The Sun’s Page 3: the last refuge of idealism

It’s come to my attention that the editors and in-house supporters of the Sun’s Page 3 are living a lie. They are pretending to be an arrogant  parcel of bogroll-floggers, careless of the soft porn they expel into the nation’s homes  and workplaces on a daily basis. But I’ve caught them out. In reality, they are idealists hiding in plain sight, using the Sun to promote the Bohemian ideals of beauty, freedom and truth.

This first became evident to me when the Sun’s then editor, Dominic Mohan, defended Page 3 to the Leveson enquiry on the grounds it celebrates “natural beauty”. In a world where old-fashioned paper sales are in terminal decline, and it’s every man (or paper) for himself, it’s so edifying to find a good man like Dom, ready to put his head above the parapet and admit he makes editorial decisions to “celebrate” beauty. It’s not about the bottom line people! As the chap in American Beauty says, “there’s so much beauty in the world”, and the Sun just wants to share it with us all.

I assume from the absolute dearth of men appearing on Page 3 that its editorial team thinks men are incapable of ‘natural beauty’. And judging by the rest of the Sun, where men are shown undertaking serious pursuits (oh, and wearing clothes), a sceptical person might conclude that it cynically uses undressed women to sell papers. But that can’t be true. The Sun is just steadfast in its celebration of women’s beauty. Take Reeva Steenkamp, the woman who was found shot dead by her partner. How to position that one on the front page? “Victim of a cold-blooded killer?” “Tragedy of a woman shot in the dark?” Based on the front page the day after she was killed, I assume it went like this: “I know! She’s a blonde stunna and we have a picture of her in a bikini shot with a cracking rack. That’ll do for the front page!” That’s how much the Sun celebrates beauty – even dignity and respect for the newly dead come second.

Freeeeeeedom!

The new editor, David Dinsmore and his fellow freedom fighters at the Sun believe that Page 3 is a great British tradition. I disagree – I think freedom of the press is the real great British tradition. The ability to speak the truth and not be silenced should be protected and preserved to our last breath. This is why I personally believe the government/lawmakers shouldn’t interfere with how newspapers are run.

That is why, when I see something in a newspaper that I find damaging and offensive, I don’t petition the government for regulation and control of the press. I don’t try to have this feature forcibly removed. Instead, I say to the paper in question ‘Here is why this is damaging’  in an attempt to persuade them to stop. Voluntarily.

What I’ve just described is the No More Page 3 campaign. I absolutely fail to see how supporting a campaign based on activism and persuasion amounts to smothering free speech. Perhaps David Dinsmore recognises that too, and is trying to harness the liberal desire a lot of us UK citizens have to protect our freedoms, to discredit the No More page 3 Campaign. But that can’t be right – David is just a passionately Liberal-minded man, committed to maintaining our collective freedoms. His publishing these naked women keeps our freedoms alive.

Ducking the truth

Thousands of people have spoken out in support of the No More Page 3 campaign. Some are teachers citing their professional opinion on the damage Page 3 causes in their classroom. Some are women like me who, as small girls in the 1980s, were bemused by the naked lady in the newspaper. Some are girls in schools today who find themselves crudely compared to the Page 3 girl, when a class exercise requires a newspaper. Yet more supporters are parents who don’t want their sons and daughters growing up with the warped idea that women exist to be pretty for men. In the face of all these professional and heartfelt private testimonies, you have to admire Dom for his steadfast commitment to the truth – his truth at least.

 

Page 3 is about celebrating beauty, it’s harmless, and any attempts to remove it stifle free speech.

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My wish for 2014: a women’s magazine that isn’t utter rubbish

Have you ever gone into a newsagent or supermarket, looked at the women’s magazines on offer, and thought, “well, these all look like total tripe”, before decamping to the wine aisle in disappointment?

This has happened to me so often that I don’t even flick through them anymore. I simply don’t hold out much hope of decent content from the publication that poses the question “is tongue the new sideboob?” on its front page (that would be you, Grazia).

The problem with voicing these criticisms – especially to other women – is that it’s very difficult not to sound snooty and pretentious: “ Grazia, you say? I wouldn’t dream of reading such muck. I subscribe to Intelligent Life, and have you read the Madwoman in the Attic? It’s simply an excellent exploration of feminism in the 19th century”.

