All entries for September 2013

September 13, 2013

My problem with No More Page 3

Or How you can support a cause while attacking the motives
Or Fuck I love boobs though

I’ve had about five different discussions with people about No More Page 3 in the last month, and inevitably I’m always on that strange third side of the argument that neither of two main sides agree with.

“I wrote some time ago” about why I have a problem with Page 3, and you can read that but to summarise: having a daily, set, traditional place in a national paper where women are objectified and lightly mocked isn’t on. So I support the goals of No More Page 3. But I sure do have a problem with their motives.

If we lived in an ideal world, it’d be fine to have both naked men and women in our newspapers, there for us to enjoy having fun looking at their hot bodies. But we don’t. We live in a world, – hell, a country – where sexism is still rife, where misogyny is common, where rape is still depressingly commonplace. Page 3 is a symptom, not a cause, but since we’re still decades away from sorting out the cause we might as well tackle the symptoms. And one of those is a national paper maintaining a tradition of objectifying and belittling a woman on Page 3 every day.

Now, the way much of the press treat women is pretty awful, and most people I’ve spoken to tend to agree that things like the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame full of voyeuristic bikini and upskirt shots of female celebrities is far worse than Page 3. But Page 3, because it has this weird status as a British institution is a really easy and obvious target. It’ll help get people on board, it’s a great first step, and that’s why No More Page 3 is targeting Page 3 of The Sun and not, for example, whichever page happens to have Jeremy Clarkeson’s latest woman-hating rant on it. That’s why they’re targeting Page 3. Not because of something silly like nipples. So I thought.

Then something interesting happened. The Irish Sun dropped Page 3 . Except it didn’t really. It agreed not to print topless women on it any more. It was replacing them with “shots of women in swimwear”. So this is when I got excited [oh grow up]. This was it. This was when No More Page 3 were going shout from the rooftops about how the Irish Sun had totally missed the point. That the problem wasn’t with nipples, the problem was in having a page in their national paper which every day objectified and mocked a woman. And that they hadn’t changed that at all. And that a woman was no less objectified if she was in a tiny bikini, for men to lust over, than if she wasn’t wearing a bikini at all. That the problem wasn’t nudity, the problem was the casual, daily, inappropriate objectification of women.

Their actual response? “We think this is a huge step in the right direction and we thank the editor, Paul Clarkson, for taking the lead in the dismantling of a sexist institution like page 3. We are hoping that the UK Sun will follow suit and ultimately hope for an end to all objectifying images and a truly equal representation of women within the British press.”

Huh? No! It wasn’t a step in the right direction at all. It’s a step in the right direction if your final destination is “women in newspapers should be covered up”. It’s not a step in the right direction if that final destination is “women shouldn’t be objectified in the national press”. It’s a step sideways at best. A step in the right direction would be taking the smarmy comments out of the captions. A step in the right direction would be running Page 3 two days a week instead of five. A step in the right direction is not hiding the nipples. For that to work you have believe that a woman is somehow more objectified or demeaned if she’s displaying all her boobs for the pleasure of men rather than just most of her boobs. And that sort of thinking is entirely incompatible with any sort of sex-positive view of the world.

The signs were there of course, I’d just chosen to ignore them. In multiple places the campaign called Page 3 ‘pornography’ which is technically correct it seems. The line between sexy and pornographic is apparently nipples. But it’s a powerful word because if you say “what if kids see boobs in The Sun?” people will just laugh, because most of us don’t see that as a big deal. But if you say “what if kids see pornography?” it sounds so much more wrong.

And of course, the petition that kicked this whole thing off only talks about dropping the naked breasts. Nothing else. Not a single mention of objectification. Just an objection to boobs.

That’s my problem with the campaign. And I know lots of my friends and other people support the campaign because they’re after the end result, and they broadly agree with me. And the campaign has traction now and might actually do some good so I won’t criticise too much.

But when it comes to the people running the campaign, for them this is not primarily a campaign against objectification. It’s a campaign against nudity. I don’t know why. I don’t think they’re a bunch of crazy Mary Whitehouse-ite fanatics that despise sex and nudity. But somehow they saw getting women to cover up on Page 3 a win. And it worries me because this notion that the less clothes a woman is wearing, the more objectified she is seems to run very, very close to certain misogynist bullshit spouted about the morals of women that go out in skimpy outfits.

So that’s why I’m just a little bit cautious about these folk. And why when I see friends openly supporting them on social media or whatever I tend to offer a gentle nudge to be sure the stuff they’re linking to is actually what they think and that they’ve given some thought as to why they have a problem with Page 3, and if it really is the same problem that the campaign does.

Edit: it appears that since my last blog on the subject The Sun has dropped the “News in briefs” – the bit where they sarcastically mock the intelligence of the model. Unlike the removal of the nipples from the Irish Sun, No More Page 3 has neither commented on this change or called it a “step in the right direction”.

