Tag Archives: objectification

OBJECTION? SUSTAINED!

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It’s been an interesting week to be a Feminist. The big news story, which you can’t fail to have missed, was The Sun – a self-proclaimed “Family Newspaper” – apparently stopping it’s 45 year long tradition of sexually objectifying women and then, in the tabloid equivalent of teenager trashing their room immediately after being forced to tidy it said “fuck you women, you’re not the boss of me” and apparently brought it back.

 

The message couldn’t have been clearer. The Sun was saying we will do what we want, when we want. We don’t give a toss about the No More Page 3 campaign or the “horrible elites” who dislike the idea that women are reduced to sexual objects on a regular basis in a paper with such strange hypocritical values that it won’t even write the word tits. Sorry, T*ts.

Once again, I find myself having to justify, as a  sex-positive body-positive pro-making-your-own choices feminist type, having to explain why I don’t like Page 3. And it’s complex, because it’s  not a simple problem, and problems that are not simple do not  have simple answers.

Why do you hate boobs?

I like boobs. I have boobs, and I like my boobs. I have been known to enjoy other people’s boobs. But that doesn’t mean that I agree with boobs being on the pages of a daily newspaper, a newspaper which rarely features any stories about women in clothes actually doing or achieving things, or being anything other than bodies for looking at, thereby positioning women as nothing more than nice things to look at rather than, you know, people.

I am not even anti-porn. I think porn is fine, for consenting adults. I think it is NOT fine when porn is easily accessible for children. I think it is NOT fine that music videos are getting increasingly more hard core so that they are becoming indistinguishable from porn. And if it’s porn, it belongs on the top shelf, away from children.

You’re a BAD FEMINIST you are restricting my right to be paid to take my top off

Leaving aside the rather complex theory that a choice made by a woman in a patriarchal society is limited by that society, and therefore less of a choice that it may seem, and leaving aside the school of thought that feminism actually shouldn’t really be entirely about the right to make any sort of choice you want and have that choice be perfectly ok because it’s a woman making it, there are problems with saying “I have a right to do this” about *anything* you might want to do when your RIGHT to do that thing seriously impacts the rights, freedoms and/or safety of other people.

You might want to leave all your windows open in your shared house all the time. It’s not illegal. It’s your RIGHT. But your flatmates also have a RIGHT to not be fucking freezing and close the windows. Your flatmates closing the window doesn’t impinge on YOUR RIGHT to have them open, but it does mean you can’t actually have the windows open all the time, you selfish git. There are rights, and there are responsibilities. At the time of the introduction of the ban on smoking in public places in England in 2007 there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth about people’s RIGHT to smoke; however the right of people to not suffer the by then proven effects of second-hand smoke trumped that ‘right’ to smoke. Where the exercising of one person’s ‘right’ to do X is demonstrably harmful to others, that ‘right’ becomes no ‘right’ at all.

The same is true of Page 3. Sexual objectification is demonstrably harmful. Therefore the ‘right’ of a woman to be half-naked on the 3rd page of a ‘family’ newspaper could be considered a right that no one else has an obligation to protect. And anyway, even in a world without Page 3, it’s not as if any of those women who are choosing to make money from being half-naked are suddenly out of a job – there are lots of magazines that will pay you to be naked. Ones that are sold on the top shelf where children can’t see them, and ones that aren’t generally seen as acceptable for people to read on public transport where they’ll make other people feel uncomfortable.

If we have to ban page 3 we should also make women cover up when they breast feed

Oh for the love of….NO. NO false equivalence fanatics, women breast feeding in public is NOT THE SAME THING as page 3. The only thing they have in common is that both involve boobs. In one act, a baby is eating. In the other, a woman is being presented as an object of male desire. I would suggest that in fact our society’s entire issue with seeing babies eating naturally in public stems from our over-sexualisation of women’s breasts to the extent that we can only see boobs as sexual organs and not as handy portable milk dispensers.

You don’t even buy the paper. It’s just a bit of harmless fun. Why don’t you campaign for something proper, like ending FGM?

