Sunday 3 November 2013

Boobs Really Really Really Are Not News

Recently, the Warwick Debating Union hosted the No More Page 3 Campaign, Helen Goodman MP, Natasha Devon, founder of Body Gossip, and Raheem Kassam, editor/founder of Trending Central, to debate the motion "This House Would Ban Page 3" (for clarity, the former two spoke in proposition, whilst the latter two spoke in opposition). I was quite disappointed that I had to leave the debate midway through, having only listened to Helen and Raheem speak, especially when, in a short twitter conversation with Natasha, it was revealed that I missed a "fiery" one. Going off the two speeches I was lucky enough to see, there is no doubt the opposition should have won the debate, in my opinion.

I was rather bemused by Helen's speech, which began with her reading out a newspaper article and included the customary mention of her constituency. Other than confirming that she was not in favour of a government ban, there was not much of note. The point about a government ban is an interesting one. For what it is worth, I can understand that the campaign, and Helen, are not in favour of actually banning Page 3 via legislation, but rather are in favour 'of asking the editor nicely' but, to be frank, that campaign must be considered a failure. Of course the petition has been largely successful in terms of signatories but ultimately, if the Sun was going to 'voluntarily' drop Page 3, David Dinsmore would have done so by now. Instead, he has come out in support of the feature and this, obviously, points towards its continued presence in the magazine. Continued pressure and campaigning might be successful in ensuring the removal of the Sun from universities or individual shops, but ultimately, this will not have much effect on the Sun's decisions regarding Page 3. The Sun will continue to sell millions of copies regardless of whether my local corner shop or the Costcutter on campus stocks it - and I cannot see this changing. Making the safe assumption that there is not great pressure from the Sun's readers for Page 3 to go, there are two reasons for Dinsmore to remove the feature:

  1. Removing it will see an increase in sales. 
  2. The Government either makes Page 3 illegal or imposes the same conditions of sale on the Sun as are imposed on Nuts or Zoo
One would only be the case if the readers themselves started campaigning for its removal or if outlets like Tesco starting dropping the Sun in protest and I cannot see either happening, whilst both the No More Page 3 Campaign and Helen Goodman confirmed that they did not support option two, so it seems that Page 3 is here to stay, regardless of any disapproval of it. It is interesting that No More Page 3, and others, have written numerous articles about hugely negative effects deriving from Page 3, yet do not want to ban it, especially considering what I believe to be the current state of their campaign. 

As I have already made clear, I thought Raheem won the first half of the debate, the text of his speech has been uploaded to his website Trending Central and can be found here. Raheem, and I believe Natasha's, case goes beyond arguing for or against a ban, summed up neatly by the following statement: "Well, we're telling women, "No. You can't voluntarily pose for a newspaper. No. You must cover up."" Irrespective of whether No More Page 3 and Helen Goodman are calling for a governmental ban, there is a distinct dictating to Page 3 girls what they should and should not do by campaigning against Page 3, which seems to go very much against Liberal (and Feminist) values. I wish I had heard Natasha Devon's speech - from her tweets, I think it would have been along the lines of Page 3 actually promoting healthy body image with the variety of dress sizes, no breast implants etc, something that I think complements Raheem's point. 

For what it is worth, I do not really like Page 3 but my disapproval of Page 3 and its presence of the Sun is irrelevant really. Yes I understand the fear that boys/men seeing Page 3 girls and thinking that is what girls all look like or the fear that it can lead to the objectification or sexualisation of women but removing Page 3 is addressing that potential problem in the wrong way. Firstly, as Natasha tweeted after the debate (and no doubt said in her speech), to assume that Page 3 makes men think women are objects and so on is not only false (without blowing my own trumpet, I happen to have seen Page 3 and also happen to not think women are objects, and I am sure I am not alone) but is also simply offensive to all the "decent" men out there. Secondly, and more importantly, if we grant the assumption that Page 3 girls can lead to the sexualisation of women by men, the problem is not Page 3, the problem is those men.

In fact, much more dangerous than Page 3, in my opinion, are things like Smart Insurance's advert. For anyone who has not seen the advert, and cannot be bothered to click on the link, it depicts a man as coming home from work and arranging life insurance to help his family in the event that the worst should happen. The implicit message from this advert is that it is the man who is the bread winner, it is the man who needs to ensure his family is protected should the worst happen and that his wife could not possibly survive without his earnings. The advert itself is not explicit at all, but there can be little doubt that it could be seen to be reinforcing the gender stereotype and male breadwinner view that is prevalent in our society. I think there are many more people who are prone to influence by adverts like Smart Insurance's, whose implicit message is much more subtle than the bare breasts on Page 3. I am sympathetic to the fears of the No More Page 3 campaign, and others who disapprove of Page 3, but the issues they raise - the sexualisation and objectification of women, for example, should be combatted by education and other means, in my opinion.

Ultimately, the issues highlighted by the campaign are far deeper rooted than being caused by a woman having her boobs out in a newspaper.