Muddled messages, mammaries, money, and morality; or why I wish people’d make their bloody minds up

I want to begin this grumble by making three points, all of which will gradually become relevant.

    1. I don’t particularly consider myself a feminist.
    2. People find me intimidating.
    3. I used to have fabulous breasts.
I'm not sure whether these women are showing photos of some men with whom they've established a meaningful, cerebral relationship, or whether they're protesting against viewing men as sex objects... must be one of the two, surely? (Photo pinched from Pat Dye's photostream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ohiostate/3794241546/in/photostream/)

I’m not sure whether these women are showing photos of some men with whom they’ve established a meaningful, cerebral relationship, or whether they’re protesting against viewing men as mere sex objects… must be one of the two, surely?
(Photo pinched from Pat Dye’s photostream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ohiostate/3794241546/in/photostream/)

I don’t particularly consider myself a feminist — or an eco-warrior or a monarchist or any type of activist — although I may embrace some of the philosophies and ideals of all these groups. I am secure enough in my own skin not to need to ‘belong’ to a group or a club to justify my existence or beliefs (indeed, I’m fairly Groucho-esque when it comes to joining such things). Moreover, labels are restrictive. If one is in favour of this tenet, it is assumed that one will also be in favour of that tenet, and one ends up having to explain one’s own particular interpretation of the label and debating its merit with others who have assumed that same form of labelling but construed it in a different way. Easier then, to be me, and leave the bickering to those who enjoy such things.

Usually.

But, because I want to write about my mystification over certain aspects of feminism, I will now explain my stance on the matter.

Men and women are different. We don’t think alike and we each have physiologically-determined strengths and weaknesses. There is, inevitably, some cross-over, but in general terms, this is how it works.

If I had what I’ll call a ‘practical’ problem, I would have no qualms about consulting a male friend, safe in the knowledge that he’d be perfectly happy to solve it by the application of tools, money, or giving me a lift in his car; if it were a ‘non-practical’ problem, I’d be much more likely to tell a female chum as I’d feel that she’d be more likely to appreciate that soothing words and shared outrage were the order of the day, a concept that a lot of men find hard to grasp. That’s not to say that women can’t provide practical help, or that no man is capable of being a shoulder to cry on; nor do I wish to imply that one is better than the other; just that there is, often, a difference.

Furthermore, most (but not all) men are physically stronger than most (but not all) women; and, as I’d say I’m of average strength for my age and sex, somewhere in the region of 50% of women are also stronger than me. This means that if I’m struggling with a heavy suitcase at a station and a man (or, indeed, a younger, fitter woman) offers to carry it for me, I’m going to smile sweetly and say thank you. I am not going to say ‘You sexist pig (ageist bitch?); how dare you insult me in this manner? I will give myself a hernia rather than betray my bizarre principles and accept your generous assistance.’

And if a man holds a door open for me, helps me on with my coat, or tastes the wine when the waiter brings it, well, that’s all fine by me — just as it would be if a woman did these things.

Now, there are things that would not be acceptable — but again, they would not be acceptable from either sex —  like those listed in an article by Laura Bates published in The Guardian a few weeks ago.[1] Ms Bates tells us that women frequently report certain sexist scenarios that they regularly have to endure in the workplace. So I posted posted the article on Facebook to get a reaction, and was amazed to see how many of my friends seemed to identify with Ms Bates’s nameless complainants.

Laura Bates's sexist scenarios faced by women.

Laura Bates’s sexist scenarios faced by women.

Many moons ago, when I got married, my husband commented to his best man that many people find me scary. The best man responded: ‘Scary? She’s not scary! She’s fucking terrifying!’ I have no idea why I should have this reputation — I think I’m sweet and affable. Anyway, bearing in mind that I might be in a minority of one in this opinion, it’s safe to say that (with the exception of number 10) I’ve never encountered any of this silliness — probably because that’s how I view it, as silliness, and the type of man who’s prone to this kind of behaviour is likely terrified of being made to feel a fool in public. People tend to behave in a way that they believe they’ll be able to get away with — as soon as they realize they can’t, or at least, not without loss of face, they usually desist.