I really don’t want to be that idiot.

Nonetheless, I have to ask: where are the decent magazines? I don’t have a narrow or limited range of interests: I like music, fiction, theatre, current affairs, anything to do with life in Asia (I have a vicarious interest, until I can afford to travel more), and buying handbags/clothes. What I find odd about the majority of women’s ‘lifestyle’ magazines is that the last item on that list dominates.  I like shopping online for new clothes (in the same passive way I ‘like’ having a cup of coffee) –  but that doesn’t mean I want to read an entire 130-page magazine about it.

I’m not even starting on the parade of celebrities I don’t recognise, articles on celebrity’s children (privacy anyone?), or the unsolicited advice on bikini diets – the latter often confusingly juxtaposed beside exhortations to ‘embrace your curves’.

Clothing (as a topic in a women’s magazine) seems to be an expansive subject. What clothes are fashionable, what clothes are not, red carpet faux pas, who looks fat, whose booty looks good in what skirt, and then the inevitable ‘wardrobe malfunction’. Woe betide the hapless celebrity who has furtively left the house for a pint of milk and not dressed for the occasion. I find two things odd about these articles/features: a) that the person writing/commissioning them gives a crap and b) that they expect me to as well.  (For the record: the only time I’ll be interested in reading about a ‘wardrobe malfunction‘ will be if someone ever owns a rogue Winchester that springs to life,  does a dance, and spews forth dancing clothes, like the one in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I’ll read that article.)

The thing is, I don’t think I’m some weird aberration of the female human race. Presumably the majority of women have a wide range of interests, which are blithely ignored by magazine editors. A recent article in the Economist talked about India and how family roles are changing – with an insight into the figure of the formidable mother-in-law. The BBC did a great feature on a famous neo-Nazi in the UK who led a double life in the Soho gay scene.  Can’t we have something interesting this like sandwiched in among the discussions of sideboobs and Kate Middleton’s baby weight? I know the likes of Marie Claire purports to fill this void, but for me, it’s still too heavy on the clothes/accessories front. Not to mention style advice involving dresses that cost the same as my rent.

So that’s my wish for Christmas: to find a magazine to read in 2014 that reflects even a little more of my own interests. Any suggestions, let me know.

Grazia's December edition: tackling the big issues of 2013.
Grazia’s December edition: tackling the big issues of 2013.

On sports, sex and night-time makeup

I’ve written previously about how people I consider to be well-judging, normal humans dismiss feminism because they believe women have already achieved equality. I’ve been reflecting on this, looking at the news and my own life over the last week, and you know what? I’m open to changing my mind, so let’s re-visit that viewpoint.

Starting with sport. With Wimbledon just behind us, we can reflect with satisfaction on the fact that female tennis players now receive the same prize money as men. And how lovely to see the congratulations pouring in to this year’s female Singles Winner, Marion Bartoli. My personal favourite from the plethora of good wishes comes from the delightful @Willshow95: “Bartoli you fat shit. I don’t want a ugly bitch to win”.

Hmmm. OK, moving on. Golf! Yesterday I received an invitation to Muirfield, a club hosting the 2013 Open Championship. This is arguably the biggest professional golf tournament in the world, certainly the oldest. On opening the emailed invite, I felt pleasure mixed with alarm. I turned to my colleague (also invited) and asked “am I allowed to go to that, though? Is it not for men only?” This was a serious question – I’d read only a few days before that the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, was boycotting Muirfield because it doesn’t let women in. It turns out, though, that although Muirfield does not allow women to join, it does deign to let them spectate. Go equality. A wee question for any men out there – have you ever received an invite to an official sports event, where your first thought is alarm that you’re excluded because of your gender? Not a trick question – I would actually like to know. (As a sidenote, who fancies storming the ramparts with me, á la Rosa Parks? Go to Muirfield, sit there, and refuse to leave until they let us join?)

Thou shall not pass, wench.
Thou shall not pass, wench.

