For those alien to the United Kingdom they may be unaware the Page3 is a reference to the Sun newspaper’s page 3 image of a topless young woman. A number of decades ago it was seen as a tad risqué but fairly harmless. The young women concerned were posited as being wholesome “girl next door” types. However in the age of feminism, the Page3 image attracted complaint by feminists, but not enough to remove it from the Sun newspaper. In fact it was copied by others.
In the Leveson inquiry Anna van Heeswijk, representing a collection of feminist groups, told the inquiry: "Page 3 tabloids contribute to a culture in which the value of women and girls is reduced to their appearance." Jennie Bristow offered another view in the Spiked blog. (http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/9922/). Zoe Williams, the Guardian journalist, saw it as the Sun baiting feminists, but quite frankly I doubt that the Sun staff think feminists are worth the candle. Yet all these women miss a fundamental issue. Harriet Harman called for the Sun to be banned or removed from general accessibility in shops (i.e. top shelf)
If Page 3 of the Sun and similar depictions of women objectivise women, then so too does a vast proportion of advertising and other activity in our society, including that of feminists, objectivise men. The band the Good Charlotte summed it up succinctly, “Girls don’t like boys, girls like cars and money.”, and millions of men can readily acknowledge this to be their experience. The recent ING advertising campaign depicted a number of scenes in which men were faced with women’s demands for material goods without any regard to their ability to pay for them, and by implication would need the loans that ING offer.
The most extreme of these was the scene of a couple looking at engagement rings in a jeweller’s window. The man points out something he can afford, to which the woman responds “oh no, that looks cheap. I want that one” presumably pointing to the most expensive ring in the window. The man looks on despairingly (his chest explodes with an “Air Bag like in a car) and doesn’t say a word. The male viewer knows implicitly that to deny this woman her desire for an expansive and unaffordable ring would result in the relationship breaking down in some way. The message is for the man “if you want the girl you provide the money”. For the woman it validates a stance where intimacy and the continued relationship is secured through the provision of expensive goods.
Peculiarly feminists are seemingly silent regarding such adverts. Even though ostensibly the depicted woman is implicitly trading her body for money, and is in effect no different than a prostitute. Feminist’s silence effectively adds to validating such behaviour and reduces men to objects to be exploited. No wonder some men in return regard women with such disdain. Sadly this attitude towards men is repeated in varying degrees in a number of adverts. Fortunately none of the current advertisements are as bad as some of a decade ago, where women in permanent relationships were shown successfully using the withdrawal of intimacy (sex), manipulation of children against their fathers and isolation in the home as acceptable mechanisms to secure men’s acquiescence to unaffordable credit purchases. In one very successful ad campaign the man’s discomfiture and powerlessness was clearly depicted.
A man walking into a high street newsagents and browsing the magazines, cannot help but notice that the majority of leading women’s magazines are strongly focussed on how to get better sexual performance. Other than top shelf pornography, men’s magazines are largely devoid of any sexual content.
For the average married man, he must surely wonder why it is that single and married women seem so obsessed with sex but the experience of married men indicates the opposite. He must surely question whether women’s interest in sex is either a harmless fantasy centred on a fantasy male, or what women in general will do in order to secure the man of their dreams. Either way the average married man knows it doesn’t apply to him anymore. Even single men, whose sex lives are infinitely more active, know full well that while women might intimate that sex will be the finale to an indulgently expensive evening, the reality is that women always have the choice to change their minds.
Even little girls are encouraged to regard men as objects. Fairy stories such as Cinderella, Snow White and others, repeatedly present men as featureless objects without agency or personality. In the pantomime Cinderella, Buttons the powerless peer is asexual at best. Despite his obvious concern for Cinderella’s well-being, he can never aspire to be her partner due to powerlessness, poverty and class and Cinderella is indifferent to his feelings for her. The entire story focuses on Cinderella’s machinations to obtain status, power and wealth, and above all uncritical adulation. The men, her Father and Prince Charming, are featureless entities subservient to the will of women.
If we look at the modern epitome of girl’s play, the ubiquitous Barbie, we find that Ken is merely an accessory with no greater worth than the handbag or car. Feminists attacked Barbie believing her to depict women as subservient sexual objects. What they missed is that Barbie as a plaything present women as having choice, and men as objects to be used and discarded at will. This little plastic model is primarily about how women egotistically relate to one another and compete for resources.
The little girl who owns Barbie invests the toy with personality to act out her fantasies as an adult woman. There is no distinction between her fantasy and herself, no requirement for skills or knowledge. Any averagely developed girl can be Barbie. Doesn’t the media endlessly say she can, and feminists for their part do not demur. Herein is the distinction between classic boys and girls play. In boys’ fantasies of being a footballer, soldier, and so one there is a skill and ability requirement. Boys know from the outset that to be the figure on TV requires the development of skills and knowledge, and that for most there will be disappointment. They know that they cannot buy the realisation of their fantasy. If they buy football shirts, they know that they remain the same, a kid with a football shirt Whereas for women there is a vast marketing industry based on the notion that women can buy their fantasy through cosmetics and clothes.
Women’s desperate need for validation and the profound sense of inadequacy is exploited mercilessly by the marketing industry. The volume of advertising targeting men is dwarfed by that target women. Negative images of women are not permissible in advertising, whereas men are readily the object of derision and dismissal. The power of marketing directed at women is immense and highly effective. Concepts such as “Must Have” are alien in the male market. But to satisfy this generated demand, women need access to men’s earning capacity and credit worthiness, and to achieve that they must hold out some inducement. An intellectual exchange would not produce the goods, simply because both parties would recognise that buying unnecessary goods is in no one’s interests. Thus women’s bodies become the marketing tool with techniques to raise awareness (push-up bra’s etc) and the implied promise of satisfaction. Unfortunately for men they have no recourse to Trading Standards if the delivered goods and services prove to be disappointing. But nevertheless the exchange has all the hallmarks of a commercial deal.
If women are encouraged to regard men as objects to be manipulated to obtain material goods and money, then it is little wonder that men cynically return the compliment and reduce women to being objects.
But is the Page3 girl evidence of this objectivisation? Daily she is depicted smiling and not the least bit sexually provocative. She is the embodiment of most men’s real fantasy and ambition. She is ultimately the pretty girl next door who wants nothing more than a relationship between equals, a partnership. She doesn’t make the production of endless consumer durables and luxuries the condition for her affections. She doesn’t need the endless pandering to a profound sense of inadequacy that a vast proportion of women demand. But she is also unattainable fantasy and men know it.