Breastfeeding and the debasement of female reproductive functions

When will men stop debasing female reproductive functions? Women’s bodies do many many things, but there are two in particular which seem to draw disgust from some men (such as Nigel Farage and Jeremy Clarkson): lactation and menstruation.

I’ll start with lactation. Jeremy Clarkson says that breastfeeding is “natural. Just like urinating”. Except that it’s nothing like urinating whatsoever. Because you don’t feed babies with piss. In case you don’t know: lactation is the production of milk designed to nourish newborn children. Quite different to the passing of urine. Hint: it uses totally different body parts and also has nothing to do with the digestive system; it’s not waste that’s being excreted from the body, and it’s entirely beyond comparison with going to the toilet. To tell a woman to go and breastfeed in a toilet is both insulting and just deeply misled; would you like to sit and eat your dinner in the toilets? No? Well stop telling babies to. That, truly, is gross and pretty unhygienic. Either put up with it in public spaces, create specially-designed private spaces for feeding to happen, or shut up.

Let’s just take a moment to think about something: we live in a society where women are expected to reproduce, and then are shamed for their reproductive functions.

Maybe men like Jeremy Clarkson are unable to distinguish between urination and lactation because they can’t get their heads around the fact that, when it comes to reproduction, female bodies can do things that male ones can’t. Until men like this finally acknowledge that women’s bodies are truly different and perform incomparable functions, they will continue to shame women for reproducing.

The same thing happens with periods. Ever since I started menstruating, I’ve more or less been told that it’s disgusting – both explicitly by boys who “don’t want to hear about it” because they “wouldn’t want me to hear them talk about their poo”, who “don’t trust something that bleeds for seven days and doesn’t die”. Or just by sanitary product manufacturers who deem it necessary to produce scented tampons or create adverts with blue liquid. I’ve had cis men tell me that menstruation is “just the same as pissing or shitting”, despite the fact that they’ve never experienced a period. Menstruation only seems to warrant such disgust from men because their only vague basis for comparison is excretion. But again, it’s a completely separate function. Reminder: it’s the shedding of a womb lining that allows a new one to grow in order for a woman to comfortably house a fetus for 9 months. It is absolutely not the passage of food waste. Without menstruation, there is no pregnancy. Without pregnancy, there are no new babies. Without new babies, there is no human race. Menstruation is essential to human existence and is completely separate from the digestive system and I repeat: absolutely nothing like shitting or pissing. Got it? Good.

So that’s it really: women’s bodies do completely different things to men’s. That doesn’t make us unequal, because equality is not sameness, it just makes us different. Blokes who have a problem with this need to stop trying to make these pathetically flawed comparisons and go back to primary school for a basic biology lesson that they should have grasped by now. Oh yeah and stop shaming women! It’s just rude.


“You know I’m not that kind of guy”

9 times out of 10, this is what male rape-jokers will say in their defence when someone challenges them on their creepiness. Their logic is that because they know they wouldn’t rape anyone, everyone should assume this and understand the “joke” was harmless.

The unfortunate truth for both parties is this: the person calling them out does not know they’re “not that kind of guy”, because a “kind” or “type” that commits rape doesn’t exist. Anybody is capable of committing sexual violence and there is no way of telling at face value who will and who won’t.

I’m confident that the majority of survivors of sexual violence would say that they never expected their perpetrator was the “kind of guy” who would violate them in the way that they did. This is because they tend to be friends, boyfriends, brothers, husbands and acquaintances. “Nice guys” rape; “intelligent guys” rape; “successful guys” rape and “switched-on guys” rape.

We live in a country where 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 16, and over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted and approximately 85,000 raped each year. When sexual violence against women is so commonplace, the burden should be on the joke-teller to give an indication that they understand the trauma that rape causes and that they would never rape someone. Those likely to make light of a violence that is widely misunderstood, deeply upsetting and painful don’t come across as empathetic but potentially dangerous.

