From an early age, my developing body seemed to have currency, I got that message loud and clear from the patriarchal system we all grew up in. There was always a stir of sniggers in primary school art class when trashy tabloids with bare-breasted women were used to line the tables as we did painting and gluing, and at secondary school, boys gave me a nickname revolving around my breasts.
I worked in many male-dominated environments, and was often the sole female voice of dissent. At one company in SE London which built marine systems, I was surrounded by male engineers and warehouse workers. I think there was one female engineer, and a sparse scattering of women in the warehouse. Stereotypical images of submissive women would circulate, and whenever I saw them, I’d speak out vehemently and deface them. I’m quite artistic, so I improved them greatly and became well known for it. The men in my office weren’t all bad, and over time my feminism rubbed off on them somewhat..I’d ask them just why they were ogling girls young enough to be their granddaughters etc. One of them asked me why I was “so cynical for one so young”, and I told him I had my eyes open to the ways of the world, rather than being a mere fluffy decorative addition to the office. They came to respect me.
There were worse offenders, though. A chunky squat greasy man called Mick was the Chief Engineer, he’d been a power-lifter when he was young and still had the bulky neckless physique, plus a good few stones piled on top. He’d always been alright to my face, but then one day I had to deliver something to his office on the other side of the building. I opened the door, and my jaw hit the floor.. the whole room was wallpapered with page 3 and other grotty pornographic images. We’re not talking about one calendar, although that would’ve been bad enough, we’re talking about no space on any wall not covered with grot, like a lifer’s prison cell. He must’ve seen my face drop – more than that, he enjoyed it – it was clearly a ‘keep out’ sign for any woman having the audacity to enter his fetid lair. What better way to tell women engineers and other workers that they were out of their depth, out of their comfort zone, and should leave the jobs to the boys? Well, now I knew the source of the circulating sexual images of women..
I went back and told my bosses how revolted I was, how that should never be allowed in any workplace, and how he’d leered at me.. he was high up though, and I was a lowly contract worker, I had no idea who I’d complain to, or how. My feelings about him were soon cemented when, approaching him in the corridor with a work-based question, instead of answering it, he gazed at my facial piercing and blatantly asked “What else have you got pierced down there?” gesturing to my genitals. I gave him a mouthful of verbal abuse and left him in no doubt as to what I thought of him and his porn-addicted attitude towards women. I told everyone I knew at that company, hoping to name and shame him. I was 19, by the way, and he was about 50.
Since then, whenever anyone questions whether a love of page 3 porn images has a direct influence on men’s attitude towards real life women, or is just “harmless fun”, I recite this story. I was already enlightened even at that young age, I’d objected to it from the age of about 13, despite derision from boy mates, as I was one of the only girls wise enough to care and see the wider implications. That was all new to them. I thank my Mum for telling me stories of sexism she spoke out about in the workplace in the 1940s and 50s – she made me aware even as a young child that any touching, any reference to my body parts or sex life was wrong, no matter how high up the offender.
It’s no longer the 40s or 50s, the world ought to have moved on, naked and semi-naked images of women should not be appearing in daily rags.
Why is there even any debate?