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Guest Blog: Time to listen to young women - Page 3 is not 'innocuous'

109 replies

KateMumsnet · 30/04/2013 11:11

In today's guest blog Stephanie Arai-Davies, who blogs over at Communicating With Kids, argues that The Sun's Page 3 primes girls to accept being sexually objectified.

What do you think? Is its influence innocuous in comparison to that of internet porn? Or are the two intrinsically linked, as Stephanie suggests? Let us have your thoughts on the thread - and if you blog on this issue don't forget to post your URL.

"Last week, the Girl Guides made an eloquently simple statement about why they support the No More Page 3 campaign. I think it's time we gave these young women our serious attention.

The objection I still hear from some parents is this: 'Why are you so bothered about Page 3? It's very innocent compared to online porn - why don't you campaign about that?'

But Page 3 is far from innocuous. Yes, our 'raunch culture' already contains endless images of sexualised women - but Page 3 is unique in its purpose of providing sexual titillation as an end in itself. The model's 'object-status' is reinforced by the juxtaposition with images of clothed men doing newsworthy things.

It's not 'female sexuality' which is being celebrated here, but a male fantasy version of a passive sexual commodity within a very narrow beauty 'ideal'.

Publicly available everyday images like Page 3 reinforce that fantasy - if you see this image every day you unconsciously internalise it. It's impossible not to do so without a conscious effort, because the resistance of the message takes up a lot more energy. That's why advertising works.

Girls are socialised in this way to understand two things about themselves: how they should look, and how they should behave sexually.

The main area of concern with the ubiquity of porn is that it will cause real harm to girls, who grow up believing that they must perform like, and resemble porn stars - and to boys, who believe that this is the normal way to treat women.

But for this 'internalisation' of porn-style sexuality to take hold, there needs to be some groundwork laid. For a girl to be influenced by porn, she needs already to have established herself as an object. Without that initial conditioning, porn would have far less effect on young women's sexual behaviour, and girls would be more able to view it objectively. Young men would also be more able to see it as 'fantasy' rather than reality.

Page 3 images lay that groundwork. Being in a national newspaper lends these images public presence and, more harmfully for young people, the perception of mainstream cultural approval. Our society, through Page 3, tells both girls and boys 'that's what women are'. Our culture confirms the message of pornography. Pornography simply extends the message of our culture further.

A girl looks to porn to find out what it means to be a sexual woman, and she finds that she must be forever sexually available and willing; she has no sexual needs of her own, but exists primarily to serve those of men. She looks back to her culture to check her perception, and finds that her society is in agreement with that message - reinforces it daily, in fact. Page 3 establishes the basic premise which today's, increasingly extreme, pornography carries to its logical conclusion: dehumanise, then abuse.

She doesn't have to actually see Page 3 every day for its message to be loud and clear. She knows that its presence is accepted, and she knows what happens to women who complain about it. She knows that society sees it as 'innocuous' - if she objects she must be over-sensitive, or a prude. She may legitimately shout about abusive porn, but Page 3 silences her: and it is this disempowerment which makes her more susceptible to the damaging influence of porn.

Of course we must think about the accessibility of online porn, and what we can do to help our teenagers deconstruct its messages. But if we are serious about protecting them, it's also time our society stopped providing the fertile soil necessary for its influence to grow. Our mainstream media needs to stop reflecting back to young people the basic values on which pornography is built.

The Girl Guides have just told us that Page 3 is not innocuous for them. We really should listen.

Stephanie Davies-Arai is a parenting consultant who specialises in communicating with children. She blogs over here.

OP posts:
chocoluvva · 30/04/2013 12:01

What a sensible explanation of the effects of 'Page 3'.

Well done to the Girl Guides.

ChunkyChicken · 30/04/2013 14:21

Great explanation, great statement from the Girl Guides and I agree, Page 3 is most definitely not innocuous, if the very generalised societal view that breasts are sexual and not for feeding an infant is anything to go by.

