently encounter women rating you on the size of yours and making it the butt of their jokes.

And if you don’t experience that, or you don’t possess enough empathy to be able to imagine it, then you are just a tourist in the world of sexual objectification, and at the end of the day you know you can always go home. Why not take the train?

 

If you don’t want to see Page 3 on a train you can sign the petition here

Why Page 3 is Porn and Why That Matters

When you take it upon yourself to argue in favour of the No More page 3 Campaign, there are a few things that come up time and time again from detractors keen to defend their daily dose of soft porn. And one of the most frequent claims is that it’s not porn at all. This is interesting because it suggests that defenders (as I will now be calling them) think of porn as a bad thing, or at least as something that will be perceived as a bad thing, and they do not want to be associated with defending a bad thing. This is understandable, as the porn in question is available daily in the public space where it intrudes upon people who do not wish to see it, AND, crucially, children are exposed to it. Nobody wants to defend something that puts children and porn into the same sentence, do they?

A quick hike through some online dictionaries gives us a few different definitions of porn :

  • 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

Seems to me like those definitions might describe Page 3…

It is clear that Page 3 occupies the ‘soft’ end of the spectrum, but it is also clear that it is part of a continuum which has at its other end the really nasty hardcore gonzo stuff, and that it is this association which the defenders want to distance themselves from.

So, if it’s not porn what is it…?

I am frequently told that it is a celebration of beauty, and of female sexuality, and it is the admiration of these things that draws the fans. In order to distance themselves from the more grubby pornographic wank-fodder aspect of things, some fans wax lyrical about the beauty, bravery (?) and sexual freedom Page 3 represents, with the models as some sort of crusading heroines of repressed female sexuality, doing us all a favour with their body confidence and free spirit paving the way for sexual equality…

That’s just rubbish of course. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder sure enough, but for me it is always rooted in humanity. And the thing that makes these pictures porn rather than beauty is the lack of a human personality. If you were to ask someone to imagine a Page 3 picture most people would be able to come up with a picture in their mind, and most of these pictures would be remarkably similar. The models themselves have undoubtedly got various differing personalities but we are never allowed to see them on page 3. The whole point of the photos is to provide a blank canvas for fantasy, and this they do very well. The models have to fit a rather narrow stereotype of the currently fashionable body-shape, but other than that they could be anyone. They are interchangeable because they are not allowed any character of their own. This is de-humanising, and it is hard to see beauty in that. This is the whole meaning of the word ‘objectification’, which is frequently bandied about unthinkingly, but actually means that a person is stripped of not just their clothes but also what it is that makes them human. Why would you do that? The only reason in this context is to provide a vehicle for sexual fantasy which is unencumbered by anything resembling an individual person with their messy and inconvenient needs.

If I wanted to celebrate beauty in a national newspaper I would want to PROMOTE what makes that individual beautiful in their own way, including their particular personality and character and all the things that go to make up a special human being.

So, if it’s not beauty then…

ART! That’s the other thing! It’s art! This is another argument I have heard many times, and I would like to put that one to rest once and for all. Art, by definition, attempts to tell a truth about the world. There are varying degrees of success in this endeavour, but the greatest art illuminates a universal human truth, and the aim of all art is to search for and tell this truth. Porn, on the other hand, tells a lie. Even soft porn. The pose, the sultry expression in the eyes, the slightly parted lips, all tell the lie that the woman is sexually ready and available. It’s not true – she’s just getting paid to do it. It’s not art, it’s commerce. Now this wouldn’t matter so much if you just admitted it was porn and you used it to help you get your rocks off, but you can’t admit that and then defend its position in a daily newspaper seen by millions, without seeming a bit pervy.