So that was yesterday morning. At lunchtime, I gave Twitter a cursory glance as I ate in the sun. (There is actual SUN in Scotland at the moment. This is a rare event for us). Little did I know, a lunchtime revelation was in store for me! Makeup you can sleep in, so that your boyfriend doesn’t have to barf with shock at your ugly, unadorned face in the morning. Apparently, ‘mornings just got a lot prettier’. In the interests of equality, I’m wondering what this company is proposing to make my boyfriend more visually palatable to me in the morning? Here’s an idea – why don’t we just both wash our faces before we go to bed, wake up a little sleepy and have some sex. That’s my idea of a pretty morning.
Looking good at 7 am?
Looking good at 7 am?

Eyes on the prize: shagging for shelter
Night-time make-up wasn’t the only treat Twitter had in store for me, however. Cue lots and lots of coverage of the Tory-led Coalition’s new benefit cap: cutting housing benefit for teenage mothers. Apparently, UK society is being bled dry by these house-hungry teenage girls, who are having cold and calculating sex to win the ultimate prize: a council house. Now I remember being a teenager, and I remember having sex. The only thing on my mind was the fact I had a boyfriend I loved and fancied the pants off. Teenagers, as most people will accept, think about sex a lot. Not so the Coalition government. Not only is it making the mistake of thinking that teenagers have sex to obtain a house, but it is also putting the burden of any subsequent children on the teenage mother. Not the father. Now I don’t have any kids, but last time I checked it takes two people to make a baby. One reader commented in the Independent this morning that “instead of coming down so heavily on unmarried mothers, isn’t it about time the Government started to focus on young dads?” Or, instead of ‘coming down’ on anyone, how about acknowledging that the UK’s teen pregnancy rates are the lowest since records began?

So in a nutshell, here’s what I learned yesterday:
1. At a club hosting an international sporting tournament, women can watch golf but not play it
2. Looking pretty for your boyfriend at 7 am is not only desirable, but something you should spend money and time achieving
3. And lastly, teenage girls bear sole responsibility for having children, and should be punished accordingly.

Yay equality! Its work is clearly done.

Why clothes don’t equal rape: a reply to Maureen Messent

Someone was kind enough to comment on a previous post saying that I write in a calm and coherent way about feminism, “a topic that gets people a bit defensive”. I do try to avoid angry writing, because I’m keen to banish the stereotype that feminists are a bunch of ranting, frothing-at-the mouth manhaters.

However. As a feminist (never mind that, as a human), I sometimes encounter viewpoints so jaw-droppingly awful they provoke a visceral response in me. My two sure-fire routes to rage are 1) when people blame victims of sexual assault for their clothes/drinking alcohol and 2) when women bare their snarky claws and undermine other women. As I checked the news on my phone this morning, I had a delightful taste of both: a steaming pile of victim blaming, served up a deluded female journalist, Maureen Messent.

This article is truly the most hateful pile of crap I’ve seen this week, and that includes Nick Griffin’s Twitter feed. The contemptible human who wrote it manages, in only about 300 words, to undermine both men and women – all of humanity, in fact. In her twisted view of the world, women need to dress conservatively and not drink – otherwise, men (i.e. half of humanity) will predatorily pursue and sexually assault them.

I apparently have a much higher opinion of men in general than this woman, since I believe the vast majority of men out there are civilised human beings, capable of speaking to a woman in a tight dress without raping and pillaging her. The idea that women have to dress defensively, sartorially fending off an attack, is so breathtakingly insulting to men. It implies that instead of being rational people with their own thoughts and opinions, they are drooling gorillas, panting after then physically attacking the first woman who walks past in a short skirt.

A male student friend of mine was robbed of his phone walking back from the student union recently. He was alone, late at night, had a few drinks. Oddly enough, when he reported this crime no-one said to him “alone late at night, were you? Bit drunk? Well if you were drinking, that diminishes the responsibility of the man who robbed you. You should have taken better care of yourself”. The same logic applies to all victims of crime. Robbers, rapists, criminals of all kinds are on the look-out for an opportunity. So if a rapist is combing a bar looking for someone vulnerable, that means he’s a predator. It does not mean the victim (or intended victim) deserves to be raped.

