Guest blog: Sexism, tshirts and rock and roll – is heavy music sexist?

Hi, I’m Dave. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a huge fan of rock and metal music. I was making mixtapes of Metallica, Nirvana and Aerosmith when I was in primary school, have been going to see bands playing live since I was ten and currently play guitar in Birmingham band The Crimson Star.

As you’d probably expect from a guest author on this blog, I’m also a feminist, and I want to look at sexism in the music industry – specifically rock and metal music.

Looking at more mainstream genres, particularly pop and hip hop, you hardly have to break a sweat to find examples of sexist attitudes and the objectification of women as a means to sell records and, in many cases, gloss over a lack of talent – Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus spring to mind here. Even strong women in pop like Beyonce, who is an idol to other women and girls across the globe, forsakes doing much singing when she plays live in favour of prancing and writhing around in her underwear. Surely I wasn’t the only one who found those ‘legendary’ sets at Glastonbury and the Super Bowl in recent years to be really cringeworthy?

Anyway, I’m getting away from myself…as a fan of rock and metal, I’d never previously considered either genre to be sexist, especially when compared to those I’ve previously mentioned. One of the things I love about heavy music is the community of fans behind it, who bond over the music regardless of who is playing it and who is listening to it.

However, since becoming more aware of issues facing women in the modern world and supporting excellent campaigns such as the Everyday Sexism Project and No More Page 3, I’ve found myself thinking more often about women in my favourite type of music. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced there was something worth delving into further.

I reached the tipping point, all thanks to some tshirts – these tshirts produced by metalcore bands Emmure, Attila and I Declare War to be precise.

Attila-classy-shirt Emmure-offensive-tshirt I_Declare_War_tshirt

These are real pieces of band merchandise.

No, really.

Now, I’m by no means a prude and am not averse to the odd swear. I’m also not stupid; I know shock tactics always have been and always will be an effective form of marketing.

But, these shirts are so much more than some bad language on cloth – in fact, the swearing is almost a non-issue. Look instead at what these shirts are saying. They are hideously offensive, grossly immature and suggest that the heavy music scene holds an attitude towards women that, as an increasingly passionate feminist, I simply could not allow myself to be associated with.

Thankfully, this attitude is not something I have encountered in my experience of my musical scene of choice, but it reinvigorated my earlier musing and got my thinking…is heavy music sexist? Have I been kidding myself for all these years? Has the fact that I am a man pulled the wool over my eyes?

A quick look back at some of the megastars of this genre and the answer would be ‘yes’; whether it’s Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant commenting on how he will make a woman ‘sting’ because of the way she shakes ‘that thing’, the original artwork for Guns N Roses’ seminal debut album (which, if you weren’t aware, shows a brutally raped woman) or anything produced by Motley Crue.

While all of the above is important, an analysis of sexism and misogyny in classic rock is probably best left for another post on another day. But what of the current scene? How are things for women in rock and metal today?

The world of rock and metal is still largely a club for boys and, while the genre is still peppered with imagery and themes that objectify women, heavy music also suffers from a different form of sexism; the fact that women members of rock and metal bands are still often seen as remarkable and that if any women shows herself to have a shred of musical talent then it is hailed as especially unusual.

Instead of having their talent celebrated, successful women rockstars are still rare enough that many people only seem to be able to give them praise in the form of photo galleries of ‘the hottest chicks in rock and metal’ or similar, held up as something so unusual that they have to gawped at, when, shocking as it may be to read, they are actually just as talented as their male muso counterparts.

That, or if a woman handles the vocals then her band will get lumped into the dreaded ‘female- fronted’ genre, which is one of the most pointless I’ve ever heard of and one that reduces the woman to a mere adjective and nothing more. You never hear, say, Lamb of God being called a male-fronted metal band, but that often changes when you talk about Arch Enemy, despite the fact that, sonically, these two bands are certainly from a similar neighbourhood.

Then, you have the morons who constantly make you wonder if the Internet and social media are such a good thing after all.

Thanks to the sterling work of campaigns like the Everyday Sexism Project and No More Page 3, it is clear that the social web has opened up something of a floodgate for nasty sexism, and the disgraceful people (well, let’s be honest, men) who persist with this behaviour will target anyone. Respected academics? Check. Newsreaders? Check. Some of the greatest athletes we’ve ever seen Check. Women in bands? You bet.

Most bands making a name for themselves these days were born and developed online; it’s never been easier to connect with a band and break down the gap between fan and band member. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, this does mean that women in the music industry are being exposed to the idiots. If you don’t believe me, check this excellent/disturbing post by Lauren Mayberry from the band Chvrches. Or this one from Candy Hearts frontwoman Mariel Loveland.

Not very nice, are they? I know Chvrches are not a rock or metal band but that post was still worth sharing (and I don’t have the energy to get into a genre war right now) – no band member should be reduced to tears just by reading the inbox of their Facebook page.

I have no issues with people voicing their disliking of a band. I used to review bands for a national magazine and was proud to always write what I really thought. I really hated an awful lot of bands about whom I ended up having to scrabble together three paragraphs of copy. Whether it was poor production, out of key vocals, sloppy drumming or just plain old shitty songwriting, I didn’t hold back.

But…sexist idiots out there take note…these comments are all based on the band and their sound i.e. THE MUSIC. If I reviewed a band with a/many women amongst its number, did my reviews suddenly start commenting on the attractiveness of the band members, did I make an assumption that the women in the band were a gimmick to sell more records or did I suggest that sexual assault would be a suitable punishment for being a crap guitarist? No, of course not.

To be honest, the two should never even come anywhere near each other. What’s wrong with judging a band on its product, i.e. the music it makes? I’ve heard lots of great bands, I’ve heard lots of awful bands…why should the various gonosomes of the musicians make any difference?

