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Sexism - who's to blame?

As part of my job working in a press office I have to monitor the press for any coverage of what we do, or opportunities where we could have been featured.  We have all been allocated a paper to read every day, and, for my sins, I have to read The Sun.  I don't mind really - I'd rather that than read the Daily Mail - but I was interested in how the story of the sexist remarks made by football commentators Andy Gray and Michael Keys was reported today.

If you missed the story, the two football pundits were discussing the fact that there was a female lineswoman at a Premier League game on Saturday and how it was impossible that she could fulfil that role and would need someone to 'explain the offside rule to her'.  There were some further sexist remarks made, and, unfortunately for the pair, their mics were still on and the audio was passed to various press agencies (which culminated in Andy Gray being sacked after he refused to apologise).

The first thing that struck me as strange was how The Sun, on the one hand appeared to frown upon the discriminatory comments (running an editorial piece from their columnist Karren Brady) and on the other hand chose a photo of the female lineswoman in a short skirt dancing at a party (presumably nicked from her Facebook).  If they really were in support of her as a professional woman who has every right and ability to do that job then surely, surely they could have led with a photo of her on the pitch in her kit? 

But what really got me, was having to flick past a photo of a girl with her boobs on show before I could get to the story.  And what I asked myself was, can we really have equal rights, and banish sexism and discrimination towards women, when the biggest selling newspaper in the UK publishes daily on its third page a photo of a topless woman? The message that this sends to the great British public, is that for a few silver coins you can take home a photo of a woman suggestively baring her half nakedness for your viewing pleasure.  Nestled on the third page between the political news, weather and celebrity news is a snap of a real life woman - for whom most of the Sun's readership will be old enough to be their Dad.  (I will gloss over the slight perversity of having 50 year old men gawp at photos of 18 year old girls over their teabreaks).
This one is censored; the real one, obviously, is not
But it's not The Sun's fault, is it, because the key thing for me is not only demand, but supply.  What constantly astounds me is not the men that perpetuate this 'British institution' by buying the paper, but the woman who queue up to be featured.  The Sun have an annual 'Page 3 idol' where, in large numbers, women can enter the competition and be voted on whether they are 'hot or not' online.  Now, on the one hand, I get that women are free to make their own decisions and make their money however they choose.  But on the other hand, isn't it a little bit... well, sad.... that a percentage choose to make their money by taking their clothes off for men's viewing pleasure?  Surely all they are doing is perpetuating the perception that women are just pieces of meat that can be bought along with your pint of milk and packet of biscuits on the way into work?

Furthermore, along with the steady supply of women who want to be a page 3 idol, the city I live in has at least two or three strip clubs on the high street.  Not tucked away in a back alley, not round the corner, down the road... but on the high street.  And in there, for the cost of a few pints you can have a half naked woman dance for you (for the cost of a few more they will take more off - etc etc).  Now, I know friends of friends who have worked in places like this to pay their University fees.  I know of other women who send their photos in to 'lads' mags' like Front and Nuts.  The saddest part about magazines like Nuts, FHM, Front, Zoo etc is the amount of genuinely talented women who grace their covers every month.  Women who deserve to be taken seriously for their professional abilities, not to be interviewed about the intimate details of their sex lives and then snapped in their smalls.


And so I guess the question for me, is, in a society where the mainstream press slot half-naked women in with hard hitting news, where talented women are expected to strip off in their music videos and reveal all in interviews to promote their films, and where you can walk into For Your Eyes Only on a Saturday night, hand over £20 and see a real life naked girl, can equality ever really exist? And should we really be blaming Andy Gray for seeing women as sex objects who can't understand the offside rule, or should we be blaming Chloe, 22, from Leeds (and the rest) for continuing to buy into it? 

There is another really interesting blog post about this issue on Lizabelly's blog here.

13 comments

  1. Hmmm... well men can go without shirts, so equal rights means everybody can go without a shirt, right?

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  2. And what about this:
    http://www.malestrippersdirectory.com/

    and this: http://www.mtv.co.uk/files/imagecache/gallery_wide/2009/07/16/daniel_radcliffe_naked_equus_2.jpg?1

    lol. sorry

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  3. @Bethany Haha, that's okay. But men can walk down the street on a hot day without a shirt, and it's acceptable on the beach right? But a woman topless is considered to be nudity so I don't know if I'd agree that's the same. And I know you can get male strippers, but not on the high street! I know the equivalent exists, but maybe not quite as accessible - but maybe that's lack of demand not lack of supply?

