MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Wed 23-Jul-14 15:15:06

Guest post: Tabloid soft porn - 'it's a child protection issue'

Following pressure from campaigners, supermarkets have made progress on protecting children from lads' mags and chat mags - but tabloids with scantily clad women and sensationalist sex headlines are still prominently displayed. Here, blogger and campaigner Stephanie Davies-Arai asks why, and argues that those at the top must take responsibility.

Stephanie Davies-Arai

Communicating with Kids

Posted on: Wed 23-Jul-14 15:15:06

(21 comments )

Lead photo

"Putting them on the top shelf is a simple solution"

It was about fifteen years ago that I first noticed my three little boys gazing at an up-skirt shot on the front of the Star newspaper; and fifteen years ago that I made my first complaint to a store manager.

Supermarkets have since taken some steps to protect children from adult material: lads’ mags have been placed on the top shelf following the Mumsnet campaign last year, and display policies were recently tightened up further in response to the 'Lose the Lads Mags' campaign.

Child Eyes has also achieved some success in the battle against ‘chat mags’ with lurid headlines – such as ‘Rape First, Toys Later’ - and their placement next to children’s magazines, with Morrisons promising to conduct a review of their magazine sections. However, when it comes to tabloids containing images similar to those in lads’ mags (sometimes on the front page), as well as sensationalist sex headlines – ‘It’s OK To Have Sex With 10-Year-Olds’ was a recent offering from the Sun - there has been no such acknowledgement of any obligation to display them responsibly.

The responses from supermarkets to complaints are depressingly uniform; this one from Tesco sums them up:

"We're in the position of offering our customers a choice rather than appointing ourselves as censors or moral guardians. This is entirely a matter for the Sun, and Tesco are not in a position to comment on editorial decisions."

There has been a collective, wilful reluctance amongst supermarkets to accept responsibility for the in-store placement of these tabloids - other than the justification that display policies meet all age-restricted legislation, and that currently there are no such restrictions on newspapers. We have heard from David Cameron himself that it is parents' responsibility to somehow prevent their children from seeing Page 3, so we can be fairly sure that there is no likelihood of age-restricted legislation being applied to newspapers any time soon.

Child protection is a serious issue in every other area in society, and the tabloids themselves are the first to scream 'Perv!' or 'Paedo!' So why is it that they are exempt from normal rules? I wonder how the red tops would report it, if a man approached a young boy in the street, thrust a semi-pornographic photo into his face and asked: 'Have you seen Abby's pussy?'


This is not good enough. If parents can’t take their children into ‘family’ supermarkets without needing to keep a constant eye out for ‘adult’ material, where can we go? Should we be leaving the kids in the car park so we can do a recce first? To check there’s no prominently-displayed images of a naked woman and the words ‘Hello Boys!’ covering her breasts? Or a sultry 'babe' in skimpy underwear, accompanying the headline ‘Have you seen Abby’s pussy?’ And if such covers are on prominent display, what do we do then? Enter the store by a different route? Blindfold them?

Even if this excessive vigilance were practical, what about other customers? They have the legal right to use newspapers as newspapers, flicking through them on the news-stand, opening them up to read in front of children - do we have to rely on them to be aware that there are kids around?

Of course parents have a responsibility to educate our children on these issues, but there is only so much we can do when they are constantly surrounded by images that contradict our messages - messages about respecting women, and consensual, loving relationships. These images influence young minds: in public spaces we are drip-drip-drip feeding our children the idea that women are commodities for sale, and blurring the line between sex and sexual exploitation.

This is not a ‘censorship’ issue – it’s a child-protection issue. The tabloids continue to be uniquely exempt from society's usual measures to protect children, and, as my kids have grown up, I've watched these newspapers cynically exploit their protected status by using worse and worse images. Child protection is a serious issue in every other area in society, and the tabloids themselves are the first to scream ‘Perv!’ or ‘Paedo!’ So why is it that they are exempt from normal rules? I wonder how the red tops would report it, if a man approached a young boy in the street, thrust a semi-pornographic photo into his face and asked: 'Have you seen Abby's pussy?'

If the supermarkets can change their policy on the placement of chat mags and lads’ mags in response to customer concerns, without any change in legislation, then there’s no reason why the same can’t apply to the display of tabloids. Putting them on the top shelf is a simple solution which would not only keep these images out of children’s eyeline, but also send a strong message to readers of these tabloids that they are not suitable to be opened around kids.

So what can concerned parents do? Recently, through the campaign group Share Action, I was given the fantastic opportunity to attend both the Tesco AGM and the Sainsbury's AGM where I was able to publicly challenge their out-going CEO Justin King. In both cases the Chairmen gave indication that this question had been expected, and it was clear that the issue of soft-porn tabloids is beginning to be a bit of a headache for those at the top.

So let’s make sure the pressure continues. No More Page 3 and Child Eyes have decided to join forces to launch the 'Supermarkets, Top Shelf Pornpapers!' campaign. Do join us – we need to make it clear to supermarkets that we've had enough, and let’s see if they really do listen to customer concerns as they claim to. I now have a daughter of fourteen and I would love her to see that society can change.

