I’m angry today. I don’t often get angry. Not properly want-to-hit-something angry. But something that is guaranteed to tip me into anger is deliberate spite from people in a position of power.
In the last couple of days, it seemed that The Sun had decided to change their Page 3 display. Since 1970, a topless woman has ‘graced’ the page, next to global or national news items such as child abuse, terrorism or benefit cheats. Many people, men and women, have felt very uncomfortable about this for a long time. Many others have not – and The Sun continues to have the highest circulation of all print newspapers. But today, it appears that it was all a huge ‘joke’. Today, another topless model is on Page 3. The Sun is laughing at the campaigners (who include the Girl Guides, Mumsnet, the National Union of Teachers, the Royal College of Nursing, the National Assembly for Wales…).
Personally, I feel like I’ve been spat at.
Images of topless women do not bother me. Images of naked men do not bother me. But I fail utterly to understand what either has to do with ‘news’. People who like to see images of topless women can do so elsewhere – more easily than ever, now that we have the internet.
I am so, so tired of people saying, ‘If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.’ The phrase makes me want to cry and scream and go and live in a cave like a hermit. It’s not the point. It EXISTS. We don’t live in a vacuum.
If Channel 5 news started to include a topless female model posing next to the presenter, would that be OK? If your flippant answer to this is, ‘Well, wouldn’t bother ME,’ stop and think about why you’ve said that, even in jest. Seriously? It wouldn’t bother you?
Let’s go right down to the basic argument about children and what they should and shouldn’t be exposed to. Kids aren’t allowed to buy pornography legally. Yes, we all know they can access it just as easily as anyone else – but the point is, the law says they should be protected. And yet, Art teachers up and down the country have to vet the newspapers that parents supply for art projects because it includes pictures of breasts. Every now and then I go to my local chippy. More often than not, my six-year-old is with me. They have a copy of The Sun on the counter, for people to look at while waiting. It bothers me more than I can say – and yet I shrink from asking the nice people who work there to remove it. I should have more courage, I know.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the majority of women in this country are dissatisfied with their bodies – some of them to extreme. Yes, there are many, many contributing factors to this, and I’m not blaming The Sun for All Women’s Body Issues, of course not. But The Sun is legitimate. It is a proper newspaper (by which I mean that it reports on news items. How it does so is entirely another matter for debate) and yet it is allowed to show an objectified, sexualised image of a woman every single day. This tells everyone, male and female, that a woman’s breasts are there to be looked at, examined, rated and admired – mostly, let’s face it, by men. Quite apart from the impression this gives women (many of whom obsess over their breasts enough as it is – are they too big, too small, too saggy, too lopsided?) it tells boys and men that it’s perfectly fine to publicly ogle a woman’s body. They’re allowed – encouraged, even.
It’s not fine. It’s really not, folks. You only have to read a fraction of the Everyday Sexism Project to know how damaging that sense of entitlement is.
I had thought that maybe we were taking another tiny step towards equality, towards equal respect of men and women. And now a small group of men have exercised their power to show that women don’t deserve that respect. In fact, their feelings and opinions are only worthy of being laughed at. And appallingly, lots of people up and down the country are laughing with them.
But I’m not. And I know I’m not alone.