Sunday, 25 August 2013

Let's say bye bye to boobs

Is the most important thing you can say about a woman really the size of her breasts?

This is the message that the Sun newspaper sends everyday when the biggest image of a woman on its pages is a girl posing in her pants on its notorious Page 3.

No More Page 3

This week I want to write in support No More Page 3, a campaign asking the Sun to stop running this feature.

The campaign was started nearly a year ago, by writer and actor Lucy Holmes. She asks the Sun to drop page 3 because:
  • It's misogynistic - suggesting a woman's main job is to remove her clothes so men can look at her
  • It conditions readers to view women as sex objects - as 1 in 4 women have been sexually assaulted, this is a bad idea
  • It suggests breasts are there purely for the titillation of men
  • Showing only C or D cups on very young women implies that other breasts are ugly
  • It tells women to base their worth on how sexually attractive they are to a man
Here is a video in which she explains these reasons, with some personal anecdotes.

Page 3 and me

I hadn't been sure about where I stood on the No More Page campaign. But I've changed my mind about lots of things recently (see last week's Lessons in Life post), and now I want to support it.

I thought 'live and let live' - we're all sexual beings and it's natural that we find the body parts that emphasise our sexual difference attractive. But publishing pictures of topless women and ogling these pictures, falls in the same camp as obviously ogling women in the street. It's open objectification of women. If your partner does this when you're with him, you shouldn't put up with it - it's disrespectful and unnecessary.
I previously intellectualised these kinds of behaviour as:
  • (Heterosexual) men find women attractive because they are women
  • It's therefore normal to find women other than their wives/girlfriends attractive
  • In an honest relationship, it's OK to be open about this
I don't actually think this is acceptable. There's nothing wrong with finding other people attractive, and if you're free and single, there's nothing wrong with quietly checking someone out. But blatant ogling, particularly when you're with your partner, is deeply disrespectful.

Similarly, I thought maybe that images of scantily clad lovelies in the media were harmless, if the women were happy to do it and the men happy to look at it. But if you agree that it is misogynistic, encourages women to be seen as sex objects and tells them to base their self worth on how attractive men find them, then it's not harmless. It's actually very, very harmful.

Woman as sex objects

I don't want the daughter I'm about to bring into the world to grow up thinking the best thing she can do with her life is to be skinny with a good pair of boobs. It's nice to feel attractive, but there are a lot more important things in life.

Maybe I'm wrong, but the men who enjoy ogling the daily page 3 girl would probably not be comfortable if they opened the paper one day to find their sister, daughter or wife's nipples looking back at them.

Really, it's all about seeing women as sex objects, and we're not, we're people. The massive growth in equal opportunities for women in the past few decades means that it is now widely accepted that women's place is not just the kitchen and the bedroom. The continued existence of Page 3 is a throwback that suggests we should go back there.

If you want to do something in support of the No More Page 3 Campaign, you can sign this petition to Sun editor David Dinsmore - Take the Bare Boobs out of the Sun.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

New lessons in life and feminism

I have been away. I haven’t been able to continue this blog for ten weeks, because in that time my life has changed beyond all recognition.

My story, which I won’t tell in detail, is that when I was 20 weeks pregnant, my husband left me for someone else. My story is neither unique nor uncommon – men have been leaving women ‘in trouble’ for all time. There are plenty of women out there who have been through this, and plenty of unsuspecting women and girls for whom this lies around the corner. I only hope that my unborn child (a girl) is not one of them.

The thing that happened to me has made its mark on my whole philosophy. Things I believed, and argued for, have crumbled away. I am now 30 weeks pregnant, and here are six things I have learned from this experience.

A word of caution - my thoughts have changed on a lot of things recently, and they may change again.  Basically, I reserve the right to change my mind - I think we all should.

1. You can never really know what’s going on in another person’s mind

No matter how close you are to someone, how in tune you may feel with them, and what you have given to them, you can’t ever know what is actually going on.

