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

Happy Birthday No More Page 3 !

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 Craigie all now wear NMP3 kit. Over the year lots of regional NMP3 groups have sprung up to capitalise on local support and bring fresh energy and ideas to the campaign. More than all that though is the raising of consciousness which has been achieved by this campaign: media sexism is a talking point again and is part of a bigger picture where women’s lives and voices are being listened to and debated. It’s a very exciting time and the NMP3 campaign has added hugely to it. Here’s what I wrote a year ago, with thanks to all you diverse and wonderful supporters out there, and to the team at HQ that work so tirelessly for all of us:

I have been following the No More Page 3 campaign for a year now, ever since its inception in August 2012. I have watched it grow from a few signatures and Lucy Anne Holmes all on her own, to over 115,000 signatures and a whole team of dedicated campaigners. I have followed the website, the blog, Twitter and Facebook, I have joined in many discussion threads and I have read many articles and blogs that the campaign has linked to or recommended. I have been to a flash mob, to an NUJ event on media sexism and a fantastic Stand up for Women comedy gig, and I’ve met lots of lovely people (that’s YOU, the nmp3 team…!)

It has been a fantastic year, to witness the growth of a movement, and to hear women’s voices, from all backgrounds and walks of life, all coming together to denounce the outmoded sexism of Page 3, and to do something about it. In the process this brilliant campaign has garnered the support of celebrities, charities, unions and the Girl Guides, amongst others, and has had increasing media attention. This subject is now well and truly on the agenda : thanks to the hard work of all involved, it will not go away!

So it AMAZES me that there are still people out there who characterise the campaigners as a group of hairy, ugly, jealous, humourless feminists… The one thing the group ISN’T is one-dimensional, consisting as it does of a huge range of people with different experiences and reasons for signing. So I thought it would be nice to celebrate the campaign’s birthday by making a list of all the different reasons for support that I have noticed throughout the year, and in that way celebrate the diversity of the people who have become involved in the campaign and contributed to it.

So – here’s my list. It is by no means a comprehensive survey, I’ve probably left some people out, and I apologise in advance for any lazy, inaccurate cultural stereotyping…  But here goes :

  • Teachers : ‘Images like this can be brought into school and they are partly responsible for an increase in sexual bullying’
  • Politicians : ‘Exploitation and early sexualisation of girls creates a problem for society’
  • Men : ‘We want the women in our lives to be treated with respect’
  • Women of colour : ‘It’s another expression of the white beauty ideal – it’s racist as well as sexist’
  • Breast-feeding mums : ‘The over-sexualisation of breasts makes it more difficult to breast-feed in public’
  • *even some* Sun readers : ‘Not bothered about the boobs to be honest, I mainly buy it for the football’
  • Feminists : ‘Unequal representation of women – men are usually pictured fully-dressed but women have to be half-naked’
  • Psychologists : ‘Sexual objectification leads to negative stereotyping and the risk of stereotype threat’
  • People of faith : ‘Sex is a private matter between consenting adults within a loving relationship’
  • Parents : ‘We don’t want our kids to come across these images in cafes, trains and other public places where people leave them’
  • The body-concious : ‘I don’t want to be reminded of my imperfections every day’
  • Women’s groups : ‘ Over-sexual representation of women can provide a context in which rape culture can flourish’
  • Social historians : ‘The Sun’s decision to provide soft porn in a newspaper paved the way for the re-branding of porn in lads mags’
  • *even some* Glamour models : ‘It’s not glamorous, it’s demeaning’
  • The working class : ‘Don’t patronise us with boobs in the paper!’
  • Prudes : ‘Disgusting!’
  • Guardian readers : ‘The whole paper is scum, get rid of all the other pages while you’re at it’
  • Artists : ‘Beauty is the human body as nature intended it, not the airbrushed, photoshopped version’
  • Health professionals : ‘Seeing over-idealised body shapes all the time can lead to problems such as depression and eating disorders’
  • Lesbian/gay/bi/trans people : ‘Heteronormative!’
  • Philosophers : ‘In an arena set aside for ‘news’ this is essentially a lie being told every day’
  • Young people : ‘Is that what we have to aspire to…?’
  • Older people : ‘It was bad enough when it was just the Sun, but now it’s the Star and the Sport as well’
  • Even older people : ‘Put them away love, you’ll catch your death…’
  • People who love sex : ‘It pushes the idea of a narrow male fantasy rather than celebrating female sexuality’
  • Family members : ‘I wouldn’t want it to be my mother/sister/daughter’
  • Foreign visitors: ‘You still have naked ladies in the NEWSpaper?? WE stopped doing that YEARS ago…!’
  • And then there’s me – I’m one of those humourless strident feminists. Well, somebody’s got to be…

PS If you haven’t signed the NoMorePage3 campaign yet here’s the link https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/david-dinsmore-take-the-bare-boobs-out-of-the-sun-nomorepage3