Hence the sometimes hilarious tying-themselves-in-knots arguments about higher things like beauty and freedom of expression that some defenders spend hours of their free time trying to justify themselves with. Art and beauty are not things that most of us would wish hidden. We can come across those things in a public space without feeling embarrassed, uncomfortable, threatened or violated. They are not used (generally) as tools to bully or abuse. Many women, if they don’t actively dislike it, are resigned to putting up with Page 3, because it is perceived to be something that men want which we can’t change. A lot of us instinctively know the difference between Page 3 and any other image in the public space, even if we can’t always articulate it.

Page 3 is not an expression of free unfettered female sexuality, it’s not a celebration of beauty, it’s not art, IT’S A JOB. And it’s not even very well paid.

www.nomorepage3.org

A Lifetime of Page 3

When Page 3 first started in the 1970s I was just approaching adolescence. I remember it well (it was in black and white back then) . I was at secondary school and there was some building work being done on a part of the school that I had to walk past every morning on the way in. The group of builders working there would talk to me and my friends each morning and we were flattered to get this attention from older men : it made us feel grown-up. They always read the Sun and they started showing Page 3 to us and asking what we thought about that day’s model. Everyone seemed to be cool about it so I pretended to be cool too, but actually I felt embarrassed and humiliated. I was a late developer (still waiting…) and the images made me feel inadequate. I realise now that everyone else was probably also putting on an act to impress the older men, and may not have been comfortable either. I also realise in retrospect that it was probably a turn-on for these men to have the opportunity to present a sexualised image to schoolgirls and watch their reaction.

One of the reasons I was unable to complain was that these images were in a national newspaper, and therefore condoned (or so it seemed) by society. It was ‘normal’, so obviously I was the one who was ‘abnormal’ to be bothered by it. I couldn’t risk being the only one who didn’t like it…

Fast forward to a more recent experience : it was my fiftieth birthday and as a treat my partner booked a weekend away in the country. We were staying in a lovely old pub and on the Saturday night we were sitting in the bar having a drink to celebrate my birthday. There were several men in the room but I was the only woman. I was looking pretty good – it was my birthday : I’d made an effort! One of the men sitting at the bar was looking at the Sun newspaper. Suddenly he turned round to the room, displayed the Page 3 picture that he’d been looking at, and said, ‘Cor…you’d have to go a long way to find a woman like THAT…!’ He was addressing all the men in the bar (my bloke included), as if I didn’t exist. I had heard that women over fifty become invisible, but this was  rather too abrupt  for my liking. I’d only JUST turned fifty…! AND I was looking good that night…(I really had made an effort…). He, by the way, was probably in his late sixties, grossly overweight and sweaty : hardly a catch. But he felt entitled to assess, and comment on, the hotness of a half-naked young woman, PUBLICLY, in front of another woman, VERY rudely, because Page 3 allows some men to think they can do that.

When I was a young woman I felt too embarrassed about my developing body to kick up a fuss. Now I’m older I don’t care so much about kicking up a fuss, but I realise my opinions don’t count any more, because, whatever my other attributes and achievements, I am no longer in possession of a young pair of breasts…

SO! There you have it! It doesn’t matter about your age, or your circumstances… Whether you’re fifteen or fifty, there will be a Page 3 experience tailored to suit YOU!!!

If you haven’t signed the petition yet, here it is :

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

Childish mistakes…

When you are a child, ‘adult’ things seem terribly serious and important to you, if not a little bit scary. One of those ‘adult’ things is the news. The news is so serious that the adults in your life can get a bit argumentative when they are discussing it, and they adopt that serious grown-up voice that indicates something is important. As a child you are not mature enough to join in, and anyway you know it’s not your place to have opinions, but you soak up the message that this is what the adult world involves : you know that one day, when you are properly grown- up, you yourself will be expected to join in and take it seriously. It is something that you aspire to.

When you are very little, and impressions are continually forming about the world around you, you can get things a little wrong or mixed up. Both my children for example believed for many years that Huw Edwards was the prime minister. Why else would he be telling the nation the news every evening? Who else would be qualified to do the job…? I only found out they believed this many years later, because of course they eventually realised their mistake and thought to tell me. Crucially they had not thought to tell me when they believed it to be true, BECAUSE THEY BELIEVED IT TO BE TRUE. And because they didn’t ask, they didn’t find out.

