Last week, the Girl Guides made an eloquently simple statement about why they support the No More Page 3 campaign. I think it’s time we gave these young women our serious attention.
The objection I still hear from some parents is this: ‘Why are you so bothered about Page 3? It’s very innocent compared to online porn – why don’t you campaign about that?’
But Page 3 is far from innocuous. Yes, our ‘raunch culture’ already contains endless images of sexualised women – but Page 3 is unique in its purpose of providing sexual titillation as an end in itself. The model’s ‘object-status’ is reinforced by the juxtaposition with images of clothed men doing newsworthy things.
It’s not ‘female sexuality’ which is being celebrated here, but a male fantasy version of a passive sexual commodity within a very narrow beauty ‘ideal’.
Publicly available everyday images like Page 3 reinforce that fantasy – if you see this image every day you unconsciously internalise it. It’s impossible not to do so without a conscious effort, because the resistance of the message takes up a lot more energy. That’s why advertising works.
Girls are socialised in this way to understand two things about themselves: how they should look, and how they should behave sexually.
The main area of concern with the ubiquity of porn is that it will cause real harm to girls, who grow up believing that they must perform like, and resemble porn stars – and to boys, who believe that this is the normal way to treat women.
But for this ‘internalisation’ of porn-style sexuality to take hold, there needs to be some groundwork laid. For a girl to be influenced by porn, she needs already to have established herself as an object. Without that initial conditioning, porn would have far less effect on young women’s sexual behaviour, and girls would be more able to view it objectively. Young men would also be more able to see it as ‘fantasy’ rather than reality.
Page 3 images lay that groundwork. Being in a national newspaper lends these images public presence and, more harmfully for young people, the perception of mainstream cultural approval. Our society, through Page 3, tells both girls and boys ‘that’s what women are’. Our culture confirms the message of pornography. Pornography simply extends the message of our culture further.
A girl looks to porn to find out what it means to be a sexual woman, and she finds that she must be forever sexually available and willing; she has no sexual needs of her own, but exists primarily to serve those of men. She looks back to her culture to check her perception, and finds that her society is in agreement with that message – reinforces it daily, in fact. Page 3 establishes the basic premise which today’s, increasingly extreme, pornography carries to its logical conclusion: dehumanise, then abuse.
She doesn’t have to actually see Page 3 every day for its message to be loud and clear. She knows that its presence is accepted, and she knows what happens to women who complain about it. She knows that society sees it as ‘innocuous’ – if she objects she must be over-sensitive, or a prude. She may legitimately shout about abusive porn, but Page 3 silences her: and it is this disempowerment which makes her more susceptible to the damaging influence of porn.
Of course we must think about the accessibility of online porn, and what we can do to help our teenagers deconstruct its messages. But if we are serious about protecting them, it’s also time our society stopped providing the fertile soil necessary for its influence to grow. Our mainstream media needs to stop reflecting back to young people the basic values on which pornography is built.
The Girl Guides have just told us that Page 3 is not innocuous for them. We really should listen.
Originally published on Mumsnet