Of course I don’t buy the paper. In my opinion it’s a badly written dishonest heap of a publication and I would be glad if sales plummeted putting the paper out of business. I don’t buy cigarettes either but I care that they cause cancer. I don’t have to buy the paper to object to the mainstreaming of normalisation of sexual objectification of women.

Jenga is a bit of harmless fun. Reducing an entire gender, 51% of the global population, to things for men to look at is not harmless  fun.

Most people are capable of caring about, and campaigning for, more than one thing at a time. But really, FGM and Page 3 are not mutually exclusive issues. They both represent parts of a structural system which views and treats women as lesser beings than men. Page 3 is part of, and helps to perpetuate, a society in which women’s bodies are seen as objects for the pleasure of men, and FGM happens because women and girls are seen as bodies existing for the pleasure of men. 

This is what happens when people see women as objects. This is why things like page 3 – normalised everyday objectification – are so harmful. It’s not about boobs. It’s about a culture that sees nothing wrong in continually representing women as things there for the sexual gratification of male desire.

Feminists are ugly, flat chested shrill harpies who want to destroy fun and subjugate men

Ah, you’ve got me there. Of course I only object to Page three because I am not “getting enough D”. I assume they mean vitamin D, and perhaps they’re right, after all it’s winter.

I have hope though. Page three is 45 years old, it’s getting on a bit. In terms of generations, it’s looking pretty creaky. There’s a whole new generation of young people starting to look around at this society and go hey, wait a minute. This isn’t what we signed up for. This isn’t what we want for our future. At the Our Bodies Our Future  conference yesterday I was absolutely floored by the ambition, drive, confidence and eloquence of the young people leading the event. They are seeking out opportunities to develop the language and the opportunities to fight the imbalance they see. They aren’t afraid to call themselves feminists. They have a sophistication to their ideas around equality, fairness and issues of gender identity which are beyond those of many of my generation.

Page 3, to these young people, is irrelevant. It’s an outdated relic of an adult generation that has nothing to do with them or their future. Their heroes are Malala Yousafazi, Stella Creasy, Hibo Wadere. They’re increasingly self-aware and media savvy; wiser to the messages about what they ‘should’ look like or ‘should’ want. If the young people of Waltham Forest are representative of young people in the rest of the country, our future is in safe hands.

And if we’re called shrill? I’ll take that. Shrill means you can’t block  us out, you can’t not hear us. We’re irritating you because you can hear us. And if you can hear us, we’re having an impact.

mosquito

 

Objects on a t-shirt may be more offensive than they appear

Last week I mentioned, in passing, how angry I was about some t-shirts I saw in the window of a local branch of a cheap menswear chain. I’ve been angry about it all week – ever since I saw them in the window of the shop. They were all world cup themed, having several for different football teams all with one thing in common. Nearly naked women. Some sitting astride footballs. Some with footballs covering their breasts. Some with nation flags as little thongs.

It should tell you something when I have to warn you that those links may be NSFW. Yes, images which are potentially not safe for work – because they are sexual in nature and could get you fired (for A –  having sexually inappropriate pictures on your work computer and B – sexual harassment) are not only available for sale but are proudly displayed in the windows of stores and are also available in children’s sizes

I did a double take when I first saw them. I couldn’t quite believe that here we are, 2014, and somehow it is perfectly OK to sell t-shirts with practically naked sexually objectified women on them? Not just men’s t-shirts, but children’s t-shirts?? And sure, there may be a woman wearing one on the splash page of the shop in question’s website, but just because a woman is wearing it doesn’t render the shirt not sexually objectifying due to some some weird gender waveform cancelling effect.

I became more shocked and disheartened when I started to discuss these shirts with others to find that some didn’t think there was anything wrong with having practically  naked women on a t-shirt. Woah now people. WOAH NOW.

There’s nothing wrong with having a nearly naked woman on a t-shirt.

How did we get here? At what point did we become a society that is so immune to sexually explicit imagery, so saturated with images of the sexualised female form, that we (men and women alike) are able to look at those t-shirts and say “where’s the harm?”