If someone who tells rape jokes is desperate to prove that they don’t find sexual violence entertaining, they should check themselves before making such jokes, rather than attacking the person who calls them out for “making a fuss over nothing” or “taking things too seriously”. When these accusations come out, the joke-teller is really digging a hole because if we can’t take rape seriously, then what can we take seriously?

Furthermore, rapists also happen to be very good at telling victims what they are doing or thinking (“you wanted it”, “you enjoyed it”) and belittling a person who calls out a rape joke serves a similar function in controlling them and relieving the perpetrator from feeling guilty. Rape-jokers who try and tell people what to think aren’t doing a great job of convincing others they aren’t like rapists.

I’m also confident that many rapists would say, “I’m not that kind of guy”.

If you are a man who enjoys telling rape jokes and you don’t like being treated suspiciously, don’t blame the person who calls you out. Blame rape culture and the men who do rape because they are the ones that cause women to feel unsafe amongst people they want to be able to trust.

Celebrating survivors

From my experience, even the most well-meaning people have a two-dimensional conception of how domestic violence works. The image of a man butchering a woman registers in most people’s heads as “wrong”. However, the complex relationships that survivors had, and have, with abusers are misunderstood.

When I tell people that I had a violent childhood, and they then ask, “when was the last time you saw your dad?” and find out it was over 10 years ago, many usually say “I’m so sorry” or are awkwardly silent.

I think maybe this is because when most people envision the word ‘father’, they think of some Santa Claus kind of person whose lap you might sit on, who might say they are proud of you, who might do things like come and pick you up from school. Not a knife-wielding monster who is 2-3 times your size chasing you up the stairs, throttling your mother or smashing your half-full dinner plate against the wall because you were laughing with your little sister at the dinner table.

This is why I’m really not sorry that I haven’t seen this ‘father’ for over 10 years, and why nobody else should be “sorry” or awkward about that either. Because, actually, it feels great! And all survivors who have successfully left their abusers, and managed to shake the control they once had over their life, should be congratulated and supported – not pushed into forgiveness or reflection, told how it will be “healing” to reunite with their perpetrator, or told how much they’re supposed to miss that person (you can’t miss something you never knew, and it’s unlikely you’ll miss something that was relentlessly nasty to you every day of your life for a sustained period of time).

I also find it funny how some people then progress to “But don’t you want to see him again? Don’t you feel an absence in your life where a father should be?”. Don’t make me laugh! Again, ‘father’: snarling bully who stinks of beer and screams in your face that he will break every bone in your body, or burn the house down while you’re sleeping. I wonder why I don’t want that. I mean, don’t you want that?

So, keen friends and people with ‘sympathy’, or people who just don’t know what to say because these experiences are so far removed from your own: keep your sentiments about broken childhoods and healing reunions to yourself. Survivors deserve respect, support and praise because it takes strength, courage and support to break free from abusive relationships. “I’m so sorry” is what people usually say to someone who’s grieving. Leaving an abuser is not a loss for the survivor, it’s a massive gain that should be celebrated; a gain in freedom, in control, in safety, in confidence and in health.

It’d be nice if people said “Good for you” when survivors state that they have no contact with their abuser, or haven’t seen them in years. Maybe the conversation even could progress to the epidemic of male domestic violence against women in the UK, about how 2 women are killed each week at the hands of their partner, how thousands of women live in fear of their life within their own home, yet women’s services are facing huge funding cuts and legal aid provisions are being slashed into pieces.

Maybe, in the instance of discussing abusive parents or partners, instead of asking “Don’t you want to talk about it with them?” or “Don’t you feel an absence?”, “Don’t you think enough time has passed now?”, say something like “I support your decision”, “You must feel so free”, “Well done, your mother must be such a strong woman” or even better: “What an asshole”.

I’m not missing –or missing out on – anything, so stop trying to tell me I am.

‘Just a Joke’: Violence Against Women and Humour

Nothing is ‘just a joke’ if jokes are one of the main ways we reinforce social bonds with people.

