Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Sun's Page 3 has seriously outstayed its welcome

Way back in the mists of time, one of the first debates I ever attended at university was on the subject "This House would ban page 3." Clare Short came all the way to Aberdeen to speak in favour of the motion that eventually won the support of the majority in the audience. I can't, however, still believe that after all this time, a whole quarter of a century, we are still discussing the existence of Page 3. Why in this day and age is it still there?

In those days I would have supported a ban. These days, I wouldn't because I realise that the Government starts interfering with the content of newspapers that I don't like, they'll do the same with content that I do like. Freedom of expression has to be closely protected.

That said, I have every right to campaign against things that I don't like. That's why I've signed up to a new No more Page 3 campaign. Now, this isn't addressed to Maria Miller, the new Culture Secretary. It's addressed to Dominic Mohan, the editor of the Sun.

The petition, started by Lucy Holmes, says this:

We are asking Dominic Mohan to drop the bare boobs from The Sun newspaper.

We are asking very nicely.
Please, Dominic.
No More Page 3.
George Alagiah doesn’t say, ‘And now let’s look at Courtney, 21, from Warrington’s bare breasts,’ in the middle of the 6 O’ Clock News, does he, Dominic?
Philip and Holly don’t flash up pictures of Danni, 19, from Plymouth, in just her pants and a necklace, on This Morning, do they, Dominic?
No, they don’t.
There would be an outcry.
And you shouldn’t show the naked breasts of young women in your widely read ‘family’ newspaper either.
Consider this a long overdue outcry.
Dominic, stop showing topless pictures of young women in Britain’s most widely read newspaper, stop conditioning your readers to view women as sex objects.
Enough is enough.

When my daughter was 4 months old, I was having a cup of tea in the local tea room in the Nottinghamshire village of Edwinstowe. I was shocked when the manager, a woman, believe it or not, shouted, actually shouted, from one corner of the room at me to stop nursing Anna. Why she should be bothered was a mystery to me given that all that was on show was the back of Anna's head. The reason, apparently, was that a man might come in and be offended. She saw no irony in the fact that there were much more in the way of exposed breasts  in the copies of the Sun she had displayed for her customers to read. My offence at that counted for nothing. A prime example of screwed up patriarchal nonsense if ever there was one.

Naturally, I refused, very politely, to stop nursing my baby. She needed to eat, after all. A big group of pensioners, both men and women, then came in and sat at the next table. They had no problems with what I was doing and chatted to me quite happily.

I find it extraordinary that 25 years after that debate with Clare Short, these pictures of half naked women are still appearing on a daily basis in what's supposedly a family newspaper. How am I supposed to tell my daughter she's an equal member of society when these other girls are treated like mere window dressing for the express entertainment of men?

You don't find men being set up in the same way. Ok, Heat magazine has its Torso of the Week feature, which has actually, believe it or not, included both David Cameron and Barack Obama. Men aren't ogled in quite the same way, though. There's no sense of ownership over them in the same way that women are treated. Coincidentally, I found this article on Facebook last night, which shows that merely the act of being female on an underground train can routinely lead to very scary harassment. The likes of Page 3 and other disrespectful and degrading portrayals of women as mere window dressing for men's enjoyment just adds to the culture where those sorts of attitude prevail.

A photo of a man's torso, though, isn't the equivalent of exposing a woman's breasts. We routinely see torsos exposed in public. For a man to truly understand what it feels like, he'd have to imagine a daily male backside or worse on prominent display in the tabloid press. In the olden days, when I was growing up, it was seen as perfectly fine for calendars showing half naked women to be pinned on the walls in work places. How much harder is it for a women working in a place with that sort of culture to be taken seriously? Page 3 is a significant background note in the cultural melody that keeps women from achieving genuine equality. The routine exposure in the name of entertainment, of a part of the body, unique to one gender, that is generally  kept covered, is not a mark of respect.

Slave to the Passions has only two posts so far - and I've linked to both of them. Author Rebecca Reilly-Cooper has a highly persuasive and forensic way of making her case. She writes about why she supports the latest campaign to get rid of page 3on both liberal and feminist grounds:

But this campaign is not attempting to restrict anybody’s right to free expression – it is notcalling for any form of legal censorship. What it is doing is exercising our own right of freedom of expression to call on the editor of The Sun, and ask him to exercise his right more responsibly. Just because you have a right to do something, doesn’t mean that you should do it, and doesn’t mean that others can’t ask you to reconsider whether it is the correct thing to do. That is why I support this campaign. It is not aiming to ban Page 3, and does not represent a call for censorship of the media. Instead, it is a call to newspaper editors to recognise the influence they exert when they exercise this right, and to ask them not to exercise it in ways that are damaging to their fellow citizens. It is also asking consumers of The Sun to reflect upon the view of women they are being offered, and to reject the sexist and archaic ideas about the place of women in society it promotes.

I also found Caroline Criado-Perez's Huffington Post article very informative as it discusses how women who oppose page 3 and the like are denigrated and intimidated.

If you agree with Lucy, Rebecca, Caroline and I, please sign the petition, follow @nomorepage3 on Twitter and like the Facebook page.  Above all, share with everyone you know in whatever real world or online way you like.

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