I would have loved to have been in the editorial meetings at the Sun and the Daily Star on 14 February. As the news of Oscar Pistorius and his girlfriend came through the wires, there must have been intense debate over how best to present the news. A picture of Pistorius being led away by police perhaps? Or an image of the famous Blade Runner crossing the finishing line at the Olympics, both captioned with a perfectly pithy headline?
"Hang on," someone will have then said, "She was a supermodel. Why don't we use a picture of her in a bikini?"
"Isn't that a bit inappropriate?" someone else will have said.
"Nah", the first guy will have said, "they are public domain pictures. No harm in using them."
The problem is that there is quite a lot of harm in using them. Not only is a young, attractive woman dead - and please let the record show that at no point did either newspaper, use her name (she was simply "Oscar Pistorius' girlfriend") - but they were now reducing her to something to be ogled at. Not a person. Just a body. This is ironic as the day before the tragedy occurred the Sun was calling out an Italian magazine for publishing pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge in a bikini.
But all of this is symptomatic of a larger issue. When a major national newspaper can use topless models as a unique selling point, we should not at all be surprised when they pull something like this. In the mass media, it has long been recognised that sex sells. If you want to sell something to guys, then put a picture of an attractive woman on the label, and watch it fly off the shelves.
This however means that we reduce women down to the sum of their parts. What goes on underneath the surface doesn't matter. Reeva Steenkamp was not just a body and a pair of breasts. She was a human being with her own dreams, her own opinions. Yes, she may have been beautiful, and she may have been a model. But that was not all that she was.
The media and the world as a whole, have objectified women, and yet at the same time, call them out when they dare to dress attractively. We ogle them on Page 3 and yet when a rape is reported in the news, one of the first comments will usually be that she was asking for it or should have dressed more decently. We both praise women for their sexuality and demean them for it.
With the news that Rupert Murdoch is considering axing Page Three from the Sun, it is possible that the media has begun to realise that the way we have been portraying women for so long is no longer appropriate. But when front pages like this are still published, it seems like the message hasn't properly sunk in just yet.
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