A Pox on the Patriarchy
This article can now be found at the Huffington Post; would be great if you joined the debate there!
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- Caroline Criado-Perez
“Don’t like it? Don’t buy it!” So says the ever-helpful internet commenter. Sweetly thinking they’re the first to make this insightful point. And at first sight it really does seem like the answer to my prudish eyes, that can’t cope with a bit of flesh. Just don’t look at it. Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?
Unfortunately, sage as this advice is, it fails to address the reasons behind the No More Page 3 campaign. Because the problem with Page 3 is not contained within that page. The problem with Page 3 is that women’s main function in the highest circulating paper in the UK is adornment. The problem with Page 3 is what happens to people after they have seen that page and its context over and over again, for days, months, years. The problem with Page 3 is that these people make up the society that I, and other women, have to live in. So although I’d love a single action of mine to have the power to change an entire society, I sadly fear that my not buying The Sun, or not looking at Page 3, just isn’t going to cut it.
To all those who are now scoffing at the idea that repeated exposure to an image might have an effect on the way you think, I suggest you consider why £16.1 billion was spent on advertising in the UK last year; do you really think those advertisers are just drawing our attention to some great products that they hope we will make logical decisions on? Of course not: they are vying for our brain space with jingles, vivid imagery and catchy phrases, so that when the time comes to buy insurance or dishwasher tablets, theirs is the one that jumps into our heads. And if that doesn’t convince you, what about David ‘personal responsibility’ Cameron, who has got so keen on ‘nudge theory’ – and rightly so according to the latest figures.
So in which direction does Page 3 nudge us? Let me introduce the uninitiated to a little box called ‘News in Briefs’. This little box purports to be the thoughts of the girl posing that day; they are presented in erudite fashion, and contain an esoteric quotation. And the message of this funny little box is clear: these women posing for us in their pants are ‘as daft as they look’. We are meant to chortle at the idea that a beautiful woman, who poses for us to ‘admire’, could possibly have read Nietzsche, could possibly understand physics, could possibly formulate any coherent thoughts whatsoever.
It’s not that I have a particular problem with News in Briefs and would be happy if it were taken away – on the contrary, I think it’s a useful indicator of just how ‘empowering’ The Sun really thinks Page 3 is. And it’s a potent revelation of just what kind of ‘empowerment’ The Sun is talking about here for these women: it’s talking about the power to make people look at you and not listen to you. Or if they do listen to you, to laugh at you and dismiss you.
And what happens in a world where women are judged on their looks rather than their minds?
I’ve written about the treatment meted out to Clare Short when she took on The Sun. Like News in Briefs, The Sun’s behaviour is highly indicative of their worldview, where the usefulness of women exists in direct correlation to their attractiveness (as judged by The Sun’s editorial team). Short’s arguments were given short shrift. Instead, The Sun chose to make their argument by emphasising Short’s fatness, frumpiness, ugliness and – god help us – oldness. Their message? If you’re not ‘good’ enough to be a Page 3 girl, your opinions are irrelevant – and considering how relevant Page 3 girls’ opinions are, well, why do I, only a woman, even bother writing? (cue inevitable comment telling me to shut up and make a sandwich).
But let’s move beyond The Sun and have a look at the wider world in which it exists. Let’s consider a certain US Secretary of State, who dared to bare her make-up-less face in public. It’s not so much that the coverage was mainly negative and shocked: it’s that there was any coverage at all. This was not just any woman going without make-up, it was arguably the most powerful woman in the world. The position of the US means that her decisions affect many of us materially – and yet the world’s media spent about a week fretting over the meaning of her wearing glasses.
Let’s consider a world where 92% of girls under 22 say that ‘they hate their bodies’. Let’s consider this unemotionally: even in a world where looks are all for women, it is hardly likely that 92% of these women’s bodies will be worthy of hatred. So why do they hate them so much? Let’s look at another finding: 63% of these women want to be glamour models rather than teachers and doctors. I can already hear the cries of ‘correlation doesn’t equal causation’ and so it doesn’t. But it is impossible not to view these figures in a reciprocal relationship: wanting to be a glamour model is, at least in part, an expression of a desire to be desired. If you hate your body, you can have no reasonable expectation that you are desirable. This suggests that these young women are seeking validation via the only means that our society currently offers them: appreciation of their bodies.
And this emphasis on physical perfection is not just something that can be dismissed under ‘self-esteem issues’; according to new research from Future Foundation it materially affects the ability of women to succeed. “Britain could lose some 319,000 future businesswomen, lawyers and doctors, as well as more than 60 women MPs by 2050 unless young women can be helped to retain confidence in their own abilities”. The likelihood of a female PM is also reduced from an already poor 73% to 62%.
This is the society in which Page 3 flourishes. It is the society in which GQ’s Woman of the Year is presented naked bar a groping hand on her boob, while the four Men of the Year are dressed in identikit suits. It is the society where a recent Vogue shoot commemorating Edith Wharton contained a female model and a female actor, but no female writer – oh, and there were three male writers. It is the society where 80% of photos that exist to ‘lift’ rather than clarify articles are of young women (Gill 2006).
This is a society that tells women that they are no more than the sum of their parts. If you don’t want to be part of that society, you know what to do.
Sign No More Page 3’s Change Petition Here