Hah! you say; but she has already admitted to having to avoid unwanted sexual attention. Yeah, I have (remember the magnificent breasts I mentioned earlier?). But, as discussed elsewhere (https://midmus.wordpress.com/2014/07/08/band-wagon-mechanic-needed-urgently/), any attempts at harassment were never a big deal — even the stupidest of men are capable of understanding the word ‘No’ if it’s delivered firmly enough. (I refer here to those unfortunate men who think they’re God’s gift and that women find them and their sleazy advances irresistible, and not to those with more severe psychiatric issues. Trying to educate the latter is much like trying to persuade the mentally ill mother that her children really aren’t possessed by the devil and giving them ten minutes in time-out might be preferable to drowning them in the bath tub. Fortunately both workplace rapists and deranged mothers are relatively few and far between.)

Which brings me on to articles like ‘Why It’s So Hard for Men to See Misogyny’ and #YesAllWomen which worry me because of their propagation of paranoia.[2] The article begins with a photograph – evidently a stock photograph, I might add — of a man with his arm round the shoulders of an annoyed-looking woman, bearing the caption ‘He does it when other men aren’t looking.’ It goes on to talk about the case of Elliot Rodger, clearly a disturbed young man, who killed six people and himself, having previously posted videos on YouTube about how he felt it unfair that women didn’t want to have sex with him, and leaving behind a legacy in the form of a misogynistic ‘manifesto’. Elliot, however, was not (I would hope) typical of his gender or his generation — indeed, the author of the article, Amanda Hess, remarks that ‘Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown deemed him a “madman”.’ Ms Hess links this tragedy to the experiences of women who ‘took to Twitter to share their own everyday experiences with men who had reduced them to sexual conquests and threatened them with violence for failing to comply—filing their anecdotes under the hashtag #YesAllWomen.’

Well, no. #NotAllWomen. Let’s stop generalizing and pretending that we’re all victims and men are all oppressors. Some are, of course; but most aren’t. Generalizations are fine when they aren’t insidious and do admit of exceptions (men are taller than women; women watch soaps and men watch Top Gear — yes, in general, but I still have a female friend who’s 6’2” and loves Clarkson et al. and a male friend who’s 5’6” and never misses an episode of Corrie).

Ms Hess, however, would probably disagree with me — even men who seem nice on the surface probably have a darker side. She goes on to observe that ‘men who objectify and threaten women often strategically obscure their actions from other men, taking care to harass women when other men aren’t around.’ Ah. OK. A your-word-against-mine scenario. Seriously, ladies, if some sleaze bag is grabbing your bits in the stationery cupboard, fight back — scream, leave marks that he can’t easily explain away, and go to the police. If he’s just making lewd remarks, ignore him, tell him to fuck off, laugh in his face and tell him you’ll send him a link to a website that’ll tell him how he can have a bigger penis in six weeks ‘cos you’ve heard he’s a bit lacking in that department — or just avoid being alone with him. Because it cuts both ways — hell hath no fury and all that; a spurned woman can cry assault just as easily as a would-be Lothario can force himself on an unwilling victim.

Amanda Hess also (constantly referencing Elliot Rodger’s totally irrelevant murder spree) cites the example of a friend refusing to give a drunk her phone number and using the excuse that she was married (as opposed to simply saying she wasn’t interested) ‘because aggressive men are more likely to defer to another man’s domain than to accept a woman’s autonomous rejection of him.’ I guess that’s one interpretation — as is this: she was too cowardly to say ‘in your dreams, sweetie’ and preferred to hide behind her man’s authority, an authority that this apparent feminist was bestowing on him because it suited her own purposes.

And this brings me on to one of the main problems I have with feminism (the way it’s twisted and manipulated to suit the individual’s own, often rather bizarre, agenda) and, indirectly, to my own once beautiful boobs.

Take a moment, if you will, to think about women’s breasts. You may do this in whatever way you want. Maybe you see them as objects of sexual desire; maybe as things for feeding babies; maybe you just see them as parts of the female anatomy; maybe you like them; maybe you find them gross; it doesn’t matter — I just want you to think about them.

