J’accuse: Tabloids

Let’s have a debate about rear of the year, argues JOSH SIMONS, but don’t drag the tabloids into it, they’re pricks


I did a quick literature review today. I looked at all the Tabloids’ responses to Tab’s Best Bum (Rear of the Year): over half of them published more pictures of women than men. The Sun, for example, included four fecund females and two manful men, the Daily Star, just women.


How The Sun ‘covered’ the topic

All of these pieces bar one end with the following quote, from a joint statement given by the CUSU Women’s Officer and head of the Cambridge Feminist’s Society, ‘The Tab should immediately remove the photos, publish an apology and mandate that all future publications cannot include the misuse and appropriation of women’s and other minorities’ bodies.’

Each of the articles also includes vocabulary like, ‘cheeky’, ‘controversial’, ‘blasted’, ‘slammed’, ‘loathsome’ and ‘childish.’ The Daily Mail went so far as to helpfully explain, ‘The competition has been split into ‘male’ and ‘female’ individual contests – with all entrants posing naked ‘voluntarily.’

Now I am aware Daily Mail readers may struggle with the concepts of male, female and voluntarily. But why, Daily Mail, did you place inverted commas round those words?

Perhaps it is because our concepts of male and female are constructs; words which constrain our parameters of what constitutes male and female. Perhaps it is because those with an agenda consistently misuse the word consent, appropriating it to assert their own abuse of power. Perhaps the Daily Mail has been reading Foucault.

Somehow, I doubt it. The addition of inverted commas is supposed to show that the participants did not really consent. For who, in their right mind, would consent to such objectification?

I do not think the Daily Mail and other tabloids ought to question the consent of the women involved. They have no evidence to support the accusation that these women were in any way structurally or individually forced to participate.

The core of my objection to the tabloid’s coverage of the competition is that it reeks of hypocrisy. How can The Sun end with a quote which suggests The Tab ought to remove all photos, whilst it publishes double the number of female bums than male?

The mysterious Cambridge-based group DreamTeam, offered a suggestion:

‘Either there is some bias against Cambridge…or it’s because The Sun’s staff consists exclusively of sexually deprived males.’

When asked if I could use that quote, Dream Team responded, ‘I doubt anyone knows who DreamTeam are outside of Fez but sure.’

Nor does the fact that tabloids have taken the photos and misused them, justify accusations leveled at the original article. There may well be complex questions to be answered about objectification, or the way in which nude female and male photos contribute to objectification, but that argument has to be based on the original coverage, not on what other papers have done with the piece.

Vitriolic writing has dominated national papers’ response to the article. A particularly bitter piece appeared on The Independent’s website yesterday. The first problem I have with it is its humour. Male bums are described as ‘a kind of hairy-arsed fig leaf’; Tab’s ‘attempts at ‘stifling the sexism’ are described as ‘half-cocked’. Very good.

I am also told, that if I don’t agree with the author I am ‘a loathsome basement-dweller in gilly, just-human form.’ If used in Scotland, a gilly is a professional hunting or fishing guide. If used on the street as an adjective it means you are eager or enthusiastic. More generally it means a circus wagon.

The content is what really sticks in my throat. The Tab’s original article is intertwined with stories about Oxford Rugby Teams threatening to spike girls’ drinks, and Durham Rugby Teams playing the game ‘it’s not rape if…’ These acts are sexist, contemptible and dangerous; do not equate them with a considered journalistic decision.

There are important debates to be had around objectification, which matter to all of us. Do not demean these questions with spiteful, incompetent writing and rank hypocrisy.