Jenni Weston from the No More Page 3 Campaign kindly agreed to share some thoughts with me about Sexism in the media, the state of Sex education in the UK and how No More Page 3 is true people power in action.
As a parent I think you become more attuned to what is going on in the world and as a father with a young daughter I have taken particular note of recent media coverage about sexual violence towards women and the sexism that still seems to exist, both online and in the media. I have grown concerned with stories like the abuse Jessica Ennis recently received via Twitter and stories about revenge porn. I have wondered what the world is coming to and what progress we have really made in terms of achieving equality in our society.The ethics behind pornography and its harm on our young people is another much debated issue, (I discussed the subject recently Ban the Internet). I have heard varied opinions around the issues of porn and “lads’ mags” and how they objectify women. Is there a link between domestic abuse, sexual violence and the ready availability to very young people of a whole range of questionable porn.
Some people say that surely if women want to have sex on camera and get paid well for doing it then what could the harm be? But what attitudes are developing because of these things and isn’t the bottom line the fact that women are being exploited which ever way you spin it?
I often think with societal issues we need to address the root causes rather than just stick a plaster over some of the minor injuries caused by the original problem. And I think this is the case with sexism and violence towards women, because are we doing enough to inform our children about more than the mechanics of sex, are we teaching children at an early enough age to value themselves and their right to say no. And are we equipping them with the information that helps them to know what a healthy relationship really looks like?
But through all the concerning stories and negative headlines there sometimes emerges a campaign that gives you hope and promotes positivity; one such campaign that has caught my eye is the No More Page 3 organisation.
In fact I was so intrigued about the people behind this headline grabbing scheme I asked them if they were free for a chat and Jenni Weston from No More Page 3 HQ kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions:
Hi Jenni, thanks so much for agreeing to speak with me – How long have you been involved in the No More Page 3 campaign and what made you want to support it?
I’m the newest member of the No More Page 3 team and have only just started working with them, something about which I am delighted as I have been following the campaign for some time and fully support their aims.
My reasons for supporting the campaign are quite simple: I am fed up of the inequality that exists between women and men and I think media sexism has a huge role to play in that. I am sick of women being judged for how they look and not who they are and what they do. As a teacher and as a mother of two young girls I have become increasingly saddened by the unrealistic beauty ideal that women are expected to live up to and I have witnessed the damaging effects of this first hand. It is very empowering to be taking a stand against those things that are so wrong in our society and doing something to bring about positive change. I believe wholeheartedly in people power and that we can do this.
Has the general response to the campaign been positive? I see that you have managed to get a lot of people to sign your petition.
We have been overwhelmed by the positive response to the campaign with well over 211,000 signatures on the petition and counting! There is clearly a groundswell of people who agree that boobs aren’t news and that sexist images of women have no place in a newspaper. It has been so heartening to see supporters get behind this campaign 100%. We love to see people sporting their No More Page 3 T-shirts and have been thrilled with the effort they have put into emailing, letter-writing, tweeting, messaging and direct action. Our supporters are awesome! People really got behind initiatives like our sponsorship of Cheltenham Town Ladies FC and Nottingham Forest Ladies FC which was such a huge success, especially given the neglect of women’s football by the media – women’s sport accounts for only 5% of total coverage. It is quite clear that it is time for more balanced representation of women in the media and that people feel very strongly about this.
There have of course been negative responses as one would expect with any campaign. Some of it has been trolling revealing disturbing misogynistic attitudes and there have been accusations that we are against free speech or freedom of the press. Much of the criticism of the campaign has been based on a misunderstanding of what we are about. We are not asking for censorship or for Page 3 to be banned. We are asking David Dinsmore to take the responsible decision to remove this archaic feature and in general we are simply asking the media as a whole to be responsible in their representation of women and for them to celebrate female achievements instead of relying on tired old sexist stereotypes and objectification. It is about context and we do not feel that a newspaper is the correct context for sexual images of women. We want equal representation with men and that really doesn’t seem to be too much to ask.
