Is No More Page 3 Really Advancing Gender Equality?

Let me begin by saying I am a huge supporter of the no more page three campaign, which you will know if you’re read either No More Page 3-Behind the Avatar or Feminists of All Genders Please Sign Here

As a supporter I’ve been tweeting about the petition and asking people I know to sign up. I was rather taken aback a few days ago when someone I had blithely assumed would be a supporter of the campaign said no. This person is a male academic involved with equality and diversity; he’s someone whose opinions I respect so I asked a bit more.

The main thrust of his argument was that Page 3 is a minor distraction, a mere symptom, and that most women supporting it were middle class and wouldn’t get anywhere near as worked up about other types of gender inequality like pay differentials, or in giving a helping hand to other women, and it was a typical over reaction from a society which is sexually repressed. He also added that this campaign was more of the middle class telling the working class how to behave.

It’s not particularly easy to have a conversation like this in 140 characters but we managed it. I am familiar with the arguments; when I was a social work student we debated long and hard about were we just ‘agents of social control’ imposing our value system on others. I am also from a very working class background and that comment stung. However, cursed as I am with having to see both sides of an argument, I thought long and hard about his comments and I realised to a degree that he was right. I did have an emotional, almost visceral response to the no more page 3 campaign in a way I don’t when arguing for equal pay, gender equality and so on. I am passionate about all those things, as you can’t fail to realise if you read my newsletter, or work with me. I actively work with organisations to try and make those things a reality. I am not anti men but I want to see a fairer world where we have genuine equality between the sexes. I don’t think that can happen while page 3 exists.

Apart from the fact that we live in a patriarchal society one issue crops up time and time again when looking at why women don’t reach the upper echelons and that is confidence. For a myriad of reasons we women appear to lack it in certain situations. It’s no surprise really when daily we are judged against standards and mores instituted by men.

I grew up in a very working class area. My feminism was shaped by being in a run down neighbourhood with a lot of first generation immigrants where the men spat at me for wearing a mini skirt in the street, where my close friend was married off at 15 and forbidden to see me again, where boys were given preferential treatment when it came to education, where being ‘flashed’ at was such a regular occurrence that most of the time we didn’t say anything about it. Most of us girls did not walk anywhere on our own after dark because we were fearful and because if we did and something ‘bad’ happened it would have been attributed to our stupidity and too short skirts.

More recently I was working in London in an organisation which recognised it had a problem with promoting and retaining women. A male manager in the group clearly didn’t want to be there so he sat in our midst with a copy of The Sun open at Page Three. He couldn’t have done that with a porn mag, but a daily newspaper…. who could complain about that?

Page three reminds me of all that. When I see a man in a public place looking at page three I can feel physically sick. I get annoyed when I read the broadsheets and see very few positive images of women, and I’ve sent letters to the editors. But it doesn’t make me feel ill. It’s not about me being middle class and pouring scorn on the habits of working class men (and who says only working class men look at Page 3?). It’s about me being a woman and feeling degraded to see those pictures in a newspaper. When The I newspaper manages to print an entire edition without featuring women apart from in the social pages (which it did a few months ago) I feel angry. When the Sun prints a daily picture of a naked woman I feel degraded. That continual sexist behaviour in society helps fuel women’s lack of confidence.

So I asked myself, is he right? Are my feelings about this out of all proportion to the facts?

And I concluded no, I believe he is wrong.

Page 3 is not a symptom.

Page 3 is a powerful and potent symbol.

And when things change, old symbols get destroyed.

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Posted on September 27th, 2012 by

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