While the articles I’ve linked to earlier make for sad reading, they also highlights the importance of speaking up. After all, social media and the internet haven’t just made it easier for fans to connect with/abuse bands, it’s also far easier for bands and individuals to fight back, which is something we all need to do to kick sexism out of rock and metal.

This is echoed by Paramore’s Hayley Williams. Paramore are right at the top of the rock tree at the moment. This summer they headline the Reading and Leeds Festivals, last year they released another critically acclaimed album and they are one of the most energetic, captivating and bloody brilliant live acts you will ever see. Not bad going is it? Especially for a band fronted by a girl. I mean, when you take the girl into account it’s even more amazing that they’ve been successful, right?

That was sarcasm by the way.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine last year, Williams had this to say:

“I remember playing North Star Bar [in Philadelphia] and this guy yelled “take off your shirt!” probably 10 times. It had happened a couple of times at this point but this guy was super aggressive about it. By the fifth or sixth time, I realized that I’m the one with the microphone. I’ve got power here. I don’t have to be quiet. Sometimes there’s strength in letting your actions speak for you, but in this moment I was like, “I don’t have to take this.” He said something again, I said something back and was just as consistent as he was, and then he stopped. But, by the end, I was just like, “I don’t like you. Get out,” and made some guy I knew get him out.

“I don’t think it’s all of the industry. It’s finding that voice within us and, for whatever reason, the climate right now feels a little more empowering. It’s like Sinead [O’Connor]’s letter talking about how men are going to make money off of us and all of the choices that we make. I do believe that. It’s always been that way and it’s time to start saying something. There’s enough women that are rad and have great points of view and great things to say who can start encouraging that in one another and the people who are coming to shows; instill something else in them that is not being told to them through society and magazine covers — tell them that having a voice and going against the grain is good.”

I love the attitude of this woman. This is an issue that needs to be talked about and women like Williams proving herself to be a role model and taking a stand will, I’m sure, make a huge difference for female musicians in the future. But what of the here and now?

For me, Paramore is a really interesting case study. Unless I’m missing something huge, they are not widely thought of as a ‘female fronted’ band. They are just a band. A really great band. Sure, their singer is a woman, but so what? Hayley Williams is one of the best vocalists in modern rock, her talent speaks for itself; I’d easily rate her among my top ten frontpeople in rock that I’ve ever seen perform. When I listen to Paramore, I don’t think ‘wow, this is a fine piece of female-fronted rock, I wonder if the singer is hot?’.  No. I think ‘wow, this band is great and this singer is awesome!’

So, if we can accept Paramore as just being a rock band, surely we can apply that across the board? Sadly, no. As we’ll discover later on, the further down the music industry ladder you go, the bigger a deal gender becomes.

However, there are still issues at the top of the rock and metal world right now that need to be dealt with if we are ever going to change the attitude towards women in rock and metal.

Look at the following bits of artwork for release by The Pretty Reckless and In This Moment, bands fronted by women singers.

inthismoment prettysexist

Aside from the obvious fact that this artwork yet again demeans and objectify women, putting them in a position where they are just there to look nice leaving the men of the genre to do the real stuff, for me as a music fan, these images are off-putting. These covers suggest, to me, that the music on them is not particularly good, and the only reason to buy them is to get the cheap thrill of slightly titillating artwork.

The saddest part of this is that there is absolutely no need for bands with women members to rely on a sexy photo to sell records – in fact, there’s no need for any rock or metal act to rely on sex to sell records. Don’t agree? I point you to Metallica’s Black Album, which has managed a mere 16million sales in the US alone. The cover? Erm, blackness…and a snake if you look close enough.

Nope, sexy photos are not necessary. Take Halestorm as an example. Here’s the cover of their most recent studio album.

halestorm

Amazingly, despite not showing singer Lzzy Hale (a woman in case you hadn’t guessed) in any state of undress they managed to make a fantastic album and are currently one of the hottest hard rock bands out there – isn’t that incredible??

Of course, when bands get to such a level – be they great bands such as Paramore or Halestorm or lesser ones like The Pretty Reckless and In This Moment – it is probably a lot easier for them to detach themselves from any abuse. But what about at grassroots level?

For any band with women members trying to ‘make it’ the abuse is a lot more in your face, quite literally in many cases.

Birmingham band Kerosene Queen know all about this problem. Despite being a hugely talented and exciting unsigned band, they have faced abuse on and off stage, all because three quarters of the band are women.

kerosenequeen

“We receive the wrong sort of attention because we are female and lack the right sort of attention because we are female,” says vocalist Charly, “I’ve had a long time to think about this over the years fronting bands etc, and basically that is what it all boils down to – ‘female fronted’ is a selling point (which doesn’t always attract the nicest people) and it segregates women from music. The knock on effect from this is that, as a whole, women aren’t taken as seriously in music and we are left feeling like we are not truly part of it all.

“Female fronted’ is so widely used in rock music that it doesn’t even cross people’s minds that the term may actually be offensive. In this case it does help to turn the situation around to understand how it may be offensive, so for instance, “Hey look, that is so and so’s band… the male fronted band”, “So and so is playing tonight, come on down it is a male fronted band”…

“Of course and I’m sure many will agree, doesn’t ‘male fronted’ sound silly? What does being male have to do with anything? So that is why I ask – why doesn’t ‘female fronted’ sound silly?

“I don’t see how my anatomy and basically my sex determines how my band is introduced. Why does ‘female fronted’ HAVE to go in front of the band name on posters and flyers? It just simply isn’t needed.”

Bassist Lexi adds “Yeah, I completely agree with Charly, to me the term ‘Female Fronted’ is like putting a spotlight on the situation like they’re saying “Come see this rare act because wow isn’t it cute they’re trying to do what we do!” or ‘Come to this show because you can look at them”, if it is for neither of those reason, I really don’t see the need to put that there is women in a band. The whole thing is patronising.”

