Tag Archives: childhood

Why I support the ‘No More Page 3′ Campaign

page+3When I was a young girl – several thousand years ago – I was heart-clenchingly embarrassed by the newsagent top shelves and their smear of pouting, arching, private female flesh. I’d been taught that sex was a special, intimate thing that was shared by people who loved each other, so the cold public displays of female-only secondary sexual characteristics were a cringing mystery to me.

As children, we are learning machines, and as pubescent children we are fascinated by sex and relationships, so what was I to learn from this first glimpse of the way the world outside home and school treated sex? That ‘sex’ was synonymous with female display, for one thing. The mainstream magazines that were available to the average buyer did not show male display, nor did they show male and female interaction, so I was learning that the consumer of sex was male, and that the female was a product to be consumed.

But I understood this only on an emotional/unconscious level, of course. How it manifested was in embarrassment and a feeling of vulnerability. My child-brain wondered about the images of female nudity in the newsagent and how they seemed to waft sexual responses to female meat into the air around them. When men were looking at those images, I wondered, were they more likely to think about what was under the clothes of the women in the shop? As an awkward young girl, still coming to terms with (and feeling a little horrified by) ‘developing’ as a woman, it made me feel as if I was as much on display as those women who had chosen to be photographed. It made me feel exposed. It also made me feel as though I didn’t have full ownership over my own body. This may be difficult to understand if you’ve never been a trainee human in this situation, but it’s how I felt, and since I’ve been an adult, I’ve met other women and girls who also felt the same way.

I’m not, of course, saying that adolescent embarrassment is a reason why Page 3 should be finally and peacefully euthanized. But I do think it should be, and the reason for this is that it – along with other freely available mainstream ‘pornographic’ imagery – actually limits and restricts human sexuality. I know this seems counter-intuitive, and most pro-page 3 people argue that removing it from The Sun is a ‘feminist’ plot to repress straight men’s natural sexuality. They also argue that porn is an expression of sexual freedom, and in some ways I think they probably have a point. When porn is something that adult people seek out to suit the tastes they have developed individually, I can’t see it as a problem. But I think that mainstream, see-it-everywhere soft porn is quite the reverse of liberating because it squishes the vastness of human sexual expression into a tiny box of what is possible and causes insecurities that limit people’s sexual confidence. We unconsciously learn from it that to be a sexual being you must be of a certain age, size, skin colour and shape and present yourself in a certain way. Anybody who isn’t or doesn’t is some kind of asexual freak. Pubic hair, for example, now only features in niche pornography because it’s seen as a fetish.

Anyone who says porn doesn’t have any effect on our attitudes, feelings or behaviour must also believe that advertising is a complete waste of money. All media affects us. It must do, otherwise there’s no point in it. Huge industries spend millions on it and it can’t all be a mistake. Jehovah’s Witnesses have developed a printing empire based on the fact that if you keep people reading material with the same underlying messages, then they will keep believing it’s reality. If we keep absorbing repetitive underlying messages in our sexual material then we will keep believing that they represent real sexuality. In fact they’re even more powerful than religious indoctrination since they carry a sexual charge that seems to validate them as ‘truth’.

The essence of why I think Page 3 should go and that soft pornographic material shouldn’t be displayed where it can be seen unintentionally is to do with the way I think we learn our sexualities. Freud (who I often disagree with, of course, but I found this idea interesting) argued that humans are born what he called “polymorphously perverse.” What he means by this is that we are born capable of experiencing sexual responses and feelings, but that these are unfocused on any particular stimuli during childhood.

In order to explain fetishes, Freud argued that our experiences as we grow into fully developed sexual beings lead some people to attach sexual feelings to unexpected objects, like shoes or bannisters or the Eiffel Tower. But those of us who have more usual sexual experiences and input learn to attach our sexual feelings to more mundane things like other people. And we learn our preferences from the things that stir our sexual feelings in our early stages of development. That’s why some people find beards attractive and others hate them, some people like blondes and others don’t, some people like foot massages and others don’t, and so on. We’re learning from everything around us including the representations of sexuality we encounter in the media. In fact, in our much-vaunted media-saturated society, we probably now learn much more about notions of sexuality from the media than we do from anywhere else, especially when we are young.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this, until we examine whether the messages about sex we are learning from our media are a real representation of free human sexuality, or whether they depict only one version of what sexuality is all about. Many claim that non-mainstream porn exists specifically to depict the entire cornucopia of human sexuality, and is thereby liberating, and that may well be true. For the sake of this discussion, however, I am looking only at mainstream, freely available soft porn such as Page 3 and lad’s mags, because it’s those that we are most frequently confronted with and therefore those that will have the biggest impact on our learning about sexuality. What these media seem to be teaching our young people is that no human is sexually desirable unless they are preened and pumped and smooth and flawless and firm and their sexual doings are as perfectly performed as the edited cavortings of the stars of an MTV music video. Media representations of sex seem to encourage people to see it as all about performance – how they look – rather than how they feel. I don’t see any real signs that the sexual expectations on young people are making them any more liberated than former generations who were, at least, free to have sex (or not) in their own actual skins. They were not led to believe they had to mould themselves into some sort of impossibly perfect (and expensive to maintain) ideal before they got their kit off.