I really hate the fact that there are those "comments" from the girls on the news alongside too. That is sexist for so many reasons.

chocoluvva · 30/04/2013 14:59

I like the way it doesn't accuse the men who look at page 3 of anything. Just explains why Page 3 is not 'harmless fun'.

clamping · 30/04/2013 15:53

Is anyone asking what the page 3 models themselves think? Surely their opinions should be the ones that count.

HappySnail · 30/04/2013 16:19

I have two pre-teen sons who I hope will follow their father's example of being very respectful towards women. We don't actually have newspapers in our house - they just become dust collectors - but I wouldn't want their natural adolescent curiosity to be 'turned' by blatant exploitation of women in photos like those on The Sun's page 3.

Banning it is even better than binning it!

emcwill74 · 30/04/2013 17:42

Well the Sun certainly doesn't ask what the models think: it gets a sub-ed to write something backing up their editorial stance whilst patronising the model and taking the piss out of her by suggesting she is thick in the totally HILARIOUS News in Briefs. Oh no, sorry, it's not hilarious at all, it is vile.

But of course that doesn't mean the models are coerced, forced at gun point. Naturally they are choosing to do it, either for the money (though it doesn't pay well, certainly not enough to be a sole income without other work), or as a stepping stone to a broader modelling career, or because they crave the attention which they see as a positive thing. However, their choice is not made in a vacuum. It is made in a society that tells women that what we look like is more important than who they are/what they do. Whilst the models conspire with this culture for their own advantage in whatever form that takes (and I'm not saying this nastily), it reinforces the sexist culture where women exist largely for the visual entertainment of men. It makes all of our bodies public property, not just the models'. To use Caitlin Moran's test for sexism - ask yourself are the men doing this and is it polite? (Is the Sun full of images of naked men? No, the men are clothed participants in society, not naked, silent, things to look at; the quotes in speech bubbles from men are actually made by them.) If not, then the chances are you have just seen some sexism.

So to answer your question clamping, of course the models are not anti-page 3, but that doesn't invalidate the blogger's article.

Afrodizzywonders · 30/04/2013 18:23

Everything emcwill74 says! Great post

debbietheduck · 30/04/2013 19:03

Totally agree with this - especially the point about women's breasts being seen as purely sexual and therefore discouraging young women from breast feeding. Sounds highly likely and I'd be interested to know if anyone's researched it. Page 3 affects the whole of society not just people who choose to buy the paper.

GalaxyDefender · 30/04/2013 19:18

What a great blog. As someone who is not interested in the world of sexuality, I find this sort of thing alarming. I know it's part of the fact that the world in general is hyper-sexualized (another point entirely!) but I've always found the idea of page 3 to be slightly creepy. Why would you want to look at a random woman's breasts?

Totally agree with debbietheduck, I heavily suspect that breastfeeding is more scarce among young women because they want to keep their breasts "intact" for their boyfriends Sad That's not what they're for! Makes me super-angry.

BedHog · 30/04/2013 20:14

I have a vague recollection of 'page 7 men' in newspapers decades ago - topless, oiled up men for the 'viewing pleasure' of female readers. Does anyone else remember them? Were they a regular feature?

emcwill74 · 30/04/2013 20:26

They were dropped due to lack of interest. I can't say I'm surprised. When people say to me 'but what about Heat's torso of the week?! Are you prepared to see that go too then?!' in a triumphant I-am-the-first-person-to-think-of-this-great-rejoinder way I just think, yeah, totally. I don't buy Heat and if I did I wouldn't care if that went one bit. The thing is, no matter how much people try to make out that it is, seeing a bare-chested man in the media is not the same as a topless woman, it is a false equivalence. Men's chests do not contain secondary genitalia that we are expected to cover up for one thing, and men are not depicted across society as a whole (specifically reinforced by page 3) as merely things for women to look at. As I said, in the Sun the men do stuff (government, sport, crime, whatever), the women look sexy for them.

gritts1 · 30/04/2013 20:33

Great writing.