I was born at the end of the 70s – when feminism had been a truly powerful force in the previous decade and wrought powerful changes. I grew up in the 80s, where women started to reap the benefits of that success and as the 90s dawned feminism almost started to seem obsolete. I came of age in the 90s, where women sang in rock bands and wore big shit kicking boots and Kathleen Hanna sang “Rebel Girl” and we started to feel powerful and strong – there was still a fight to have but we were going to bring it…

Then what happened in the 00s I cannot say. Was a big red “reset”  button pushed somewhere on the control desk of “women’s liberation”? It’s like the progress stalled, rolled to a slow stop and then started sliding backwards to the point where sexual objectification is so every day, so normal, so accepted that we see nothing wrong with selling naked objectified women on the front of a t-shirt to a child.

As Laci Green in her excellent video  says:

This is some bullshit. Everyone should be PISSED that this is so normal.

Before we go further, please go back a little and watch Laci Green’s video. The whole thing. Right to the end.

Done?

She says everything in that video I could possibly say about these t-shirts. They exemplify a society which sees women as decoration. As things to be looked at, admired for certain ‘qualities’. And we are bombarded with these ideas on a daily basis. What does this do to us? And I don’t mean “us” as in women, I am talking about all of us – men and women alike – growing up and developing in a world which tells us men are people and women are bodies – a collection of parts. And not only are women a collection of parts, but in order to be acceptable as a women, those parts must be the right size, the right shape, smooth and hairless and flaw free. Even the well meaning “real women have curves” is horribly misguided. I have thin friends. They are still definitely ‘real’. I have trans friends who are also very much ‘real’.

I have struggled with my own body image my whole life. I was a short chubby child with early developing boobs, and have remained a chubby voluptuous short adult. I long to put on some clothes, any clothes, and just go out and not give a shit. It is definitely easier the older I get, but I still care desperately. I care what people think of me. When my eye allergy flares up I “can’t go out” because “I can’t go out without makeup”. I have meltdowns when I am feeling “fat”. I can’t go outside wearing shorts without leggings because I am acutely aware of my big thighs and my stretch marks and my cellulite. Mr RDP was driven to distraction on a holiday we took to a very hot climate; he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t walk around in just a bikini top, or without leggings.

He hasn’t been subjected in the same way I have from a young age of being constantly told, subliminally and overtly, in a million tiny insidious ways and a hundred massive blatant ways, that the most important thing about me is my  body, my clothes, the way I look and my hair. What I say, what I want to be or become, what I think? All of that is secondary, tertiary, inconsequential even to the way I look.

And the kicker? I KNOW that this is social conditioning. And yet I still feel like this, nearly every minute of every day of my life. The conditioning is so strong, the message so powerful, that even though I KNOW it is wrong, even though I KNOW I am labouring under a false consciousness bourne of a myriad of harmful external messages, I still cannot escape it.

These t-shirts are a kick in the face to every person who believes that men and women are equal beings deserving of equal respect. Anyone that wears one needs to take a long hard look at themselves. And possibly a kick up the arse. And to be forcibly made to watch Laci Green’s video.

This headline  in the Daily Mail sums everything up for me.

George Clooney’s fiancee Amal Alamuddin looks stylish in striking red dress and heels at sexual violence summit 

Someone at the Mail clearly realised at some point that this was perhaps not a wise headline – maybe after the above link had been retweeted 1.5K times – and it has since been changed but the new headline is barely  an improvement.  Amal Alamuddin is an intelligent human rights lawyer, very respected in her field with one hell of a CV – but the most important thing about her, according to the media,  is that she’s pretty, wears nice clothes and is going to marry George Clooney. What sort of message does this send to young women? Is it any wonder, given these sorts of messages, that being a “reality TV star” or “marrying a footballer” are seen as viable career choices for young girls?

It’s the same message as those T-shirts – that women are objects, parts, bodies wearing clothes.  That women are for looking at, first and foremost. Everything else is background data.

This is some bullshit. Everyone should be pissed that this is so normal.