Wimmin: Know Your Place!
A few weeks ago I did a short blog about an online petition to ask the editor of The Sun to drop Page 3. The polite petition set up by Lucy Holmes has been getting a lot of coverage in the press in the UK, and has gone from a few hundred signatures to over 40,000 at the last count, many of whom have also added their own reason for signing.
The basis of the campaign is a growing number of British people who want to contribute to the ongoing narrative about women/gender in British media, and by extension in British culture and society. Unsurprisingly there have been detractors, and it’s been very interesting to watch how the ‘debate’ that has unfolded hasn’t all been about the issue. In fact, quite a bit of the ‘defence’ of Page 3 hasn’t been about defending Page 3 at all.
Instead, in a modern twist on the 1980′s war on Claire Short (who met vicious personal attack for challenging Page 3), some responses have instead turned on everyone who has signed the petition, including suggesting that these ‘wimmin’ (the words of a former Sun editor, not mine) have no place getting involved in the narrative at all. Don’t go getting ahead of yourselves young ladies (never mind the men who are signing), you should know your place! The logic seems to go that by attempting to stereotype signatories as a specific group of people, their opinion becomes invalid. Which is handy.
Anyway… what were the kind of people being described? Apparently signatories are: female (male campaigners don’t exist), foolish, shrill, over-the-top, “the wimmin who dominate the social commentary sections of the broadsheet media“, and who “suffer serious sense of humour loss at certain times...”. But all is not lost, they are also ‘the sort of women’ who are educated, employed, culturally sophisticated and read a quality newspaper; features referred to as belonging to that “certain demographic”.
*Coughs*. Hang on a minute… even the former ed of the Sun is saying that the women most likely to recognise and oppose sexism, objectification and speak out about it are *waves hand dismissively* just the educated politically aware ones. Not ordinary people. Because they are educated, they can’t have a view on what is ‘a British institution’. But most of the campaigners are British, so is it being educated that means women can’t contribute to matters of public interest, or just not being a Sun reader? You might all want to sit down for this shocking piece of news: women being educated is also quite ordinary in Britain. Women have been allowed access to university for a good few decades now, boobs and all. It’s not in any way pejorative to describe a woman as educated or well-read.
Answering that: “only women of a certain demographic” care about it, and that “ordinary women have better things to worry about” is a fairly transparent common-or-garden tactic of divide-and-rule. Another one is making out that the campaign is anti the Page 3 women themselves … a) it isn’t and b) let’s be clear, they are women, the Sun was forced to stop using actual girls when it became an offence to do so; or making out it’s a class-war of the middle-class women against working-class women. Or that because not everyone thinks it matters, those that do should be singled out as ‘different’ not just in opinion, but as different ‘sorts of people’.
Wowee, look at that, the actual issues being raised just vanish! Piff! They’re totally unaddressed. You could say that it’s a sexist sleight of hand, or you could say that predominantly male editors telling women campaigners that they know better than the women themselves about what matters for women is a shining example of misogyny. Or both!
If that wasn’t a funny enough diversion from the issues, then the next response had me laughing so hard I nearly did a little wee…
Last week, Harriet Harman, (who is Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, Shadow Secretary of State for Media, Culture and Sport and MP for Camberwell and Peckham – i.e. one of the most senior female politicians in Britain) declared her support for the No More Page 3 campaign. The editor of the Sun apparently reacted by naming the Page 3 woman last Friday as ‘Hattie from Camberwell’.
That’s right. Rather than bothering to consider the very valid debate about whether the ‘British institution’ of Page 3 is harmless fun or an outdated and more sinister reminder of the frequent sexual harassment, belittling and general inequality facing millions of women in Britain all the time… they used the very feature in question in an obvious and sinister way to try to belittle a major female political player, playing on the inequality she presents them as a woman, and effectively sexually harassing her. I think that’s called a hat-trick of own goals.
In making the decision to do this they literally returned to the same old tactics of trying to bully and scare high-profile women into ‘their place’ as they did with Claire Short. Women politicians are not respected or worthy to engage in debate about the malignant attitude to women persistently displayed by chunks of the British media. Viscious circle.
One of the many ironies in all of this, is that the campaign isn’t even asking for a ban or for censorship. It’s a polite request. It’s about allowing people a voice regarding the representation of half the population. But the response is the same as it was all those years ago with Claire Short – trying to swiftly censor the critics through bullying and harassment. The subtext is clear ‘you may be a successful woman: but we’ll reduce you to a pair of tits anytime we want love. That’s what we do‘. It’s the ‘British Institution of Page 3′ way of stoning her in front of the village for not knowing her place. It speaks volumes about the presumption of power and control over even the most senior women. Basically exactly the attitude campaigners, thousands of them, say they feel Page 3 symbolises and perpetuates.
Their response blows out of the water the claims that the issue of Page 3 isn’t as important as other women’s issues. In a few short weeks the campaign has been politely challenging the subtext of Page 3. And in doing so they have – with greatest ease – elicited a response which shines a light on the fact that even in 2012, there still exists a media mindset which is openly hostile, bullying and discriminatory towards women who speak out in Britain. And who now owe Harriet Harman an apology.
Any claim that the Sun knows ‘what really matters to women’ disintegrates in light of that editorial decision. What matters for them is putting women in their place; and that affects everyone, male or female. Last week’s stunt is like a double-red highlight straight from the editor’s pen which fleshes out those thousands of comments on the petition, and confirms that what campaigners are feeling, is right on the money.
Lucy Holmes has hit a nerve. For good reason. And you can join her here.