I have a family confession to make: my younger brothers read The Sun. This of course is worthy of a post in itself, or at the very least inclusion in one of those ‘quote a day’ calendars, say The Unbearable Agonies of Being a Feminist With Male Teenage Relatives. (#521: finding The Sun on the kitchen table as I settle down to a meal which I’d rather not immediately regurgitate. #1, I have discovered after Christmas, is ‘perpetual mess because “It’s Mum’s job to clean stuff up.”’ Head/desk.)
Nevertheless, there is a silver lining amongst all the shame, the aforementioned regurgitation, and the feminist ire. Because free and regular access to The Sun does provide interesting reading of the ‘know your enemy’ style, and you know what they say about keeping those cheeky chappies closer than your friends. While I won’t be burning my copies of Virginia Woolf novels and subscribing to the Daily Fail just yet, I do believe in the sentiment.
Today was an occasion for such a WW2-esque inside job, as the front page screamed out at me that Katie Price was getting uppity about how herself and Harry Styles are perceived by the media. “Harry Styles is ‘fun-loving’…yet I am ‘shameless.’ Good old sexism,” she says, before the paper invites me to ‘see page 11’. SEE I WILL, I thought as I practically tore the paper to pieces to get to the 11th page.
It’s always interesting to see the tabloids take on sexism. Amongst the Daily Mail Autopilot-over-Christmas scandal re: Big Fat Quiz of the Year, one of the most noticable articles was about the misogyny of James Cordon and Jack Whitehall making sexual references about The Queen and SuBo (although whether the Fail would have had such an issue if it HAD been someone less like The Queen and more like Katie Price on the receiving end of such commentary is debatable.) And it’s true that their comments did fall under the UniLad category of getting away with crude jokes by filing them under the old adage, ‘boys will be boys’, which is so often used to defend everything from mindless aggression to graphic rape jokes – a good breakdown of what passes for ‘lad banter’ was detailed this week by Michael J Dolan in his article ‘I was a misogynist comedian’. But it’s almost encouraging that even the Daily Mail, with their pitchers of celebrity curves that are poured onto every beach in existence (still one of the strangest metaphors ever), are now using misogyny as a last resort to provoke some proper outrage. They could, after all, have just done another exposé on how fat Lady Gaga’s calves are getting.
But back to Katie. Sadly, the snippet on Harry Styles – winner of Bizarre’s ‘Shagger of The Year’ award for 2011 along with the rest of One Direction (yes, The Sun has been around my household for years) – was little more than an expansion of the front page quote, as opposed to a feminist essay. “He’s certainly helping with their promo with his antics and who can blame him?” she asks. The shrewd business mind comes to work. Anyhow, the main point is the same one that Christina Aguilera put across in one of the top feminist choons of 2002, Can’t Hold Us Down, which I’ve transcribed below for your prolonged enjoyment:
If you look back in history
It’s a common double standard of society
The guy gets all the glory the more he can score
While the girl can do the same and yet you call her a whore.
Oh, Xtina. You, your feminist message and your bottomless chaps defined the nineties for us all in a way that others could only dream of. Indeed, how come Harry gets awards like Shagger of the Year when Katie gets called a slapper? And she knows the answer: “Good old sexism is still alive and kicking.” It’s been said before, through the medium of Aguilera, but this time it’s in a wholly different context.
And undoubtedly, this is a fascinating message to be flagged up on the front page of The Sun. Of course, it may just be a slow news day, given that the main story is about a ‘sicko who shaved my shih-tzu’ (break-up revenge turns into Crufts sabotage: the stuff what tabloids are made for), but discussion of sexism on the front page of any tabloid is surely a victory of some sort.
While this is very much like preaching to the converted for those of us with a passing interest in feminism, one of the problems that those who – usually wilfully – don’t care to consider gender equality (like my brothers, sigh) have is that they are often presented with long complex arguments in answer to what seem like simple questions about why Heat magazine having a Torso of the Week isn’t the same as page 3. In contrast, pointing out simple incidences of sexism is why the fantastic Everyday Sexism Twitter account is so successful. Great work, Katie. Right?
Well, yes and no. The problem, of course, is that these papers use feminism for their own, pretty anti-feminist, agendas. When her regular column was announced in March, it was accompanied by a fairly patronising article about how Katie Price is actually really opinionated and has EVEN appeared on “highbrow” show Newsnight. The standout quote was: “In my career I started out by getting my kit off — but now I’m being asked to talk about serious things at Oxford and Cambridge.” She was first paid money by The Sun as a topless model on Page 3 but has finally qualified as a writer over a decade later. The career progression speaks for itself: women can (should?) show off their boobies and get taken seriously by Oxbridge once they’ve first given us all a glimpse of their knockers. All this ‘it’s socially backwards and inherently sexist’ malarky is a big fat overrreaction, and we should all just chill out, slip off our bikini tops, and accept that The Sun may well give us a column if we become famous enough in ten years’ time. Or not.
Needless to say, the rest of this morning’s column steers safely clear of any further feminist discourse: it’s mainly snippets on motherhood and other ‘sexy ladies’, as well as a confusing nib about David Cameron buying M&S pants which has apparently “ruined [Katie’s] dreams”, before debating the size of his knob. It’s not entirely encouraging to see ‘women’s issues’ morph into a discussion of Prime Ministers’ penises over policies, moments after calling out sexism in the media, but if this one previous snippet will make at least two Sun readers (and fingers crossed those Sun readers are my brothers) think twice about perceptions of women in society then it’s another small but notable victory.
In other words, The Sun may be covering their asses after the unprecedented popularity of the No More Page 3 campaign, but at least they’re covering them with something partly worth reading.