A survey of Mumsnet users for No More Page 3 has revealed that the majority of parents agree tabloids with sexual front pages and content should be placed on the top shelf. Over 1800 Mumsnet users took part in the survey, between 7-13 October.
In answer to the question 'Do you agree or disagree that The Sun/The Star/The Sport should be placed on the top shelf, out of children's eyelines in shops?' there was resounding agreement that all three titles need to be kept on the top shelves:
78% agree re The Sun
82% agree re The Star
86% agree re Daily/Sunday Sport
This is not a result from a group of hand-wringing mums bleating 'But what about the children..?!' or a 'not in front of the children' kind of prudery. Mumsnet is a politically influential platform for parents whose voice is important, because those aspects of culture which are normalised to the extent that they may be invisible to us suddenly become visible again when we are looking at the world through our child's eyes.
Children are not fragile creatures who need protection from everything in society which is not soft and fluffy. Children are robust, resilient and curious about the world around them; they are not shocked or confused about nudity or the human body; these are not the issues. What does have a harmful impact on children growing up in this country is the public visibility and easy accessibility of images whose purpose is the sexual titillation of grown men. Many adults are desensitised to the objectified portrayals of (overwhelmingly) women everywhere we look, but children are not. They see and learn.
The drip-drip of exposure to these images, from childhood to adulthood, amounts to a pervasive unconscious conditioning throughout our lives that women are commodities whose main value lies in their ability to sexually arouse men. Nobody fully escapes cultural conditioning; and in this country it starts very young, on a visit to the supermarket, newsagent or cafe, on the train or on the bus. In shops, the front covers of the tabloids are displayed at just the right height for toddlers in pushchairs, on the bottom shelf, or around an island display in a supermarket. Here, stacks of newspapers are placed flat at a height which provides older children and teenagers with the most inviting and convenient way to peruse them.
These survey results are not just 'all about the children' though; the impact of these images affects us throughout our lives. As Justine Roberts, Mumsnet CEO, commented: 'Anyone who thinks this has no effect on women and girls is living in a dream world.'
Every woman has grown up in this country seeing her gender reflected back to her as sexual entertainment for the men who run the world. From childhood onwards she takes her cues from the predominant messages she receives from her culture about her value and role as a woman.
Every woman will be affected by the attitudes of those men who have been conditioned by these images since childhood, attitudes which reduce her to a commodity or do not take her seriously as a human being, whether that's on the street, in a relationship or at work.
Objectified images of women may be everywhere: in advertising, in music videos, on the internet, but nowhere is the message more unequivocal than in our national newspapers; all other media channels reflect a part of our society, but a country's newspapers reflect society itself.
In a newspaper these images of objectified women are purely gratuitous. They represent women's status within our culture, nothing less.
The survey comes at a time of mounting concern that the current placement of these papers is illegal: Minister for Crime Prevention, Norman Baker MP has confirmed that supermarkets who display magazines and newspapers with sexualized front covers at child height are 'not observing current legislation in relation to the Indecent Displays Act 1981.'
There is nothing quite like a Mumsnet survey result to encourage supermarkets to adhere to current legislation.
No More Page 3 commented: 'The result is clear: people see The Sun in the same category as The Star and The Sport as newspapers destined for the top shelf.'
And this is the other significant result of this survey: when over 3/4 of those surveyed agreed that the Sun should go on the top shelf, the supermarkets cannot ignore that strength of public feeling. The pressure to change their display policies, and the threat to the Sun of being moved out of sight in the company of the downmarket soft porn papers, may just be the final nail in the coffin for Page 3.