By Stephanie Davies-Arai

Twitter: @cwknews

TheSameBoat Wed 23-Jul-14 17:31:54

"This is not a ‘censorship’ issue – it’s a child-protection issue"

Why do we need to plead that it's for the sake of the children in order to be heard? Of course yes it affects children but as a grown woman I am still affected by the ubiquitous soft porn.

It's not a healthy environment for any female to exist in, woman or girl, to regularly see the female so commodified and dehumanised. It doesn't matter what age you are.

theuncivilservant79 Wed 23-Jul-14 17:39:22

Completely agree with same boat

StephanieDA Wed 23-Jul-14 20:30:44

I absolutely agree, the main point for me is equality, but I wrote this from the perspective of child-protection because that is also a big issue, we are conditioning the next generation into the same inequality as we experience.
Personally I think we should keep bombarding the supermarkets with complaints both as women and as parents, the issues are linked.

ScarlettDragon Wed 23-Jul-14 21:09:19

I completely agree with you. I think the attitude and double standards of tabloids on this is piss poor, and as for the supermarkets, Tesco's response was fucking ridiculous. David Cameron's attitude belongs in the 50's on most things, so no surprise there.

Doobydoo Thu 24-Jul-14 19:00:36

Agree OP and have for decades,am nowthe mother of sons.WHSMITH,TESCO etc ...have complained foryears about this.

LadyIsabellaWrotham Thu 24-Jul-14 19:15:10

Of course 1980s/90s editions of the Sun, if published now, would see the editors, distributors and shops put on the sex offenders' register. I don't know off hand when they stopped putting under 18s on page 3, but it would now be classed as child porn.

Yes, yes, and once more yes! I was baffled by the Lose the Lads Mags campaign's completely ignoring the horror of chat magazines - I actually think I'd rather my DDs saw page 3 than a headline at child eye height, right next to the chocolate bars screaming "Raped by my psycho dad and forced to carry his baby" or similar. It's utterly depravity and there is no way to shield children from it without ever letting them into a shop.

sausageeggbacon11 Fri 25-Jul-14 07:57:01

Get the chat mags and can we have modesty covers for thise mags with half naked women on the covers including cosmo et al which is sending the same message in images as the lads mags were but as they are deemed for us they are ignored. Why take out one group of mags when another actual sends a worse message to girls because those mags we have kpet are aspiration mags.

And all the awful body shaming stuff in women's magazines. I used to enjoy reading Grazia et al, but taking a break from them for a couple of years and reading them now… full of hate disguised as self improvement and fun! sad

morethanpotatoprints Fri 25-Jul-14 13:53:42

I think you are fighting a losing battle that oly a minute percentage of people will be bothered about tbh.
They have always been there and probably always will and I agree its up to parentsto cesor what their dc see.
if it bothers you that much then veto the supermarkets and use small grocery shops and markets, then you are also helping local businesses.
It may take you a bit longer to shop but you seem to have all the time in the world.

insocrates Fri 25-Jul-14 16:30:54

Brilliant piece - reflects concerns many of us have about our current society. There are a lot of toxic attitudes towards women which affect all of us, regardless of age or gender. Supermarkets have a responsibility to place their products in such a manner that such images aren't next to magazines etc directly aimed at children. The covering of 'lad's mags' showed things can change - the fact that the image is on the front of a newspaper doesn't change the image or the effect it has. Good for Child Eyes and No More Page 3! You're already making change - 100% behind you! Don't let the doubters get you down.

DennyDifferent Fri 25-Jul-14 17:01:53

The thing that really upsets me about page three is that there is nothing suggestive about it, its just blatant sexualised, female nudity. The lads mags and chat mag covers are a problem but the blatant pornographic nature of page three, just nestled in amongst the, ahem, news like its no big deal, is what really upsets me. As a child I felt ashamed sitting in the same room as someone with page three open. I look back now and see it was just one of the many messages I believed that women have to look a certain way, their worth is directly related to how their body looks etc. I think it also shaped an idea that it really is a man's world, the news if for blokes, we are entertaining commodities. I had massive self esteem issues as a teen, was very academically successful, popular with many friends, but was not "attractive" so I felt worthless. I would never have felt that way if I was a boy and Page Three is one of the things that makes this world a different place for boys and girls to grow up.

gritts1 Fri 25-Jul-14 17:03:13

morethanpotatoprints 200,000 people have been 'bothered' to sign the NMP3 petition. In the last couple of weeks 25,000 signed a petition to ask Costa Coffee to stop supplying the Sun and it's page 3 soft porn (or if you prefer, 'sexy' pics of of naked women's chests) in their family friendly coffee shops. Given we live in times where apathy seems to rule, this is some achievement. You may have said the same thing ('always been there') about page 3 in Ireland. It's now gone. Or the 'News in Briefs' page 3 feature. That has also gone. The Sun sales are down 10% year on year, I think more than any other tabloid...... perhaps perceptions ARE changing.

morethanpotatoprints Fri 25-Jul-14 18:25:35

gritts

I don't think perceptions will change that much tbh. Yes, it is good for the campaigners that 25,000 people signed a petition but its still an insignificant minority.
The people objecting aren't the ones buying the products, those that don't object will continue to buy the product. it doesn't really change much.

katemary Fri 25-Jul-14 19:03:53

Nomorepotatoprints perceptions are changing and have changed. And it is only by people doing things that that has happened.

