Over the course of last week every MP in the House of Commons received a surprise in their post, in the form of a copy of the day’s newspaper, courtesy of campaign group Not Buying It.
It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall and see MPs’ individual responses as they opened the package to find that the newspaper in question is the Sport, the publication which contains pornographic images of semi-naked women and ads for the porn and sex industry on almost every page, interspersed with stories about ‘sex romps’ and voyeuristic up-skirt shots of celebrities.
Caroline Lucas MP has already voiced her backing for the campaign’s action:
“There’s more adult content than anything that can be described as news. It shouldn’t be available from high street retailers and its availability should be restricted.. I applaud NOT BUYING IT for highlighting this issue to MPs.”
It remains to be seen whether other MPs feel that this is acceptable material to be sent unsolicited through the post and, if not, whether it constitutes appropriate content for a national newspaper.
Dr Sasha Rakoff, Director of Not Buying it, points out that the laissez-faire approach to newspaper content undermines the government’s hard work to curb the ‘normalising’ of the porn and sex industries through opt-in controls for online porn:
“This ‘newspaper’ makes a mockery of all that. And it has done for decades. It’s time it stopped.”
Those in government who recognise the harms of internet porn for children have never seemed willing to apply the same reasoning to porn images in national newspapers, even though these images are highly visible in public life. Walk in to any newsagent or garage, and newspapers like the Sport are displayed on the bottom shelf along with all the other papers.
There is a sense that the line has been drawn only because online porn has become too violent and degrading, as if there is a normal level of degradation of women which is OK. The protection of children from harmful material is rightly prioritised, but protection from violent imagery has always taken precedence over protection from sexually objectifying images of women, as if these images in themselves are not considered inherently damaging.
The harmful attitudes towards women and girls we see played out in our society were not created by the advent of online porn however; those attitudes already existed, fostered by relentless objectifying media images which now serve to reinforce the messages of contempt for women displayed on the internet.
Any MP who views these images as ‘just a bit of fun’ fails to recognise that, although designed to facilitate men’s erections, the message behind the pictures is not so much about sex, but about power. Every gratuitous image communicates a clear message to all: this is women’s position in our society. The message is crude and instant: women are for sex and men have entitlement to women’s bodies.
EVAW last year published a report of their 10 year review of government policies to end violence against women and girls and in their Executive Summary they stated:
“Government policies were also failing to counter the message to men and boys from all parts of the media – newspapers, music videos, video games, adverts and pornography – that violent and predatory behaviour towards women and girls is normal. They were failing to challenge men’s entitlement to women’s bodies.”
The current Westminster VAWG strategy, published in March, states:
“We will continue to challenge the deep-rooted social norms, attitudes and behaviours that discriminate against and limit women and girls across all communities.”
What better way to create a damaging social norm than through a national newspaper’s publication of degrading and objectifying images of young women on the pages of every issue? As Becca Mordan, Not Buying It Trustee, says, we live in “a society that tells little boys that ‘being a man’ means it is your right to buy women sexually, cheaply and en masse – in a newspaper.”
The first guiding principle of the Government’s VAWG strategy is to:
“prevent such violence from happening by challenging the attitudes and behaviours which foster it and intervening early where possible to prevent it.”
If the government is serious about prevention as the foundation of their VAWG strategy, they cannot allow the media to continue to play such a harmful role in creating a conducive context for violence against women and girls to flourish. All other government policies are undermined as long as it’s acceptable for contempt towards women to be freely expressed through a national newspaper.
I hope the MPs opening their post last week to find their copy of the Sport felt more than a little furtive embarrassment, I hope it was a wake-up call which will motivate them to finally take action. Why not Tweet or email your MP and ask them?