You know when there is a language barrier between you and another person, and you end up laughing about the tiniest things? You resort to wildly gesturing, trying to physically animate what you can’t say; in the mean time, you’re making each other laugh with pantomimic gestures. It’s because laughter is acceptance, a quick way of saying “I like and accept you”. A comedian knows whether a set’s gone well according to the audience’s laughter. One of my old bosses always used to open up meetings with a joke. It makes people feel accepted; it puts them at ease.

With this notion of laughter and acceptance in mind, I’d like to address the issue of violence against women, specifically sexual violence, when people mention it satirically, sarcastically and in jokes. Even more specifically, jokes where the laugh is on the woman or girl victim. To me, violence against women is nothing to be laughed at. However, that’s probably because I work in women’s rights and, in a world where violence against women is endemic, I wish people would spend more time understanding and advocating against sexual violence than laughing about it. This article is different: I will not be focusing on how rape jokes may impact victims or inform attitudes towards sexual violence (although these are extremely relevant and valid points). This piece is about the contexts in which I have observed this kind of humour.

Sexual violence and humour are too often combined by people who claim that it’s justified because it’s so abstract, so bizarre to them, that of course they’re not laughing at victims of sexual violence, and of course they don’t condone rape by any means. They claim they would never rape, and ‘real’ rape is not funny. However, disregarding the fact that they may well be sharing this “joke” in the company of someone who has direct experience of sexual violence, the context in which it happens in is potentially more interesting to analyse than the content of the joke itself.

So, humour is about acceptance. People collectively laughing at something, or being able to laugh at someone else’s joke, are all ways of sharing something, of verifying a bond. They are ways of making an individual or a collective feel good. For this reason, it’s impossible to ignore frequent undertones of masculine bonding in sexual violence humour. After all, the humour around sexual violence that I have witnessed or been told of, all happens in a context where men are seeking to bond with each other.

The simplest common ground that humans like to focus on is sadly as basic as sex or race. Similarity with someone means you are at ease; you see something of yourself in that person. You want to show them that you accept them, or encourage them to accept you. A simple way to do this is to remind them of your similarity to them, or your shared difference from others. It’s straight up ‘Us and Them’ that makes people feel secure. In the case of rape jokes, I’ll put it simply: I’ve never heard a woman tell a rape joke to other women. I’ve also never heard a man tell a rape joke solely in the presence of women.

The sarcastic comments, the degrading gestures and the rape jokes all occur in a context of manly affirmation. A context of proving you’re a man to other men, that you’re all men together, by magnifying the difference between you and women. Simply put, it’s acceptance of sameness; belonging. To add another dimension, if you want to make yourself feel strong: you are men and you are more powerful than women. This is achieved through the violence part. Violence is a physical demonstration of power.

A man making a sexually violent or pervy joke about a woman, to another man, doesn’t necessarily wish to rape women, but is craving that sense of male acceptance, the feeling good about himself that comes from making a joke that someone laughs at: that sense of camaraderie that arises amongst allies. This becomes literal in military scenarios; a close male friend who served in the Singaporean army told me that homophobia and sexism were rampant because they reinforced bonds between strangers; they facilitated fraternity. This is unsurprising in a masculine environment that depends on notions of dominance and strength for morale.

And yet, there’s a difference between man and manly. I have tons of male friends who will not laugh at rape jokes, who will not respond to a comment about a passing woman’s physical appearance. They know they will be confronted with “come on mate, it’s just a joke”, if they challenge someone who makes these comments, or even told to “get a sense of humour”. Numerous male friends have confided in me about their discomfort, even within their own friendship groups, that male bonding is too often facilitated around a shared differentiation from, and domination over, women.

This is why deconstructing humour and “jokes” is interesting: it makes people uncomfortable, especially those that tell them. People become extremely defensive. Stripping away and deconstructing jokes means they aren’t funny anymore: it allows us to unpick what is subconsciously going on. Jokes are the contentious terrain of freedom of speech; some people are proud to say,“there’s nothing I won’t laugh at” or “it’s important to be able to laugh at things”.  However, words and jokes are not “nothing” and should not be so easily dismissed. Linguistics and humour are a complex part of human behaviour that, if you analyse, reveal the social motivation of an individual.

