Page 3 looks tame compared with what else is in our ‘respectable’ newspapers and ‘lifestyle’ magazines today. And that is why it is so easy to defend. When the subject of Page 3 came up at a dinner party once, my friend’s husband appeared to deride and make light of the fact that I view it as damaging and sexist. He defended it as ‘just a bit of fun’. And that is the trouble. Women are seen in a jokey way and are not to be taken seriously. Would my friend’s husband, a black man, object to images of black slavery or black men stereotyped as sex objects on page three of Britain’s biggest selling newspaper each week? Or how about as front page news? How about on the cover of most women’s magazines, on massive billboards, on London Transport ads? If he suggested it was racist, would he mind if I laughed at him? Sexism is the new racism. In the eyes of the law and society, it is a long way from being treated as a human rights issue. It’s OK to commodify women. It’s a good laugh.
Here’s the right answer below if you’re a man faced with the Page 3 debate at a dinner party. Thank you Damian Carnell. Oh and to have a clue about what your girlfriend thinks, read Clare Short’s book, Dear Clare..this is what women feel about Page 3, documenting 1000’s of letters Clare recieved from girls and women.
A man is sat on a train looking at page 3, his gaze at the image of the objectified woman lasting a minute or two, but the page remained visible for a further five minutes to the person sat next to him on that train, a 12 year old girl. The man made sideways glances at the girl from time to time and at some of the women in the carriage, then down again to his lap where the objectified woman rested, smiling at him.
Some say that the page 3 objectification of women is just a bit of ‘harmless fun’, much in the same way as racist and homophobic behaviour and literature is ‘harmless fun’ to some. But none of it is fun unless you are sexist, racist, and/or homophobic. To many women and to men who genuinely respect women, page 3 is offensive.
And what do children understand by page 3? What do girls take as being expected of them and what do boys take to be expected of them? Although boys and men can be sexually abused, mostly by men, women and girls are men’s main targets, each man believing he is ‘king everyman to allwomen’.
Go into any sex offender prison and count how many of the men have a page 3 objectified woman pinned to the wall by their bed, fantasising abuse they’ve already committed or would like to commit. Rape, to these men is simply another form of sex, something they’ve learnt from pornography and backed up by other publications, i.e. The Sun, that like to objectify and devalue women.
As a reaction against women’s movement for equal rights and equal opportunities The Sun and its offspring, for example the Sport and the Sport for adults (if one is for adults who is the other for?) have been very influential in maintaining an underpinning of misogyny in the workplace, in public places and in many homes. The offspring of the Sport, e.g. the ‘lad mags’ have taken misogyny further in getting their persistent front page and throughout messages for men, and boys, to sexually objectify women and girls and do and say degrading things about them, displayed right next to the ‘teen girl’ magazines! Don’t you think that’s dodgy?!
Back on the train, the girl appeared to feel very uncomfortable having this image and this man by her side, and understandably felt powerless to do anything about it. Back then, I too, sitting near by, also felt powerless to do anything about it. Nowadays, I have found confidence to raise my objections and I do.
If we truly believe in the quest to end sexual abuse, the quest for gender equality and the quest to provide our children with a future free from misogyny and other forms of hate we need to stop supporting these hate crimes.
The Sun has been campaigned against ever since it launched the objectification of women on page 3. It’s time The Sun went down.
Damian Carnell, Training, Resoursces and Information development worker at Nottinghamshire Domestic Violence Forum, 24 October 2005.