Monday, October 01, 2012

Crockart and Featherstone sign No More Page 3 letter to Sun editor

The success of the No More Page 3 campaign continues with the petition having crossed the 40,000 signature milestone last night.

The organisers have now drafted a letter to the Sun editor Dominic Mohan for MPs to sign.

Dear Dominic Mohan,
We write to lend our support to the No More Page 3 Campaign. As MPs our role is to serve the people, and we cannot remain silent in the presence of a page that limits and misrepresents over half the population.
The largest female image in our most widely-read newspaper is of a semi-naked young woman. She is there purely for the sexual gratification of men. This is unacceptable.We want to live in a society where the most widely-read newspaper is one that respects women. Instead, The Sun publishes Page 3, which reduces women to objects. It reduces men to objectifiers. And it reduces this country to one that upholds 1970s sexist values.
We’re better than this.
Please remove these damaging pictures from your newspaper.
Yours sincerely,

Credit where it's due, I am chuffed that my local Labour MP Graeme Morrice has signed.

Liberal Democrats Mike Crockart and Lynne Featherstone have also added their names. Mike did so via Twitter last night, calling the feature an "indefensible anachronism."

That leaves 55 Liberal Democrat MPs, not to mention AMs, MSPs, GLAMs and MEPs who may not have heard of this yet - so over to you to persuade them if you agree this is a good idea.

I realise that many of you will have had better things to do on a Friday night, but on Newsnight, Harriet Harman debated the issue with Neil Wallis, a former deputy editor of the Sun. Talking about indefensible anachronisms, he basically said that there were plenty real women out there who supported page 3. What does that make Harriet, I and its many opponents then?

Caroline Criado-Perez has written an article for the Huffington Post which outlines the abuse that women who oppose Page 3 have taken:
The most common tactic deployed by those who disagree with the campaign is to try to undermine the position from which we object. This takes a number of forms, the most regular being to suggest that we speak from a position of "envy", "jealousy" and "insecurity". We are "bitter", "self-obsessed", "pitying" and, strangely, "vain", because we are "ugly", "flat-chested", "older", "less pert", and, almost inevitably, "lesbians". These attacks on our looks are closely followed by comments which dismiss our arguments and evidence as "nagging", "whining" and "moaning" - undermining tactics which are linked with the next most popular approach, which is to call us "immature", "pathetic", "little girls" and patronise us by addressing us as "dear".
She also points to a 2009 study which suggests that there could be a link between things like Page 3 and domestic violence.
Furthermore, while a direct causal link is impossible to prove until we have complete transcripts of everyone's brains, charities that specialize in domestic violence, such as The Freedom Programme and End Violence Against Women (EVAW) both consider the objectification of women in the media to be a considerable contributory factor towards violence against women. They cite a number of independent investigations, one of the most compelling being a 2009 Princeton study which scanned the brains of heterosexual men looking at sexualized images of women in bikinis. The areas of their brains that lit up were those that light up when we anticipate using tools; these women were responded to as objects to be used. Small wonder then, that the American Psychological Association cites a range of studies demonstrating that when people view media that portrays women as sex objects, they become significantly more accepting of sexual harassment and interpersonal violence.
Last week, my article asking politely that men don't read their pornography in the public space, which was republished on the New Statesman, attracted some pretty insulting comments. Even when I put it up on Facebook, I was called bonkers, militant and a moron - by Liberal Democrats, for goodness sake. The abuse I've taken over this issue makes the cybernats look like a bunch of cuddly teddy bears.

The point that was made time and time again was that women read 50 Shades of Grey, so why is it a problem. Really? There are all sorts of novels, from Jackie Collins to the Stieg Larsson trilogy which outline some pretty graphic and often abusive sexual encounters. The thing is, if someone's reading them on in public all you can see is words on a page. From a distance, this blog post looks exactly the same as a page from Mark Pack and Ed Maxfield's book, 101 ways to win an election. You can't tell what's being read.

However, if I filled the entire space with a picture of an almost completely nude woman, you'd be able to see it a long way away. Why shouldn't I ask people to be a bit more considerate about what they do in the public space?