One of the beauties of human existence is our ability to surprise each other, but it is also one of the scariest elements. Every day we put our faith in other people, in small and large ways – we trust the bus driver not to change lanes and drive into the oncoming traffic. But we know neither what he nor the person we eat breakfast with every day is really thinking, nor what they are about to do next.

2. Your whole life really can change in an instant

This is one of these things you hear. You think that things like this don’t really happen to you, then they just happen. My entire future, and the life I had planned for my child really did change beyond recognition in the space of a few moments. You can’t prepare for it, so there is no lesson to be learned from it, but despite all those newspaper stories of death and destruction, I didn’t know it before and I do now. My life felt robust (it wasn’t), not easily dismantled (it was).

3. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus

A close friend told me that the further I went through pregnancy the more I would realise that men and women are completely different. I didn’t believe her.

I haven’t actually read this book (I probably should), but as I understand it, the central proposition is that men and women are completely different creatures from different planets. It was quite a central part of my philosophy of life, and my feminism, that this wasn’t true.

I believed that we are all human beings, that men and women do have biological differences and these can make us behave differently, but that fundamentally we’re all people. I was wrong. We’re completely different and pregnancy is the point where that becomes unavoidable – some men can be supportive, they can listen, and they can help, but they have no idea what it’s really all about, when our entire bodies are willingly taken over by this other being, which consumes our blood, our air and our food from within. This isn’t men’s fault, they just don't get it. If I had known this before, maybe my life would have turned out very differently.

4. Pregnancy and feminism are uncomfortable bedfellows

Pregnancy eradicates some of the outward signs of feminism – I always have been fiercely independent and able to look after myself physically, economically and emotionally. Pregnancy takes some of this away, it makes us dependent on others.

I am physically weaker and slower, therefore more vulnerable than usual. When my child is born, she will be dependent on me to the extent that I will be unable to work for some time. Fortunately I live in a wealthy, liberal country with maternity pay to help with this, but as a single mother, I will undoubtedly struggle financially.

Pregnancy also gave me a need for security and stability, which I didn’t recognise as having experienced before. I saw this most strongly when I lost it. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I have gone from feeling like a strong, independent woman, to an abandoned and vulnerable girl. I both need and want to be looked after, and the idea of that not happening is terrifying.

Does this mean I’m no longer a feminist? I don’t think it does, I think it just means I’m pregnant. But if I’m a feminist who isn’t a strong and independent woman, what am I and what is a feminist when there’s no girl power in sight?

5. Feminism is for women, and only women

I believed that men could be feminists too – particularly those brought up by strong women to believe in equality. I don’t actually think this is true. Like it or not, the battle for gender equality is a battle of the sexes, with men and women on opposing sides.

Biological differences mean that men are better able to rape and inflict violence on women than the other way around, and we get pregnant, they cannot. These three factors put us at a natural disadvantage, more vulnerable to sexual, physical and emotional abuse.

Men can sympathise with our predicament and support our emancipation, but while they still have this threefold power over us, which can never easily be removed, they are also our greatest threat. They can encourage feminism, but they cannot be feminists, unless they are somehow able to relinquish this unequal power.

6. We shouldn't blame single mothers

I feel pretty ashamed to be bringing a child into the world that I’m not sure I can support. The single mothers talked about in the Daily Mail are painted as feckless and selfish individuals, who spend years taking money and resources from the state because they were stupid enough to get up the duff. But I can promise you from where I’m sitting, that very few women would choose to be going into this without a partner to support them. And I haven’t even got to the hard bit yet, where I have to actually care for a child.

My grandmother had known my grandfather just a few days when she decided to marry him and leave her family in India to follow him across the world to a new life in London. My partner and I had notched up 11 years together before we married, and another six before we started a family. Which relationship would you expect to last the course? But my impetuous grandparents literally lived ‘until death do us part’, whereas after years of caution, I’m up the creek without a paddle.

Love is a rocky road, and sometimes things don’t work out the way you’ve planned. It really can happen to anyone, and most single mums probably didn’t want it to be this way.