Women leave their tits out in the sun for 40 years

With complete disregard to the protestations of dermatologists and oncologists world-wide, it seems that some young women have chosen to expose their tits to the full glare of the sun for 40 consecutive years. Well, they’ve exposed them in The Sun anyway, and the protestations have come from feminists rather than doctors. Oh, and also from  some “new men” who are incapable of letting women have anything to themselves, even moral outrage.

I have to confess that this anniversary would have passed me by had it not been for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme deciding to arrange a kind of verbal women’s mud-wrestling bout this morning, in which the sardonic male presenters were able to watch a couple of ladies (and, yes, that description is ironic, so please don’t bother to write in and fulminate) scrapping over the issue like those two famous ferrets in a sack. Oh, what fun it is for us men to see our tit-fancying tendencies supported by a woman. See, told you. It’s all a storm in a DD-cup.

So should we be celebrating 40 years of liberation in which the final traces of Victorian prudery have been rightly kicked over, or decrying 40 years of women’s objectification and the unsavoury provision of male wanking material, as was so delicately alluded to by one of Radio 4’s aforementioned women mud-wrestlers? Strangely, I don’t think this question boils down to moral rectitude and a grave decision between the right thing and the morally bankrupt thing. Actually in my view it’s about what you consider to be cause, and what effect. This business of cause and effect encompasses much more than this specific issue, and it seems to be the major dividing line in much of the discussion about the media, film, computer games and such like.

So I don’t ask, “Is it right or wrong that The Sun has reserved its third page for the display of tits?” but rather, “Is this the expression of something, or the cause of something?” In general terms, I think in answer to the latter question I veer towards the expression bit rather than the cause bit. Partly this is because I think it’s true, but in a way it’s more that I think it keeps us away from intractable and largely unhelpful arguments about whose view should prevail, and what is and isn’t offensive, and to whom. I’ll come back to this, but first, let me set out my sense of what is cause, and what is effect.

The “traditional” feminist critique of The Sun’s page 3 was well expressed in the programme this morning. The position is that this display of women’s bodies for the delight of men is giving a message to men that women are significant only to the extent that they are a means to male sexual arousal, and a message to women that they are put on this earth only for that purpose. I suspect that those messages are indeed at the heart of page 3 and similar soft porn in advertisements, entertainment, and the media generally. But I doubt very much that these messages are causing those attitudes, but rather that they are simply being reflected back into the society from which they came in the first place. Taking the mirror away doesn’t make an ugly face beautiful, and looking at an already ugly face in the mirror doesn’t make the face uglier. Exactly the same arguments apply in the case of violence in film, television and computer games. There may be some few vulnerable individuals whose violence is triggered by viewing such material, but for the vast majority of those who are driven to act violently they are not so driven by looking at violence, and that those who are not driven to violence in the first place do not suddenly become so merely by watching it. Violence in entertainment reflects the violence of our society, but it doesn’t cause it.

The problem with seeing cause and effect in the reverse direction is that it leads to authoritarianism. It leads to calls for the banning of this, that and the other. It leads to calls for the prevention of offence, and the criminalisation of the giving of offence. This gets us into all kinds of difficulties, and often leads people into inconsistency and perhaps the unwitting cultural arrogance that suggests that what they think is right should be imposed on the rest of society. Inconsistency because those who argue against, say, the censorship of art or books often demanded by radical Islamists are entirely happy to argue for censorship of things they don’t like – perhaps tits on page 3. Cultural arrogance because in a free secular society, one person’s sense of right or wrong cannot ride rough-shod over the opposing views of others.

So on this dubious anniversary, I’m happy to express my own distaste for the values and messages promulgated by The Sun via its page 3 boobs. And my distaste for The Sun starts there, but trust me, it doesn’t stop there. But I don’t think that The Sun is the cause of those things that I find distasteful in the representation of women. And so I won’t be joining in any calls for banning the tits – although I would like to make it clear in this public forum that no copy of The Sun has ever accompanied me into my toilet.

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2 thoughts on “Women leave their tits out in the sun for 40 years

  1. Interestingly enough, it’s not the page 3 girls that poke my distaste of The Sun and other newspapers of that ilk. No, it’s more the utter bollocks of the writing, not the pictures.

  2. Interesting post and one I’m very much in accordance with. You are, if I may say so, one of the few Brits who are able to use a dialectical approach in a discussion and not just see everything in black or white/good or bad/ France or England/cat or dog. There are many shades of grey, and when you turn a topic upside down it can look utterly different… as you’ve just demonstrated.

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