Noises Off Day 6
My week of audiofasting has led to a lot of thinking and reading and thinking about reading and reading about thinking. Sometimes these things fall into line with events in the real world, in my world, which open up a new line of thought, or in this case a new resolve. Although not strictly following in the spirit of previous posts, I have no doubt that my thoughts wouldn’t be as clear had I not had this week of withdrawal from all extraneous noise. Enough elucidating, let me begin ….
Reading Susan Sontag’s essay on style in bed this morning and feeling a range of emotions as I plough and ponder the words. I fluctuate between envy and admiration, because she is an incredibly vigorous thinker and writer and engaging with her discourse is it’s own challenge and reward. The envy is because she is so damn succinct and brilliant and better than me and I allow myself this bitter comparison for a second before I get over myself.
So I’m enjoying my read,shifting between tiny eurekas and huh? moments, when a phrase hits me with its relevance. In her essay Against Interpretation, she describes pornography as a “substitute for life”. My initial reading of this phrase is that of a snark, that men who use porn are losers who evidently can’t get a girlfriend. This is a party line that I have held for such a long time that it has calcified, my long rehearsed ‘rant’ against Page 3 forming a strong part of my teaching repertoire for dealing with year 11 boys. And this has been a momentous week for the brilliant-but-I-can’t-believe-this-is-still-prescient-in-the-21st Century Campaign against print-based porn, No More Page 3.
The campaign, which is petitioning to have Page 3 removed from The Sun and associated newspapers as well as pressurising supposedly family friendly companies against advertising in their pages, received a timely spike of publicity. Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton, lanced a big parliamentary boil during a debate on media sexism. In a brave and lucid speech against Page 3 culture and portrayals of women in the media, she wore a No More Page 3 T-shirt – and was promptly rebuked for inappropriate dress! Here’s a better summary of events,
This, and the Sontag, and my week of contemplation has made me re-think my position. And it goes a little something like this…
My traditional standpoint of vilifying men who enjoy Page 3 has been missing the point enitrely. Sorry. Page 3 and its counterparts mayin fact provide a convenient barrier for otherwise sound adult men against the reality of forging strong personal relationships with women, whether erotic, romantic, platonic or all three. Obviously, there are men who may use these images as a springboard for abuse or denigration, but I believe that there are more who have had their images of women so screwed up by concomitant 1D stereotypes in the press and on film, that confronting a real lady is a hair-raising experience. So what happens? A whole load of men stay in their shells and, along with a whole load of women, miss out on truly generous, loving relationships, which means a whole load of miserable where it could be a whole load of happy.
So am I beginning to feel pity for Page 3 readers? Maybe yes, because my attention has been misdirected for some time. So what of the women? In this spirit, I changed my focus to my year 10 girls and shared with them the debate and footage of Lucas’ speech. They feature spotted brilliantly (we’ve been looking at persuasive language techniques) but didn’t really engage with the matter at hand. When I showed them some recent copies of the Sun, however, the response was electric. The majority were quick to label the models as ‘whores’ and ‘not even that fit’, but when I probed them about who made the decisions and controlled this women’s image, they disengaged again. Before this week I would have faceplanted onto my planner in frustration, but I think my audio fast is making me empathetic….
15 year old girls are hormonal, vulnerable and desperate to find stereotypes and images of women to identify either against or with. I would say that the former is more prevalent than the latter; I would put the ratio at 3:1. It seems easier to confess to hating goths or thinking Katy Perry gross, than it is to love Beyonce or pronounce oneself a skater.
As such, the Page 3 girl is not providing an aspirant model for teenage girls; more often it is an image for them to kick against; whether because they think its a model of beauty that genuinely appeals to men, but one that they can never achieve; or because they are conditioned to think of these women as cheap, worthless and “easy to define themselves against”? Either reason is equally toxic, as both involve women-hating and self-loathing in equal measure, feeding the monster of poor self esteem that most of us, as women, have had to live with as teenagers. And who is responsible for fostering poor self esteem? I don’t really need to answer that question; the snake eats its tail.
My thoughts may be simplistic, silly, hardly revelatory, but my personal realisation that Page 3 makes no-one happier, male or female, makes me more determined to contribute to its removal. No More Page 3 is not a feminist campaign, it’s humanist.