We have been here before in 2010 and the Mumsnet Lads Mag campaign.
I'm still confused about what the difference is/was between the covers and content of mags like Loaded / Nuts and certain front pages and content of NEWSpapers like the Sun/Star/Sport?

Other than this page 3 70's 'throw back' newspaper content is 'normalised' so was not considered.

So kindly ask Mohan, Murdoch, etc to get rid of page 3, or if not do what itunes does and get them out of reach/sight of the kids.

You have to be 17+ to download the basic Sun newspaper app on to your phone. It has the same content as the newspaper.

Lets have a revisit of the Lads Mags (and now newspaper) campaign.

gritts1 · 30/04/2013 20:34

Great post emcwill74

emcwill74 · 30/04/2013 20:49

It's an important point gritts1 - the weird disparity between the regulation for different media. The Sun can be bought during the day and left open anywhere, yet page 3 cannot be shown uncensored on daytime TV. When Turn Your Back on Page 3 submitted evidence to the Leveson enquiry it had to be censored before the adult panel, yet it was entirely cut out of tabloids that can be sold to children. The material cannot be pinned to a wall in a work place as it would breach sexual harassment laws, yet...and on and on it goes...

DyeInTheEar · 30/04/2013 21:02

Yes emcwill74

I really want to see this campaign succeed. A great guest blog - thank you.

As far as I'm concerned it's as offensive as seeing white men "black up" in the name of comedy. It belongs to a past era and we owe it to our DCs to stop this casual, pernicious sexism.

I agree about the covers of lads mags and the sport as well.

handsfullnow · 30/04/2013 21:05

Brilliant piece, thanks for publishing. I really feel Mumsnet should get behind the No More Page 3 campaign and am surprised not to see MN publicly supporting it already.

It's terrible that our generation grew up with this kind of sexism being normalised and soft porn mainstreamed into newspapers but lets not put our kids through it as well. The damage to girls' self esteem and men's view of women is so well-documented now, there is no excuse for not getting rid. It's not 1970.

I don't want my sons growing up thinking it's normal to objectify women and I don't want my daughter to be made to feel insecure about her looks or think breasts are public property for men to ogle and grab - or that they are just for sex and not for breastfeeding (yuck).

I sat next to enough men reading Page 3 on buses etc as a teenager to know I don't want young girls to be made to feel like that.

Come on MN, do the right thing and ask Mohan and Murdoch to knock it off now, enough's enough.

DyeInTheEar · 30/04/2013 21:07

Yes handsfullnow

it needs loads more support and signatures. Please can everyone sign?


emcwill74 · 30/04/2013 21:15

I have to say, I have been baffled as to why MN are not publicly supporting the petition since its inception last summer!

zoewriter · 30/04/2013 21:22

This is something we really need to get on the case of. For far too long we've just accepted this, but at the end of the day newspapers make money and if they look like that'll be compromised, they'll change. Come on Mumsnet - let's change the world (again)!

DyeInTheEar · 30/04/2013 21:25

It's so overdue. But am heartened the younger generation seem more determined. Well done Girl Guides and Scouts.

LCD100 · 30/04/2013 21:29

Love the blog post. I completely back the No More Page 3 campaign. I would be so sad if my two sons saw Page 3 and thought it was OK that the biggest photograph of a woman in a newspaper was of a topless teenager. Boobs are not news :-(

clamping · 30/04/2013 21:30

Does anyone even buy paper newspapers anymore? I thought most people by now read the news on their PC or their ipad.

I suppose it's only a matter of time until newspapers are history, all of them. Page 3 will be gone then.

Rollercoasteryears · 30/04/2013 21:36

Great blog and some great points made above. Come on MNHQ, do the right and obvious thing and come out in support! There really is no defence for this crap.

clamping · 30/04/2013 21:37

"Is the Sun full of images of naked men? No, the men are clothed participants in society, not naked, silent"

Pics of boxers on the back pages have their boobs out. Shall we campaign to censor their nipples with black bars for equality?

clamping · 30/04/2013 21:37

And anyone against it could always buy a different newspaper.

I'm surprised noone has ever thought of that before.

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