So, the reason I would like Page 3 out of the papers along with the removal of soft porn from the newsagent shelves is because I feel it is part of a culture that is just as repressive about sex as it was in earlier times. Instead of hiding sex altogether as earlier generations perhaps tried to do, we now put it on display everywhere – but we put such a sanitised, tacky, shallow, prescriptive version of it on display that it confines and limits young people’s ideas of what sex is.

I don’t want to ban porn at all, I just want it to be something people have to seek out rather than something that appears in front of our eyes whether we want it to or not. I want our children to learn about sex mainly from talking openly about it and experiencing relationships with other young people with real, lovely, imperfect, varied bodies and minds. I want them to understand that sex is fantastic and intimate and all about sharing your actual real self with another person (or people if that’s your thing), not about putting on a performance of an ideal imposed from outside. I want them to grow up knowing that sex is about feelings and not about how you look when you’re doing it. I don’t want our daughters to grow up feeling that the ultimate accolade is to look good naked so that men they would never want anywhere near them will drool over them. If our young people want to look at porn, it’s fine, but the act of having to go and find it in and of itself would show them that it is something different from everyday human sexual experience. Not wrong, just different. Doing this would hopefully lessen the influence of mainstream soft pornification on people’s individual sexualities and create more not less freedom of sexual expression.

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Thank you for my life, unknown man.

missing drain-coverThere was a feature on the radio this morning where listeners were invited to express gratitude to people who’d done splendid things for them and who they’d never had an opportunity to thank.

As I listened to a man thanking a music teacher for introducing him to Beethoven, I suddenly remembered that I have someone I’ve never been able to thank, and this person has made a significant difference to my life. Significant indeed, because if he hadn’t happened to drive down a street in Threemilestone 38 years ago, I wouldn’t even have a life. But there’s no way I’m going to listen to my own voice on the radio, so I’m thanking him here.

When I was five or six I used to hang out a lot with Jonathan next door. We usually played Robin Hood (the cartoon fox version), but on the day in question, some workers had left the cover off a drain on our street and it was full to the brim with viscous, gloopy mud.  The obvious thing to do under these circumstances is to find some long sticks, lie face down on the pavement and start stirring and sloshing and squelching. So that’s what we did.  It was extremely enjoyable, as you can imagine.

After a while, Jonathan was called in for his dinner (I was mildly middle class, spouse would call it ‘tea’), and the mud and I were alone together. You can see where this is going.

I decided I was going to get my stick much deeper into the gloop now that Jonathan’s head wasn’t in the way of the hole, so I wriggled forward, reached my arm as far in as I could and slid gently face-first right into the drain with one arm outstretched in a Superman pose (not like in my erroneous illustration).

me in a hole

So there I was with my red shoes and white socks sticking up out of the drain hole; helpless, upside-down and presumably slowly realising that at any moment I was going to have to start inhaling mud and dying (I wasn’t a stupid child). I can’t remember how long I was there, but it couldn’t have been very long before I felt a firm grip on my ankles and an interesting sucky squelchy feeling as I was pulled rapidly backwards out of the drain.

I can only imagine the image my rescuer beheld once he’d plonked me the right way up on the pavement. I was a bewildered human-shaped mud-being with incongruously clean red shoes and knee socks.
Not meI remember the man asking me where I lived, and me just pointing to my house because I didn’t want to open my mouth in case mud got in. Then the man took my hand-shaped appendage, led me to my front door and knocked. My mum opened the door with my wailing baby brother in her arms and encountered a strange man and a mud apparition. All I remember next is being plonked in the bath and hosed down. I don’t know if the man explained in detail or if my mum really took in what had happened, and I don’t know if she thanked him properly, but he actually did save my life. Our street was completely empty when Jonathan went in for tea; there was absolutely nobody about. I don’t know where this man appeared from, but I’m bloody glad he appeared from somewhere, because if he hadn’t, I’d have had to give in and inhale the mud.

