I was on a radio show recently, talking about the joint No More Page 3 and Child Eyes campaign Top Shelf Porn Papers, and on with me, arguing the case for the defence, was a man called Benedict. Benedict didn’t want the ‘sanitised society‘ that he felt would result from putting adult material on the top shelf. He reckoned that Page 3 is a great conversation starter for parents, should our kids see it, and should we be in need of a prompt to get those really educational chats going. You know, the ones about respect and stuff. So Page 3 is like a gift for parents really.
Except of course that the respect for women conversation is mostly one for boys. We live in a society where we, as parents, try to raise our boys to have respect for women; we don’t often need to raise our girls to have respect for men. We – hopefully – raise our girls to have respect for themselves and feel that they are as good as men.
In our society, respect for men is largely a given. We parents don’t have to teach it; our culture does that for us. Images of men throughout the media are as varied as men are in reality. Walk into a supermarket and the wallpaper of images of men – those images that seep into our unconscious, the ones we imbibe like the air that we breathe – are of men, old and young, doing things and being people. Politicians, sportsmen, dads, musicians, actors, anglers, body-builders, the whole range. And not one of them posing in an overtly sexual way for women.
Images of women on the other hand are overwhelmingly young and beautiful: their role predominantly to wear make-up, wear nice clothes, drape themselves over products, pose seductively, sell stuff.
And then there is Page 3. Gratuitous nudity in the midst of all those images of clothed men doing stuff, Page 3 is the one image that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than woman-as-sexual-arousal-aid.
And of course we parents are not always there when our kids see it, so the educational conversation isn’t going to happen anyway. It won’t happen later either, because Page 3 is not visibly traumatising enough for a young girl to come home all upset and tearful, asking you questions. But this image, like a visual sexual assault, humiliates young girls, and like any sexual assault, it is uniquely the victim who feels ashamed, not the perpetrator. Shame silences. This feeling is managed inwardly, the effect is invisible.
Sitting there on the most prominent page of a newspaper, it’s as if it’s the most normal thing in the world for a woman to be naked and pouting amongst men clothed and getting on with life. It actually is the most normal thing in our culture, it’s there in the newspaper, it cannot be interpreted in any other way. There is no age restriction or parental advisory sticker to warn that this is something separate or unusual to normal public life. There is no supermarket or newsagent on the High Street who sees it in any way as specialised or restricted content, with display policies to reflect that.
Every shop, coffee chain, library, café or pub that sells or supplies The Sun openly condones and reinforces the fact that this view of a woman’s value is normal, usual, nothing out of the ordinary.
Our whole society supports the normality of Page 3.
So, for parents, the only honest respect conversation we can have with our young men is: ‘Your society does not respect women, but you should’, and, to our young women: ‘Your society does not respect women but please try to respect yourself.’
That’s not the kind of educational conversation I feel I should need to be having with my kids.
Everyone knows anyway that young people don’t learn from what their parents say, so much as observing what their parents do. Taking action and letting your kids know what you are doing is a far more powerful message. And not just parents: all adults have a role to play if we would like to see the next generation of young women grow up in a society which reflects them as full human beings, equal to men.
Let’s start holding companies and businesses to account for the part they play in publicly upholding inequality. By our actions we can all give young women an alternative to feeling silently shamed.
Originally published in Alt Magazine