The old Left, The new Left, Billy Bragg and practical activism

There was an interesting moment in the Leftfield tent at Glastonbury this year, the ‘beating heart of the festival’ where they mix music with political talks and generally have a good time while pushing a solid message.

Billy Bragg curates the whole thing, and he was on stage and talking about the sad passing of anti-nuclear activist Crispin Aubrey, someone who had been heavily involved in the festival since the very start. It went something like this:

“He was a huge campaigner against the proliferation of nuclear armaments around the world”

Huge cheers from the crowd.

“And he campaigned against the expansion of nuclear power in the UK”

A few people cheer. Mostly an awkward silence.

In the UK right now, there’s a new Left. But they’re a Left born out of practicality, rather that principal. We know nuclear power isn’t great, but we also know that the previous generations ignored renewables while gorging themselves on coal and oil, and that it’s now just too late for a renewables-only approach. Or a nuclear-only approach. We’re quite aware that we’re screwed unless we get both of them sorted pretty sharpish. That’s the only feasible option on the table. In our hearts we’d love to run the country on solar and wind but we’ve yet to see a concrete, workable proposal on how that can be done with the timescale we have right now.

And so this week the privatisation of the Royal Mail has been in the news. Here is the Billy Hayes article being bandied about by the likes of Billy Bragg and the rest of the old Left.

Standfirst: “Privatising Royal Mail will destroy a cherished institution. The Labour party must commit to renationalise it”

First paragraph: “So the government is pressing ahead with flogging off our national assets. This time it’s Royal Mail, one of the country’s oldest and most cherished institutions, and which a Sunday Times poll last weekend showed 70% of the public don’t want privatised. What a disgraceful betrayal of the British public.”

You can read the rest if you want but short of small mention of working conditions, it’s more of a same. It’s philosophical, ideological arguments with no talk of the actual practical implications. And ideologically, I’m on board. I’d rather our infrastructure be owned by us than by the government. Practically, I just don’t care. We’re of a generation that sees posting letters as an anachronistic luxury. We’re of a generation who find it hilarious that the Royal Mail are struggling when they insist on delivery to every house in the country six days a week. Because if something is urgent we call, text or email someone. If important documents need sending, we use Special Delivery which needs to be taken to the post office, paid a fiver for, and uses mostly different infrastructure anyway. If regular first class post was dropped to three times a week, we wouldn’t notice. If it was reduced to once a week, we wouldn’t mind. And before anyone tells me we have to protect the poorest in society, you can get a cheap mobile phone for less than a book of 12 first class stamps.

And yes, some of the older generation still like to send letters and it’d be nice to keep doing that. But at some point the postal service, as it is right now, really did move from necessity to luxury. We’d rather have it than not, but there are far more important things to worry about. And when you look around the internet you find the likes of Laurie Penny quiet on the issue, while angry people call up Radio 2 phone-ins to complain about it.

Yet it’s interesting, isn’t it, that the media and the press are all over this Royal Mail privatisation story. Yet they were eerily quiet about the backdoor privatisation of the NHS. Apparently the right of everyone to send and receive letters is more important than the right of everyone to be treated for deadly illnesses.

Back at Glastonbury Billy Bragg is complaining. Apparently people keep asking him “why aren’t there as many political bands as there were in the 60s and 80s?” and apparently the answer is, “It’s people first. If young people go out there and start marching then people will start writing songs about what you’re aspiring to. It doesn’t work the other way around. Martin Luther King didn’t march on Washington because Bob Dylan wrote The Times They Are A Changin’, it’s the other way around.”

It’s a cute soundbite, but shows how out of touch the Old Left really are. In the 60s and the 80s marching was very much the only platform, the only way to make a noise and get heard. There’s not as much of that as there used to be, but now there’s the internet. Activism is no longer limited geography and physical possibility. There are 100s of leftist blogs that have a huge audience and are a great platform for our views. I genuinely don’t think that left wing activism has ever been so strong in our history. But the likes of Bragg don’t get that. We’re not marching, so it must be in decline. We’re making our points with social media because we can’t be bothered to march.

He doesn’t get it. Most of them don’t. We’re doing things different, better, to how they did things and they don’t understand that. They want to save the Royal Mail, not for practical reasons, but because it’s a British Institution. They want us to march, not tweet, because it creates a greater spectacle, not because it reaches more people. They want to achieve the same things they’ve always wanted to achieve despite the world moving on without them

And if you’re of Bragg’s generation, that’s an easy thing to do. You get to campaign against nuclear power from an idealistic standpoint because by the time the oil runs out, you’ll be dead. Meanwhile our generation are staring down the barrel of a gun, worrying less about creating some wonderful utopian society and more about just ensuring we have any sort of fair and workable society in fifty years’ time.

We don’t have the luxury of their ideology. We’re the realists of the Left. And we’re trying to make sure our generation isn’t utterly fucked.

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