Sexism is clearly an ongoing struggle for Kerosene Queen, who recognise that attitudes towards them are a symptom of a real gender imbalance in modern rock music.

Charly continues, “Of course I’ve tried to think WHY women are introduced as ‘female fronted, female members etc’, and this is because women are scarce in rock music compared to men, there are less women in music in general.

“When I attend gigs with live music, there are less women on stage and in the crowd, when I go to a shop and flick my eyes over the magazine section, the music magazines are generally put in the ‘men’s section’ – and so it feels that people believe women don’t have a place in music, which of course we do, it is just very hard to find the recognition, and due to the lack of recognition, the emphasis on us being ‘female’ continues and it will still continue because of people’s attitudes and the language chosen to describe us.

“I don’t want the fact that I am female to be a selling point for the band, I would much rather people listened and thought ‘I like this band, they have a cool sound’ etc, than just like us and turn up to gigs because I and the other members have vaginas and/or we’re ‘not too bad on the eye’.”

Sadly, Kerosene Queen’s battle with sexism doesn’t end in the mind boggling world of genre classification; at one recent show they were abused by male members of the audience as they played.

Charly explains, “The most recent unfortunate event we experienced as a band was an incident where a few men in the audience shouted ‘get your tits out’ at us in retaliation to a song I introduced as ‘a song dedicated to women in music.’

“I wrote the lyrics in this song to express my analysis of women’s situation in music as discussed previously, and its a song to uplift women in music with a message to stay strong and that we’re in it together. It is motivational if anything.

“Anyway – Of course after hearing this remark from the audience I immediately shouted ‘f*ck off’ at them – I was quite mortified these people were even allowed to stay in the venue after we played! It is not acceptable behaviour and I was highly offended and felt very disrespected – again – all because there are women in the band attracting attention for the wrong reasons.”

Pretty shocking isn’t it? Well it doesn’t end there for Kerosene Queen. As if being abused on stage wasn’t enough, the band also has to deal with unwanted attention off stage as well as being consistently patronised.

Charly continues, “The over-emphasis of “You were absolutely brilliant, I’m shocked” (because we’re women) can also be slightly annoying at times… its a bit of a backwards compliment that people don’t realise is an actual backwards compliment.

“I’ve also noticed in the past from having a few male musicians in the band that other male bands tend to make conversation with the guy and not us, the rest of the female members – it is as if they believe that we don’t know what they are talking about or the fact we aren’t seen to be on the same ‘level’ as them to make conversation. It is bullsh*t. It is still that embedded assumption that the male musician know more about music and equipment and indicates a prevailing male atmosphere.

“Besides this, in the past in previous bands I have encountered comments such as “why are you in here?” (referring to a band room at the back of a stage), “Is your boyfriend playing?” and “come back stage you will do.” (Three guesses to what the last comment means!)

“Also, I don’t even want to mention the unwanted attention I have received when I am off stage men coming in to the dressing room to ‘meet me,’ buy me drinks, follow me around – not for the right reasons either! I’ve accepted a few drinks from some men I’ve had a good chat with, (believing they are genuine and just want a good night out) and when they find out I have a boyfriend they get stroppy with me and words are exchanged.

“I’ve even said to one guy, ‘You don’t buy your mate a drink to get in his pants, so why do it with me? Why can’t you buy someone a drink and not expect anything?’

“It is exhausting sometimes.”

Lexi adds, “From previous bands I’ve been in in which I was the only woman, I noticed a lot of promoters, photographers etc would walk past me and straight to the guys to speak ‘business’ with them, despite having watched us just play, and they wouldn’t realise until I walked unto them that over emails etc I was the one they had been arranging everything with because it was MY band.

Despite being the front woman, a lot of people automatically thought it must be the guys that ran the band, not me.

“I do think there is a slight vibe when you go to new places you haven’t played before and you’re playing to people who have never heard you, as a mostly female band people seem to expect you to be ‘alright’ and that’s it, so as Charly said, when we play a great show & we’re sweating our asses off from effort & performance, people speak to us in shock (unfortunately) that we were actually really good.”

Thankfully, Kerosene Queen are not letting the sexist idiots win. Instead, they are doing what they do best; rocking! And with each gig played, song recorded or new fan won, they are getting somewhere…even if their gender makes progress slow.

Charly says, “It is slowly improving, but we aren’t there yet. People are influenced by society and politics and so this needs to change before the view of women changes, whether that is in music or out of music. Patriarchy will not defeat us.

“Thankfully we have a brilliant network of fellow bands and friends that feel the same way and it is a great feeling knowing we will be a part, whether big or small, in the progression of women in rock music.

“Cos’ we aren’t going anywhere in a hurry. We enjoy what we do.”

I have so much admiration for Kerosene Queen. They are a great young band with huge potential who not only have to face the endless amount of tough hurdles to climb for an upcoming act to succeed – playing gigs in small venues to literally a handful of people, finding the time and money to practice, record, travel and buy equipment, marketing your band in your spare time, trying to get media outlets to listen to you, etc – but they also have extra crap to deal with, all because of their sex.

I’m also part of an upcoming Birmingham band and I know how much effort goes into getting my music out there. But at least I know that, if I play a bad gig or write a song someone doesn’t like, I’m only likely to receive a bit of negative feedback. I’m never going to be called a slut, people will never assume I’m just there to sell merchandise and no-one is going to threaten to rape me. I know that people will judge me and my band on our music, which is all I want. But this isn’t the case for bands with women in their lineup. Why? Surely bands are bands? Why is it so difficult for people to accept that? After all, we’re all fans for the music, right?

I started this lengthy post asking whether heavy music is sexist and I think, sadly, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that my answer should be ‘yes’ – even if it is perpetuated by an idiotic minority who are spoiling it for the rest of us.

