Thursday, 24 July 2008

Download a Woman: The Sun's latest bright idea

Until now I have suppressed the urge to discuss what I consider to be one of the biggest issues facing young feminists today, for fear of not being able to fully express without waffling what my problem is with it. This entity is all around us, omnipresent and all-encompassing in its reach and influence, which is why limiting myself to a few succinct paragraphs was never going to happen. It is of course...(drumroll please)...the media. Press, TV, film, music, advertising, marketing, PR – these are all components of this huge and monstrous being, one that didn't even exist not so long ago, and which is now an inextricable part of our lives, however subconsciously that may be. People I speak to about this issue are often offended at the suggestion that they are in any way controlled or influenced by the media – as if this is implying some sort of weakness or lack of intelligence on their part. This is not the case, the media is a powerful being - far be it from me to deny that. It's far more influential than any world leader: one only has to look back on George Bush’s election to the United States presidency and Fox News’ involvement in/orchestration of it to agree with me there. Similarly, when Bush wanted to whip up support for his war on Iraq, he didn’t take it upon himself to appeal to his people – the propaganda campaign incited by the media did a far more efficient job. It stands to reason therefore that if the media has enough clout to facilitate wars and elect presidents, it is capable of making mincemeat of ‘little’ issues like…oh I don’t know…body image or gender politics.

The current and enduring media obsession with female celebrities’ (delete as applicable) weight/age/dress sense/relationship status/professional validity are symptoms of and perpetuating factors in the objectification of women. Simple as that. Of course we all buy into it, this constant cycle of adulation, titillation and criticism and we’ve reached the stage where its considered acceptable for men to pick up a newspaper and look at a naked female body, and for a woman to launch a scathing attack on another woman for gaining a couple of pounds. A male friend of mine, having being on the receiving end of a rant of this nature, said to me: “I thought you were more intelligent than that.” He simply couldn’t see that a Page 3 girl is more than just a pair of tits for a man to look at. His argument was this: its harmless, it’s not hurting anyone, the girl’s making good money, it’s only a pair of tits. So who’s the dummy here? Forgive me for being concerned about the wider implications for women when a naked female is not only plastered across a national newspaper as ‘entertainment’ for men, but is ridiculed to boot with the inclusion of News in Briefs a snippet of the model's thoughts on a serious news matter, which clearly she is meant to know nothing about. Apparently this is all too subtle for men to detect. The media represents women in various ways, but this tabloid representation is the one that worries me most as its strutting around under our noses every day, and people don’t seem to realise the seriousness of the message it promotes. Regardless of a woman’s choice in what she does for a living – I’m sure most Page 3 Girls aren’t forced into the job – this stereotype of buxom, promiscuous woman with no brain, subservient to men’s whims and fantasies is very dangerous, as well articulated on The F Word. It is the infant in a family of ideas that includes more serious manifestations of female subjugation. Now it’s just a pair of tits, but its consumption nonetheless – it’s still suggesting women’s bodies are there for the consuming, available to buy (now in a paper, maybe later on a street corner) and available to consume (look at for now, but how long before men start helping themselves). Naomi Wolf's amazing The Beauty Myth best exposes this flagrant equation of women's looks with commercial worth - a woman's beauty is currency. The woman is therefore a commodity, the subject of ownership that could only be male. The natural bi-product of this kind of representation is for crimes like rape, prostitution/solicitation and general violence towards women to be perceived as less crimes because they involve women, who may be considered ‘fair game’ or ‘up for it’. I’m not sure anyone with a brain could dispute this much.

So what’s sparked this latest rant? Well, its not often I make visits to The Sun newspaper website, but something I read about yesterday compelled me. Not content with publishing images of women day after day in print, The Sun are rolling with the punches of the digital age and have come up with something that truly disturbs me: The Desktop Keeley. Apparently Keeley Hazell is the paper’s most popular “Page 3 Stunna” and as such is now the basis for a web tool so utterly degrading it makes Page 3 look like the Yellow Pages. Instead of just gawping at Keeley’s nubile form in the paper every day (which I guess is a bit impractical if you have a job to do) those who download this application can now order her about and are actually invited to “Play with [her] whenever you want”. I feel sick. The misogyny on display here is blatant and unashamed and what’s more – its already proven extremely popular. Great.This excerpt from the The Sun’s articulate sales pitch says it all really, in more than one sense of the phrase:

“Dressed [or should that be undressed?] in a stunning range of lingerie, Keeley will be at your beck and call 24/7 and comes armed with all the information you need, whether it’s celeb’s drunken antics, the latest football transfer news or the Page 3 girl of the day.”

Excellent range of interests you’ve got there, boys. I can only assume that the intended audience for this product are young to middle aged professionals who have constant access to a computer (i.e. work for a living). This is also a damning indictment on them surely? Is this really what we’re interested in as a nation? I’m sure it’s not…and I do actually have some faith in mankind. I’m not saying that men are in on this on an individual level – what I’m saying is that these attitudes are so richly embedded in every aspect of society and paraded around as if they are an acceptable norm that people start to believe what they are told. This sort of thing is NOT harmless and for those that refuse to see the damage that it could cause, let’s put it another way: whatever way you look at it, having a half naked avatar running around on your computer screen spouting out unimportant titbits (excuse the pun) about other naked/drunken women is hardly conducive to a productive working day is it? Packaging this up as a cool gadget and tailoring it to the digital market is a clever ploy –passing it off as a bit of fun for the modern man is distracting from the point and lulling the public into thinking this is OK. Like women don’t already have enough trouble in the 21st century workplace.