Marx out of 10 for Page 3’s apologists?
January 31, 2012 3 Comments
The Page 3 debate shows how the left, as well as the right, must stop clinging to old ideologies and address the problems of today.
“It was a breath of fresh air”, writes Ellie Mae O’Haggen in the New Statesman, “to see four articulate women at the Leveson inquiry spelling out the sexism most feminists knew was there all along… without being ridiculed or interrupted.” How short the sudden silence.
Oddly, it was from writers on the left that one heard the loudest rebuttal of the submission from Object and “Turn Your Back on Page 3”. Roy Greenslade was quick to question the veracity of their evidence in the Evening Standard, while Brendan O’Neill launched a telling broadside against the “bevy of feminists” and their “shrill chorus” on this website.
This issue presents a problem for many on the left. For once we’re facing a major societal issue that wasn’t caused by faceless bankers or privileged Tories. The 99% are just as culpable. We have, by the implicit consent of the consumer, created the gutter press. Tabloids print what sells and we’re all buying.
While Greenslade argues that the link between sexism and sexual violence remains tenuous, O’Neill castigates the women’s groups as paternalistic enemies of free speech.
They’re both wrong.
The link between misogyny in the media and violence on the streets is immediately apparent if one takes a slightly more intelligent approach to causation than O’Neill’s: (“just one image of a topless girl called Cherri from Essex could be enough to make them go out and attack some unsuspecting women”).
Women’s campaigners have actually argued that a saturation of sexual objectification, such as that in the tabloid press, leads to a greater acceptance of violence against women. It was an argument held true by the US Attorney General as early as 1982.
When The Daily Star illustrates it’s report on a murder victim with pictures of the girl in a bikini or The Sport features the (66 year old) reporter Chubby Brown making jokes about raping Coronation Street’s Rosie Webster, it has a tangible societal effect. A study by the London Metropolitan University psychologist Linda Papadopoulos concludes, “There is a significant amount of evidence” linking sexist beliefs and attitudes to “aggressive sexual behaviour”. A Home Office survey in 2009 found that 36% of Britons believe a woman should be held “partly or wholly” responsible if she was assaulted when drunk, 26% if she was wearing revealing clothes. To put it another way: if over a third or members of the average jury are predisposed to blame the victim, it’s hardly surprising that at least 93.5% of rapes go unconvicted. As such, while the image of “Cherri from Essex” may not immediately provoke the reader to run out and rape, it certainly helps make the law a virtual irrelevance in deterring others from committing the crime.
But diagnosing the cancer is one thing, prescribing the cure quite another. O’Neill argues that Object’s submissions amount to censorship comparing them to the paternalism that lead to the 1960 “Lady Chatterley trial” and Mervyn Griffith-Jones QC’s immortal question: “Would you let your wife or servant read this book?” In this, he is also wrong.
Object’s submissions merely suggested that the print media be held to the same standards with which the rest of the media already comply. It’s quite an intellectual leap to compare their suggestion, that publications which display adverts for sex lines and escort agencies should not be sold to children, with censorship.
At this point someone often feels compelled to quote Benjamin Franklin’s dictum that “those who trade liberty for security deserve neither”. However, Franklin, it is worth noting, never had to govern. Defining freedom of the press in such absolutist terms is the mark of those who have never been troubled with the inconvenience of accountability. In reality we trade “liberty” for “security” all the time: It is illegal to promote racial or religious hatred in the press because it will harm innocent people.
In practice one is not trading liberty for security at all, but weighing a balance of different liberties. A less clear-cut concept perhaps, but reality is very rarely clear-cut. The liberty of The Daily Sport to sell up-skirt photos of female celebrities is weighed against the liberty of a teenage girl to walk home from school without harassment. The liberty of The Star to refer to women as “tarts” or “slags” is weighed against the liberty of the father of the prostituted woman, who Wayne Rooney paid for sex, to recover from his heart attack without public ridicule. It is worth remembering that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the rights to privacy and security of the person as well as that to freedom of expression.
Mr O’Neill calls his attacks on the women who question the tabloids “A Marxist Defence of page 3 Girls” and quotes Marx, saying “you cannot enjoy the advantages of a free press without putting up with the inconveniences”. But liberals who cling to a literal interpretation of Marx in the absence of facts or arguments are no better than those who cling to the bible to justify homophobia. The perennial tragedy of the zealot is that they are so busy believing in their various ideologies that they rarely take the time to think them through.
Sam Fowles is Director of Representation at the University of St Andrews Students Association