If you agree with the No to Page 3 campaign and haven't yet signed the petition, please do so here. I was taken by something Mike Crockart said on Twitter this morning - that for his No to Nuisance Calls campaign, 7000 signed up from a newspaper cutting, while 5000 signed up online. I wonder if the next step is to get paper copies into coffee mornings, workplaces or whatever. Maybe person to person contact would have even more success. 40,000 online signatures in 3 weeks is pretty outstanding, but by getting out there into our communities and asking people we know, our colleagues, friends and families, we will inevitably reach more people.


lynne featherstone said...

Yes - any comment on Page 3 or the like generally brings out the worst in the ensuing online comments. They are often abusive to anyone voicing the thought that pictures of sexualised naked women in the public space might not be a good thing. The comments just prove the point I would say.

Anonymous said...

I have images of women masturbating whilst reading "50 Shades" in public spaces. It being composed of words on a page is a blatantly sexist argument that suggests that the visual libido of men is less acceptable that the more mental stimulation of women.

Your position is illiberal. I loathe Page 3 and Nuts magazines, but I would die defending them, it's just that simple. Our society has chosen liberty and we will fight your oppression in any way it manfests itself.

Also, Lynne, your comments on this issue are abusive to millions of men that don't see the world the way that you do. I don't agree with them, but I'm not in the business of restricting the civil liberties of citizens. If this stuff was damaging you could prove it, instead you're arguing a point from the sixties 50 years too late. Grow up, move on and seize liberty.

Benjamin Thomas said...

I'd like to apply to the post by Anon above - to this section:

"I have images of women masturbating whilst reading "50 Shades" in public spaces. It being composed of words on a page is a blatantly sexist argument that suggests that the visual libido of men is less acceptable that the more mental stimulation of women."

I think you're misunderstanding the writer's point. The differentiation between erotic literature and visual pornography was not made to imply that one is "better" or "less unnacepteable" from the other. I totally agree that there's no real difference, from the perspective of the reader, to visual or literary pornography, both can be equally benign or damaging depending on a variety of subtelties such as whether they glorify abuse and suchlike. The point made was that, if you're sat on a train reading 50 Shades, other people can look in your direction without reading 50 Shades. If you're looking at an A2 picture of a naked woman, then anyone who looks at you from the right angle is also looking at an A2 picture of a naked woman, and may not wish to.

It's the same reason I don't mind someone sitting next to me taking ecstasy, but I do mind someone sitting next to me smoking. Smoking one ciggarette is not a "worse" personal decision or "morally worse" than taking ecstasy - but when someone next to me smokes then I am forced to smoke as well, whereas someone sitting next to me popping ex isn't forcing me to do so.

The writer is not saying that looking at visual porn is worse than reading porn, she's saying that looking at large-scale visual porn means lots of people around you will have to choose between averting their eyes or also looking at visual porn, whereas reading porn doesn't inconvenience others in the same way.

cynicalHighlander said...

Liberals signing things again!

Anonymous said...

Hi Benjamin,

"The point made was that, if you're sat on a train reading 50 Shades, other people can look in your direction without reading 50 Shades."

Yes, I understood that to be Caron's argument, however, I'm suggesting that the subject themselves often become visually offensive. My point was that in the past 12 months I've seen or heard of a few people pleasuring themselves in public - but only 1 of them was male! Most of the others had 50 Shades in one hand.

Banning stuff is not going to change this at all. If you ban partial nudity from publications, or restrict access, sale or where it can be read, you're creating a circumstance whereby huge amounts of harmless literature become taboo. That will only accelerate what this government is best at - pushing things into the black market.

If, on the other hand, you just want Page 3 banned, it's probably because you don't have a particularly holistic view of this subject. You've maybe never considered what damage the pressures of Cosmo's relentless sexual comparison surveys might of done to men or how you're going to tackle the so-called health/sports magazines that are similar to Nuts, just angled slightly differently. It's a quagmire and I believe that Caron and Lynne have overtly simplified this complexity to the point of meaninglessness. Their arbitrary line will be drawn around and circumvented; and all they've achieved in the process is targeting the same cheap shot that all politicians take - working class men.

It's not to say I don't think there's a problem, I just think this solution facile, sexist and authoritarian. Come up with a generalised rule - if you're going to ban the display of topless women and you believe in equality, you should at least argue for the ban of topless men too. Otherwise, what sort of equality is it that these people proffer?

Benjamin Thomas said...

