There’s one thing worse than the limp tit in the Sun’s view, and that’s the absent one.
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Page 3 vs breast cancer: whose side are YOU on?

The Sun's Page 3 is a malignant growth of sexism on our press, and trying to use it to raise awareness of breast cancer only perpetuates the kind of single-organ fetishism that makes it all the harder for women with the disease.

Do you like Page 3? Or do you hate breasts and want them to have cancer? That is the dilemma that the Sun issues on today’s front page, where the paper announces a collaboration with the charity Coppafeel to promote self-screening among young women. The initiative is called Check ’Em Tuesday and it’s not so much a public health initiative as a war: according to the headline, it’s “PAGE 3 V BREAST CANCER”. So which side are you on?

It’s very sweet of the Sun to take an interest in my boobs. In fact, it’s downright incredible, since my boobs are basically anathema to Page 3: they’re had-a-couple-of-babies, been-through-a-few-years-of-breastfeeding, gained-and-lost-the-odd-cup-size, attached-to-a-30-something-feminist boobs. I mean, I like them a lot. We have good time together. But Sarah, 32, from Bath is not likely to make a topless visitation to the newsagents soon, or indeed ever (unless the Sun decides to give me the Clare Short treatment).

I don’t want to sound cynical, but consider this: the Sun’s concern for my rack may not be fully sincere. Page 3 is under pressure. The No More Page 3 petition has over 130,000 signatures, and there’s a growing feeling that a topless teen is not a good use of a page of newsprint. However much the Sun and its defenders want to cast Page 3 as a cheeky bit of fun or a charming Fleet Street tradition, women are taking a second look at it and coming to the conclusion that, actually, this is some sexist bullshit.

The biggest circulation newspaper in the country devotes more column inches to a salivating portrait of a pair of tits than it does to the achievements of, say, British sportswomen. What does that tell women about their place in the world? It tells them that their place is to look sexy, be quiet, stay young, make themselves available to male sexual interest – and if they can’t reach the requisite standards of perkiness then for God’s sake don’t try to force yourself on the public view, because this is no country for saggy women.

But there’s one thing worse than the limp tit in the Sun’s view, and that’s the absent one. That’s the problem with so much breast cancer awareness work: it’s all about the tit. Coppafeel’s founder has advanced breast cancer herself, and I can only admire the energy with which she’s devoted herself to raising awareness. Nevertheless, I cringe at some of the tactics the charity uses, such as sending runners round half-marathons with giant disembodied foam boobs joggling on their backs: you couldn’t really get a better example of the single-organ fetishism that pervades some breast cancer campaigns.

For the Sun, Coppafeel is a reason to put a gorgeous young woman on the cover giving herself a grope. For the women who get breast cancer, it not a sexy disease. It is painful. It is tiring. The women who contract it are not, for the most part, young and fresh-faced: they are middle aged and older. The treatment can be almost as unpleasant as the disease, invasive surgery may be required, and many women would die without a mastectomy – and it can be extraordinarily traumatic to lose a breast when you live in a culture that thinks a woman only exists if she’s got the wherewithal to fill a bra.

I wonder how much thought Sun editor David Dinsmore gave to those women’s feelings when he was signing off the front page. Did he realise that the Sun’s breast fixation might be an insult to these survivors? Or did he give any thought to those who have cancers every bit as menacing, but which tragically afflict only non-sexy organs: the cervix, the pancreas, the prostate? Of course not: this is a move of strictest self-interest from the Sun. Page 3 is a malignant growth of sexism on our press. If the Sun really cared about women, it would start by losing the boobs.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.