Humour is based on shared experience and recognition of similarity. Men do not have to loudly vilify women in public in groups to feel good about themselves. They do not have to tell a rape joke amongst friends to feel masculine and respected in front of others. They do not have to mock and make sexual comments about women that pass them. Telling rape jokes may make blokes feel “manly”, powerful, dominant. But, to those who tell these jokes: Are you so uncomfortable in your own skin that you want to make women feel uncomfortable in theirs? This may facilitate temporary ‘masculine’ bonding. However, it also exposes the social insecurities of individuals seeking cheap social affirmation, reinforcement of their standing amongst other men, to gain a sense of masculine safety. All the while, unnecessarily undermining women in the process.

Life at the Thin Edge of the Wedge – The Grim Reality of the Independent Junior Criminal Bar

This really is the best blog I’ve read in months

50 Shades of Affray

When asked what I do for a living, I often hesitate momentarily before changing the subject. Despite feeling immensely proud and privileged to have made it into the illustrious world of the purported legal ‘elite’, the words ‘criminal barrister’ do not roll off the tongue with the ease I’d expected such achievement would ultimately engender. You see, experience tells me that once a new acquaintance hears the ‘B’ word, their reaction will invariably range somewhere between curious disgust right up to the unfettered revulsion you might feel if you found out you’d just mistakenly cleaned your teeth with the old toothbrush reserved for scrubbing under the rim of the toilet…

Over the months, I have gleaned with an increasing sense of incredulity (mainly through the projection of typed vitriol from anonymous members of the public who have contributed to the various comments pages in the national press) that people don’t…

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Blachman: it gets worse


Upon finding an episode of Blachman with English subtitles, it’s just become more pathetic than I first believed. It’s not just the repetition of the male gaze; the content of their conversation is exceptionally grim. It’s about affirming the masculinity of the judges, using the naked female body before them to do so.

They talk between themselves, before a silent woman, only looking to her for inspiration to fuel their conversation about “women”, sex and relationships, whilst the camera often slowly pans across her body. They are saying some pretty awful things, and I don’t think the woman even needs to be there. Though the fact that she is just makes the whole thing worse. Here are some excerpts so you don’t have to watch the whole thing:

[man to man]: “It’s alarming to see how much women are in control”

[man to man]:”You are very masculine. Your head sits square on your shoulders. It looks so virile”

[man to man]: “How do you put a woman in her place?”

“It is a woman’s curse”
“The orgasm?”

*Lots of discussion about women’s inability to orgasm*

[directly to woman]: “I like small breasts. Smaller than those. Sorry about that”

[man to woman]: “would you kindly turn around?”
“that’s one yummy butt”
“yes, almost a negro bum”
“it’s a natural butt, not filled up with anything i guess”
“with the traditional tramp stamp”

[man to man]: “should men be better at using language as seduction to save time?”

OK I GAVE UP THERE. I couldn’t watch until the end. It was unbearable listening to old men panting and ogling a naked woman. So, that’s that. What a steaming sexist load of crock.

If Blachman isn’t objectification, then I don’t know what is: the persistence of the male gaze

Thomas Blachman, the Danish TV show host whose programme features a naked woman standing before two men who sit and judge her body, justifies his show:

“[T]he entire idea of the show is to let men talk about the bodies of naked women while the woman is standing right in front of them. The female body thirsts for words. The words of a man.”

The theory of the ‘male gaze’ was introduced by Laura Mulvey in film theory, to express the power dynamics of a woman’s body becoming an object before a camera. In essence, men are the watchers and women are the watched. An immediate example in British popular culture would be Page 3.

However, although the women in Blachman’s TV show stand in silence being watched, the men are more than just looking. They are verbally critiquing, judging, at some points laughing, at a woman’s body. They openly discuss her, in her presence, as though she were an object devoid of emotion or comprehension. Even if the women were deaf, they would still understand the intention and emotion behind this scoffing arrogance of the men.

