A Pox on the Patriarchy
This has now been republished in the Huffington Post; do feel free to comment there too!
* * * * * *
- Caroline Criado-Perez
In 1987, Labour MP Clare Short tried to introduce a Commons bill opposing Page 3 – our daily dose of boobs benevolently provided by The Sun, Britain’s top-selling newspaper. The reaction was immediate – but starkly divided. From members of the public she received a stream of letters in support of her actions. From the press, and from her fellow Members of Parliament, she received reactions ranging from faint ridicule, to outright aggression. And the big bullyboy ringleaders of this unpleasant gang were, without doubt, The Sun.
It is of course to be expected that The Sun would be vocal in its defence of Page 3; it is, after all, one of their major selling points. However, their behaviour went far beyond defence, placing itself squarely in the realms of bullying attack.
Implications were made against Short’s mental health (‘Crazy Clare’); she was presented as trying to spoil what was ‘just a bit of harmless fun’ (‘Killjoy Clare’). She was accused of being ‘jealous’ that she didn’t have what it took to model for Page 3 – in itself a worrying indicator of what The Sun considers to be the apogee of female achievement, better even than being an MP.
Luckily for The Sun, Short’s bill was defeated, thanks in no small part to the brave Tory backbenchers who, along with giggling and remarking on Short’s body, took it in turns to shout ‘object’ (oh the irony), before diving out of sight, meaning Short ran out of time. The Sun celebrated this victory with a bonanza of busty babes on the next day’s Page 3, accompanied by some choice comments about what Short could do with herself.
So far, so disturbingly aggressive – perhaps The Sun recognised Short had a point? But in any case, that was the eighties, they wouldn’t do that in the 21st century, would they?
Oh yes they would.
2004, a Westminster lunch. A journalist asks Short if she would still like to ban Page 3. She replies that she would. And The Sun let its pretties fly again.
Headlines screamed about ‘“Fat Jealous” Clare’. Articles rounded up a barrage of choice quotations that again branded Clare ‘barmy’, ‘ugly’, ‘jealous’, ‘mad’, ‘frumpy’, suggesting that she’d ‘lost it’ – although, to be fair to The Sun’s balanced reporting, they did include a single Short supporter, who ‘moaned’ her comment. Not ones to leave a job half done, they also ran a competition to determine if their readers would prefer to see the ‘MP’s face or the back end of a bus’. Oh, and they sent a busload of ‘busty beauties’ to sit outside her house, accosting her whenever she needed to leave it.
But it’s OK, because current Sun editor Dominic Mohan assured Leveson that the attack articles are ‘not probably something I would run now’. Well I feel reassured. That’s some tough talk right there.
But, perhaps there is a kernel of truth to Mohan’s assertion. Perhaps he really wouldn’t. Not because he really finds this behaviour problematic, but because, in the wake of internet feminism, it’s much harder for the traditional media to silence its critics in such crude ways, simply because, well, there are so many of us.
Step forward the No More Page 3 campaign, which has recently exploded onto a laptop near you. The campaign was dreamt up by a single woman, the author Lucy-Anne Holmes – and you can read about the day she found she had had enough here – but the campaign is not about her. It is about the growing number of people who have already written about it. It is about the thousands of tweets the campaign has already received. It is about the daily increasing number of people who have already signed her online campaign – and perhaps most important, have told us why.
Clare Short received ‘hundreds’ of letters from women who told her that they had always hated Page 3, but had been afraid of speaking up, for fear of being ridiculed as ‘jealous’; Short’s speaking out had given them the confidence to assert themselves – though you have to wonder what The Sun’s vilification of Short did to their new-found confidence.
In an updated, twenty-first-century version of Short’s letters, the No More Page 3 Campaign has received thousands of comments from its signatories explaining why they have signed. They range from simple statements, such as ‘’Because boobs aren’t news”, to more disturbing ones like, “no male friends who look at these pictures say ‘I respect her’” and “Every bare breast you show tells young men that mine are theirs too. They’re not. They’re mine”. These comments are on the petition. They are posted on Facebook. They are retweeted on Twitter. They are inescapable and undeniable.
No more can The Sun claim that is ‘absurd’ to claim that Page 3 is loathed by most women; they can’t even claim that it’s supported by most men. The evidence is out there and it’s mounting. And of course, as has been disappointingly revealed by the responses that people have got when posting the link on their Facebook and Twitter, there are still people out there who reach for the old silencing tactic of undermining those who object by calling them ‘fat’, ‘ugly’ and ‘jealous’. But these attacks on individuals can do little to stop this campaign when the individual is part of a great and growing movement.
There has been a lot of coverage over the growing trend of aggressive misogyny directed at women online. This is of course disturbing; I myself quickly progressed from a feeling of pleasure at the ‘ping’ of a new comment on my blog, to a feeling of dread, at what abuse has now been sent my way. Nevertheless, the internet is also an incredibly powerful tool for demonstrating solidarity, as exemplified by the EverydaySexism project, which has received thousands of stories in a few short months. And as Laura Bates, founder of the project says, while these individual incidents may seem minor, they add up to a “numbing, oppressive, overwhelming” major whole. And this major whole is getting major attention – including from a growing number of men who tweet their astonishment that this is what women face on a daily basis – they just hadn’t realised it was so bad, so relentless.
The reality of everyday sexism is undeniable, and it comes from a culture where women’s bodies are presented as existing almost entirely for male appreciation. More and more people are realising this; more and more people are adding their voice to No More Page 3’s campaign.
Isn’t it time you added yours?