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  4. i agree with you, some people just have to be awkward about it. it's a shame to watch beautiful girls on the front page of a dirty magazine ruin her dignity. x

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  5. Really interesting post! There's so many ways to look at it x

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  6. Hiya! Just to let you know, I've changed my URL to http://sammi-in-wonderland.blogspot.com/

    I've noticed that a lot of my readers can't read my blog anymore so please update any links. You may have to subscribe again via RSS/Google Friend Connect/Newsletter. Sorry about this, I definitely won't be changing my URL again. xD

    Thanks, Sammi x

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  7. Great post and written so well. Very tricky subject, there are a lot of perspectives to consider. On one hand you can say these page 3 girls are empowering themselves, earning money from their assets and giving themselves good lifestyles/salaries/opportunities etc.

    In terms of the Andy Gray thing, personally i always thought he was a bit of a plank anyway. I don't like the fact that they insinuated the assistant ref in question was unable to do her job properly 'just because she was a woman' (he came off looking the fool there since her judgement was quite clearly proven right). They also spoke about Karen Brady in a very derogatory way...hello one of THEE most successful business women in the country - she probably earns more than them. Blokes like that need to come out of the stone age. It's unfair to say she can't do her job properly just because she has boobs.

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  8. I agree with you there, you make some great points. Theres always going to be people like that, and people who use the fact they are female to get ahead in things. Yet I bet these people would complain about not being treated equaly if it went the other way. xx

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  9. I think that this is a very good observation of all points. I saw The Sun's coverage very much the same way. What I keep waiting to hear is someone else take notice that SKY SPORTS have dismissed these two knuckle-draggers on the grounds of "sexism". At the same time they are dismissing them though their web home page which one would expect to feature ALL sports, including women's does not. In fact on home page now there are three links featuring women. One is an actual sports link of tennis. The others which SKY SPORTS do not seem to think are "sexism" is a link to their "Ashes WAGS Gallery" and the other to the "Soccer AM Soccerette Gallery".

    SKY Sports do show the women's tennis but probably only because of the short skirts. Other than that the only women on SKY SPORTS are the glamour models used to escort the fat dart players to the stage. I want to see SKY SPORTS explain this to their paying public.

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  10. This is so beautifully written. It could have gone wrong in so many places but it didn't. The world is so 'oh no i can't say that' that it's all turned on it's head easily. x

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  11. This is pretty interesting, and I'm glad you've brought it up. I think you run the risk of over-simplifying things in trying to place blame. Sexism doesn't have a single cause, it's institutional. If heterosexual men the world over stopped consuming sexualized imaged of women or if women the world over refused to sexualize themselves to get ahead, it wouldn't put an end to the fact that we live in a society which constructs men and women as real, fundamentally different categories and values one of these categories more than the other.
    You ask if equality can exists as long as women are expected to sexualize themselves for a male audience. In a context in which women's worth is primary defined in their relation to men, I'd say no. People can challenge or reproduce these sorts of relations in their everyday interactions, but you can't place the blame in any one spot.
    Anyway, I'll quit ranting now. Thanks for bringing this up!

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  12. Aw thankyou for linking me, I just noticed it! This is a really interesting point, I guess its a big contradiction, and sometimes I feel having your hair done and taking care of your appearance is confused by people for a lack of intelligence or sincerity.

    xxxx

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  13. I remember being really annoyed about this haha.. I think it makes the women of the world look slightly neurotic when someone is sacked for making a joke. I know women that make sexist comments against men all the time, even in a professional capacity, and no-one even raises an eyebrow. For example, if a woman had been overheard saying 'I bet he's got no idea how to clean a house, men are useless at domestic stuff' they would have laughed it off.

    I always feel like papers are a bit harsh on men with these things.. so many women line up to take part in things that men are told off for enjoying. The ban page 3 thing that's going around right now confuses me in terms of sexism too.. surely the debate that it's an insult to feminism that page 3 is still going is mute since the women who take part have chosen that as their career, and feminism is meant to be about us being allowed to make our own choices? I don't think anything will ever be truly equal while women still want to expose themselves for money.. but as long as men aren't walking the streets expecting every girl to flash them I'm happy lol x

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