Now, having thought about them, tell me what all the fuss is about. On the one hand we have the (frankly quite farcical) No More Page 3 brigade who feel that breasts should not be part of our breakfast newspaper experience; and on the other we have the Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, a book group for women (and a few carefully vetted men) who enjoy discussing literature unencumbered by upper-body clothing in New York’s Central Park, and Scout Willis’s promotion of the #FreeTheNipple campaign as a protest against Instagram’s policy of not featuring female nudity.[3] (Somewhat ironically, The Sun limits us to only two nipples a day to letch over, whilst Huff Post offers us around forty of the liberated little blighters on the same page.)

So which is it to be? Are boobies bad or should they be released and allowed to frolic unfettered in the wild?

Please don’t try the ‘Page 3 exploits women, but the other two are the women’s own choice’ line because it’s utter bollocks. The girls who pose for Page 3 choose to do it, in the same way as the semi-naked bibliophiles and Bruce’s kid’s cronies. Or perhaps not ‘in the same way’, as Page 3 models choose to do it for money. And maybe that’s the problem. Showing your nipples in exchange for cash is immoral, but flashing your tits for your principles is admirable?

Oh, and don’t get me started on these so-called Slut Walks: ‘I will dress like a slut and encourage men to treat me as a sexual object just to prove I’m not a slut and shouldn’t be treated as a sexual object.’ Sure, people should be able to wear what they want without being judged or attacked (sexually or otherwise), but I wouldn’t advise marching around certain Catholic parts of Northern Ireland dressed all in orange, or wearing a black balaclava to go to the bank. Clothes give off signals — and if a woman has spent four hours dressing up, doing her hair and nails and make-up, waxing her legs and plucking her eyebrows, in the hope of fascinating the man she’s had her eye on for ages, she’d be really disappointed if he failed to notice; but she has to accept that what she hopes will be attractive to him will also be attractive to others.

I’m not defending The Sun as such — it strikes me as being a fairly disreputable kind of rag as a whole — but is this really the worst of its misdemeanours? Anyone remember its coverage of the Hillsborough disaster? It seems, though, that some people have decided that it is, for whatever reason, the epitome of only the perceived sexist ills in our society. (Curiously, its editor, David Dinsmore, maintains that it was his female readership that persuaded him to keep flashing the titties, and is quoted as saying ‘I make the paper for the readers. I don’t make it for the No More Page Three campaign, I don’t make it for the Twitterati and I don’t make it for readers of The Guardian.[4]) Just as Amanda Hess was able to link Elliot Rodger’s killing spree to her friend being propositioned by a drunk at a party, so these No-More-Page-3-ites blame The Sun for any- and everything they can — and then create petitions, so very very many petitions.

Take this one by the indescribably sweet and ingenuous Lucy Holmes (oh, I just want to hug her, I really do).This is from her ‘David Dinsmore: Take The Bare Boobs Out Of The Sun #nomorepage3’ petition on change.org:[5]

We are asking David Dinsmore to drop the bare boobs from The Sun newspaper.
We are asking very nicely.
Please, David.
No More Page 3.
George Alagiah doesn’t say, ‘And now let’s look at Courtney, 21, from Warrington’s bare breasts,’ in the middle of the 6 O’ Clock News, does he, David?
Philip and Holly don’t flash up pictures of Danni, 19, from Plymouth, in just her pants and a necklace, on This Morning, do they, David?
No, they don’t.
There would be an outcry.
And you shouldn’t show the naked breasts of young women in your widely read ‘family’ newspaper either.
Consider this a long overdue outcry.
David, stop showing topless pictures of young women in Britain’s most widely read newspaper, stop conditioning your readers to view women as sex objects.
Enough is enough.
Thank you.

You see? So naive, bless her. I do not profess to be a marketing professional, but I guess I’m a bit more media savvy than our Lucy. If The Sun is ‘Britain’s most widely read newspaper,’ it holds that position because it has a winning formula — changing it is probably not going to be good for circulation. George, Phillip, and Holly are targeting an entirely different demographic — but if semi-naked teenagers were proven to be what was needed to increase their market share, I’m sure they’d make the necessary adjustment. And if it’s a ‘”family” newspaper’ that surely means that the adults buying it don’t have an issue with their offspring seeing bare breasts before they go to school — or that they rip out any offensive material (and stash it under the mattress for later — ahem — perusal) before letting the sprogs get their hands on the rest of the paper. Either way, it’s for the newspaper-buyer to decide what is and is not suitable for the younger members of the family — not Mr Dinsmore and still less Ms Holmes.

