Get your debates out for the lads

I'm a feminist, but I won't be signing the No More Page 3 petition...

Sep 18, 2012 at 2:30pm | Leave a comment

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Kate from Brighton has an opinion AND a rack

Once again I find myself writing about body parts. This isn't about my armpits though, I promise - It Happened To Me: My Armpits Became my Muse is up there in my Pitchin' jar with It Happened To Me: Kriss Akabusi once visited my school with a goat and nobody in my class is willing to corroborate this story for me.

No this is about boobs, who can show them, who can see them and who can print images of them for financial gain [incidentally, I've realised that we're having a very breast-heavy few days on xoJane UK - next week we'll mix it up and focus more on shins, or little toes, perhaps. ]

In 1987 the Labour MP Clare Short tried to introduce a Commons bill opposing The Sun Newspaper's Page 3 Girl feature. In 2010 The Sun celebrated 40 years of Page 3. So you can see how Short's bill fared, even if you don't go to the Sun for your morning glimpse of nipple.

The least trusted paper in Britain  naturally rushed to defend its two major selling points (ha-ha, sorry - won't happen again). Clare Short MP was described boring, humourless and just jealous of the girls who made it into Page 3. Because we all know politics is only a fall-back career if no-one wants to see your titties.

Between then and now we'd like to think a lot has changed but I fear, not nearly as much as we might think or hope.

For example we still have Page 3. However it is not just the odd glimpse of printed boob on public transport that remains to remind us of our stagnation when it comes to, well when it comes to progression. You've no doubt noticed the latest petition concerning Page 3, created by Lucy-Anne Holmes  politely asking Sun editor Dominic Mohan to take the bare boobs out of the Sun. So far the No More Page 3 petition has over 17,000 signatures and counting.

As a feminist you might expect mine to be on there. But I shan't be adding my signature, because I cannot sign it with a totally clear conscience. My feminism is sex positive, that means I support sex workers, porn (or the idea of porn, rather) and therefore a woman's choice to bare her breasts in a national newspaper.

While it's arguable that Page 3 does not create a sex positive attitude so much as promote a generically sexy image, it is not for me to decide what's Good Sexy and what's Bad Sexy. The argument that Page 3 et al encourages men to objectify women and by extension contribute to street harassment does have weight; but it also suggests we have a demographic of men that need classes on a par with the Father Ted Small/Far Away  lectures. This is a photo/this is a real woman. These women are probably unattainable. I'd rather address these men than stop these women posing.

This suggests Page 3 is a symptom of something deeper, rather than The Cause of inequality. Perusing the reasons people have given for signing the Change.org petition make me feel uncomfortable, Gary Miller said: “How are women meant to be taken seriously in the workplace when this is how they are seen?”

There are also comments from fathers remarking that they don't want their daughter to grow up in a world of Page 3. On one hand this is admirable, on the other... does it not smack a little of 'protect teh poor womenz' to you?

The point is feminism is about choice. Some women have chosen to get into Page 3 and some have not. It doesn't necessarily make one set prudes any more than it necessarily makes the other set vulnerable or silly. The sentiments of some of those who signed the petition reminded me of a quote from Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth: “Beauty provokes harassment, the law says, but it looks through men's eyes when deciding what provokes it.”

Whether boobs are news is not the issue here (mainly because we all know the answer; they're not). Whether or not we are capable of treating all women plain, beautiful, young, old, clever, funny, naked or clothed the same is the issue being missed here.

There is something about some of the reasons provided for support of the petition that smacks of infantilization of women. Yes it's all very well meaning. As well meaning and infuriating as Sam Parker's patronising fretting over Scarlett Johansson's naked pictures: “when confronted with yet another celebrity beach shot or callously auctioned private sex tape, many men walk a tightrope between the two strongest instincts women bring out in us: carnal desire, and a wish to protect.”

 Ladies can we get this straight, for Parker, are you a whore or a damsel? Because it seems we can only be one or the other.

At the very least, in the weakest defence ever of Page 3, it doesn't masquerade as anything other than silly titillation. The News in Briefs feature is of Carry On calibre, attributing a usually ridiculous quote to the page 3 girl for the day on politicians, foreign affairs or the Higgs Boson. That's why their boobs are so big; they're full of politics. It is this top down approach to everyday sexism needs to be taken into account just as much as Mohan's Page 3.

Why is Page 3 offensive but Terry Richardson photography and American Apparel adverts artistic? Is nudity OK as long as you're a flat-chested hipster? Get your nips out for the lads but no knockers please – that's sexist.

So sure, let's talk about Page 3. Let's talk about advertising portraying men as dolts who can't figure out washing up liquid. Let's talk about the governments bizarre belief that the words 'women' and 'mums' are interchangeable. Let's talk about sexual health. Let's talk about equal pay. And let's trash this lady/whore dichotomy once and for all instead of each other.

Sqeamish Kate is tweeting about her breasts, and other people's breasts, and armpits, and wrists. Probably. @squeamishbikini