So thank you for my life, strange man 38 years ago. I expect you’ve told the story of the pair of red shoes sticking out of a suburban drain a few times. I would if I were you because to me, you’re a hero.

Proof that women are definitely funny

I see what happens. Yes, I thought as much. A blog is the same sort of thing as a yogurt maker or a Remington Fuzzaway; you get all excited about it for a while and write frenziedly for a few days but then your brain gets all caught up with buying train tickets, thinking about mayonnaise and whether to hoover the hairs off the sofa or just wear clothes the same colour as the cat, and you forget all about blogging. Your blog ends up in the dusty bit between your chest of drawers and your bed, or left unused in a kitchen cupboard with a bit of food residue welded to it.

Either that or you have a crisis of confidence after watching Grayson Perry’s analysis of middle class taste and realise that you are just as boring as everyone else in the entire world so why should anyone want to read anything you have to say anyway? You may just as well post pictures of otters and cats with annoyingly spelled words added to spoil the cute.

So I need a kind of testcard thing to use while I am thinking about domestic appliances and filling in forms and not doing blogging. Remember the testcard? It was a picture of a wholesome girl with Alice in Wonderland hair grasping a piece of chalk in a decisive sort of way and playing noughts and crosses with a spooky toy. At least that’s how I remember it. She used to appear in all her menacing innocence on the TV at night and her purpose seems to have been to prove your TV wasn’t broken when you turned it on and there weren’t any programmes. I need one of those. Some sort of testcard thing to prove your Internet isn’t broken when I haven’t posted any blogs.

Instead of a picture, I think I might just post conversations that have amused me in real life or on Facebook. Testcard banter. Yes. I will. Here’s one that happened a while back. I liked it:

T to H: Who is Eva Mendes?

L:  Was she in Dad’s army, or is that the one that did the thing. The thing with the other one?

H: The one that used to be married to that woman that owned the hairdressers, y’know, the one that was married to thingy’s brother down the road. That one.

L: The one that ran off with the sailor, or the one with the prosthetic head?

T: The one with the prosthetic head, I think. And the gran with the doughnut shop.

H: The one with the limp. And the Labrador.

L: Yeah her. I snogged her once.

L: Before she had the scooter.

H: She used to do the Avon.

T: I heard she died. Of the aids.

L: I heard she had a fancy man in Haverfordwest, but that he won £250 on the lottery and took up with a cult.

T: I heard her sister used to pick bilberries and ram them down her cleavage .

H: She used to wash her hair with fairy liquid.

H: My gran used to call the Avon lady ‘Titsolina Bumsqueek’.

L: She used to water down her orange juice when visitors came.

L:  There isn’t a like comment big enough to say “I want to marry you”.

T: You can’t marry people because of their grans.

L: On the contrary, if they have rich and solvent grans who might die intestate, you most definitely can.

T: They might die of intestate cancer.

L: My gran died of plague and of watching the horse racing.

T: My gran died of deciding England is shit because it has no snow. And weaving.

H: The orange juice wasn’t her, it was her mother. Don’t get me started on her mother.

L: Her mother had very cheap knickers. I saw her emptying a machine at the laundry once.

L: You know, her mother, that lived in the flat near that other flat?

H: My gran died of sellotaping her toes together to fit in her sandles. And having buttery hands.

L: I had a hamster that died of too much giggling.

T: I had a wasp that died of disappointment.

L: I had a disappointment that died when I discovered Youtube videos of 1970s children’s TV.

H: I had a turnip that died of anxiety.

L: I had a bath that emptied all of its own accord.

T: I had a neighbour who leaked sap.

H: I had a shelf that hated me.

L: I once wrote a poem that contained an allegory about J Edgar Hoover going vegan.

L: I had a sock that sighed.

T: I knew a woman who kept her hair in a box.

H: I watched a film once. It was OK.

L: I once cycled somewhere I didn’t need to go and had a sit down.

T: I once stroked a weeping hippopotamus.

H: My great uncle invented drinks.

L: I once consoled an elf whose political career had ended in infamy.

T: Before I was born my mum participated in a minor revolution in Warwick.

H: I have a bag for sale: £8.

L: I had a breadmaker that went feral.

T: The man next door collects slug halves.

L: I bought a gourd that looked exactly like a career.

T: My aunt was a wart charmer who believed tambourines were the percussion instrument of the devil.

L: My last dream was televised.

T: Twelve people came in my room last night and carried off my cotton buds one by one.

L: My epitaph will be the face of a bemused child.

H: I once broke a fall by (accidentally) placing my hand on Cilla Black’s tit.