There are some very real problems in rock and metal that need to be dealt with (and frankly should no longer be an issue). The fact that women want to be, and are, in bands is not weird or surprising. Being in a band, even one that just plays small shows, is an absolute blast and if you’ve ever been in one, you’ll understand the attraction – regardless of your gender. They are not, or should not be, boys’ clubs. There is no genetic reason (as far as I’m aware) that would make men better at being rock musicians than women, so hearing a talented female musician should not be a shock. Good musicians are good musicians.

There is also no reason why a band of women/with women in its lineup should rely on sexualised, objectifying imagery to market themselves. Why not focus instead on making a really cool cover for your release? Think of some great album covers and tell me what’s sexy about them. Is it the giant pair of tits floating above the graveyard on Metallica’s Master of Puppets or the beam of white light being refracted by a hot ass in a thong on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon? Of course not, because I’ve made those scenes up. They sound completely ridiculous, right? So why is it right that The Pretty Reckless needs an image of their singer naked with an arrow pointing at her arse to sell its latest record?

There is a really great list of things women in music are sick of experiencing over on Alt Press that I urge you to check out.

So, how to end this?

A plea. Let’s get over the fact that women, shock horror, can rock too. How about we forget ‘female- fronted’ this and galleries of the top ten chicks in metal that and instead just let bands be bands?

I listen to music for the music. I really don’t care who makes it – I once listened to a band with two dogs, as in the canine kind, as vocalists. If the music is loud and full of banging riffs then I will probably be interested. With this mindset, my shelves are full of brilliant albums by a host of brilliant bands and musicians. My ears are very much the winners. I urge you all to take the same approach.

On top of this, if you do experience or witness sexism in music I urge you to speak up and speak out. Follow the lead of Kerosene Queen, or contact groups such as the Everyday Sexism Project to share your experiences. Let’s take a stand and kick sexism out of rock and metal so we can keep that awesome community that is the heart of our scene.

And finally, if you want to wear a tshirt that will make an impact don’t go down the route of the pathetic Emmure and their idiotic peers; instead, get yourself something to show support for the No More Page 3 campaign and wear that. I wore one for my band’s first ever headline show last year and, as you can see, it was a blast!

Cheers and rock on!

dave

The ‘S’ Word

Why do we still struggle to get past ‘naming the problem’, and is it important that we do?

Picture the scene: friend A updates her Facebook status to describe a horrible (but sadly not uncommon) incident – a man blocks her path as she walks alone, and makes unwanted sexual comments to her. She feels angry and frustrated that this has just happened to her. She felt like she couldn’t shout back at the time. She expresses indignation that women have to put up with this sh*t, all the time.

Friend B expresses sympathy in the form of a #sadface, and tentatively suggests (or if I’m being honest, confidently asserts…) that this is everyday sexism.

Friend C comments, ‘can you really say that this happened to you because you’re a woman?’ ‘Things like this happen to men too you know’. ‘I wouldn’t call that sexism’.

Friend B chips in again, probably unnecessarily, because she can’t resist getting involved! And because she’s outraged that friend C is outraged at the use of the word sexism, and not what happened to friend A, which really is the only outrageous thing to have happened here.

A long debate over semantics ensues. It almost seems inevitable.

Friend C declares that we all just need to chill the f*ck out.

We all agree sexism happens to all genders, and that other forms of discrimination may be at play too.

But…. we agree to disagree that sexual harassment is a form of sexism.

This, to me, is only the start of the debate, and not a very good start at that! If we can’t even agree that sexual harassment is sexism, where does that leave us?

(Friend B, heck let’s call her Lizzy, isn’t quite over it, so writes a blog about it instead. Ahhh, cathartic.)

Can you solve any problem, when you can’t even agree on what to name the problem?

Discuss

Are all women shortlists sexist? Debatable. Are Cllr Richard Davies and Karl McCartney MP sexist? Undoubtedly.

Those who know me will attest to the fact that I have – perhaps unfairly – developed quite a dim view of some local councillors. I’m increasingly feeling the same way about some MPs too.

This is why I wasn’t altogether surprised to see this:

Image

We all kind of knew that this attitude towards women MP existed in British politics. But until now, we hadn’t seen it so very clearly, in all its pathetic sexist schoolboy glory.  That’s the good thing about Twitter. What in the past might have been sent in a private email, or just sniggered at on a phone screen at a party event, is now tweeted by the shall-we-say ‘less savvy’ for us all to see.  I do note there has been an apology of sorts.

After much sighing, head-shaking and exasperated laughter, I have managed to collect the following thoughts:

1. Do we need all women short lists

Let’s look at some numbers [1]:

  • Men outnumber women 4 to 1 in parliament (Women make up 22% of MPs), of 22 Cabinet Ministers, just 4 are women.
  • The UK is ranked 57th in the world with regards to the number of women in national parliaments.
  • Currently 16% of Conservative MPs are women, 32% of Labour MPs and 12% of Liberal Democrats
  • Women constitute 32% of elected councillors, but just 12.3% of council leaders in England.

If we want an equal parliament (which for love of all that is democratic, I know I do) and we don’t want it to take decades and decades, then yes. Frankly I think we do need all women shortlists. And if this happens to also mean rooting out a few dinosaurs along the way, well that’s just a bonus.

2. Are all women shortlists sexist?

That is debatable. And it’s an important question that warrants an intelligent discussion. Set in the context of the numbers above.

3. Is tweeting *that* glamour photo about the selection of a candidate sexist?

Un-f*cking-doubtedly.

(Do excuse me, but that does warrant a swear I think)

And one final question from me:

4. Will Lucy Rigby beat Karl McCartney in the 2015 election?

My God, I hope so.

[1] http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/stats-and-facts-on-women-in-power/

 

 

Open letter to James Corden

Oh, James, what’s occurin’?