Last summer, I was out for dinner and drinks with a friend when a man came up behind me in a bar and grabbed me by the vagina. I was wearing black jeans and a blouse, a bit see-through. I bought this blouse because it was similar to the one Lana del Rey wears on the front cover of her album Born to Die, and I thought it looked nice. My buying and wearing this blouse does not diminish the crime of the man who grabbed me. Maureen Messent would like to suggest, to me and other victims of more serious sexual assault, that this is my fault. Sorry Maureen, but I have this radical view whereby I think people who commit rapes are rapists, and the people who are raped are victims. Also, way to go, Maureen, for validating the small amount of men who commit these crimes. Because as long as idiots like you continue to publically blame victims of sexual assault, these predators are self-justified in their attacks.

“Of course there are sadistic men who leap from nowhere on sober and soberly-dressed virgins returning from evensong, but the majority – the vast majority – of women know their assailants.” – Maureen Messent

In pursuit of equality

Watching grainy footage of the 1913 Epsom Derby today (where suffragette Emily Davison threw herself under the King’s horse) made me think about how attitudes towards women’s issues have changed over the last 100 years.

The right to vote is something so fundamentally just and reasonable, that from today’s vantage point the counter arguments seem absurd. I looked up some of the prominent opposers of women’s suffrage: they included Herbert Asquith (Prime Minister and supporter of Liberal reforms), and Winston Churchill, the ‘voice in the wilderness’ warning us of Hitler as early as 1934.

Churchill opposed suffrage on the basis that “women are well represented by their fathers, brothers, and husbands.” What this tells me is that people who are intelligent, astute, and morally well-disposed are capable of forming entirely flawed views of a woman’s place in the world. And that’s something that hasn’t changed.

This was brought home to me this week, when I decided to ramp up my involvement with feminism by actively engaging with non-feminists. You see, nice though it is to interact with fellow feminists – people who relate to the injustices that rankle in my soul – these aren’t the people you need to convince. The people you need to convince are the men and women out there who don’t think gender equality is an issue.

Gloves off: I’m going in
To this end, I got chatting to a friend and ex-colleague about gender equality. He is intelligent, in a good job, and personally I like him a lot. Yet we sat together in the pub, beers in hand, while he spoke about how women have already achieved workplace equality, and how as a well-educated white man, everyone else has a louder voice than him – especially women.

These comments unnerved me for two reasons. First of all, because they come from someone I know to be in all other respects well-informed and fair-minded. Secondly, because they’re based on perceptions rather than reality. My friend’s perception is that wage inequality no longer exists. The reality is that women earn an average gross full-time salary of £23,100 – £5,600 less than their male counterparts. For recent graduates, men earn more than women across all degree subject areas. In a scienctific study, research shows that male candidates were offered over average £4000 a year more – based on gender and no other factors.

His other perception (that he is marginalised and women’s voices take precedence), is I think based on a lack of awareness of the menace with which women’s voices are shouted down and dimmed when they do speak out. Which is what the rest of my post is about.

For some people, women having the audacity to publicly speak out about things they consider unjust provokes ire and outrage: they’re deemed to be stepping out from their proper sphere. A hundred years ago, suffragettes were sexually assaulted and had ‘their breasts twisted’ by London police in the infamous Black Friday campaign. They were smashing stuff up? Then arrest them and put them in jail. The threat and execution of sexual assault upon women who speak up is not something new, and more worryingly, it has not gone away.

“Shut up or I’ll hurt you”
Fast forward to today, and activists still endure sex-based threats on the heels of public speech. Two female students received a spate of rape threats (not one or two) after objecting to sexist comments made on their appearance by male Glasgow Uni students during a Cambridge-Glasgow university debate. And despite these comments, which undermined the whole debate by failing to treat the students as intellectual equals, Glasgow University  replied to a groundswell of complaints that there is ‘no case to answer’. This can’t be written off as merely the work of minority internet trolls. These are students at a good university, abetted by responsible adults, literally shouting down women in a debate who are trying to conduct themselves as equals. And it’s the same pattern: voice an opinion, get shouted down, then roll on the misogynistic abuse. In this case, the abuse went like this: “I scrolled through comment after comment discussing whether it would be preferable to rape me using a knife, or to keep me as a sex slave.”

