I went to bed last night tired and weary. It wasn't a pleasant sleep and the feeling lingered into the morning. The first article I read the next day was regarding the Ukrainan female activist group: Femen, who are hoping to bring their ideas and high-profile topless protests over to the UK to continue the battle against their patriarchal enemy: "dictatorship, religion and the sex industry." The power these women have, and the struggles and challenges they will face coming over to the UK, was emphasised even more to me after what I had witnessed the night before.
At around 11o'clock last night, I was flicking through the channels and caught ten minutes of Celebrity Juice. I'd never seen the programme before but soon came to understand the comedy panel style set up with Leigh Francis a.k.a comedian, Keith Lemon hosting. Easily identifiable with his open neck shirts, gaudy dress sense and 1970's pornstar moustache, the television celebrity is also known for his controversial and lewd sex-driven humour.
Holly Willoughby is a regular on the show. Predominantly known as a presenter, on our TV screens to host glitzy Saturday night television shows in a relatively family-friendly way, depending on the cut of her dress, as is so readily documented by the tabloids the next morning. "NOT ENOUGH SIDE-BOOB." What I was to witness on the show led me to believe even further that we are careering backwards at great speed to a dangerous and primitive place for women in society.
I want to now briefly refer to Gloria Steinem, spokeswoman for the women's liberation movement in the late 1960s and 1970s. In a piece regarding the 'sexy' antics of Miley Cyrus, (another essay altogether,) Steinem states: "...I think that we need to change the culture, not blame the people that are playing the only game that exists." The culture she is talking about in my opinion is the pornification of society, the retrograde steps feminism is taking; a whirring whirlpool back towards darker times: social exclusion and the objectification of our gender.
Without becoming too tangential to the centre of my discussion, I want to briefly identify that this is not a diatribe against Holly Willoughby, against somebody who is doing their job as a television personality, but rather she features since she is part of the show and thus, playing "the only game that exists."
Let's return to Femen for a moment as I want to highlight the oxymoronic nature of my evening and the following morning. A member of the activist group stated that: "when a woman's nudity is not controlled by men... when she's using her sexuality for her own aims, political aims - that really makes patriarchy irritated." I love this idea, but after witnessing Celebrity Juice I felt, how would we even know? Without a moment's thought, the two female panellists, both artificially blonde with big breasts, were instructed to "get on their knees," by Keith Lemon who goes on to stare and smile into the camera, his innuendo wet with salivation. The aim of his game is that both women were to open their mouths at the bottom of a paper-mache ski slope whilst Lemon rolled sweets towards them. The result, Holly and her co-star on their knees, cheeks pushed together, lip-gloss slicked mouths wide open whilst Lemon feeds them. The camera takes on a POV porn-genre style that often pre-empts the final 'climactic' scenes in order to satisfy the male gaze. I won't even begin to talk about the paedophilic, child-catcher connotations of the food choice - the treats, the sweeties. (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaL2tN-M6s4 to be educated more on this.)
If this weren't horrifying enough, Lemon then turns to the camera and tells his adolescent male viewers to "go and get themselves some tissues," whilst he plays the replay in "super slow motion." I was shocked. The other panellists looked on; Fearne Cotton the only other female. Was it just in my mind that everybody looked slightly uncomfortable? When did it become the norm that women so readily get on their knees on national television to be humiliated and turned into nothing more than sex toys? Greer, of course, came to mind with the quotation: "we still make love to organs and not people." These were simply big wet mouths that Lemon wanted to fill.**
Sex is fun, nudity is liberating, the female and male form is arousing, but the coverage of gender in the media is unbalanced and unequal. Even adult porn, in my opinion, is safe to play with. Playing at different roles, kink and sadomasochism are all okay to indulge in, as long as the viewer is aware of reality and you're doing them because you want to do them, not because you're feeling forced to by any form of oppressive institution, patriarchy or otherwise. These are not true representations of society, we use them to be titillated, to be aroused, to play, for we are creatures that enjoy being stimulated, but behind all of it we must remember that knowledge is always power and that reality, fair ethics and moral values that promote respect and kindness should always prevail.
The gender conflict is not Manichean, it's just about equal representation and understanding that in reality we must uphold these values. We're allowed to play, but in moderation and with an awareness of what's real. Today there is not enough mention of reality and we're social and observational creatures. Bandura told us that we learn through observation and I'm terrified of what other generations are learning from others when the media is so saturated with sex equating to females feeling they must prostitute themselves in order to be appreciated. I'm sure off-screen Lemon does uphold these values but he is in a position of influence on our television screens and is only promoting the pornification of society. I'm tired of all of this - of Robin Thicke branding his female dancer's thighs with his misogynistic lyrics, of Miley Cyrus' red rimmed mouth that never closes, of women feeling they must literally kneel down in front of men in order to provide entertainment. I'm tired of the culture and how desensitized we are to it.
People may say I'm prudish. I'm not. I embrace love and sex on equal and educated terms. I love being a woman, I love all that it brings. I love the traditions that some heterosexual relationships still hold: opening doors, pulling out chairs... This could be seen as hypocritical to my argument but again, it's about moderation and remembering reality. But isn't carrying my luggage a sexist and old-fashioned tradition? Perhaps. But we both entered into doing so with knowledge and realism: we know my gender is not a disability, I'm quite capable of doing all of these things myself, but I like that sometimes you offer to do them for me. Remembering that I'm fully capable but that I enjoy these actions makes this okay: you're not doing it because you feel I'm weak or in fact, because I'm a woman, it's because sometimes I like them being done.
Let me tell you this - I enjoy occasionally having a meal ready for you when I get home first and making the house nice and tidy for you. I like these things because I know you get enjoyment from them and in return, I do too. I haven't been forced to do so. Because in a relationship we do things to please the person we love, I don't do them because I'm programmed to a 1950s housewife ideal, or because it's imprinted on my XX chromosomes, just as you pulling out my chair doesn't occur because it's expected of your gender in some ancient out-dated archetype.
This year I have been attending events that bring together women from all different industries and professions through the Women of the Future Awards in association with Shell, to share stories and ideas, and similarly inspire new generations of females to succeed. It has been reassuring, and I must remember that these types of women are out there, because the media's unbalanced hyper-sexualisation of females in our society is dangerous and I'm scared of it. I'm scared that when I decide to bring children into the world, this striptease culture may have prevailed and the world as we knew it, with fairness and respect and freedom to indulge in all we enjoy, as long as our own realities are firmly in place behind them, will be lost forever.
** This Celebrity Juice episode was covered in The Daily Mirror. The headline reading: "Watch Keith Lemon fill Holly Willoughby and Victoria Silvstedt's wanton mouths with ice cream treats. Once again Keith goes out of his way to make Holly do whatever he feels, this week's sexually charged game is a classic."
Molly Case is shortlisted for the 2013 Women of the Future Awards.
The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 13 November and is hosted by Real Business in association with Shell.