It’s great for the campaigners at No More Page 3 that change has finally happened, but I don’t really view the event as a mark of progress for women, and I think it has slightly distracted from the more serious problems. The real reason for the change was not a shift in the view of women, but a shift in the economics at The Sun.
When porn is so freely available online, topless girls begin to seem a bit bland. For a guy, they don’t really provide any incentive to buy the paper, when you could see more on your mobile, much more discreetly. Since the page 3 girls were only putting people off buying the paper, and The Sun is trying to create a more family-friendly image, it made financial sense to drop them.
But does this reflect an improvement worth celebrating? It mainly reflects the rise of online porn, which is a tough issue with feminists. Some people seem insistent that all porn is degrading, others that there should be more porn targeted at women. To me, topless women seem harmless compared to the alternatives online, and I’m not so absolute that I’d ban all porn. It’s good that children aren’t going to see the pictures by mistake in The Sun, but they’re much more likely to see them online, and many far worse images.
I can see the reason why people do get excited over the small things in feminism. It’s a “broken windows” policy, that if you sort out the trivial (fix the windows), then bigger issues will follow (the house won’t get robbed) because it sends out a signal of no tolerance. But with feminism, it’s just not practical to sort out all the little problems, and tackling the bigger ones is much more likely to help. I’m a girl, and so like most of my peers, I’ve been whistled at by builders since I was about fifteen. I’ve also been told that I’m unlikely to be good at maths, and heard friends complaining that guys have threatened to rape them. We need to have priorities when tackling sexism. Otherwise, people will feel that feminism is an issue that is over, and that the war has been won. Sorting out surface-level problems is just counterproductive.
Some people say that women are just better suited to some subjects than others, and fighting sexism will never fill the gender gap. To be honest, I can’t say I know either way, and I don’t think anyone really understands how the brain works enough to determine whether women really are worse at maths. What I do know, is that discrimination does exist and so we can’t really look at the figures of how many girls do maths, and go from there to any views on how good women actually are at maths. Even at top levels of science, submitting a paper with a female name attached makes it less likely to be accepted than if you submit the same article anonymously. That was found in Nature, in America, not in Iran. The bias may be unconscious, but it is everywhere, and so we need to try to weaken it, and use other safeguards such as anonymizing more academic submissions.
I don’t want to tell people how to be feminist, because feminism is incredibly broad and should stay that way. Feminism is just the belief that men and women should have equal rights, and so it doesn’t matter if you think we can get there in a different way, so long as you think that we should head in that direction. At the same time, I think we should try to look at the big picture now and again. Without thinking beyond each campaign, we won’t really achieve change.