You have put me in rather a dilemma. I am one of your biggest fans, and have been for quite some years. If I ever appear on Mastermind my specialist subject would be Gavin and Stacey. I’ve been on a tour of Barry Island. I’m one of THOSE types of fans. But I am also a huge fan of the No More Page Three campaign.

You might be aware of the campaign – which is asking editor David Dinsmore to stop featuring the page 3 image of a topless woman in his newspaper. Last time I checked the petition had hit 185k signatures.

You’re guest editing The Sun on Friday for Sport Relief and I’m writing to ask you not to include the usual image of a topless woman on page three. It’s just not what you expect to find on your way to work in the morning.

As well as the amazing work Sport Relief does for charities here and abroad, it also inspires girls and women to get active and take part in sport. The culture that The Sun feeds is one that values women for the way their bodies look naked, not for what they achieve. The Sun’s usual representation of women is not at all in the spirit of Sport Relief, and I hope you take this great opportunity to show how much you value women.

Because at the end of the day, when all’s said and done, boobs aren’t news. Do you know what I mean?

Thank you in advance.

Lizzy Woodfield

P.S.

Here is some more information about the campaign: http://nomorepage3.org/faqs/ and here is the petition if you’d like to sign it: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/dominic-mohan-take-the-bare-boobs-out-of-the-sun-nomorepage3.

If you want a No More Page Three t-shirt –which, by the way I think you’d look tidy in – I’m sure campaign HQ could sort you out with one…

 

No More Page Three – CoppaTory on International Women’s Day

My local MP is a Tory so I thought I’d give him a timely reminder on International Women’s Day that the Conservative party aren’t all that appealing to women…

In particular they are lagging behind other parties in voicing their support for No More Page Three Page campaign. Given women make up over half of the electorate they might want to start thinking about what they can do to show they care.

I’ll be sending Greg Clark this letter tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted on his response.

Dear Greg,

Happy International Women’s day 2014!

I’m sure you receive lots of letters from your constituents – but you may remember that I wrote to you about the representation of women in the media – in particular The Sun. Thanks again for your detailed responses and for writing to Maria Miller on my behalf.

I’m writing to update you on some troubling and exciting developments for the No More Page 3 campaign- which, you will remember, is asking editor David Dinsmore to drop topless models from the newspaper (rather than asking government to support a ban or press censorship).

You may be aware that on Tuesday this week The Sun launched a joint 6-month-long campaign with the breast cancer charity CoppaFeel! The campaign aims to raise awareness of the importance of detecting the early signs of cancer, especially for young women (and men) through self-checking.

This would have been a very welcome shift in The Sun’s attitude towards women, and representation of them. Unfortunately, as you may have seen, The Sun has strongly linked the campaign to its topless Page 3 feature. As you can imagine this has been hugely upsetting for many women and men, in particular survivors of breast cancer, those who have undergone mastectomies or reconstructive surgeries, and their family and friends. Many commentators have noted that the headline on the front page (alongside a full page image of topless model wearing just her knickers) ‘Page 3 vs Cancer’ was highly provocative, unnecessarily confrontational, and an attempt to reframe the public debate to suggest that if you are anti Page 3, you must be pro breast cancer. Clearly this is not the case. Indeed, some breast cancer charities have released statements condemning the insensitivity of the campaign, and the sexualisation of breast cancer. 

You may also have noticed the overwhelmingly negative response to The Sun’s campaign from both national media, including the Telegraph, the Independent, the Guardian and the New Statesman, and social media platforms such as Mumsnet (who have recently announced public support for the No More Page 3 campaign), as well as across local and national TV and radio.

If you have a spare moment I would urge you to read No More Page 3’s statement on The Sun’s ‘Page 3 vs Cancer’ campaign:http://nomorepage3.org/news/the-suns-check-em-tuesday/.

I suspect The Sun’s motives – unlike Coppafeel’s which I am convinced, though perhaps misguided, were nothing but altruistic – were not entirely noble! It seems to me that they are attempting to leverage public support for the ailing Page 3 feature by co-opting breast cancer awareness. 

Unfortuantely for David Dinsmore this has backfired rather spectacularly.

– Since ‘check ‘em Tuesday’ the No More Page 3 campaign has seen an unprecedented and sharp rise in signatures – over 19,000 signatures have been added since Tuesday.
– At the time of writing to you the petition has reached almost 156,000 signatures. 

You may be able to confirm this, but I understand No More Page 3 supporters now outnumber the Conservative Party membership.

As I mentioned in my last letter, several Conservative MPs have signed a letter of support for the No More Page 3 campaign:

Amber Rudd, Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye
Andrea Leadsom, Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire
Caroline Nokes, Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North
Claire Perry, Conservative MP for Devizes
Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP for Congleton
Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South West Devon
Jane Ellison, Conservative MP for Battersea
Julian Brazier, Conservative MP for Canterbury and Whitstable
Margot James, Conservative MP for Stourbridge
Mike Freer, Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green
Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire
Nicola Blackwood, Conservative MP for Oxford West and Abingdon
Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes

While this is great, you may be interested to know that of all the main parties, Conservatives lag behind in their support of the NMP3 campaign. 13 Conservative MPs have signed the letter of support, compared to 112 Labour MPs. The decision to voice support for No More Page 3 is of course a personal one, and I wouldn’t want any of your Conservative colleagues to sign the petition if they didn’t agree that Page 3 is sexist and Britain would be better off without it.

I do wonder, though, if there is a connection between the Tories’ ‘women problem’ and their apparent relative lack of interest in campaigns such as No More Page 3. I’m concerned that you have underestimated the strength of feeling on this particular issue.

