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My Fellow Women, An Apology

I don’t know if you’ve seen the recent Chocolate Orange advert, where the guy attempts to tap and unwrap but instead ends up smashing the table? Or the one where the girl tries to jump a puddle to impress a cute jogger, only to leave her shoe and her dignity behind? Or, come to think of it, any advert, or sitcom, or music video, or any reference ever made, ever, to someone making a bit of a tit of themselves? Well, whenever that reference comes on the television, someone in my family will automatically raise their eyebrows and gesture to me. My nickname was Frank Spencer until it was David Brent.

My point is this: I have quite enough difficulty trying not to embarrass myself, without having to worry about embarrassing everyone else as well.

You may think that I needn’t worry. You may think I think a bit too highly of myself. It’s not like if I did something really embarrassing, like had photos of myself taken in just a horrendous g-string, that would degrade ALL women everywhere…

You see, I recently walked into the staff canteen to find two male co-workers, one reading Nuts and one reading Attitude. I made some light hearted comment about the juxtaposition and was about to wander off and embarrass myself somewhere else, but I was stopped by an irate female colleague who had never spoken to me before.
“Don’t you find that offensive?” she asked, in a way that suggested there was only one answer. Genuinely worried about where we were going with this, I nervously enquired,
“Which one?”
“You don’t think that’s degrading to women?” I looked again at both titles.
“Which one?” She gave me a look like she was about to walk off, but alas I’m not that lucky. Instead I got a rant about how Keeley, who was wearing only a thong and a ‘topless photos inside!’ banner, was doing the whole of woman kind a disservice. Apparently, featuring in photographs designed purely for the sexual gratification of men reduces her sexuality to the level of a commodity and therefore downgrades rape to nothing more than a theft of services. These photos reduce women to the level of objects.

Now, I haven’t the space here to dissect all of those comments and argue the rights and wrongs. Perhaps you think that pornography is empowering, perhaps you agree that porn stars are exploited. It doesn’t really matter. What I want to know is, why is what Keeley is doing in anyway degrading to WOMEN – surely, if it’s degrading at all, it’s degrading to Keeley?

And why was topless stud smiling provocatively from the front cover of Attitude not degrading to men? I mean, I know they don’t actually make gay pornography, and there are no sexualised images of men, or any examples of men being used as objects in a photo, because obviously if that had ever happened ever then all men would be viewed as objects and raping them would be a matter of theft. But the guy on the front of Attitude – who was clearly there for his intellect and empathy – was still wearing fewer clothes than Keeley (at least on the cover). Surely if, in spite of this obvious and unique display of shallow titillation, men have somehow managed to keep their dignity and personhood, surely I can too?

“Oh you’re just trying to be clever,” my co-worker snorted dismissively (a phrase that could spark a whole new rant of its very own, but I’ll stick with what I was doing…). Her view was more than just widely accepted, it was so universally accepted that it was just right. “So you DON’T think that years of sexually provocative images have changed the way men view women, preventing them from progressing in the world?” she asked – no, sorry; she dared.

And I was never one to turn down a dare.

I don’t deny that the mass produced media ideal of woman has possibly had a detrimental effect, the extent and nature of which we can only guess at. It may well have also had positive effects – I’m in no position to know. But what I object to is the massive generalisation that my co-worker is more guilty of than the makers and consumers of Nuts. She has seen a picture on the front of this magazine and rather than thinking ‘Keeley’ or anything about her as a person she has just though: woman. She sees this image and thinks ‘is this what people will think all women are like?’ – why, do you? Because I didn’t see the coverage of the Shannon Matthews case and think ‘oh no, people will now assume all women are criminals and sociopaths.’ I didn’t see the coverage of Red Nose Day and think ‘oh no, now people will assume all women are comedic and frivolous.’ No one ever judges the actions, good or bad, of a male CEO, politician or entertainer and asks how they reflect on millions of vaguely similar people. Well, not unless he’s a black man, or gay, or ‘from the streets’ (whatever that’s being taken to mean these days.).

Now, perhaps my co-worker is right and men the world over are being as basic and quick to judgement as she is. But if she objects to that thinking she can hardly fight it by thinking that way herself. She can’t in one breath judge a man for taking Keeley as an example of womankind and in the next scorn Keeley for being a substandard example for the whole of womankind. It seems a bit counter-productive, furthering the cause of women by judging and interrogating other women for not doing more to counteract the poor judgement and bad actions of others?

It turns out my co-worker doesn’t like it. Or maybe the size zero model on the cover of her Glamour magazine really was chosen for her non-physical attributes, and has made sure she in no way negatively influences the way society judge women. I never got an answer when I asked.

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Co-founder and contributor to Scarlett Nation.

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