I remember my first job when page three was used to bully me. Every days would be compared with page three girls by male colleagues. I'd vomit on the way into work every day. Don't you want better than that for your daughters.

In 2006 lads mags were getting more and more vile in their attitude to women. They were misogyny personified. Consumers, petitions and protests and consumer choices forced them onto to the top shelf and Nuts is now no more. The same can be done with page three and the Star.

It is also defeatist to make the claim that those objecting aren't buying the products. Toys and theme parks that every parent uses advertise in the Sun. It relies on that revenue but I object to page three and use those products. I let those advertisers know I'm not happy to see them advertise in a soft porn, sexist rag. If more parents did that things would change.

The Sun is desperately trying to market itself. It's sales are declining and it is spending a lot to try and increase them. So saying he doesn't care about people who don't buy the Sun is a nonsensical statement from Dinsmore. Non readers are the people he needs to appeal to.

My first job was hell on earth. I moved to another one where nobody read the Sun and my life improved immeasurably. I was respected as a person. I know the men there liked tits just as much. I'm know they looked at porn in private. But there is something so creepy about putting passively posed porn in a paper where all the men are clothed and doing things. It makes it ok to bring it into the workplace and it makes it normal to see women as objects out of context.

And children need that period of time when they aren't interested in the opposite sex a objects of lust to see the opposite sex as people. Otherwise when they do become interested sexually their views are already warped and damaged. Page three should be the first things our sons become interested in accessing at adolescence. Not something they are so jaded with they've to find something racier. Chat mags are bad. But a page three is worse.

LizzyLard Fri 25-Jul-14 20:06:00

The thing is the Supermarkets choose not to sell porn mags and have rallied to a call to top shelf and cover lads mags for the most part but they completely disregard the fact that right at the front of the shop, as soon as you walk in, often on prominent sponsored stands are The Sun and Star. You'd be forgiven for thinking they have shares in the place, maybe they do, and no matter how inappropriate the cover (see today's Star below) they still put it there. Now I for one have had enough of feeling reduced to that as soon as I enter a supermarket. For gods sake, I have gone in to do my shopping, I am already cheesed off and then that - welcome Ms so-and-so here's what we Tesco/Sainsburys/ASDA/Waitrose etc etc think about your gender. Doesn't matter how much of your own hard earned money you're spending here you are still a that! Whether I have my children in tow or not I don't want my gender reduced to a sexualised object in mainstream media and I am massively offended by the fact that these so called family supermarkets that want my money see fit to promote this degradation right at the front of the shop, like I wont care, notice or mind. Well I bloody do mind!

Most importantly thought the really stupid thing is that for the most part thanks to patriarchy it is still women who spend the most money in these places. We have the power here! Lets show them that we have and insist on change and NOW!

katemary Fri 25-Jul-14 21:14:44

Couldn't have put it better LizzyLard. It's my hard earned money I'm spending!

How would it have been if the suffragettes or the women striking at dagenham for equal pay had said it ain't worth it cos nothing changes. I want better for my daughters when they go out to work than the bullying I got.

DoctorChris Sat 26-Jul-14 20:02:33

I have never read such ill-informed trash. Newspapers are not the guardian's of the country's morals they are in business to sell papers. Little boys have always suddenly become interested in breasts - in days gone buy mum would find the well thumbed magazine under the bed. It is normal, it is natural and there is nothing wrong with page 3, nothing wrong at all in the appreciation of a gorgeous female body. I fear those who complain are simply jealous.

emcwill74 Sun 27-Jul-14 23:09:22

There's an awful lot wrong with page 3. One of the things wrong with it is that encourages a view that women are obsessed by two things: a) their appearance and b) men liking their appearance. Yet no one assumes men are similarly obsessed by this. Why is that? Why do you think that because I object to page 3 I am jealous? Because I am so wrapped up in my appearance that I simply cannot bear to see a woman prettier than me? What if I told you I have never once felt jealous of a page 3 model? That my self-esteem is fine? That I'm quite happy with what I look like, with my breasts and my face? That even if I were the spit of any of those models I'd still have all the same worries and concerns as I do now, for my kids, husband, work, paying the mortgage? Would you not believe me? If not, why not ask yourself why? Where this belief that I must be jealous comes from?

emcwill74 Sun 27-Jul-14 23:12:15

(And might it be from living in a world that is plastered with women as decorative objects in the vast majority of media and advertising? Might this present a warped view that not only should male sexuality be privileged above all else, but to the extent that it is all women care about too - how we fit into that?)

Heh heh, good parody Chris. Very amusing.

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