On sexism in the media

If you think it’s OK to demand that a stranger shows you her breasts, you’ve probably been told from somewhere that you can get away with this. That this is normal.

Sexual objectification, I think, is the reduction of somebody’s worth and role in the world to that of an object for sexual pleasure. It can happen at a societal level, and it can happen between individuals. Here’s an example: It happens everyday in our national newspapers, like on page 3 of The Sun newspaper, where the largest image of a woman is that of a topless one, and it happened when a boy of about 17 or 18 shouted ‘GET YOUR TITS OUT’ at me from his friend’s car when I was out running.

Now, I wonder if these two are linked- either directly or indirectly… because as Caroline Lucas said in a speech in Westminster Hall last week:

“… none of that is happening in a vacuum. We have to recognise the impact of wider culture, and today I want to focus on just one aspect of that: the objectification of women in the media. Women have been degraded, belittled and served up as sex objects in some of our daily newspapers for many years, despite the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women repeatedly identifying the links between the portrayal of women as sexual objects and attitudes that underpin violence and discrimination against women and girls”

Of course, I can’t be sure that there is a direct causal link between The Sun’s page 3 and to the irritating street harassment I was unlucky enough to encounter on that particular day last month. But it strikes me that if you think it’s OK to demand that a stranger shows you her breasts, you’ve probably been told from somewhere that you can get away with this. That this is normal.

Caroline is right. These things aren’t happening in a vacuum. And The Sun’s page 3 is playing a small, but significant – and I think symbolic – role in telling people ‘it’s OK to treat women this way’.

I am hopeful that one day, in the not too distant future, the UK media will have been re- calibrated a bit. I look forward to the time where people think what used to be on page 3 was rather extreme, instead of now, where if you’re against page 3 you’re considered by some to hold extreme views.

I’m optimistic. I think we are making progress. Look at the appalling way Clare Short (former MP of the constituency I lived in in Birmingham) was treated by her fellow Members of Parliament and the media when she put forward the idea of legislating against the page 3 phenomenon in the British press. She was laughed at and bullied. The Sun superimposed her face onto the body of a topless model. They called her fat and jealous.

Last week Caroline Lucas wore a No More Page Three campaign t-shirt to the Media Sexism debate at Westminister Hall. I’ve no doubt she will have received all manner of offensive tweets/emails/letters afterwards, but I think the tide is changing.

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Would The Sun dare to treat Caroline Lucas in this way now? I don’t think so. Do you?

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3 thoughts on “On sexism in the media

  1. Fantastic blog entry (as I stated on Twitter), Lizzy.

    The existence of Page 3 is wrong on so many levels. It objectifies women, it’s sort of insulting to men – assuming we are all lecherous – and I would not be happy if a female I knew were doing it.

    As a currently single man, but who was in a relationship until 27/08/12, I have always liked to appreciate a woman as a whole. They should not be defined by body parts in a newspaper. Contrary to belief, there are many men out there, like myself, who see the woman as a whole. True, one can appreciate the female body within the context of a loving relationship, but just as important are personal qualities such as a sense of humour, intelligence, shared interests/hobbies, etc. I would not want a society where men are judged entirely by physical attributes, so I certainly don’t think, if we are to have an equal society, that we should have a society where we tolerate Page 3.

    There is a time and a place for men to appreciate female beauty. In my view, that is within the context of a relationship between two consenting adults. It is not in the pages of a newspaper which, as the word suggests, should be printing NEWS.

    • Thank you Stephen. You’re right, page 3 is no good for men or women.

      A lot of the feedback I get from (mainly, but not exclusively) men is that page 3 is harmless, that there’s nothing wrong with appreciating woman’s beauty. But what that argument does is conflate sexual attraction and sexual objectification which are two distinct concepts.

  2. Indeed, Lizzy. And I think it paints all of us men in a bad light.

    I check out The Sun online (for Trevor Kavanagh’s political column) and for news surrounding elections, the annual Budget, etc. Those aspects are fine, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to buy the paper itself? They should drop Page 3.

    As for sexual attraction/sexual objectification, I don’t want to sound philosophical. I am sure that men and women notice each other. As a man myself, of course I am not blind to the beauty of a woman. However, it’s not the complete picture. I became attracted to my ex-partner for BOTH her physical attributes and personality. Whilst I thought she was very beautiful, I was just as attracted to her sense of humour, her intelligence and the fact that we had one or two common interests. I would hate to think that she could ever become a part of Page 3 as I know she is much more than physical beauty.

    I am sure I am not alone in thinking that. When I’ve criticized Page 3 to male colleagues/friends, they tend to joke about it and ask me if I’m celibate or anti-beauty. Not the case at all. I guess I just want to see a female as a whole and I’d hate to live in a world where men where objectified on a daily basis.

    As you sad, sexual attraction (which keeps the human race going) and sexual objectification are two different things.

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