(I myself, growing up in Chester in the 1960s, believed for many years that Liverpool was the capital of England and the Beatles ran the country. I realise now how wrong I got that – the Beatles actually ruled THE WORLD…)

Anyway… the point is that children absorb an enormous amount of information in their everyday lives, some of which they ask you about and some of which they don’t. Some things can seem so obviously true to a child that they don’t think to ask or to question. And this is where the ‘news’ as a thing can have such a strong influence. Something that adults take so seriously and which is available every day, both in media and print form, can have the stamp of authenticity to it, can be seen as part of the establishment, even part of the government (of course, in some countries it IS part of the government, but that’s another story…) To a child then, this is like an officially-sanctioned part of the ‘truth’ of the society to which they belong : stories and images are legitimised by appearing on the 6 o’clock news or in the daily paper in the way that they are not when they appear in children’s programmes or comics.

To some extent of course this is also true for adults : things are taken more or less seriously according to the context in which they appear. Adults too are influenced by media, but it is even more pronounced in children, who have yet to develop sophisticated critical faculties.

The depiction of women in the media is problematic, not because we want to protect our children from sex (although we might want to do that as well), but because it tells a false story in a space which is meant to be THE TRUTH. This is a powerful thing. It can override the messages that children hear from their parents and teachers, partly because experiential learning is more effective than being told something. If a parent tells you that it is important to be kind and hard-working, but what you EXPERIENCE every day is that it is important to have big tits (remember – the newspaper makes this seem ‘serious’), then the big tits thing can win out. Similarly, if a teacher tells you in media studies (that’s if you’re lucky enough to get media studies in the first place…) that Page 3 and similar images are airbrushed and photoshopped and therefore unrealistic, but the boys in your school compare you to them every day, then once again the experience is likely to win out over the facts. How the images are EXPERIENCED on an emotional level can have dire consequences for girls, WHETHER OR NOT they understand analytically how and why these images exist.

Add to this the fact that if anything is repeated often enough it eventually takes on a kind of truth of its own, whether or not it started out as a lie or a joke or ‘just a bit of fun’. The act of repetition legitimises things, as advertisers know very well. In this way images such as the Sun’s page 3 effectively ‘advertise’ to viewers the wares on show and make them seem normal and desirable.

If we as adults respond as we do to advertising (and we do), then it becomes impossible to argue that children, with their developing minds, are NOT affected by what they see around them every day, and NOT at all influenced by it. We should be very legitimately concerned about what our children, and other people’s children, are seeing every day, and just how this might be shaping the adults of tomorrow.

My children eventually realised their mistake about who read the news, and I learned that I’d got it wrong about the capital, because subsequent experience cancelled out the false beliefs. This process is harder to rely on in the case of the depiction of women, because the images are getting more and more ubiquitous : where the Sun blazed a trail in re-branding soft porn, the Star and the Sport have followed, and the lads mags have contributed to the mainstreaming of porn by placing themselves squarely on supermarket shelves. At the same time there has been a failure to depict enough women in successful roles to counterbalance this increasingly narrow view of women’s worth; in fact, on the contrary, successful women are often judged on similar criteria to the ‘glamour’ models, so that they are reduced to their appearance or ‘hotness’ whatever else their achievements might be. This obviously serves to reinforce the message of what women are for, as seen in media images which are visible every day.

In short, we don’t want our children growing up in this media landscape, not because nudity is a bad thing, but because the depiction of nudity is almost entirely focussed on women : women who are very young, white, slim but with large breasts, and sexually passive and available. It is an image that is distorting and objectifying and very very limiting, but it is an image that now proliferates to the extent that girls growing up today might find that their early mistaken beliefs about the role of women in our society might never be corrected as they grow older.

 

http://www.losetheladsmags.org.uk/action_launch

https://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