Campaigners protesting against Page 3 in 2012. Photo: Getty
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The “return” of Page 3: the Sun revels in the chance to make women with opinions look stupid

For one riotous day, women got to live in a world where in a small but symbolic way our bodies weren’t put on display as consumables.

The purpose of Page 3 is to humiliate, chasten and bully women. That was true when the Sun mocked Clare Short as “fat and jealous” for her campaign to end the nation’s favourite current affairs softcore feature. It was true when the Sun ran those needling, nasty “News in Briefs” boxes alongside the models, urging readers to chortle at the idea that a woman might simultaneously have symmetrical mammary tissue and a thought in her head.

It was true when I worked in a supermarket, sitting in the canteen holding my breath while the man on the table with me rustled over Page 3 – would he flick straight past it today, or would I sit there picking at my crisps and yanking awkwardly at the hem of my tabard, while he studied the curves and smiled his satisfaction that they were there on show for him? It was true when I worked in a pub, where the punters didn’t even bother to take their pleasure quietly, but would debate the merits of the aureola over lunchtime pints then send me for something from the bottom shelf so they could have a look at my bum.

It is true today, when the Sun gloatingly reveals – with all the moral intelligence and disarming wit of a small child grinning at you with cornflake-coated teeth and saying, “Fooled you! I didn’t really brush my teeth!” – that it’s not actually axing Page 3 after all. It’s impossible to know whether this is a deliberate stunt or a clumsy retreat, although the fact that the axing was initially reported by the Sun’s sister paper the Times means that it was definitely something. In any case, Sun PR head Dylan Sharpe was having a fine time of it on Twitter this morning, shooting the winking image of Nicola, 22, from Bournemouth at Harriet Harman and other perceived enemies of Page 3 – because what after all is Page 3 for, if not rubbing in the faces of women who’ve annoyed you by speaking out of turn?

What a joke, though. For one riotous, rumspringa day, women got to live in a world where in a small but symbolic way our bodies weren’t put on display as consumables. Sure, there was still the porn to deal with, and all the pornified advertising, and the magazines with their pictures of gleaming dead-eyed do-nothing beauty, and the paparazzi shots of the demi-famous in bikinis that appear regularly in the Sun anyway, but there was no more Page 3. That particular ritual of feminine submission – lips parted in a receptive smile, hair lightly tousled, breasts bare and available – was done for. (And please, don’t try the line that this is about the models “celebrating female sexuality”. One of the things about sexuality is that it encompasses things people do because they feel good. If the models were turned on, they wouldn’t need paying.)

And what in any case is stopping the Sun from making the call to end Page 3? As a feature, it’s tired and tawdry, stranded between the routine extremity of the degradations on offer online and a public increasingly unwilling to accept that it’s just normal to put female flesh on sale. Aggrieved men deprived of their daily dose of nipple can cry “censorship” all they like, but this was never about putting the press through the approval of any government agency. Editors decide not to publish things all the time. That’s what editing is. The No More Page 3 campaign has always been about asking – politely, kindly – if the Sun’s editor wouldn’t just consider that this one regular has run its course, and perhaps it’s time to start treating women as people worthy of coverage for more than our relative perkiness and willingness to go topless.

Such a small thing to ask after all. But it means so much to the men who need it: every day in newsprint, they can find the confirmation that women exist not to speak and not to act, but merely to be in placid service of male libido. That’s why the Sun won’t give Page 3 up easily. That’s why the tense-jawed male columnists all tumbled out their bag of clichés yesterday, squeezing together something about Charlie Hebdo and that Orwell essay about saucy postcards to reach the conclusion that – goodness – the right to print pictures of tits is one of the most sacred aspects of English free speech, and doubtless what the drafters of Magna Carta really had in mind.

For men who want women to be soft, pliable and wank-overable, giving up Page 3 really is too much to ask. And that’s why the Sun won’t let it go without exploiting it right to the very last gasp as a way to make women look stupid. Maybe we are. Stupid to think it was worth asking nicely. Stupid to think that if we were respectful and considered, we might get respect and consideration in reply. We have so much to fight for, and when the Sun finally gives up on its idiot daily pantomime of woman-as-shag-toy, it will only be the start.

 

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

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MP Michelle Thomson's full speech on rape at 14: "I am a survivor"

The MP was attacked as a teenager. 

On Thursday, the independent MP for Edinburgh West Michelle Thomson used a debate marking the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women to describe her own experience of rape. Thomson, 51, said she wanted to break the taboo among her generation about speaking about the subject.

MPs listening were visibly moved by the speech, and afterwards Thomson tweeted she was "overwhelmed" by the response. 

Here is her speech in full:

I am going to relay an event that happened to me many years ago. I want to give a very personal perspective to help people, both in this place and outside, understand one element of sexual violence against women.