In reply to Anon's reply to my reply to his post:

I see what you're saying now. I'd say you're making a conflation between people reading erotic literature in public and people doing so while masturbating. The latter is quite clearly unnacepteable. I don't want to see people or any gender masturbating in public while reading or looking at anything.

"You've maybe never considered what damage the pressures of Cosmo's relentless sexual comparison surveys might of done to men or how you're going to tackle the so-called health/sports magazines that are similar to Nuts, just angled slightly differently"

Actually I have and I totally agree. There's a whole lot of stuff out there that is massively damaging but isn't "porn" and there's "porn" that isn't much of an issue at all. As it's come up a lot, I'll use 50 Shades as an example. I think it's pretty much the most offensive and damaging thing I've come across. For many reasons, but mostly because it treats BDSM and sexual abuse as the same thing. Both as some kind of "bad but oh so good" kind of nonsense. It glorifies abusive relationships and encourages victim blame and the whole "it's probably my fault that he abuses me, if I am very good maybe I can change him" mindset that keeps people in abusive relationships worldwide. Then at the same time, it also manages to be hugely offensive to BDSM fans like myself, by making out that it's something only damaged and abused people would ever be into, and equating it with sexual abuse. BDSM activity, between two consenting people who are respectful of each other's personal boundaries, can be a wonderful and intimate way to have fun and explore each other's sexualities. BDSM activity forced upon one party by the other through emotional or physical coercion is just as unaccepteable as vanilla sex forced upon one person by another. "50 Shades" makes out that the problem with Christian, primarialy, is that he's into BDSM (which apparently the author has no experience of herself, so no surprise she has no idea about it) not that he's an abusive mysoginist bastard. It's disgusting, damaging, promotes abuse and is offensive to people who enjoy BDSM in a healthy and fully mutual manner.

Anyhow, I could go on for a month about "50 Shades" and the various ways in which it essentially signals to me that the "liberation" of women has essentially been circumvented and defeated by a new oppression that glorifies misoginy and abuse as being "edgy" and "sexy" and exactly what women should want from men, but I digress from the argument.

Benjamin Thomas said...


Essentailly, Anon, I agre with your point. "Page 3" is just one small part of the problem. Eg. as far as I can see most "women's issues" (such a degrading term when you see what's in them) magazines are a million times more damaging, and banning publication from the top-down isn't going to get anything done.

However, I do defend that there is a difference between reading visual porn openly and reading erotic literature openly, assuming you aren't also publicly masturbating (which is a totally different issue.) I agree that someone reading something damaging and offensive such as "50 Shades" can then, not because you can also read it, but because you can see it and see what it is, be just as upsetting to an onlooker as someone reading visual porn. I agree with that. Every time I see someone reading "50 Shades" I tend to be in a black mood for several hours. As I've mentioned, as someone who is both committed to an end so sexism and an end to rape and sexual abuse, as well as someone who is a big fan of some aspects of BDSM, it manages to offend me in just about every way possible for that monstrosity to offend anyone. I imagine I'd feel similarly offended if I saw anyone viewing visual "rape porn" (Porn designed (and you're never sure how much is staging and how much might, horrifically, be genuine) to make it look as if the sex is non-consensual, and that one party is experienceing physical and/or emotional distress.)

The thing is, however, no matter how much I personally may be offended by it, it's their free choice to read material that glorifies and "sexes up" abuse if they happen to want to. I can't stop them. And they aren't infringing on my liberties by reading it. Yes, I can tell they are reading it. Yes, that will offend me. But No, I have no right to tell them not to, because I am only being offended by *observing what choices they have made*. Their choice hasn't affected me in any way but that I am offended and upset by the fact that it is the choice they have made. Whereas someone reading visual porn that I find offensive or unnacepteable (and a lot of people find any porn unnacepteable and offensive) would be affecting me by more than just my observation that they have made a choice I find upsetting. They would also be causing me to be doing so. And that's the critical difference.

Do I believe that "50 Shades" is inestimably more damaging and unnacepteable than Page 3. Yes.

But that's not the point. It's not whether I happen to think that that makes the difference. Because sitting on a train reading "50 Shades" is a personal choice. The only effect it has on me is to upset me by observation of the fact that someone has made that choice - and that isn't their problem, that's mine. People are allowed to make choices that other people find unnacepteable, but they should not be allowed to force other people into that choice as well.