I hope you don’t mind me saying that although I think you have been an excellent local MP for Tunbridge Wells, I’m afraid I probably won’t be voting for you come election day. I feel incredibly disconnected from your party, and although I think you’ve achieved some good things for equality during this government, it comes across to me that the Conservatives don’t care all that much about women. 

That being said, congratulations on being reselected as your party’s candidate for Tunbridge Wells in the next election. I do wish you luck in your own campaign. I’d be interested to hear more about your position on the fair representation of women in public life, and I hope to see a stronger commitment from your party about what it will be doing to address its own problem of women’s underrepresentation.

Kind regards,

Lizzy Woodfield
Constituent
No More Page Three Campaigner

If you would like to sign the No More Page 3 petition you can find it here:http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/david-dinsmore-take-the-bare-boobs-out-of-the-sun-nomorepage3 

If you would like to add your support by signing the letter, you can find details here: http://nomorepage3.org/letter-to-the-editor-signed-by-mps/.

What does the future hold after Check ‘em Tuesday? I’m feeling pretty confident it’ll be No More Page Three.

What exactly is The Sun trying to achieve with the Page 3 vs Cancer campaign? I think, aptly, there are three certainties:

1. To raise awareness about the importance of the early detection of breast cancer.

So far so good. We can all agree this is a fantastic thing to do, and I hope The Sun continues to use its influence to raise awareness of other cancers too.

2. Feeling rattled, The Sun in turn wants to rattle the No More Page Three campaign. By not-so-subtly putting it out there that if you are anti-page three, you must be anti-breasts and that must mean you are also pro breast-cancer. Because who can argue with breast cancer awareness?

Well I say cheap shot Mr. Dinsmore. Even for you. If it wasn’t deadly serious, this false dichotomy would be laughable. Fortunately, Mr. Dinsmore underestimated our intelligence as well as the strength of feeling behind the No More Page Three campaign. Supporters, on-the-fencers and non-supporters alike have seen this for the cynical and offensive move that it is.

3. Coppafeel’s motives are thoroughly altruistic, but David Dinsmore’s are at best partially so.

I question why Coppafeel allowed its campaign to become so inextricably linked to Page 3. I can’t help feeling that they were probably pushed into it during a blue-sky thinking brainstorming session with a bunch of Sun execs.  And just for good measure they produced this (rather unsettling and unconvincing) video too.

Kristin’s powerful testimonial about her cancer diagnosis and the genesis of her charity is clumsily interspersed with footage of smiley topless Page 3 models in their knickers. I can almost hear a pushy producer behind the camera telling Kristin ‘Ok if you could now just say something about Page 3, y’know, something like they’re the most famous boobs in Britain and what a great opportunity this is for you.’  ….This is of course just my imagination. But I don’t think I can be far off the mark….

I am disappointed that a breast cancer charity is working specifically with The Sun’s seedy, sexist Page 3. My own view is that this aspect of the decision (insofar as Coppafeel would have been given any real choice) was poorly judged on their part. There is no doubt the partnership itself and campaign imagery has caused offense.

I’ll admit it took a while for my disappointment to give way to understanding. Coppafeel has secured a huge amount of coverage for their good cause and I’m glad more women will have checked their breasts this week than did last week.

My anger, cynicism and exasperation is entirely pointed at David Dinsmore and The Sun.  But my admiration, as ever, is reserved for the No More Page Three campaign. They have dealt with this campaign curveball with dignity, kindness and yet more determination.

What does the future hold after Check ‘em Tuesday? Incidentally I hear from HQ that the petition is flying. I’m feeling pretty confident it’ll be No More Page Three.

Why the ‘if you don’t like it; don’t buy it’ mantra doesn’t wash with me: response to Greg Clark MP

I was very pleased to receive a response to my letter about page 3 of The Sun from my MP, Greg Clark. Greg made some familiar and valid points about the importance of a free press, and consumer choice. But, like many others, Greg misunderstands the aims of the campaign. I wrote again to Greg to clarify the aims of the No More Page Three campaign, and to express why the ‘if you don’t like it; don’t buy it’ mantra doesn’t wash with me.

 

Dear Greg,

Many thanks for your considered response to my letter about my concerns over page 3 of The Sun. I very much appreciate you taking the time to consider this issue, and I’m grateful to you for forwarding my letter onto Maria Miller.

I fully appreciate your reservations over issues of press censorship and consumer choice. My letter focussed on the possible legal implications raised by the practice, but I wanted to write again to clarify a couple of very important points about the aims of the No More Page Three campaign, in case I had given you the wrong impression.

– Unlike previous campaigns, the No More Page Three campaign is not seeking a ban on the practice.

– The petition, which you can find here: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/david-dinsmore-take-the-bare-boobs-out-of-the-sun-nomorepage3 is asking David Dinsmore (editor of The Sun) to remove the feature – voluntarily.

I too feel very strongly that freedom of the press is something we must protect. There is a fine balance to strike, but I feel passionately that it is also the place of government to act to challenge sexist, harmful and discriminatory behaviour, wherever we may see it, including in our newspapers.

And indeed many members of the government are already acting on this. The campaign has the support of many MPs, members of the House of Lords, and Councillors – you can find a signed letter here: http://nomorepage3.org/letter-to-the-editor-signed-by-mps/. Your conservative party colleagues Amber Rudd, Andrea Leadsom, Caroline Nokes, Claire Perry, Gary Streeter, Jane Ellison, Julian Brazier, Margot James, Mike Freer, Nadine Dorries, Nicola Blackwood, and Sarah Wollaston, have all signed a letter to The Sun’s editior.

If your reservations about the No More Page Three campaign were informed by the (common) misconception that further regulation or a ban is sought, then I hope I have reassured you. I also hope that you may now reconsider whether this is a cause you could lend your support to.

I am pleased and not surprised to hear that page 3 makes you less likely, rather than more likely, to buy The Sun. However, I must admit I am somewhat envious that you find page three easy to avoid and cannot remember the last time you saw it; I wish I could say the same.

