We had a little victory this week. I mean we've had quite a few "Whoop" moments of late but this was different. The thing is it has occurred to me, for reasons which I will explain (whether you like it or not) that people mostly have no idea whatsoever how important or amazing they are or how much of a difference they can make... and yes... that includes you... yes... you there.
This week I ran a marathon for the very first time and I now feel super powerful myself...I mean seriously, like wonder woman or something. I have never experienced anything like it and I have never had such an extraordinary sense of the power of collective thought and behaviour of people. Had I run 26 miles on my own, as I have done throughout my training, I may well have completed the distance but I absolutely would not have done it in such a good time or with such a huge sense of well being and excitement and euphoria. The runners beside me powered me on and the reactions and encouragement from the crowd drove me every inch of the way.
In my other life, over 20 years working as a health professional, everyday I see small actions make a big difference. You simply have to notice the look of gratitude on the face of a patient when you take a little extra time to sit and listen or you explain their condition to them in a way that makes sense for the first time. You don't have to be in health care though - give up your seat on the bus, pass your day pass for the car park to somebody just coming in or go along and cheer on the runners this Sunday at the London marathon. People are tremendously powerful. I wonder at what can be achieved when we realise that power.
History is littered with examples of ordinary people standing up, sometimes all by themselves at first, saying that something is wrong and pointing out how it could be different and sometimes more people add their voice and then more and slowly but slowly things change for the better. At the moment there are a multitude of voices speaking out in the battle for equality, in the UK and across the world. It's getting pretty damned loud and you can't fail to notice it. Everyday sexism , celebrating it's first birthday this week, has had incredible success in exposing the issues that face women and girls in their day to day lives, One Billion Rising saw women getting up to dance and say "no more" to sexual violence across the world. We are Chiming for Change in London this summer and in India we saw incredibly brave women and men stand up in protest at endemic rape. People are making it clear that women are worth respect, that women are not here just to look at and be admired as a sexual objects or a plaything or to be insulted if they fail to meet some narrow standard of "beauty". Just like the other 49% of the population women are thinking, feeling human beings with talents and aspirations and flaws. I am lucky enough that most of the significant men in my life recognise, as so many men do, that the alternative limited view of women is just as limiting to them as men and to all of us in our relationships. The fight for a more real and equal representation of women in the media is an important one if we are to achieve true equality. As Miss Representation put it "you can't be what you can't see" and with that in mind it is little wonder we are not seeing enough women in sport and that the latest figures life show that the number of women in powerful public positions is on a decline.
Last week in team No More Page 3 we did a little digging around some of the darker parts of the tabloid sites and I wrote, in response to our findings in my last Huff Post blog The piece (you'll be forgiven for not putting yourself through it again) centres around the connections between Page 3 type images and rape and violence against women. In particular it showcased some of the awful comments appearing below the model's pictures on the Daily Star's website which are, at best unsettling and I suggested that as a woman and as a mother of a daughter it was difficult to read them and feel completely safe for yourself or any young women in your family, amongst men who had been viewing these images. Clearly the impact was felt somewhat wider than we'd anticipated, as a few days after the publication and sharing of this blog across our NMP3 social media sites, we were informed by a supporter that the Daily Star had (as The Sun did some time ago) deleted all comments and disabled the ability to comment altogether.
I cannot deny that we were really pleased to hear this. It felt like another small victory for No More Page 3, a victory for people power and for decency, to remove this awful language from the public domain. In my post-marathon, euphoria I would like to think it is because they realise it was, at the very least, very disrespectful to the models in their employment to have these words next to their pictures, particularly the comments calling them s**ts or suggesting their t**s we're not up to scratch. But then I noticed they haven't done away with the scoring out of 10 so the models are still exposed to that humiliation unfortunately.
If that wasn't there motivation however then what was?
Could it be that they were trying to destroy any damning evidence of the links between their objectification and exploitation of women and any potential danger of street harassment and or violence towards women? Will they try and pretend this never happened? If that is the case then removal of these words doesn't remove that evidence. We have kept a record (in case they were wondering) of these comments, along with a record of some of the "reasons for signing" on the "Keep Page 3" petition, which sadly used very similar language. So I'm afraid, if that was the ploy it came a little too late. The Sun are pretty careful with the Page 3 model's photographs. For example if you take a look at Page 3's official YouTube videos comments are disabled as they are on the Page 3 website. There are however other videos of the same models where comments are allowed, one of which we found only this week...
..and The Sun it seems don't extend this level of care to all the women they show topless either. You can still, for example, visit the page containing the unairbrushed (unlike Page 3) topless photographs of the young woman who was so depressed about the size of her breasts that she obtained breast augmentation on the NHS and there you can read a multitude of horrendously rude and personal comments that have been allowed to appear uncensored.
Most importantly though, The Sun and Daily Star may have removed the ability to comment below page 3 but they have not yet removed the stimulus which fuelled this language. They cannot stop the thought process which occurs in the minds of the people who will continue to be fed their daily topless picture. It doesn't stop some men sharing their thoughts about the model's attributes and how much she should "Get her tits out NOW!!!" with other men around them.
I am not making apologies for the individual behaviour of the men who make these comments, they are to blame for there own behaviour. I know their attitudes to women will not have been formed simply by looking at page 3 and I am fully aware that some men, from time to time may seek out naked images of women, as women will of men. Something which I believe to be completely natural. Most, importantly most would still never dream of speaking about the woman they are looking at or those around them as things rather than people.
These newspapers however, in their normalisation of these images, not in a media which must be sought out, but sitting there, in a newspaper, next to the headlines about politics and world events; being opened in cafes and buses and trains; achieve a reinforcement of the idea that women are things. That they are consumables, there to be looked at, to be sexually available on tap. As available as the weather forecast, the crossword and the cup of tea or the latte the viewer/reader is drinking. This gives some a sense of privilege over women, of ownership of women's breasts and bodies. It is their right to comment on these women and to demand more. For years the Daily Star and before it The Sun has not only perpetuated this myth by printing these images every day but it has allowed such derogatory use of language associated with these pictures on a public website, that would never have been accepted in relation to a persons race or religion. It has accepted it because this particular hate speech and damn right rudeness is on the basis of gender and this prejudice has been allowed safe passage for far too long. The comments have been there for months, years some of them, for people to read. By their very presence these derogatory words has served to justify any mans right to think of or comment on these women, and perhaps others, in the same inhuman way and their deletion is an overdue move towards old fashioned good manners if nothing else.
So yes, We'll take that victory. It may be a small one but we think it an important one. It presumably won't stop the thought processes that we know will occur in some. It won't end the conversations about "the t**s on that" that or the sexist attitudes that it will perpetuate but it is a small step in the right direction.
So people, you see you can make a difference, take my word for it, you are all incredibly powerful... and... just like the marathon, please keep going, one step at a time, best foot forward, with 95,000 cheering us on or running alongside including 500,000 Guides (whoop whoop)... onwards to the finish... look out Mr Mohan, we're on the home straight and my goodness do we have some support!