That’s not what equality looks like.

The women I’ve profiled below (today’s feminists, arguably our answer to the Suffragettes) have all received significant threats of rape and assault, for speaking publicly about feminist issues. The men who make these threats aren’t attempting to challenge their opinions or engage in a discussion: they are effectively saying ”shut up or I’ll hurt you”.  And this is a society in which men’s voices are maginalised?

Who? Public action/statement Resulting violence/threats
‘Black Friday’ suffragettes Campaigned for women’s right to vote Sexual assaults
Laura Bates Created ‘Every Sexism’, an org and online space to share upsetting and sexist experiences Death and rape threats
Lucy Holmes Objected to page the Sun’s Page 3 Death and rape threats
Rebecca Meredith Objected to comments on appearance in intellectual debate Rape threats
Lindy West Objected to rape jokes Death and rape threats

To return to the view of my friend: I can’t accept claims that we live in an equal society, when instead of a rational debate, a woman voicing an opinion provokes threats of  sexual violation. If you fit the profile of my friend, you rarely encounter sexism firsthand. You don’t experience the undercurrent of sexual intimidation, the unconscious bias against female employees, the lack of pay equality. I don’t blame you for not being aware of these things – but just because you haven’t experienced them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

equality

Why I just deactivated my Facebook account – #FBrape

I reckon Facebook annoys most of its users from time to time. The surreptitious changes to your privacy settings, the new timeline, the relentless push towards a ‘share everything’ mindset. Until this week, my own bugbear was the insistent promptings to add my favourite films and books every time I log in on a pc. Facebook had even come up with some helpful suggestions (Dirty Dancing and Twilight), making me wonder if they think I am, in fact, a 14-year old girl.

Until now I’ve put up with these irritations because I have friends, family and colleagues on Facebook, and I’m mildly nosy. I like to see what they’re up to. Granted, there is the odd boring picture (I don’t need to see your dinner!) that doesn’t improve the quality of my life, but generally it’s worth it.

Fail
Fail

Today I deactivated my Facebook account. The #FBrape campaign of the last week made me re-think Facebook – what it stands for, and whether or not I want it in my life.

On the plus side, Facebook has very carefully defined its own parameters of what it deems to be acceptable behaviour. There is a ‘like’ button, but no ‘dislike’ button, because Facebook is meant to be a positive, sociable place. And it ostensibly does “not permit hate speech based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition”.

So far, so good. Where Facebook falls down is its inability (or unwillingness) to actually enforce its own standards. In my Twitter feed this week I’ve come across a plethora of vile images that have been reported to Facebook, including: a female child with two black eyes, a woman tied up, gagged and crying, and various pictures of girls who look unconscious, covered in blood. Facebook’s sanctimonious response has been a refusal to remove most of this content, because it is classified as ‘humour’.

One of the pages was apparently called ‘fly kicking sluts in the uterus’. I wonder if it would have been taken down if it was called ‘fly kicking pakis in the face’? I suspect it would have been – because racist content is rightly removed from Facebook as soon as it reported, which is where the raging inconsistency comes in. Race and gender are covered by the same clause in Facebook’s own standards – so either both racist and misogynistic content is not OK, or both are considered humour and tolerated. You can’t apply one rule for one and not the other.

Then there’s their other piece of inconsistent, anti-female behaviour: routinely removing pictures of women who’ve had mastectomies. You can’t share a picture of a woman who has bravely overcome breast cancer (because that’s offensive) but you can share a picture of gagged, crying rape victim (because that’s funny). To me, this just speaks volumes for the contemptuous view the company has of women.

To date, Facebook has yet to respond to the open letter, signed by 40 organisations, calling for hate speech against women to be recognised and moderated. They must assume that users are so hooked on their daily Facebook fix that they’ll overlook a small matter like gender-inspired hate speech.

I know that as only one person, deactivating my account will be a non-event for Facebook. But I want to make the gesture anyway – because I refuse to be part of a network that routinely trivialises violence against women.

FB

The peepshow women’s toilet that’s ‘a bit of fun’

A better toilet experience than The Shimmy?
A better toilet experience than The Shimmy?