Unfortunately I believe that for many of your constituents this is not the case. The Sun has a circulation of about 2 million copies a day, and as well as in homes, it is often found in workplaces, cafes, and on public transport.

You will be aware of the Everyday Sexism project, which has received around 40,000 women’s stories of their own daily experiences of sexism. If you do not follow this project yet I would urge you to do so. I have spoken to many people who tell me that they had no idea how widespread incidences of sexism, harassment and assault were until they began to follow the project. Many men in particular have told me that they now see sexism every day, when they wouldn’t have even noticed it before, and are much more likely to challenge it.

I would again draw your attention to the letter Laura Bates (founder of the Everyday Sexism project) wrote the editor of The Sun: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/laura-bates/open-letter-to-the-editor-of-the-sun_b_3794513.html

The project has received many entries- from women and young girls – about negatives experiences directly involving The Sun’s page 3. None of these women or girls exercised consumer choice by buying The Sun. I have left out some of the more graphic and upsetting examples, but here are some – please be warned that they contain strong language – :

“Working in a small restaurant staffed mainly by 16 year old girls, the manager tells everyone to gather in the back room, he holds up page three and declares that this is our new uniform.”

“Sitting on a bus – middle-aged chap sitting next to me is looking at page 3. I notice that he saw me notice, and blush. He says “What do you think of that?” I mumble “I don’t think I’m the target audience.” He openly looks at my chest. “I wouldn’t worry – with tits like yours, they’re not going to ask you to pose.” I was 14, and wearing my school uniform.”

“I once worked in a company where I was the only female on a floor of men. They would look me up and down, laughing. They would bring in The Sun, put it on my desk open at Page 3 and ask if I looked like the topless woman pictured.”

 “Currently studying architecture at uni. Went on a site visit as part of my course. Got asked why I was there by one of the construction workers, when the rest of the group were guys. I simply said that I was there because I, like the rest of the group, were training to be architects. The response I got was “with tits like yours?! Nobody will pay any attention to what you’re saying they’ll be looking down your top. Give up now, you’d be more successful as a page 3 model love”.”

“Just had to endure a tube journey next to a Sun reader who flashed his page 3 at me, called me sweetheart & spat.”

 “I remember seeing Page 3 for the first time in my own home when I was a young girl just entering puberty. I can still feel the burning shame, humiliation and shock I felt then. I remember thinking ‘Is this what women are? Why is my dad looking at this? Does he look at me in the same way? Why doesn’t my mum say anything?'”

“I have big boobs. In the 90s I had to put up with endless older blokes approaching me jabbing at my chest and singing the “See it all in the Sun!” TV jingle.”

 “In my 10-year-old daughter’s class they are learning about news and newspapers. All children were asked to bring a newspaper in to school. More than half of them brought a copy of the Sun, and consequently spent the lesson gawping at page 3. This is what teaching children about news and newspapers amounts to in Britain in 2013. What did they all learn about the role of women in society? At school. At the age of 10.”

 “Sitting in a cafe minding my own, bloke finishes his lunch, picks up tabloid, turns to page 3 and waves it about, trying to catch someones eye, ranting to whole cafe about “these tarts, slappers ha ha ha all women are like this really.””

“My job involves me having to attend a wholesale fruit and vegetable market in east London every Saturday. There are pictures of nude models and page 3 in many of the huts; and I’m constantly being called ‘beautiful’, ‘princess’, ‘sexy’, ‘gorgeous’ and being wolf whistled at. This morning one of the men followed me to the toilets and demanded sex. It was one of the most intimidating things that has ever happened to me.”

“When I was 15 I was reading aloud in English. I asked what page to start from and was told page 3, and the male laddish teacher added ‘you should be on page 3’. I was a geeky kid and already ashamed of my body. All the class laughed. I never forgot it.”

“I’m 16 and have been receiving sexist comments from older boys since I was about 13, in school and out of it. They shout “rape!” if they’re in a group walking down the corridor and see a girl, loudly rate girls out of 10 while we walk past, look at Page 3 and compare girls to it if we walk past, discuss girls’ bodies, it happens literally every day … Why can’t the editor of The Sun spend one day in a school and see what girls have to put up with in the culture they help create I challenge them to do it and still think Page 3 is harmless.”

 While I respect that you may not agree, I hope you understand and will bear in mind that for supporters of the No More Page Three campaign the easy and well-rehearsed, but ill-informed, mantra of ‘if you don’t like it; don’t buy it’ is not at all satisfactory. This simply does not apply to a great many people – including the young daughters and sons whose parents buy The Sun.

 With kind regards,

Lizzy Woodfield

Upping the ante on the No More Page Three campaign

In June I wrote a post explaining why I was optimistic about the future of the representation of women in the media. I am still optimistic, but last week was a tough week for women.

The No More Page Three campaign continues to gather pace. Every day more and more people add their voice to the campaign by signing the petition urging The Sun’s editor David Dinsmore to remove the sexist and degrading feature from his publication. Last time I counted it was around 118,000. This is impressive.

A summer of successes

MPs and Councillors are steadily adding their names to the letter of support for the campaign. The campaign enjoys support from some most notable organisations including: The National Union of Teachers, UK Girl Guiding, The National Association of Head Teachers, The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Unison, The British Youth Council, Rape Crisis, Women’s Aid and the End Violence Against Women Coalition. The list goes on.

The campaign, which celebrated its first birthday over the summer, is truly finding its way into the mainstream, and you don’t have to look far to seea  celebrity, a comedian, a festival goer, a runner, or the lead singer of a band proudly sporting a No More Page Three t-shirt.

In amongst, and arguably, as a result of these very many successes – The Sun in Ireland dropping the feature must be counted as one of the biggest so far – are some troubling and retaliatory developments.

