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Blame porn, not newspapers

2012 December 4
by Zoe Strimpel

Concerning, especially where children’s access is concerned, but not the culprit perse.

The Leveson report has included some damning words on how British newspapers present women. (Funny, I’d have thought they’d get full marks. Still, I’m sure Leveson’s frown is going to help a great deal – “hey guys, be fairer to women! You know, fairer! On a scale from one to ten, your representation of women gets a 3, bring it up to an 8 at least! Go!”)

As there’s only recent research on how the British press treats women (guess in the 1790s/1970s they weren’t really into that – shame on them and very mystifying), the Beeb helpfully compiled a list of five things the press does worst in its representation of women. It spoke to “experts” including…other journalists, and – enjoyably, Germaine Greer.

The objectification of women in an overt and borderline pornographic way was a first complaint. It is problematic and weird that at 7AM a little kid could look over their parent’s shoulder at “Coco”‘s buttocks in the Sun or Daily Sport, or indeed skim any number of pages and see any number of images telling an unsavoury story of women.

What’s a bigger issue is the appetite for papers like the Sport. I can say this from my ivory, Times-reading tower, of course – but to assume that a certain socio-economic class likes that kind of thing BECAUSE of their class is even worse. Not to obsess about the 18th century, but the working classes then devoured the likes of Newton (his Optics), not to mention a plethora of medical texts and, of course, the smutty engravings by one Hogarth, which we now view in the Tate. Maybe one day Page Three snapshots will be in the Tate.

But I digress. The complaint I took issue with, so to speak, was the one about women learning from air-brushed images of celebrities how they’re meant to look, and then feeling crappy when it doesn’t work out like that.

Ok – so here’s a word to the wise, such as Paul Staines of mega political blog Guido Fawkes, who senses his daughters will develop painfully unachievable body image from the airbrushed likes of Kiera Knightley and so on (and what about Kate Middleton? Is she too sacred, too “real”, to contribute to poor body image?). The word is: it’s not going to be Daily Mail pictures of movie stars that make your daughters feel like crap. It’ll be the knowledge that the men they want to relax with and impress – in bed and other places-  will have been watching porn every day for their entire post-pubescent lives. Men may ogle the naked women in the Sport over tea in the morning – horrifyingly because so publicly. But it’s the privacy of porn that makes it go deep, the power of the orgasmic association that forges helplessly deep, visceral triggers of attraction and new tastes. It’s this knowledge that will do the harm, instill a deep sense of self-doubt in your daughters – will make them feel that they can never be wild, coy, thin, hairless, boobalicious/androgynous and open enough for the true desires of their sexual partners who will, hopefully, be too polite to say so.

Do men get off on images of Kiera Knightley? I’ve never met one. Do they get off on glamour models and porn stars? Of course.

The work of body image problems does, of course, start with the rain of images of beautiful famous people. But the work of porn – the knowledge of its power I mean* – will dig the tunnels of self-doubt deeper and more windingly.

Now I know that female body image is not all, or even mostly, about pleasing men – people aren’t usually anorexic for the people they want to attract. It’s a matter of control in a chaotic, often difficult personal universe; desire for self mastery and so on.

But the sense of deep insufficiency deriving from the ubiquity of porn is even harder to deal with than plain body dissatisfaction (NB: I am NOT referring to anorexia here) as it’s a personwide thing, not just a body thing. Nobody feels they ought to BE like Sienna Miller even if they think they should look like her. But we might feel we ought to be a bit more like a porn star.

*Yes, I know, women watch porn too. About a third of porn is watched by women. I think it can be positive. Women who watch porn enjoy it. Or else they wouldn’t watch it. I think. As for its effects on their body image, I don’t know.

 

 

 

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