I have also noticed that quite a few of my friends have over the last couple of days posted a link on their chosen social media site to another petition, this one demanding that that newspaper withdraw its ‘Win a date with a Page 3 Girl’ competition.[6] But why is that any worse than similar promotions to, say, win a day out with a Texan teenage heartthrob called Austin Mahone or an intimate dinner with the singer-cum-reality TV star, Peter Andre?[7] Surely we can assume that the Page 3 girl, the teenage boy, and Mr Andre have all agreed to be raffled off in this way, and could have said ‘On yer bike, mate; I refuse to be drooled over by some random competition winner!’

So, in these times of sexual equality, why is it OK to treat men in this way but not women? I am, for once, not trying to be deliberately provocative here — I genuinely don’t see how the two differ. If the objectification of women is sexist, so is the objectification of men; and yet the former seems to be regarded as an outrage and the latter as ‘a bit of fun’.

It has been put to me that, in the latter case, the men are identified as individuals in their own right, not just as generic figures. So, whilst those entering the competitions may well do so because they are sexually attracted to either Mahone or Andre (and it’s really not going to be because they want to discuss Obamacare or Tony Abbott’s views on Aboriginal affairs, is it?), it’s a case of genuine fandom rather than random lust. The ‘Page 3 Girl’ has no name or identity beyond being female and stripping off and flashing her bits; thus, where Austin and Pete are people, she is simply a stereotype. It’s not a bad argument… and I’m almost convinced. Almost, but not quite. Because I’ve seen The Chippendales and I’m fairly certain that none of the squealing women in the audience cared one iota about the names, interests, and personalities of those buff young men. I think what The Sun is doing wrong here is favouring its male readers — and women are getting jealous. Maybe they should even up the score by running a ‘Win a date with a Chippendale’ raffle as well…

I am in my fifties. The quondam glory of my breasts has suffered the relentless toll of both time and gravity. Thirty years ago, when their magnificence was beyond compare, they were seen only by me, my lovers, and possibly the occasional flatmate who inadvertently walked in on me in the shower or other state of undress. Back then, I probably knew Page 3 existed, but it wasn’t something I was aware of as such. Because if I had been, and if I’d known I could have made money from letting a photographer take pics of my boobs and an editor plaster them all over Page 3, I’d have done it… in a heartbeat.

References (all accessed 4 September 2014)

 [1] Laura Bates, “10 sexist scenarios that women face at work”, The Guardian, 30 July 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2014/jul/30/10-sexist-scenarios-women-deal-work-ignored-maternity-risk-everyday-sexism?CMP=fb_gu

[2] Amanda Hess, “Why It’s So Hard for Men to See Misogyny”, Slate, 27 May 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2014/05/_yesallwomen_in_the_wake_of_elliot_rodger_why_it_s_so_hard_for_men_to_recognize.html?wpisrc=obnetwork

[3] http://nomorepage3.org/; Alison Flood, “Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society takes off”, The Guardian, 8 May 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/may/08/topless-pulp-fiction-appreciation-society-book-club; Barcroft Media, “#FreeTheNipple: Topless Protest Against Internet Censorship Follows Scout Willis Instagram Challenge (NSFW PICTURES)”, The Huffington Post, 4 June 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/06/04/freethenipple-topless-protest-internet-censorship-scout-willis-instagram-challenge-pictures_n_5443907.html?1401881878&ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000067

[4] Ian Burrell, “My female readers persuaded me to keep Page Three topless photos, says Sun editor”, The Independent, 5 November 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/press/my-female-readers-persuaded-me-to-keep-page-three-topless-photos-says-sun-editor-8922320.html

[5] Lucy Holmes, “David Dinsmore: Take The Bare Boobs Out Of The Sun #nomorepage3”, http://www.change.org/p/david-dinsmore-take-the-bare-boobs-out-of-the-sun-nomorepage3

[6] http://action.sumofus.org/a/the-sun-page-three/?sub=fb

[7] https://uk.celebrity.yahoo.com/gossip/omg/meet-austin-mahone-show-him-around-london-yes-really-115621339.html; http://www.prizeo.com/prizes/peter-andre/an-intimate-dinner-date?utm_content=peter&utm_campaign=peter

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