People close to me know I am usually a quietish, thoughtful person, more prone to observing and listening than taking part. However, they also know that if I feel passionately about something – Jesus, Feminism, literature, Page 3 – I will speak out. Sometimes I will even shout. Or cry. I’ll certainly get emotional. That’s why I have held off blogging about this until now. It might get emotional, it might get shouty, but it will be from the heart, this heart of this particular 44 year old woman. Who is not a prude, or a killjoy, or frigid. Just passionate about fighting inequality of any kind.
This brings me to Clare Short. I have always been a fan of Clare Short, a politician and campaigner who always sticks to her beliefs, even if it means she is ridiculed. Even if it means she is the butt of cruel, personal jokes. Even if she is put down in infantile ways by ‘honourable’ members of parliament. Back in the 80s she introduced a private bill to the Commons to ban Page 3. She had huge encouragement from women all over the country who felt degraded by the topless photos in this ‘family’ newspaper. She even had some support in parliament. But obviously not Margaret Thatcher’s. The Tory prime minister relied on the backing of The Sun, the right-wing newspaper who’d been carrying these daily topless offerings since the early 70s. Despite losing her beloved father in the midst of all this, Short continued the campaign, talking to pressure groups, talking to the pornographers themselves. She was brave and shouty.
The Off the Shelf campaign continued this campaigning, targeting WH Smith’s. Clare Short was also involved and when asked to justify why this particular chain should be highlighted she said: ‘Smiths is also a major wholesaler stocking even more porn than it sells in its shops, and so carries a large part of the responsibility for the mass distribution of pornographic material in Britain.’
Last time I went into Smith’s the porn was still there.
But, thankfully, almost twenty years later, we are now having a growing dialogue about the Page 3 anachronism, helped enormously by the internet. The editor of The Sun, Dominic Mohan, claims that these pictures represent ‘youth and freshness’. Frankly, when I was a youth and fresh in the 80s and had to see these pictures lying around my boyfriend’s house, it felt wrong, in the realms of dirty-old-man-ness. I didn’t know it then, but that was the start of my journey to Feminism and exactly why I am getting shouty now.
What is pornography? Where do we draw the line? Short makes a good distinction between porn and erotica. ‘Pornography degrades and belittles women and depicts them as permanently available to anyone. Erotica depicts attractive pictures of nakedness and sexuality which suggests mutuality and respect and sensuousness. We all know the difference when we see it. Those who feel the need to defend pornography may argue about the distinction but all of us recognise the difference in the concept and the difference in reality.’
Page 3 is easily put into the former category. The ‘girls’ are topless in sexually provocative poses. As Short says: ‘… the truth is that one kind of pornography too easily slips into another. The Page 3 girl in a gymslip may be over 16, but the imagery is clearly intended to present schoolgirls as sexual objects. There are pornographers who specialise in choosing over-age women who look very young and then showing them and projecting them as childlike. Of course child pornography must be dealt with with the utmost priority. But I believe there is a continuum. The presentation of children or women as powerless sexual objects to be taken and used against their will, often with violence, is the real issue. The presence of such images, like it or not, does help to legitimise abuse.’
Clare Short is not a prude or jealous or any of those patronising labels she was given by the establishment. She says: ‘There is obviously nothing wrong and ugly about nakedness, just as there is nothing more wonderful than mutual, sexual relationships. But nakedness and genuine sexual relationships are very different from the constant proliferation of pictures of women in poses with captions which say, take me, use me, dispose of me. As soon as the pictures move from the newspapers to the top shelf, the legs are splayed and shortly thereafter come the whips and boots and – frequently and significantly – Nazi regalia. And it is now a well-documented fact that Nazis did actually use pornographic pictures of their perceived enemies with the aim of reducing respect for them in the outside world – if you like, dehumanising them. It was, as we know, a successful tactic. All such pictures are about using women for sexual pleasure without mutuality, frequently with associations of violence and power. Each and every one of us knows the difference whenever we see such pictures.’
And what about the argument, “oh, these girls choose to do it, they are empowered.’ Right… ‘Those who control and distribute pornography are men, usually rich men. They use young women for their pictures and then dispose of them when they begin to age. A few well-known figures make money, but the majority of young women who are drawn into this industry find themselves in an ugly, sordid world that lives side by side with prostitution.’
There is nothing ‘fresh’ about sexual inequality, sexual abuse, assault, rape or prostitution.
Thank you, Clare for standing up for what is right and good. And thank you Lucy Holmes for continuing the work. I love this quote from her: ‘George Alagiah doesn’t say, ‘And now let’s look at Courtney, 21, from Warrington’s bare breasts,’ in the middle of the 6 O’ Clock News, does he, Dominic?’ She is pointing out the ridiculous juxtaposition of news and bare boobs.
I am right behind you, Lucy, and if I can ever get to London, I will see you there. Meantime, I will continue to nag people to sign the petition which now has reached nearly 50,000 names. There’s a way to go before it can be taken to Downing Street but I know it will happen. What will you do about that Mr Cameron? Will you be a man? A proper, decent, good man?
Please surprise me. And then I can get really emotional.
“I just think that in 1970, a group of men, in a male-managed media, in a male-managed country, decided to put the naked breasts of young women in the newspaper, and in 2012, hopefully, we’re a different society. Shouldn’t we look at that decision again?” Lucy Holmes