Monday, 3 October 2011

Sexism: freedom of speech

Last night I took part in a "Rape Culture Page Bomb" along with over 300 other supporters in which we decorated a sexist Facebook page with an estimated thousand anti-rape messages and pictures. Together as a group, we worked to take back the message of the page.

Currently, the Facebook group ‘You know she’s playing hard to get when you‘re chasing her down an alleyway has 193,896 ‘likes‘. ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, I’ve got a knife, get in the van‘ has 73,243. ‘Abducting, raping and violently murdering your friend as a joke’ has 22,655. ‘Kick the bitch , why? coz she’s a slut’ has 115,303.

It is estimated that thousands of people have reported these pages, yet Facebook does not consider them offensive.

Joking about rape isn't just harmless fun. It's a part of rape culture in which rape is normalised and becoming acceptable. ‘Joking’ about rape isn't a joke because there isn't a punch line. This is hate speech against women and rape victims. 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men are raped in the U.S (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006). That means that statistically, every single person making rape ‘jokes’ knows rape victims. Rape is a serious issue, it’s not funny. Neither is ‘joking’ about it. Which, by the way, I don’t see these kinds of comments as ‘jokes’ anyway:

Now lets take a look at what we are legally allowed to find hate speech:

“In England and Wales, hate speech legislation has been balanced to avoid curbing freedom of speech: while much of the content on the internet may be offensive, it is not illegal unless it stirs up hatred on the grounds of race, religion or sexual orientation.”

This law reflects the wider cultural acceptance of sexism and sexist abuse, not just on Facebook but everywhere. Sexism needs to be seen as just as destructive as racism. No, that’s not going to stop it happening but then at least it wouldn't just be a huge “joke” which is making abuse even more acceptable.

So racism, anti-religion and homophobic abuse is illegal, but sexist abuse is not. Why? Is domestic violence and rape not as serious as racism? Is it not as bad as being against religion? Is it not as hurtful as homophobia? If they were saying the same thing but being racist rather than sexist, these Facebook pages would no longer exist.

WHY are women allowed to be victims of sexist hate speech.

Please prime minister, give me your best argument because I can find no reason why this is acceptable. Sign the petition against this shit here.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The Page 3 debate

Currently the liberal democrats agenda reviewing ‘page 3’ is being debated. They propose “Tackling the projection of women as sex objects to children and adolescents by restricting sexualised images in newspapers and general circulation magazines to the same rules that apply to pre-watershed broadcast media.”

The Daily Star quotes page 3 girl Porchia Watson to argue against the proposed ban: “This is the last thing they should be thinking about. Only a few weeks back we had riots on the streets, now they are wasting their time with Page 3... We are not hurting anyone.”

Page 3 is part of what is often described as ‘raunch culture’ or the ‘pornification’ of our society. Aspects of pornography are everywhere, from newspapers and magazines to music videos and adverts. The problem for anti-page 3 campaigners is the normalisation of this; ‘Lad mag’ porn is being sold under ‘men’s general interest’ and topless models under the ruse of ‘news’. Thus the correct label is taken away from what it really is, making it more acceptable, readily available as part of our groceries and completely normalised. The problems with pornography include: unrealistic expectations of women’s bodies, distorted expectations of sex, self-esteem problems and habituation. While it is not being claimed that page 3 causes rape, it is a contributor to a culture in which women are increasingly seen as nothing more than sex objects for men’s enjoyment.

Providing an example of how normalisation can promote insensitivity, Cameron Forrest, 22 from Australia says; “Back home I hadn’t heard of page three, when I came to England I was very surprised to see topless women sold in every day newspapers.“ He added “It’s one thing to have it in actual porn magazines but I was really shocked that they’re being sold as news, it’s very strange.”

I was eager to see hear arguments from the page 3 supporters but unfortunately after several messages, nobody came forward directly. On the public Facebook book page of The Daily Star however, readers argue that “It’s all harmless fun” “They shouldn’t be talking about shit like that when the country is up the shiters” [spelling rephrased] and “if they think children need "protecting" from the sight of a partially-clad female body in a picture, the next logical step is to ban children from beaches and swimming pools.”

I have personally found that a common pro-page 3 argument is that it’s women’s own choice and that they get paid for it. While I agree with this statement, I don‘t think that it makes the outcome okay. It seems to go over most people’s heads when I try to explain I have absolutely nothing against the women who pose for things like page 3. I’m opposed to page 3, not the page 3 ‘girls’. In the same way as I may be opposed to an unethical chain store but not against the individuals who choose to work there.

I don’t think women or feminists in general are against the women in page 3 either. Actually, I found during a party I attended with guest page 3 models, that I was both the only female and the only feminist in the group yet I was the only person defending the women. While the men openly stared at their bodies and found them attractive, they thought badly of them as people. They were labelled a ‘shallow’, ‘teases’, ‘dumb’ and ‘sluts’ by the same men who ‘support’ their choice to strip. To me, that’s not respectful of the women’s choice at all. Instead they’re supporting page 3 merely because they enjoy participating in objectification.

I took many photographs of Sam Cooke, The Sun’s page 3 model at the party. I thanked her for posing for me and she smiled back politely, she seemed to do her job happily and professionally. I realised while photographing her absolutely for certain that I don’t hold anything against these women. Despite being told that I hate them and must just be jealous of them, I didn’t have any bad feelings towards her at all. I was happy to get the chance to photograph her and pleased for us both that the pictures turned out well. Topless models may be stereotypical or they may not be, they may be nice people or they might not, but it doesn’t matter to me. They’re just people the same as us, who deserve respect. I think this not despite of being a female or feminist but because of it.

Text and photography: L. Connett. Thank you to Sam Cooke and Cameron Forrest.