Blachman defends his program:

“I am giving you something that you have never seen before”

Really? This is something we’ve all seen before. Countless times. He presumes there is a demand for this, and I can expect that there probably is: sadly from both men and women. Men, because they want to join in the critiquing, and women because they want to find out what ‘men’, misrepresented by two old toads on a sofa, find attractive.

It’s hard not to believe that the producers are deliberately just trying to insult as many people as possible. The Channel Producer states: “We have a program that reveals what men think about the female body. Quite honestly, what is wrong with that?” Assuming that their views are representative of all males is both arrogant and harmful. Not to mention heteronormative. Blachman has gone beyond assuming that he knows exactly what the female body wants [because, of course, all females are exactly the same in their desires] but he also assumes that all heterosexual men find only certain physical aspects of a woman attractive, and that her worth doesn’t extend much beyond that.

This is an amplification of rhetoric found in women’s magazines that describe what ‘he’ wants. The pseudo-scientific surveys that give statistics on the number of men who prefer boobs to bums, the most insidious of which are those that claim something along the lines of, ‘out of the men surveyed, the majority of men who didn’t care what a woman looks like, as long as she had confidence’. This is the ultimate kick in the teeth, considering such pressure put on female aesthetics from all angles. The same thing is meaningless coming from woman to woman, it’s just given legitimacy and persuasive power when it’s backed up by male public opinion.

Because that’s what women need to do: entertain male public opinion. Don’t forget it, girls. Seen, judged and definitely not heard.

The whole premise, before the judges even open their mouths, is unequal. Whether the judges are giving her criticism or praise, the fact that their opinion counts so much is harmful; the entitlement they are given to judge her as she passively stands there portrays a completely unequal power balance.

If Blachman isn’t objectification, then I don’t know what is. This is the perfect example of men’s bonding being facilitated by power over, and potential humiliation of, a woman. That she is naked, silent and attentive serves a chauvinistic and grim fantasy, exonerated by its claim to be ‘entertainment’. This is nothing new; it’s just another brutal example of the expectations that are inscribed both into men’s and women’s minds.

The same behavior is mirrored in the laddish cries of ‘you’re a bit of alright’ to women in the street, catalogued in public comments about women’s bodies that the EverydaySexism project has evidenced for us, and already exists in classrooms where groups of boys rate their female classmates with scores out of 10 and usually let the girls know about it. Blachman both reflects and reinforces not just the male gaze, but the importance of male opinion in what women should look like.

What Blachman adds, however, is the entitlement for men to say this to a woman’s face, without expecting reaction or reprisal. Needless to mention the fact that it’s on prime-time television where young people will absorb and further perpetuate this unhealthy discourse and gendered power dynamic.

If Blachman wants to show us something we’ve never seen before, he could shake up this age-old gendered power dynamic: why doesn’t he stand alone, his naked self lit up and exposed before a panel of young females who review his body?

But I wonder: how many of us would want to see that anyway? How much more time do we need to spend analyzing and denigrating each other’s bodies? It achieves nothing but increased insecurity, decreased confidence and bad sex. It’s boring. I could think of a thousand more interesting, and more body-positive programs to put into Primetime television programming, and none of them would involve the judgment of others for one’s own body confidence.

Lock up your rapists, not your daughters

Let’s get this straight: rape is as much of a women’s problem as poaching is a rhino’s problem. Looking to women to avoid rape is a way of distracting the focus away from perpetrators committing the crime in the first place, but because it comes in the form of ‘concern for women’s safety’, it doesn’t seem so obvious.

I found this message shared on my friend’s facebook feed:

“Ladies beware im not sure if its been broadcast but there have been two violent sexual attacks in [redacted] over the last week. One only two nights ago under the bridge by the [redacted] Theatre please be careful!”

Sure, I’m a woman, I’d like to know if these things happen in my area. However, though this message is thoughtful, it’s the ‘ladies beware’ that irks me. It’s a message designed to instil fear in women, to encourage them to somehow protect themselves from an attack that is deemed inevitable. What is my gut response? Don’t go out near there, and if I do, make sure I’m accompanied by a strong-looking man. I hate that that is my gut response.

