Why do we continue to reduce women to their physical image?
Simone de Beauvoir once said "...modern woman is everywhere permitted to regard her body as capital for exploitation." Objectification is hurting women.
History provides us with countless examples of those who have been subjected to terrible crimes resulting from their dehumanisation. Domestic violence is a very extreme but very real example which threatens women. Causing the deaths of two women per week in England and Wales, it is symptomatic of woman's objectification. She is vulnerable. Objectification justifies her submission. Worshipped, no doubt, for her outer-packaging, she is at risk of real-life iconoclasm.
The pornification of women is not a negligible First world problem. It is a public health epidemic. De Beauvoir, whose 106th birthday fell recently, wrote in The Second Sex that the disproportionate emphasis on a woman's physical appearance constitutes "the metamorphosis of woman into idol." Decades later, the problem has spiralled and The Sun's Page 3 persists as part of this problem.
Page 3 isn't a harmless institution. In an age characterised by an onslaught of media images, adverts and online porn which see women as sexually available, Page 3's endurance signifies our reluctance to change its perspective on women. Being momentarily adored does not secure a woman's emancipation. It serves to destroy her. Women are venerated and revered, worshipped as a fantasy of an ephemeral and fragile entity. However, in reality woman merely exists in the shadow of an equivalent male. The media, including Page 3, fails to consider woman as a living, intelligent and conscious being who deserves as much respect as a man. This objectification worryingly dehumanises her by reducing her to a passive object.
Women's representation isn't harmless. This isn't a moral panic. The No More Page 3 campaign, established in the summer of 2012, is still going strong with recent supporters including Russell Brand. The pairing of the 'news in briefs' with the image of an exploited woman indicates, amongst other things, that a woman can have an opinion as long as she is sexually objectified in the process. The No More Page 3 campaign should not be suppressed. We should support it for highlighting Page 3 as a continuing benefactor of the dehumanization and the parody of women.
David Trumble's art works also drive the campaign's point home. To him, the belittling of women starts early. His controversial prototype for Disney's new "World of Women", which first appeared in the Huffington Post in May, responds to Disney's "girlification" of Brave's Merida. He believes female role models are often feminised, trivialising their cause. Complete with unachievable body proportions, Gloria Steinem and Rosa Parks are amongst those Trumble illustrates to satirically pose the question "How many of these women would be improved by a few extra sparkles?"
We even tolerate a government which can't take women seriously. June 2013 saw David Cameron quash the claims of Caroline Lucas about the relationship between violence against women and their sexual objectification. She stated "The government's own research show that there is a link between the portrayal of women as sex objects in the media and a greater acceptance of sexual harassment and violence against women." He dismissed her proposal for the parliamentary authorities to ban the sale of The Sun "until Page 3 is scrapped" claiming it would undermine economic liberalism.
Although the systemic dehumanisation of women cannot be stopped overnight, we must reconfigure our concept of gender equality by taking a harder look at institutions such as Page 3.
Women deserve the full continuum of human existence.
A rethink of women's sexual objectification would not rob us of liberation. Instead, it would grant women full personhood and increased safety. We cannot have true liberation when half of our society is being persecuted. Surely de Beauvoir would have agreed.