When I think of revolting Scottish toilets, the first two images that pop into my head are Ewan McGregor doing his toilet dive in Trainspotting, and the typically minging festival toilets at T in the Park. But this week another contender emerged to vie for the crown of Most Ghastly Toilet experience: Glaswegian nightclub The Shimmy.

Here’s why: The Shimmy’s owners have installed a two-way mirror in the women’s toilets, allowing a select group of people (sitting in £800 private booths) to watch women. In the toilets. You know, that place you go when you’re looking for privacy.

When the fact hit the media this week, you might think the club would be embarrassed at invading women’s privacy, or ashamed of the notion that elite, wealthy guests get to pay extra to perv on ordinary, unsuspecting women. But no. The Shimmy’s response was so uppity and defensive that I just had to share it.

They start off by snootily saying: “it’s clear that those who are negatively commenting online may not have been lucky enough to get past the door staff and viewed the area”.

Damn, you got me there. I do feel downcast that I’m not ‘lucky enough’ to have spent time in a club where a bunch of random strangers are watching me without my knowledge. Oh, and clearly I can’t have a valid criticism of your creepy voyeuristic toilet because I haven’t actually seen it. Guess what though? I haven’t actually seen Guantanamo Bay either, but I disapprove of it too. Something doesn’t need to be directly in front of my retinas for my opinion to be valid. You arrogant pricks.

Next off:

The sight line is very limited and allows for glimpses into the wash up area only of the ladies loos”.

How considerate of you – so the people in these private booths can’t see me actually defecate. How comforting.

“Interestingly, you can see into a similar area of both the ladies and gents from the street at Corinthian Club and no-one has ever said a word”.

That’s right people! There’s another club in Glasgow being equally creepy, because they have these awful things called….windows. I’m now wondering how stupid the people at The Shimmy really are, if they can’t see the difference between people paying up to £800 for the privilege of peering into the women’s bogs, and panes of glass that let light in. They miss another significant point here: these evil glass-panes the Corinthian has are in both the male and female toilets. The Shimmy’s custom-made perv-mirror is only in the women’s toilets – not the men’s.

“There has always been signage in the toilets which no-one has mentioned thus far”

Translated as “we tell women they’re being spied upon – we just wait til they’ve paid the entry fee and are in the toilet”. How magnanimous of you. What you have actually done is put a sticker on the mirror, one that apparently wasn’t evident to some of your clientele. Also, poor you, having the media report on your perv-mirror without stressing this fact. One bright spot – after all this negative publicity, there’s unlikely to be a girl in Glasgow left who hasn’t heard about it.

You would think that’s more than enough arrogant chat from one company in one Facebook post, but they’re not done:

“loads of you have used the opportunity as it was intended and knowingly had pictures taken acting up to the camera individually or in a group of friends”.

Let me get this straight. You installed this mirror as an opportunity for women to ‘act up’ to groups of unknown strangers? Last I heard, that’s called a peepshow, and women generally get paid for participating. They don’t pay for the privelege. Do you seriously expect girls to fork out £10, or whatever your sleazy club charges as an entry fee, to then act as entertainment for your wealthiest clientele? Can’t you just hire a decent DJ like everyone else?

Their charming post ends by telling us that there are vibrators embedded in the dance floor. I assume this is Stage 2 in their plan to get their female guests to act as entertainment for the guys. They’ve also edited their post since I first read it earlier in the week, when they claimed that their creepy mirror set-up is ‘not sexist’. It seems even they are willing to concede that one. They’re standing by their comment that it’s a ‘bit of fun’ though.

This whole set-up is a huge invasion of women’s privacy. And the club’s cynical encouragement of women to pout and ‘act up’, is just a blatant way of lining their own pockets at the expense of the female clientele. More insidiously, it reinforces the view that women are playthings and toys of men.

I used to live in Glasgow, and I’m actually going out there in a couple of weeks. Think I’ll head to the Corinthian and check out these infamous windows it has. I would genuinely rather use the fabled Trainspotting toilet than be part of a peepshow at The Shimmy.

Feminism, music, India, gin

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