Turning the page on everyday sexism

300px-Angelika_Kauffmann_-_Christus_und_die_Samariterin_am_Brunnen_-1796by Emily Shurmer, 5th February 2015

The campaign to end Page 3 seemed to have finally succeeded last week, as news emerged that The Sun would finally be dropping its daily dose of bare-breasted models. But confusion has since set in as it appears that topless photos have returned to The Sun. How should Christians respond to Page 3, beyond merely choosing not to look?

There are many reasons we should oppose Page 3 on biblical grounds, but one of the most pressing is the damaging effect it has on young girls and women. In an open letter to editor of The Sun, Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, details many stories from young women in which Page 3 was directly used to harass, intimidate and even assault them. Everyday Sexism is a project in which women can record ‘stories of sexism faced on a daily basis, by ordinary women, in ordinary places.’ Over 40,000 women have responded, and the stories make for sickening reading.

“I once worked in a company where I was the only female on a floor of men. They would look me up and down, laughing. They would bring in The Sun, put it on my desk open at Page 3 and ask if I looked like the topless woman pictured.”

“Just had to endure a tube journey next to a Sun reader who flashed his Page 3 at me, called me sweetheart and spat.”

“I remember seeing Page 3 for the first time in my own home when I was a young girl just entering puberty. I can still feel the burning shame, humiliation and shock I felt then. I remember thinking ‘Is this what women are? Why is my dad looking at this? Does he look at me in the same way? Why doesn’t my mum say anything?'”

“My job involves me having to attend a wholesale fruit and vegetable market in east London every Saturday. There are pictures of nude models and Page 3 in many of the huts, and I’m constantly being called ‘beautiful’, ‘princess’, ‘sexy’, ‘gorgeous’ and being wolf whistled at. This morning one of the men followed me to the toilets and demanded sex. It was one of the most intimidating things that has ever happened to me.”

Page 3 is just one product of a deeply broken society which regards women as sexual objects, whose primary purpose is for the pleasure of men. Everywhere in the media, women’s bodies are objectified, judged and used to sell products. We are bombarded with adverts depicting scantily clad and highly sexualised women, while men are usually fully dressed. And it’s not just in the media that women’s bodies are seen as up for grabs – Everyday Sexism is replete with stories of women being treated like second-class citizens, harassed on public transport, spat at, grabbed in the street, groped and raped. Further afield, the picture gets even bleaker. Domestic violence, honour killings, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and sex trafficking are just some of the ways women are exploited and abused around the world.

When I despair at the way women are treated today, it is immensely refreshing to look to Jesus and the example he sets. The Gospels are full of Jesus’ interactions with women, and in every situation he affirms their value by treating them with dignity and respect, refusing to judge, and bringing healing and forgiveness. He spoke with a Samaritan woman (John 4), stood up for a woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11), healed a woman no one else would touch (Matthew 9:20-22), honoured and forgave the sinful woman who anointed him with perfume (Luke 7:36-50), and even appeared first to women after his resurrection (Luke 24:1-12). Again and again, Jesus confused his disciples and defied the deeply patriarchal society in which he lived by treating women as equals.

And for our society, one in which Page 3 exists (for now), a society which sexualises and objectifies women at every turn, perhaps these sobering words of Jesus are most apt:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:27-28

What you can do:

  • Sign the petition for No More Page 3.
  • Take some time to read women’s experiences on Everyday Sexism.
  • If you are struggling with pornography, know that you are not alone, and seek some help. This article from Plain Simple Faith has some good ideas for ways to beat the addiction.
  • Set a godly example to your friends by refusing to join in conversations which objectify women.

Image: The Water of Life Discourse between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well by Angelika Kauffmann (wikimedia commons)

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Category: Blogs

February, 2015

Comments (1)

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  1. John Steley says:

    Thanks Emily, this is a very useful essay.

    Let us not forget however the challenges facing men and boys. I do not agree with everything Warren Farrell says but you, and others, might find this video interesting:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qi1oN1icAYc
    .

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