Now, a message I’d much rather see is:

“Rapists beware. Please take care by locking yourself away in your home, thereby permitting half the population to make their journey home without fearing for their life.”

It’s just all too often that I’m told “Be careful/ Call me when you’re home/ Do you want me to walk you back?”. It comes from a place of concern, and I’m not ungrateful for that warning, but it’s just so easy to pass the responsibility to ‘not get raped’ (I’ve been jokingly told on numerous occasions “Don’t get raped!”) onto a woman. The alternative would be to challenge rape culture, rape and prevent it happening in the first place. So, to everyone who tells me to be careful on my walk home, thanks, but I’d be much more grateful if you went about this in a structural-change/ let’s stop rape kind of way.

— – —

So, I was happy to end that thought there. I dutifully commented on that gentlemanly warning that it was directed at the wrong audience if we want to prevent, rather than avoid, sexual assaults happening. But then someone was wrong on the internet, and like any self-respecting feminist I wasn’t going to back down. The ensuing dialogue reveals a LOT about the rape culture we live in:

Enter Daniel and his comment:

“Yeah, because rapists will really read your post and obey. It is directed at the right people, even if they are unappreciative…there is a big difference between scared and careful. Nobody is suggesting that you should be scared. Do you feel you will be safer if you don’t know of dangers?

What we can summarise from Daniel’s comment:

  • Rapists can’t read and definitely aren’t just humans that use the internet, they’re an illiterate breed altogether
  • The post is better directed at women because they are more responsible and likely to “obey” instructions from men
  • Women should be ‘careful’, so they don’t get raped. Rapists should not be careful not to rape. The responsibility for a rape not happening falls squarely on the woman’s shoulders.
  • Women should feel ‘safer’ knowing of the ‘dangers’ of walking unaccompanied in public spaces (which we’ve been reminded of every single time we left our houses since forever- what do you think Little Red Riding Hood was about?)

He advocates the typical myth about rapists: that they are evil strangers who jump out of bushes. Evidently, in these cases, the attacks did happen in public spaces. Even so, they are not necessarily committed by social pariahs who cannot read; anyone has the potential to make that decision to violate another’s body, and subsequently they also have the option of NOT violating someone’s body. And society has the power to tell them that it’s not ok, rape is always the rapist’s fault, and should not be dismissed with impunity. But, realistically, the responsibility isn’t seen to lie with them because rapists are perceived as animals that have no control, and must be successfully fought off by able-bodied victims.

In sum, Daniel proposes that instead of ending sexual violence altogether, women just avoid it happening to them. Also, how gross is the word “obey” in this context?

So, I told him all this. By no means do I think that writing a facebook status to warn rapists not to leave the house if they can’t control their actions will change much, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’d definitely be a nice change in the discourse surrounding rape and victim blame if people could start locating rapists’ responsibility within discussions on rape.

And then Daniel continues:

”It’s all about attitude. The ideal attitude will have the awareness to avoid trouble and ability to handle it if it comes. Intelligence, assertiveness and if necessary, aggressiveness will get even a small woman out of 99.99% of trouble [that includes preparation by training the mind and body]. Bleating idiocies about rapists changing from a facebook post they will never even see and crying for others to take the responsibility to defend females are sure signs of poor victim attitude. Fix up.

Sound the klaxon: we have a rape apologist in the house!

First, he believed that rapists were only monsters who hid under bridges and didn’t have any social interaction. Then, he tried to tell me that his ‘ideal attitude’ for a prospective rape victim (assumed to be a woman) is awareness, intelligence, assertiveness and aggressiveness. Because that will save her from her own rape? Because it’s her responsibility to undergo mental and physical training to be able to defend herself from rape? What does his 99.9% statistic (clearly pulled from the air) have to tell us about sexual violence within marriage, relationships, against children, pensioners, disabled people?

If it’s all about ‘attitude’, why aren’t we talking about the attitudes of perpetrators of sexual violence? Attitudes that are endorsed and entertained by pop culture, lad culture,  masculinity and society.