Upping the ante

Last week The Sun published a partially nude photo of Helen Flanagan on their front cover, inviting readers to turn to page three for the full uncensored view. Later in the week they compared their Swedish page three model to a swede (of the root vegetable variety)- drawing the obvious conclusion that they would much prefer to bed the Swede – who has a pert bottom and bulbous breasts, rather than a swede, which is skinny on top and round on the bottom. Errmmm Seriously. This is all kinds of offensive, no?

The Sun is upping the ante, so we, as supporters of the No More Page Three Campaign must too.

Some practical suggestions from the No More Page Three Campaign:

1) Write to retailers who stock The Sun to ask whether they are happy to sell discriminatory soft porn publications.

2) Write to David Cameron and your own MP expressing your concern over the increasingly sexist representation of women in The Sun. The campaign has provided an excellent template.

3) Complain to the Press Complaints Commission citing point 12 of the Editor’s Code.

4) Indulge in some pesky direct action, like slipping one of these flyers into a copy of The Sun near you…

Enjoy!

Open letter to the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP

I have written to my MP, Greg Clark. Many thanks to Pippa, a NMP3 for supplying a template letter.

Dear Mr Clark,

THE SUN NEWSPAPER

 I am writing to you to outline my concerns about the representation of women in The Sun Newspaper. I have had concerns about the paper for a number of years, but I feel compelled to write to you as my member of parliament now.

You will be aware of the No More Page 3 campaign*, which is rapidly gaining pace and public support across the UK. However, I am writing to you today because some of The Sun’s editorial decisions taken last week seem to be deliberately inflammatory and at odds with the commitments your government has made to eradicate sex discrimination and promote gender equality.

 If you were in the UK last week, you will no doubt have seen that The Sun featured a nude woman on their front cover. I saw this nude image at the Co-op store on Silverdale road, then again at High Brooms Station. I saw it several more times on the train to Charing Cross. In fact, I sat next to a gentleman who was studying the harder-core version of the image on page 3 at length on my train journey into Charing Cross. It was rather hard to avoid. I imagine as the Sun is stocked at your workplace, the House, you were unable to avoid it too.

 The following day, The Sun ran an article comparing a woman to a vegetable. The tempting invitation to imagine “bedding her”, references to “tiny panties”, “seedy nightclubs” and “pert bottom, bulbous chest”, are demeaning, insulting and specifically urge the reader to view her as a sexualised object.

Charities that work to end violence against women such as Rape Crisis and the End Violence Against Women Coalition have voiced their concern over The Sun reinforcing negative stereotypes of women in this way. I am in agreement with Caroline Lucas MP, who most eloquently represents my views and the views of many women I know, when she points out that sexism, such as the sexual harassment I encounter when I jog in Tunbridge Wells, does not happen in a vacuum. We have to recognise the wider, detrimental impact sexual objectification of women in the media has on our society.

In my view, these articles by The Sun – which I feel are becoming more extreme since the beginning of the No More Page Three campaign – are not only offensive but amount to unlawful discrimination as set out in the Equality Act 2010:

1. Discrimination against women – they are clearly being treated less favourably than men; and
2. Discrimination against campaigners for standing up to discrimination against women; and
3. Harassment against women and campaigners trying to stop this type of misrepresentation.

Your boss David Cameron’s stock response of “if you don’t like it, don’t buy it” is crass and ill-judged. You will also be aware of the Everyday Sexism Project which Laura Bates initiated. She has recently written a letter to the editor of The Sun citing examples of harassment and discrimination directly involving The Sun (but without the victims ever buying it or wanting to read it). If you have not read Laura’s letter I would urge you to do so.

 I do not buy The Sun out of principle. I find it extremely offensive. But I have personally been badly affected by page three of the Sun, and similarly, nude calendars, while working in a male-dominated environment in a previous local government job.

You will remember the Prime Minister signing the UN Resolution on the Status of Women on March 15th 2013 on behalf of the British people. The resolution promotes balanced and non-stereotypical portrayals of women with a view to eliminating discrimination against women and girls. In particular, may I draw your attention to Section B subsection (vv) which refers to the role the media can play in the elimination of gender stereotypes. In the context of Page 3 and The Sun’s other discriminatory articles about women, it is hard to understand the benefits of signing a resolution of this kind when the State demonstrates such reluctance in upholding its recommendations.

Can your government seriously continue to defend The Sun, which is so blatantly sexist and discriminatory? It is freely available in supermarkets, newsagents and garage forecourts (and the Houses of Parliament) and it is easily accessible to and in full view of children. Don’t forget, its current daily circulation figures stand at 2.2 million. Is the unregulated exposure of soft porn to children on this scale an oversight or negligence?

I am asking for your support in asking the editor to remove the Page 3 item from The Sun newspaper. Please do not miss this opportunity to recognise and act on the groundswell of opinion about Page 3 across the country, and in particular within your constituency.

 I look forward to hearing from you, and may I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your 10k run for the Hospice in the Weald at the weekend. Perhaps we will meet at another run in the area. I will be one of the women proudly sporting a No More Page Three t-shirt.

 Yours sincerely,

 Lizzy Woodfield (constituent)

 *No More Page 3 is a campaign appealing to The Sun newspaper to please stop showing the topless Page 3 images. It has public backing from Girlguiding UK (over 500,000 young members) the British Youth Council (over 220 youth organisations) the NUT, ATL, NAHT (combining over 500,000 teachers, lecturers and Head Teachers) Unison (our largest union, 1.3 million members) and The National Assembly of Wales. In addition to this over 118,000 people have signed an online petition, 138 cross-party MPs have signed a letter of support, as have a host of charities including Rape Crisis, Women’s Aid, End Violence Against Women Coalition.

 

Seriously??Ms Flaningan