When I was 14, I was raped. As is common, it was by somebody who was known to me. He had offered to walk me home from a youth event. In those days, everybody walked everywhere - it was quite common. It was early evening. It was not dark. I was wearing— I am imagining and guessing—jeans and a sweatshirt. I knew my way around where I lived - I was very comfortable - and we went a slightly differently way, but I did not think anything of it. He told me that he wanted to show me something in a wooded area. At that point, I must admit that I was alarmed. I did have a warning bell, but I overrode that warning bell because I knew him and, therefore, there was a level of trust in place. To be honest, looking back at that point, I do not think I knew what rape was. It was not something that was talked about. My mother never talked to me about it, and I did not hear other girls or women talking about it.

It was mercifully quick and I remember first of all feeling surprise, then fear, then horror as I realised that I quite simply could not escape, because obviously he was stronger than me. There was no sense, even initially, of any sexual desire from him, which, looking back again, I suppose I find odd. My senses were absolutely numbed, and thinking about it now, 37 years later, I cannot remember hearing anything when I replay it in my mind. As a former professional musician who is very auditory, I find that quite telling. I now understand that your subconscious brain—not your conscious brain—decides on your behalf how you should respond: whether you take flight, whether you fight or whether you freeze. And I froze, I must be honest.

Afterwards I walked home alone. I was crying, I was cold and I was shivering. I now realise, of course, that that was the shock response. I did not tell my mother. I did not tell my father. I did not tell my friends. And I did not tell the police. I bottled it all up inside me. I hoped briefly—and appallingly—that I might be pregnant so that that would force a situation to help me control it. Of course, without support, the capacity and resources that I had within me to process it were very limited.

I was very ashamed. I was ashamed that I had “allowed this to happen to me”. I had a whole range of internal conversations: “I should have known. Why did I go that way? Why did I walk home with him? Why didn’t I understand the danger? I deserved it because I was too this, too that.” I felt that I was spoiled and impure, and I really felt revulsion towards myself.

Of course, I detached from the child that I had been up until then. Although in reality, at the age of 14, that was probably the start of my sexual awakening, at that time, remembering back, sex was “something that men did to women”, and perhaps this incident reinforced that early belief.​
I briefly sought favour elsewhere and I now understand that even a brief period of hypersexuality is about trying to make sense of an incident and reframing the most intimate of acts. My oldest friends, with whom I am still friends, must have sensed a change in me, but because I never told them they did not know of the cause. I allowed myself to drift away from them for quite a few years. Indeed, I found myself taking time off school and staying at home on my own, listening to music and reading and so on.

I did have a boyfriend in the later years of school and he was very supportive when I told him about it, but I could not make sense of my response - and it is my response that gives weight to the event. I carried that guilt, anger, fear, sadness and bitterness for years.

When I got married 12 years later, I felt that I had a duty tell my husband. I wanted him to understand why there was this swaddled kernel of extreme emotion at the very heart of me, which I knew he could sense. But for many years I simply could not say the words without crying—I could not say the words. It was only in my mid-40s that I took some steps to go and get help.

It had a huge effect on me and it fundamentally - and fatally - undermined my self-esteem, my confidence and my sense of self-worth. Despite this, I am blessed in my life: I have been happily married for 25 years. But if this was the effect of one small, albeit significant, event in my life stage, how must it be for those women who are carrying it on a day-by-day basis?

I thought carefully about whether I should speak about this today, and it was people’s intake of breath and the comment, “What? You’re going to talk about this?”, that motivated me to do it, because there is still a taboo about sharing this kind of information. Certainly for people of my generation, it is truly shocking to talk in public about this sort of thing.

As has been said, rape does not just affect the woman; it affects the family as well. Before my mother died early of cancer, I really wanted to tell her, but I could not bring myself to do it. I have a daughter and if something happened to her and she could not share it with me, I would be appalled. It was possibly cowardly, but it was an act of love that meant that I protected my mother.

As an adult, of course I now know that rape is not about sex at all - it is all about power and control, and it is a crime of violence. I still pick up on when the myths of rape are perpetuated form a male perspective: “Surely you could have fought him off. Did you scream loudly enough?” And the suggestion by some men that a woman is giving subtle hints or is making it up is outrageous. Those assumptions put the woman at the heart of cause, when she should be at the heart of effect. A rape happens when a man makes a decision to hurt someone he feels he can control. Rapes happen because of the rapist, not because of the victim.

We women in our society have to stand up for each other. We have to be courageous. We have to call things out and say where things are wrong. We have to support and nurture our sisters as we do with our sons. Like many women of my age, I have on occasion encountered other aggressive actions towards me, both in business and in politics. But one thing that I realise now is that I am not scared and he was. I am not scared. I am not a victim. I am a survivor.

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.