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Richard Caseby

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Why the Guardian's Verbal Sexual Assault on Page Three Girls Is Baffling

Posted: 18/02/2013 16:14

Whatever happened to the Guardian? Time was, you could rely on it to rush to the barricades on behalf on any hard-working girl struggling to make her way in a male-dominated world. The women's pages were shrill, they were mocked, but in the 1970s they were often ahead of their time. Yep, they were genuinely revolutionary.

Wasn't it the Guardian that first took up arms for equal pay, campaigned against violence against women and then prostitutes' rights? How time and class prejudice has corroded its values. These days you only have to be a Page 3 model to be attacked by one of its columnists as a "downmarket scrubber".

How violent is that? I defend anyone's right to an honest objection to Page 3, but the Guardian's verbal sexual assault on these women is as repellent as it is baffling. How on earth did the Guardian and its columnist Marina Hyde sink to this nadir?

Perhaps the editor Alan Rusbridger calculates that ordinary Page 3 girls are fair game and won't retaliate in the libel courts. I'll leave that to QCs who have a passing knowledge of what "downmarket scrubber" means to the man on the King's Place omnibus. But perhaps Rusbridger might start by apologising.

Some years ago the Guardian indulged in an extended spasm of self-congratulation to mark the 50th anniversary of its women's pages, the first in any national newspaper: "Oh, my name is wimmin's editor, Queen of Queens, look on my works, ye readers and pay tribute!"

Liz Forgan (editor 1978-81) gushed: "Furious arguments between radical lesbians and the fashion team, third world women and Islington schoolteachers, battle-hardened survivors of the suffrage movements and impatient teenagers were all lovingly chronicled."

But amongst all the pages of backslapping, something struck a chord. Forgan, now chairman of the Guardian's Scott Trust, remarked that Jill Tweedie was the first Brit to get to Afghanistan 40 years ago when everyone was applauding the "romantic local tribesman over the nasty Stalinist Russian". At the time Tweedie wrote: "Let's just look at how each side treats women before we decide who are the heroes here."

I adapt Tweedie's words: "Let's just look at how the Guardian treats the Sun's Page 3 girls before we decide who are the enemies here."

All institutions have their time in the sun and all media must adapt to a fast-changing digital universe and the readers they serve. But the remarkable thing about Page 3 is that in today's culture of instantly available hardcore pornography, it has not changed at all. It seems quaint. Some might argue irrelevant.

On the 40th anniversary of Page 3, Germaine Greer, first generation feminist and one-time Guardian regular, wrote in the Sun: "Nowadays all of us who have a digital TV run a risk of beaming into our homes adult channels by simply pressing the wrong button. What we would see and hear would make Page 3 look like a toothpaste ad. That is the truly extraordinary thing about Page 3. It is no more explicit, no more revealing than it was in 1970."

And yet the models who visit British troops on service in Helmand and cheer up the wounded recovering at the Headley Court military hospital and are regarded as innocent as a "toothpaste ad" to a feminist long-marcher like Greer, are damned by today's Guardian as "downmarket scrubbers"? What jaw-dropping misogyny from the ghetto of liberal journalism.

But we shouldn't be surprised. Those middle-class, expensively-schooled, Oxbridge types like Rusbridger seem to despise the concerns and interests of ordinary folk. Trouble is, though, these days it's just not politically correct to sneer at working-class culture. Goodness, how could you ever look your cleaner in the eye again? So they body swerve the masses, and attack the tabloids because they dare to offer people what they want.

This is typical of the class condescension the Guardian trademarked long ago: left-wing, rioja-quaffing, focaccia-scoffing types telling millions of ordinary folk what they should and shouldn't read or see.

So let's hear it from Guardian women's page editors past and present: where are your voices when your own newspaper damns innocent women as "downmarket scrubbers"?

Wasn't it your Guardian that argued that the lexicon of misogynistic hate was a way of dehumanising women and the first step on the path to actual physical violence against them?

How appalling it is then that the Guardian's own Marina Hyde should use such debased language in an article purporting to defend Reeva Steenkamp, the South African model who was allegedly murdered.

So I ask you Guardian women's editors, rise up against the haters in your midst - or quit your preaching.

 
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