With 21,000+ signatures at the time of writing this post, the petition asking Dominic Mohan to consider removing Page 3 from The Sun Newspaper has certainly picked up momentum, with people leaving messages like
because boobs aren’t news
Because women contribute to society in many ways that do not involve a man’s erection.
Because boys are growing up thinking there are two types of women. There’s the mothers, nans, sisters, cousins, daughters etc, and then there are the women who it’s fine to dehumanise and treat as a tradeable commodity.
I’m skeptical. When you sit back and think about this rationally it really isn’t as simple as people are making it out to be. I don’t think women who pose topless are solely to blame for the objectification of women, and I think that telling women they don’t contribute as much to society with their clothes off as they would if they put their clothes on is disgraceful, but that’s just me…
I don’t necessarily believe that the inside cover page of a newspaper is the best place to put a topless photo of a woman, but I don’t think we should be removing such photos from the newspaper because they allegedly corrupt society. I think petitions like this have good intentions but have the potential to deliver negative messages to younger generations – that people wont take you seriously if you take your clothes off, and that your nakedness betrays other women. This can be harmful. We should be encouraging a society where people who feel comfortable in their skin know it’s okay to feel like that, and where other people don’t react as though it’s the most morally outrageous thing they’ve ever seen.
This is why I have such a big issue with people who are outraged by women who breastfeed their babies in public, but that’s a different blog post.
I have several friends who work in the sex industry who have made an empowered decision to do so. This doesn’t mean that all sex work is okay – there are problems within such an industry that need to (and are being) tackled, but that equally doesn’t make all sex work a bad thing. This is something I think that many fail to acknowledge when asking a newspaper to
stop showing topless pictures of young women in Britain’s most widely read newspaper, stop conditioning your readers to view women as sex objects. (source)
It’s important to point out that I’m not suggesting nude models are sex workers, I’m using this comparison because just as women often make the empowered decision to become a sex worker, they also make the empowered decision to pose topless or naked.
I think this petition treads on an awkward line where it leans more towards disempowering women more than it liberates them. ’Objectification’ is regularly used as a buzzword for sexual expression that people don’t like, but when you take into account all the points I’ve written about above (and more) you soon come to realise that lots of people don’t have a good definition upon which they base their accusations of ‘objectification’. The assumption is often that if someone is seen in a sexual way, they must be in the midst of objectification but this takes away the empowerment of the decision the person made.
As a friend pointed out when I was bouncing ideas off of her about this topic, if you remove sexuality from the concept of objectification and you examine things like a person working as a clerk in a store ,or a person taking out the garbage, we would see that we objectify people all of the time. This shouldn’t negate their life choices, though. Because of this, there’s good reason to believe that the concept of objectification isn’t really about women’s liberation. Instead, it can be disempowering.
I also think that petitioning for Page 3 to be removed from the paper gives men less credit than they’re due. There may exist a link between porn and misogynistic attitudes in some (something that needs more research) but there are so many other things that create misogynistic or sexist attitudes in people too. Many will paint the picture in their mind of men masturbating over photos of Page 3 model and point out this is the problem, this is the objectification, but actually it really is more complicated than that.
For example, A study by Heather A Rupp and Kim Wallen found that men are more likely than women to first look at a woman’s face before other parts of the body while viewing pornography, and that women focused longer on photographs of men performing sexual acts with women than the males did. Again this is an area that needs more study, and an area of study which is sadly difficult to get funding for, but such studies do demonstrate how the interaction between men and nude models isn’t as solidly perverted, or as objectifying as many would suggest. (source)
Get the tits off of Page 3? I don’t know that it’ll achieve any good. Firstly because most of those signing the petition don’t read The Sun newspaper so The Sun have no good reason to listen to them, but secondly because I don’t think this is the problem those signing the petition are wanting to actually tackle, and thirdly because if you go and read the comments left on the petition it becomes quite apparent that people are not very well informed on the subject they are commenting on. They don’t know about the findings of studies on the links between pornographic material and sexist attitudes (summed up by Stuart Ritchie here). I’m not suggesting Page 3 is brilliant, what I’m suggesting is that people should get a clue before they start acting in the perceived best interests of others.
*update* I have written further thoughts on this subject here.