What do you think we could change about the current sex education in this country? And what does your role at No More Page 3 involve in the area of education? (Places like the Netherlands seem to have a more progressive and comprehensive programme and have a lower teen pregnancy rate and number of rapes than the UK although the figures never include unreported rapes, which is a huge issue in itself).
We would support sex education programmes that educate young people about relationships as well as about the mechanics of sex. In particular we think that awareness amongst both young men and young women about what consent really means is crucial when women are so often portrayed as objects, there for the titillation and sexual pleasure of men.
In terms of our own involvement in education we often speak in schools about the campaign and about media sexism and consider this a huge privilege. Seeing young people stand up to inequality is something we find very exciting and rewarding.
A pioneering new scheme of domestic abuse lessons has recently been launched in Gloucestershire schools supported by The Hollie Gazzard Trust and it is teaching year 11 girls about spotting the signs of abuse in all its forms. It also focuses on responsible use and the potential dangers of social media including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat as well as the potential pitfalls of sending sexually explicit texts or pictures. The Gazzard Trust is also campaigning to make this a compulsory part of the national curriculum. This seems like an excellent idea and the sort of initiative we need to be engaging with, do you think there is a link between sexual violence, domestic abuse and the objectification of women in the media?
We absolutely believe that there is a link between violence against women and the way that women are objectified in the media. The way in which women are portrayed as sexually available objects there for the purpose of male gratification means that it is more likely that some men will feel entitled to sex; after all, passive objects can’t consent but are there merely to be used, acted upon rather than active and willing participants. Likewise it is easier to be violent towards someone who is perceived as an object or a second-class citizen who is there to serve a purpose rather than seen as a fellow and equal human being. Research indicates worrying attitudes towards consent and a tendency towards victim blaming; a Home Office survey in 2009 found that 26% of people believe that a woman should be held wholly or partially responsible for being sexually assaulted or raped if she is in public wearing sexy or revealing clothes and a London Metropolitan University study on young people’s views on consent found that when those involved knew one another the victim was invariably blamed for their own assault.
These attitudes towards the sexual availability of women also affect girls: the End Violence Against Women (EVAW) coalition found that one in three girls had experienced unwanted sexual touching at school and an NSPCC survey reports that 1/3 of teenage girls aged 13-17 had been victim to unwanted sexual acts in a relationship. The American Psychological Association reports that viewing media that portrays women as sexual objects leads people to be more accepting of gender stereotyping, sexual harassment, interpersonal violence and rape myths and that men are more likely to treat women as sex objects after exposure to sexualised media. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women repeatedly identifies links between portraying women as sexual objects with attitudes that underpin violence and discrimination against women and girls.
What are your thoughts about the more casual misogyny perpetuated by people like the Sun and Loaded and the way it normalises negative attitudes towards women?
We think that the casual misogyny seen in lads’ mags and the Sun in their objectification of women is in many ways as damaging as more ‘obvious’ sexism because as you quite rightly say it normalises negative attitudes towards women. In particular by placing sexualised images of women in a newspaper there is the implicit suggestion that women exist merely for the gratification of men and that this is their place in the world, especially when there is a distinct lack of reporting on their achievements. We think this is insidious and needs to be challenged.
Do you think the government should do more about revenge porn, violent porn and the sort of thing that seems so easily available to young people? Maybe putting pressure on search engines like Google and Bing to just not rank certain content?
Our campaign focuses specifically on media sexism and the damaging consequences of the representation of women. We do not campaign on internet pornography but we abhor violence and we would of course like to see an end to anything that damages women. We have been pleased to see more robust action taken more recently against perpetrators of revenge porn and would like to see this continue.
Thanks so much to Jenni and everyone at No More Page 3 for taking time out to talk with me. I have put links to their website and petition below, please do check them out and also let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.