Because I’ve proposed turning the discussion on rape around to focus on rapists and rape prevention, I possess ‘poor victim attitude’. Am I, as a woman, expected to “fix up” and prepare a “good victim attitude” for any encounters with perpetrators? What Daniel said chilled me to my core; with some skewed logic of misunderstood ‘gender equality’ and a good dose of victim blame, Daniel believes that women should not be “poor victims” and instead prepare themselves for attack, in order to fight off perpetrators.

What about victims who can’t fight back? Who are no physical match for their perpetrator? What about victims who physically and verbally resist but are still dominated? What about rapes that aren’t deemed to be ‘violent’ enough to be actual rapes? (I hate that one) What about victims who become paralysed by fear? What about victims who are in love with their perpetrator? Who are friends with their perpetrator? What about victims who are drugged, drunk, or asleep?  What about victims who are men?

Finally; asking others to re-assess the way they talk about rape is not ‘crying for others to defend females’, it’s hopefully requesting that there is nothing to defend in the first place, because there is no attack. Why is there no attack? Because society would understand that a rapist can control their actions. Because rape wouldn’t be committed in a community of silence, impunity, shrugged shoulders and victim blame.

In a rape apologist’s world, rhinos should train to fight poachers; rather than poachers just dropping their guns. Yet, rape is far more sinister than that analogy: rape is committed by humans against humans. Rational humans who can read, comprehend social norms and values, and not make the decision to rape. As it stands in Daniel’s eyes, the responsibility for stopping rape lies with the victim, in the moment of the attack, rather than in the mind of the attacker, long before the incident even happens.

I really don’t like the term ‘rape apologist’, and I try not to use it. But really, to avoid being labelled with that term it’s best not to… I don’t need to explain, do I?

Look in your bra, not your brain

My picture was featured in two articles about the No More Page 3 campaign (here, and here). I am one of the campaigners who stood outside The Sun’s offices in the winter, and held a placard that said ‘Page 3: Promoting Negative Body Image Since 1972’. Considering what the campaign is about, I thought that it was ironic that this picture surfaced twice. So I’m going to add my voice and explain why I bothered getting up that day and trekking to London to sign a giant birthday card for page 3 and sing about women’s rights.

Protesting outside News International in 2012

Photographically, I am the antithesis of the typical page 3 girl: fully clothed, active, surrounded by people and using my voice to have my say in society.

In contrast, Page 3 girls are presented as what it says on the tin: infantilised as ‘girls’  with their longing stares; only identifiable by their place in the publication (and society); isolated, silent and passive. In reality, these models are adult women with voices, emotions and opinions, and not just the ‘opinion’ that The Sun provides for them (e.g. ‘Kelly, 19, thinks that the UK should leave the EU’). But that’s not what The Sun would like you to think.

Despite my smile in the photo, I am exhausted. Exhausted by the weak, recycled arguments for page 3, and tired of being told to ‘pick my battles’ in the fight for women’s rights. I’m exhausted of being sexually harassed in the street and all the while being told that ‘page 3 isn’t a problem’. But I’m relentless, because like all the other No More Page 3 campaigners, I refuse to accept the profoundly entrenched notion that it’s fine for our nation’s best selling newspaper to make money from the display of women’s half-naked bodies, and that it has no impact on society.

The reason why activists are targeting page 3, rather than pornography in general, nude modelling, or even lad’s magazines, is the fact that it’s in the most widely read newspaper in the UK. Context is the key word in this campaign. By its readers, it is deemed to be a respectable, honest publication that is upholding one of the key principles of democracy: a free press.

However, the freedom of the press championed by Human Rights scholars and advocates is a freedom of the press from state control; this is unarguably necessary to a democratic society. It does not exempt publications from basic respect for the society they are a part of. ‘Freedom of the press’ is about independence from the state; it does not justify or condone newspapers capitalising on the sexualisation of young women’s bodies.

I object to Page 3 because it is featured in a national news source. The social function of Newspapers is to reflect what’s happening in society; they are documenting our culture, making our history. Every day their pages are filled with different things, new things. Except Page 3.

