About a week ago, some idiot on Twitter decided to take issue with me about the No More Page 3 campaign, which I support with great enthusiasm. Then several of the idiot’s friends turned up to make the same point to me.
The idiot and his friends (all men), said that Page 3 was a meaningless target. That there were much worse things that women should be targeting. Bigger fights to fight. Well, there are. But the beauty of being human is, you can support a whole lot of things. You can plot the downfall of a lot of institutions, all at the same time. Just because you’re passionate about Issue A doesn’t mean you spend your waking hours, alternately screaming panicky misandrist slogans at passing men (“you’re all bastards! Dworkin was right!”), and sitting on the edge of the bath rocking, chanting “No more Page 3! No more Page 3!”
No. The beauty of it is, you can write letters to the people who need to know how you feel about Issue A. And then you can do other ones about Issue B. You can attend a demo on Issue C. You can shave your eyebrows to raise cash for Issue D. You can pen an article on Issue E and meet with your MP at their surgery to discuss Issue F. You can get stuck into so many issues, particularly in this age of “tha intorwebs”, that you have to convert to Cyrillic. Hell, keep going. There’s always Khmer.
I can remember as a child, my mother asked me what I thought of Page 3. She showed it to me. I was seven, but even I knew that I was not old enough to have an opinion about it, and that if I were to form an opinion, I would need to go away and think about it. I couldn’t just come up with one on the spot. What was there to have an opinion about? It was a picture of a person I did not know. They looked pretty happy.
It’s an irony that we attempt to safeguard children from seeing bare breasts. Children are closer to the business end of what a breast is for than we are, as adults. A child’s reaction to images of human bodies – providing those images are not sadistic or frightening – is pragmatic. Oh, breasts. Oh, a willy. They might want to stare a bit, if the geography is unfamiliar. But they aren’t traumatised by bodies any more than a cat is, when it catches you wandering around the bedroom with no top on. The reason I didn’t have an opinion about Page 3, aged seven, was that I had never considered that one needed an opinion about human bodies. Surely they just were, like the shapes of trees or clouds, something that surrounds us, which requires no opinion.
So what are we safeguarding children from? The Sun’s former deputy editor stated on Newsnight that the reason it does not publish bare tits on Page 3 in its Saturday edition, is that that paper is likely to lie about the house and be seen by children. I’d suggest that what we’re trying to defer, for as long as possible, is the realisation I had when I was seven: namely that human bodies require an opinion. That other people will form an opinion about your human body. And that a large section of our society – as many women as men – thinks that it is proper to regard women’s bodies as entertaining meat. It is a position which dehumanises both its holder and its object.
It isn’t that children will be shocked by this revelation. Children are hard to shock: if a parent regards something quite mad as “normal” – be it devouring the body of Christ on Sundays; or the idea that a woman’s place is in the home; or that the dog is allowed on the sofa in the conservatory, but not the nice one in the living room, the child will simply accept it. By removing Page 3 from The Sun on weekends, what we are doing is not protecting the children from breasts, but protecting ourselves – the adults – from the inevitable moment when we open the floodgates and subject that child to a form of cultural foot-binding which we know is wrong, which we know will bend that little jolly soul whom we have nurtured, out of true. Boys are macho. Girls are pleasing. Both are defined by their sex in our society, more than by their personhood.
Page 3 isn’t where that message comes from. It comes in a thousand rivers. It comes in toothpaste ads. It comes in crime reporting (“a fifth prostitute has been murdered”) and in conviction rates. It comes in “Police Officer” or “Female Police Officer”. It comes in UniLadMag. It comes in Hello Boys and matching briefs, in David Beckham’s package. It flows into our children in gendered toys, in pink v blue, in the fact that almost all abusive terms for women are sexual, and the dirtiest word in existence means “vagina”. It comes in the ads where the silly man can’t figure out the air freshener. It’s in the cupcakes, the Galaxy bar; the beer, the steak. It’s in “guilty pleasure” v “pleasure”. It’s in the cellulite-circling magazines and the films which fail the Bechdel test, which is most films, and the books which fail the Bechdel test, which is most books; it lies curled up in the sneaky question about whether you’ve got children at your first job interview. It is the guy who presses his cock into the cleft of your arse on the tube and thinks that’s ok, and the other guy who does that, and the other one. It is the paedophile grooming gangs. It’s the cuddle you did want that turns into sex you never wanted, and neither party knowing that the word for that is “rape”. It is “honour killings”. It is Rihanna tweeting pictures of the girl between her thighs in a strip club. It is 45-year-old men not knowing who the fuck to talk to, because they’ve never been allowed to talk to anyone, in the fact that men are more likely to experience violent assault on the street than women are, but men are supposed to know how to deal with it. It comes in the suicide figures and the antidepressants and the lives of quiet desperation. It floods and floods and floods until everything you ever knew as a child about people is washed out and replaced with bitter flotsam.
And oh, it comes in the newspapers.
All of these, and a thousand other issues need to be hammered into the ground, not because men are evil, or because a certain subset of women have no sense of humour, but because this is screwing everyone up. Every single person who experiences or perpetrates sexism, is damaged by it. Every single one. Not just the victims, but the perpetrators. Their ability to form human relationships is damaged, too.
The upshot of true equality is that we can just be people, all of us. We can just be us. There is a very, very long way to go before that happens, but the way to get there is not to target only the biggest cause of the problem – if you can even identify it. The way to get there is to erode the ones we run into most often. For instance: if there were a glaring example of inequality in, say, the country’s largest circulation printed paper.
Page 3 isn’t the worst thing that happens to women. Far from it. But the day it stops being printed a message will ring out, and whether you approve of the message or not you will hear it.
The message will be, “This isn’t OK.”
And for the people harassing supporters of this campaign, or any other campaign against any form of bigotry, I will simply say this:
No matter how many times we are told, we will NEVER learn our place.