Unfortunately for Page 3 devotees, their form of pornography is harder to keep private, and restrict effects on others to simple "observation of a choice having been made by another individual". So I would support a restriction on the reading of pornography in public places in a format in which other people are forced to take unreasonable measures to avoid observing it themselves. Scrolling through some pics on your phone would be fine to do publicly, because nobody has to take unreasonable measures to avoid seeing them

Benjamin Thomas said...


I'm going to expand upon the same analogy I used before:

Observing someone killing themselves with ciggarettes and observing someone killing themselves with excessing alcohol both have the effect on my that it depresses me and offends me that people would make such choices. But that's my issue, not theirs. But someone sitting next to me smoking is forcing me to smoke, whereas someone sitting next to me drinking isn't forcing me to drink. This would apply even if drinking were a million times more dangerous than smoking. The point isn't whether what they are doing is personally wrong, but whether it affects others.

Of course, all choices affect others because they have to observe the fact that people have made that choice, but the response of an observer simply to observing what choice a person has made is not the responsibility of that person, so that effect doesn't enter the equation.

I understand that seeing someone read "50 Shades" can be as offensive and intrusive as seeing someone read Page 3 (to me it is much worse,) but it is in a different way. It isn't the responsibility of the "50 Shades" reader to hide what they are reading in order so as to avoid offending people who may be offended *by the very fact that they are reading it*, and if someone is viewing visual pornography in a way which equally might make it obvious what they are doing but not foist it upon anybody else inadvertantly, then they equally have no responsibility to correct for other people's moralities. However, if the person reading Page 3 or other visual pornography is doing so in a way in which other people are forced to adjust their gaze in order to avoid also viewing page 3 themselves, then they are doing something wrong, because they are forcing others to participate in something they may not be comfortable with.

Anonymous said...

Hey Benjamin,

I did conflate these two things, because they're problems that go hand in hand...or something in hand anyway; plus I was pretty shocked to see women doing it in public whilst reading this summer. It was only the second time I'd ever witnessed it and I saw it happen twice in 2 days! It's all public sexual stimulation to me, and the image is a whole one - reader and literature. I find it hard to differentiate between the two - she wouldn't of been angered by the issue of Nuts without a man holding it; so I'd argue that you've separated these two inseparable elements, rather than me conflating anything. :)

Agree with nearly everything that you've said, but still can't see that it warrants prohibition or how that might manifest.

The problem, of course, is the line and where you draw it. This is easily solved, because we're not drawing it - whatever rule we take should have equality at it's heart, and if you tried to ban pictures of topless men in magazines women would riot. This makes this issue nice and simple, because we have no control over it and anyone trying to assume control over it would probably be branded a fascist.

I remember having this debate after first visiting Germany 20 years ago and seeing nudity in advertising everywhere. People were already normalised to it, and found our English reaction to it hilarious. The German equivilent of The Sun, The Bild (biggest selling paper in German), gave up having topless women on the front page earlier this year, without any pressure from the prudish. They just realised that a bit more discretion would sell more papers.

We can see similar things all over Europe. Study the teen pregnancy rates in Amsterdam or talk to the kids there; I believe the sort of social conservatism that Caron is advocating here is best achieved via liberalism. Caron clearly doesn't accept such an idea, and wants prohibition. That's always failed.

We're all a bit prescriptivist - I'd like to ban public farting, but in my lifetime that's gone from being something of embarrassment to an acceptable topic of humour for everyone. My prejudices remain, but my hope of making the entire world subservient to them has passed. This is the truth of liberal society - you have to accept that some people do things you don't like, but that they don't really hurt you.

Benjamin Thomas said...

@Annonymous - I agree with you that prohibition is a bad thing. But I was seeking to make the distinction that it's easier to make the case for banning reading visual porn in public than banning reading erotic literature in public, because the one thing you should not be allowed to do is foist your moral choices upon someone else, and large-scale visual pornography in public can sometimes do this. Then it removes, for onlookers the option to not view that material, that they are entitled to be able to choose if they wish.

I am totally against banning page 3, but the banning of reading it (or anything else) in public in such a manner so as to force those around you to read it as well or make severely inconvinent adjustments (such as closing their eyes) is something that I support, because then you are forcing others to be engaged, which is not the same as the offense that might be caused to others by simply having them observe that you are reading it.


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