‘Don’t like it, don’t buy it’

The standard knee-jerk response to this campaign. This is a statement I would normally stand behind – I’m a vegetarian; I don’t like the meat industry and therefore I don’t buy into it. I believe in worker’s rights, and don’t buy sweatshop-manufactured products. However, though I have control over what newspaper I buy, I don’t have control over the way that some men leer at me in a sexually suggestive way on trains, grope me in public, crowded streets, or shout “nice tits, fancy a bonk?” at me when I’m walking to work.

Newspapers are a part of our culture. They have influence. And as part of a newspaper, Page 3 champions the attitude that young women are to be celebrated as objects of sexual desire and entertainment. To see them expose their breasts is the best offering they can make to society. Their passive gaze into the camera presents them as mute objects to study and evaluate.

My problem with page 3 is nothing to do with nudity; it’s the mainstreaming of sexualised female nudity for capital gain. Page 3 has absolutely nothing to do with news, and everything to do with selling papers at the cost of reinforcing sexualised attitudes towards young women. Because, ‘sex sells’.

Let’s not forget The Sun is a financially motivated business. With the rapid decline of print media, they are clinging onto what first truly set them afloat: Page 3 was first published so that men could access soft pornography in an easy, take-home way. Back in the 1970s, it was less awkward to just buy a newspaper and ogle at a photo of a stranger’s breasts instead of shiftily waiting until the shop was empty before asking for a top-shelf porn magazine.

Power beyond the page

As a national publication, it has influential power with deeply resounding repercussions in gender relations. The Sun is using that power to capitalise on sexualised images of young women. And yet, Page 3 is selling society short.

Yes, the models consent to the photography, and they are paid. What I’m saying is that, for The Sun, the impact of Page 3 stops at the moment the paper is sold and they’ve got their 30p. For UK society, Page 3’s impact is ubiquitous. It influences the way that (*heterosexual) men look at young women in both public and private, the way women are represented to young boys and girls, and the way that breasts are deemed to be ‘entertainment’, ‘a bit of fun’; completely detached from the female body and mind.

We are happy to accept that what we read in newspapers makes an impression on our minds; every day, conversations start along the lines of “This morning I read in the paper that….”. If we read newspapers and just forgot about their content, what would be the point? Their content travels into our thoughts and shapes the way we see the world, usually in a political or emotional way. So why is Page 3 deemed to be exempt from this?

Day after day, Page 3 communicates the same message to its viewers. In a best-selling paper that has few other photos of women who aren’t entertainment figures, the Page 3 ‘girl’ becomes a female youth ambassador for Britain. She’s silent, undressed and passive. Male readers of The Sun applaud this, and many young women internalise this reward-system. The cultural effect of this has been disastrous for women’s body image, and the way they are treated in school, work, on the street and in bars. The Sun tells us that a woman’s best assets are in in her bra, not her brain.

And we expect it. Some men genuinely expect an entitlement to see breasts. Some men see no problem with shouting ‘get your baps out!’ to women at bus stops. Because it’s funny, right? No, it’s because sadly, that’s the first thing they think of when they see a young woman. Because its just so ‘normal’ to have visual access to a young woman’s breasts. Unable to imagine how that comment might make the woman feel because after all, they’re just ‘appreciating’ her body, aren’t they?

The reason why many people still see no problem with Page 3 is because mainstream sexual objectification of women really isn’t a problem for them. They don’t bear the brunt of sexual violence, insult and harm on a daily basis. They’re not pressured to be sexually available, but not sexually active; to be a fantasy; a 2-dimensional reflection of a real human being, printed out on a piece of paper, waiting to be thrown away when the viewer is bored. Seen and not heard, right?

That is why I ended up in front of News International’s HQ in Wapping. That is why I signed the No More Page 3 petition. The No More Page 3 campaigners, female and male, are witnesses to the effect that media objectification has on a huge part of our society: sexual harassment of women. This systematic evaluation of women’s bodies and the detachment from their humanity doesn’t belong in Britain anymore.