The misogyny of the anti-Page 3 brigade
The prudes trying to strip the tabloids of topless pics belittle women far more than any male reader could.
With the Leveson Inquiry currently insisting that the press bares all, campaign groups such as Turn Your Back on Page 3 have spotted an opportunity to force the tabloid’s topless ladies to cover themselves up. And all in the name of protecting girls like me from being terrorised by tits.
The campaign to get bare chests banned is certainly not short of grand claims. Apparently, Page 3 and its like perpetuate sexism by, ‘at best, encouraging and endorsing negative attitudes towards us and within us, and at worst, [encouraging and endorsing] acts of violence committed against us’. According to campaigners, the government therefore has a responsibility to satiate these campaigners’ appetite for paternalism, which they believe equates to ‘stamping out sexism once and for all’.
The Turn Your Back on Page 3 campaigners are right about one thing: an offensive misrepresentation of women exists in society. But it is this group of self-appointed saviours that has offended. The group parades itself as representative of women in order to justify forcing its views on the public. But if these supposed advocates of women’s rights were serious about liberties, they would not condone such bans.
And it is not just that the campaigners are unjustified in speaking on behalf of women – they have also misrepresented women and men. These campaigners present women as pitiful animals teeming with self-loathing. Men are depicted as uncontrollable beasts who are so mesmerised by the breasts on Page 3 that these images, at best, define their perception of women for evermore and, at worst, turn them to violence.
Whether or not the women behind this crusade succeed in banishing bewitching breasts from the news-stands, the ban-the-boobs lobby has already done more to objectify women than any male reader of the Sun to date. In the midst of its fervent outrage, Turn Your Back on Page 3 has completely disregarded the fact that the girls employed by the Sun or the Daily Star are not just breasts in the paper, but living, capable individuals who voluntarily accepted their jobs. Instead of considering that these girls might not be too bothered by flashing some flesh for the camera, the campaigners treat the Page 3 girls as mindless symbols of male domination and have no qualms about commandeering them for Turn Your Back on Page 3’s cause. This attitude disrespects women’s ability to judge for themselves whether they want to flaunt their bodies in public.
The image of women that Turn Your Back on Page 3 perpetuates is of weak, fragile creatures who have to depend on the paternalistic intervention of the state in order to get anywhere in life. Apparently, pictures of tits overwhelm women with a wave of self-pity that will ‘stall our progress’ and seriously hinder our individual success. And the only way we can overcome this unbearable pain, of course, is to cry to the men in Westminster to make it all better.
This depiction of women is precisely what perpetuates the sexist attitudes in society that Turn Your Back on Page 3 claims to be fighting. By trying forcefully to censor others on our behalf, Turn Your Back on Page 3 only reinforces the idea that women aren’t strong enough to speak up and prove the illegitimacy of sexist attitudes by themselves. Forcing the media to pretend that men aren’t attracted to our bodies will accomplish absolutely nothing, other than a gross infringement on our freedom.
Despite the campaign’s assertion that it is the government’s responsibility to stamp out sexism once and for all, any negative attitudes towards women have to be dealt with by society, not the state. Even if Harriet Harman, the – again, self-appointed – ‘champion of press freedom’ and her posse get their way by, very fittingly, trampling over the freedom of the press, some men will still like naked women and some women are going to continue to feel empowered by their sexuality.
To be honest, I don’t care if some women do like to be photographed with their clothes off. What I do care about is my ability to make my own decisions about how best to live my life. So to the women behind the Turn Your Back on Page 3 campaign: don’t pose as my salvation and don’t pretend to represent my concerns. Unlike you, I think women are capable of proving themselves to be more than a pair of tits without the help of the state.
Gabrielle Shiner is on the executive board of European Students For Liberty and studies English at Queen Mary, University of London