So, a few days ago, I was reading Poorna Bell's discussion of Jodie Marsh's entry to the Loose the Lad Mags campaign, because, as a woman I have more than a passing interest. I climbed on my soap box and posted a comment about the limited range of body types engaged in such photography and received a string of replies, which taught me a thing or two about the perception of women amongst men (or at least amongst Jodie Marsh fans, admittedly a limited sub-section).
What I learnt was
1. Women who are not feminists find being sexually objectified empowering.
2. Questioning the objectification of women means I am a feminist
3. All feminists hold the same views.
4. Feminists are wrong
5. Feminists are a joke
6. Feminists should be patronised
I'm assuming also that all feminists are unattractive and that we couldn't get a man even if we wanted to (that wasn't actually posted but it fits with the general theme so I'm taking it as read). It was all very 1970's and I started wondering if my brand of feminism was in fact irrelevant, humourless and generally out of touch.
Is it true that women who make a living by posing provocatively have won the war of the sexes? Are Jodie Marsh and her colleagues feminist victors; no longer exploited by male photographers instead they earn good money by preying on the sexual weakness of men? Those who replied to my comment argued yes, Jodie et al, get it, they are in fact the truly liberated post feminist women, and are not held back by the crusty old views of someone like myself. But then they would say that wouldn't they? Much easier to have someone fulfil your desires because you've convinced them that they want to, rather than to have to force them.
But in fact, every woman who makes a comfortable living this way, makes it harder for a thousand other women to escape the same expectation. They give credence to the idea that women are the sum of their bodies, to be looked at and objectified and respected for nothing else, an attitude which seeps through the façade of gender equality in 2013 Britain. Scratch the surface and you find casual sexism is not buried that deeply. Just in the last few years we have seen the Prime Minister, despite all his lip service to women, dismiss a female colleague in the House of Commons with the patronising "calm down dear" (see point 6 above). When a photo of oral sex between a teenage girl and victorious boy (hands held aloft) went global, the ire and judgement of the world fell squarely upon her shoulders. (Yes we want our women sexually liberated, but after they suck us off, we want to judge them also). Almost unbelievably Caroline Criado-Perez received death and rape threats in response to a campaign to have a woman on a bank note - it would be ridiculous if it wasn't so scary. And have you ever, ever, read an interview with Marianne Faithful in which the interviewer didn't cast her current artistic endeavours against the backdrop of those forty year old sexual rumours involving a Mars bar? (I mention this because the latest was only this week)
I know that in the UK we don't shoot girls for wanting to go to school, that no one has been raped on a bus in full view of passengers, and that to marry off your under age daughter, you do actually have to take her out of the country, but in all honesty I'm not sure we are as far away from that level of misogyny as we'd like to think.
So, thank you, fans of Jodie Marsh, because I've done some soul searching and you know what, Lads Mags are not empowering, Page 3 is exploitative, you are not funny and feminism is still very relevant.