This week at Swansea Students' Union, the union put forward a motion to ban the distribution and selling of The Sun and The Daily Star in the on campus shop. Honestly, I've always thought it would come much sooner than this to follow up the banning of lads mags on campus some years ago. Following a student forum earlier this week, the motion to ban these newspapers failed, though we will support the 'No More Page 3 Campaign," which is really great. However, the whole debate got me thinking about this issue.
When we come across stories like this, we are reminded that nude modelling is still considered a very controversial subject, especially for women. We have come a long way in the feminist movement since its inception but, clearly, there is still some room for improvement. I do not like the fact that The Sun put topless women on page three, because it is outdated and pointless, but I think the outright banning of a publication is not the right way to tackle this issue.
I'm not an avid reader of The Sun or The Daily Star by any stretch of the imagination, so I suppose it would not be a massive detriment to the rest of my time at university if it were on the shelf or not. It is safe to say that The Sun was never (and never really will be) a particularly popular newspaper in any Students' Union across the country, but that doesn't mean it should be taken off the shelves.
The banning is an issue of censorship. By the union not selling the newspaper, they are making it more difficult to obtain and, in my opinion, this is pretty much the same as censoring the publication. Historically, one of Britain's most valued heritages is press freedom from censorship and, (though Students' Unions are on a smaller scale in comparison to Britain as a whole), we should be treasuring this heritage and remembering that the freedom to choose which newspaper we want to read and therefore, the news we want to consume, is one of our most important and basic human rights. For me, the proposed banning was more an attack on my liberties to choose my own newspaper than tackling the issue of the objectification of women.
I feel like my freedom to express myself through my choices would have been restricted, and frankly, I feel like it is being implied that I cannot make an informed decision in what I read. Don't Students' Unions exist to represent the best interests of its members as a whole? The motion didn't represent the student body (what about those students who do read The Sun?), it discriminated against students and it went against the diversity of its membership. I admit, there should be an effort to inform people of the harmful results of these pages but, at university, we are all adults who know our own minds and know what we want to read. No one should take that right away from us.
(Also, I'd just like to stress that the union allows the stocking and selling of magazines in which men feature naked, but I'll come back to this point later.)
As with anything in life, I find that if you ban something, the likelihood is that people are going to be more inclined to try to find it anyway. Removing The Sun in our Students' Union will not end the exploitation of women. Sadly, it is a misguided thought that banning the paper in the Students' Union will make a massive difference to the objectification of women on a global scale. In fact, as much as I'd like to think otherwise, it may even make things worse as people turn to other, less regulated locations to find exploitative imagery.
As I have already said, I am of the opinion that page three is an outdated part of the newspaper that should be eradicated. Times have changed and we need to move on from this kind of smut and get The Sun to produce some quality (albeit including a bit of pop culture) journalism. However, we are fortunate enough to live in an age in which a woman can choose what type of work she wants to do. If a woman did not want to undertake topless modelling, she wouldn't do it. It is her basic human right to do that and we should respect that.
We have come so far in the feminist movement. Over the course of the last 80 years, women have moved up the ranks and now, we are more equal than ever to our male counterparts. And yet, the movement that once liberated women and fought for our rights, is now restrictive, in this instance, I feel that it is effectively telling women who may want to be nude models that their ambitions are wrong.
I am a feminist. I am very proud to be a feminist. I want women to have equal rights, to be treated equally, and believe that any woman can do anything as well as any man could. But, I am increasingly seeing that there is a certain negative stigma attached to the word 'feminism' these days, which is a shame because it really is a very empowering and wonderful movement I hold very close to my heart. However, I'm starting to feel like the movement is telling me more about what I can't do, rather than what I can do. If I want to be a nude model, I have that right to be without anyone questioning it.
My main issue with modern day feminism, however, is that it is increasingly gender specific and gender focused. What the movement really needs is to fight for genuine equality between the sexes.
Men can be feminists. In fact, men make pretty damn good feminists. I find that feminists, in fact people in general, sometimes forget that men are also the brunt of sexist thinking some of the time. You think about our society and the ways in which men are expected to behave; the list of things they cannot do because of the way our society thinks is endless. Lad culture stresses that the only way men can enjoy themselves is by acting a certain way and this acceptance of the way 'blokes' should act makes it near enough to impossible for them to be otherwise. Men and women are both the brunt of sexist thinking in an equal measure these days, and it is something we need to remind ourselves of.
Reverting back to a point I made earlier, the union stocks and sells magazines in which men feature naked. If we're going to ban topless women being featured in our shops, then surely we must ban the magazines that promote naked men. If men and women are truly equal, (which, we know they are or at least they should be), and people are so against page three that they consider banning the stocking and selling of the publication that promotes the provocative images of women, then provocative images of men should go too.
Yes, page three should go. It is outdated, it is pointless and it has no place in newspapers. It is demeaning, not just for the women on the page, but for the men, women, boys and girls who have to see it. It should go. But banning the publication and taking away basic human rights to a free press for one bad page isn't the way forward. When you start to ban newspapers because you don't like their content, you remove the power of the people, and take away their abilities to make a conscious effort to stand up and say that they don't want to buy publications which spread sexist and derogatory messages. Should the union put internet blocks on their computers to ban access to certain websites? Should books in the library be banned for spreading a bad message? The answer is no. Banning the newspaper in my students' union will not make a massive impact on sale figures to bring about a real change, (as has been seen in many others across the UK) but a real and a sustained campaign could. We should also bear in mind that, while we have a right to a free press, we also have a right to do what we want to do, and if a woman or a man wants to undertake nude modelling, then that is their right. We should not challenge what people wish to do with their own bodies. While we wait for page three to be banned (because it will be one day), we should teach our children and remind ourselves that these women and men who feature in these provocative images, and people in general, are much more than sex objects and that this derogatory mindset has no place in our individual thoughts.