Tits & class: page 3, the Duchess, & public bodies

There is one main reason why News International have been under fire this week. Not that they seem to ever be sinkable – tapping dead children’s phones, blackening the names of a whole city, none of it seems to actually matter when you have enough money and power to continue to push your way through the public letter box like some kind of credible media. 

Beyond the headlines – the details of the full horror, the shameful cover-up, and the pathetic apologies – another group have been trying to take on the Sun for different reasons. This week saw a campaign, based on one woman’s attempts to get page 3 removed by asking very politely if it could go, gathering pace. You can read about the campaign and sign the petition here:

https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/dominic-mohan-take-the-bare-boobs-out-of-the-sun

The likelihood of a group of feminists winning in a power-struggle with News International seems pretty slim. As mentioned above, this is a media corporation so powerful it seems they can do the most vile and disrespectful things to the British public and still wash it all away with a bit of populist banter and some free holidays. NI are almost certainly otherwise engaged at the moment but no doubt if/when enough of a ripple happens to catch their interest current campaigners will receive the same abuse that was dished out to smear the Labour MP Clare Short when she made the same arguments – that any dislike of Page 3 comes from a combination of jealousy, prudish dislike of sex, and a general busy-body nature found in those who like to gain power by restricting the freedom of others. I’ll look at each of these three contentions in turn.

Jealousy. Do people like Clare Short and the current campaigners actually harbour resentment for the page 3 lovelies, and seek to drive them out of the public consciousness for this reason? After all, we all know a lot of feminists don’t diet. Some of them don’t wear make-up. Some of them Don’t Even Shave Their Body Hair. All of these are prime signs of not being a Stunner, so it is natural that these kinds of women would be jealous of the male attention attracted by a more conventionally attractive woman’s naked torso. Well, the answer here is probably multiple. Some women don’t actually care what men think of them (shocking!). Many hetero women probably like male attention from men they find attractive but wouldn’t extend to wanting it from the entire Sun readership (some of whom also have issues with lifestyle/exercise and excessive body hair) – I’m conscious here of taking a heteronormative view of things but I don’t even know where to start in extending this, so am probably better leaving that to someone else. Many more women feel massively insecure about their bodies in a way that is shaped by the proliferation of the public female body – not just in the Sun or lads mags but women’s magazines too – as something which is owned by all, open to continual scrutiny, and must fall into very specific boundaries of what is not what is not an acceptable form. If these women are reacting to this by trying to challenge the thing which causes them some of this body angst, I’m struggling to see what the problem is.

Prudishness and dislike of sex. I’m not really sure what to say to this. I know a lot of feminists. Most of them like sex. A lot. Some of them don’t, though they have no interest whatsoever in whether other people do or not. It’s a tired old allegation that is always used whenever women campaign within anything relating to the sex industry – for example, it is apparently pretty prudish to look into the huge amount of human trafficking and internal injuries involved in many prostitution rings.

Freedom and censorship. This seems to be the main liberal argument used against this type of campaign (ironic, when liberal feminist groups such as UK Feminista and the Fawcett Society are generally fully behind this type of campaigning compared with more politicised issues). Censorship does not generally win over minds, it’s true, but it is incredibly reductionist to see women’s attempts to control what they are exposed to on a daily basis in their home, workplace etc as a form of censorship and an unfair attack on the freedoms of a multi-billion corporation in controlling what is in that environment. 

The main dimension which seems to be missed in a lot of these arguments is class. What exactly makes the mass printing of working class woman’s tits a national treasure but the publication of a national treasure such as the Duchess of Cambridge’s tits a terrible disgrace? Consent, in a way, because obviously in one case it is there and the other it isn’t. I think it goes beyond that though – the old distinctions between the earthy and the sublime, all the age old Madonna/whore rubbish that we get spoonfed from an early age. Probably life would be a lot easier all round if we didn’t have all this public/private fetishisation surrounding tits and had the same norms for women as men, but I can’t see that happening any time soon. The women who work Page 3 are put up for public display as simple, good-hearted creatures, and there is a danger that this form of patronisation is extended into any feminist analysis in which they are pitied as unintelligent. Time and time again we get raw intelligence confused with educational opportunity and the norms supported by consumer based class system of capitalism. It is not as simple as poor silly girls being exploited, but it is also not as simple as free agents choosing from a wide array of equally weighted life choices.

So, I am supporting the campaign. I think women (and men) should have the right to control what they are exposed to in their day to day life if it continually shapes the way they are treated by society and the way they treat themselves. News International is still one of the biggest global forces there is so I don’t have much hope for the success of this particular campaign: it will almost certainly be seized upon and smeared. That said, political change in general doesn’t happen if we don’t have the argument or, more importantly, give the alternative and share the hope for change.

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