Press Media Watch Europe Gender The World Inequality

British tabloids’ objectification of women is a step back from gender equality in the UK

In 2019, the UK’s upskirting law made it a criminal offense to take an image or video under someone’s clothing. In the same year, Wales made menstrual products available for free in hospitals and schools, and Northern Ireland finally legalized abortion. Over the last few years, there have been countless wins for gender equality in the UK and Ireland. However, women are far from being equal yet – especially if British tabloids continue to objectify women’s bodies in their newspapers.  

Unlike broadsheet newspapers that provide reliable news stories, tabloids run on celebrity gossip, sex scandals, and conspiracy theories. Yet despite being known for reporting stories that are factually inaccurate, The Sun, The Daily Mail, and The Daily Mirror – all tabloid newspapers – were the most read newspapers in the UK last year.

I’ve spent the pandemic working in my local supermarket, a job which on the morning shift, requires me to put the day’s newspapers out onto the shelves. I try my best not to look at the front page of the tabloids – a 6 a.m. start is hard enough without seeing them hurl abuse at Meghan Markle, and use Brexit propaganda as a way to pedal the UK’s vaccine roll-out – but the other day, my curiosity got the better of me. I took a copy of The Sun, one of the country’s most popular tabloid newspapers, and opened it behind the till. I knew what I would find inside, but I was still shocked when I found it.

Three pages in and there was already a bikini shot of Walking Dead star, Lauren Cohan, blown up in HD, as she ‘spoils readers rotten in her latest photoshoot’; the fact that Cohan was returning to the show’s 11th and final series was buried among the detailed description of her ‘toned torso’ and mention of ‘those fans who think she’s drop-dead gorgeous.’

The Sun page 3 feature with Lauren Cohan
[Image description: The Sun page 3 feature with Lauren Cohan.] The Sun

The fight against Page 3 girls – the tabloid tradition of publishing an image of a topless woman on their third page – has been going on for over four decades. For a 23-year-old like me, this regular soft-core porn feature has been around for as long as I can remember. It took countless campaigns for this feature to finally be stopped in 2015 after 45 years of printing new explicit photos of women’s bodies every single day. 

However, as I saw in the copy of the newspaper I was reading, this ban has a loophole: women in bikinis. As long as their breasts are covered, tabloids can continue to objectify the female body and sell copies of the newspaper by printing suggestive photos. The “women in bikinis loophole” lets tabloids continue to treat women as commodities, and sell their bodies as a form of entertainment.

The “women in bikinis loophole” lets tabloids continue to treat women as commodities, and sell their bodies as a form of entertainment. 

Another way that tabloids are getting around this ban, is by having women write the articles that include these photos. On page twelve of the same newspaper I had picked up that morning, there was a double-page spread of nine female celebrities in bikinis – including a nude photo of the woman who wrote the article herself.

The angle of the piece was celebrating the bodies of the over 50’s, while also attempting to take down the ‘polyfilla-ed twenty-something wannabes’ at the same time.

A double-page spread written by female writer in The Sun that pits women against each other.
[Image description: A double-page spread written by a female writer in The Sun that pits women against each other.] The Sun

At first glance, a piece like this written by a woman to celebrate women’s bodies might seem like a form of female empowerment – a clever way for women to turn this degrading tradition on its head in the fight for gender equality, and release suggestive photos on their own terms as an attempt to control their own narrative. But by posting these photos in a tabloid that for over four decades has used female bodies to sell stories, a spread like this is just another way for men to continue to sensationalize and objectify the female form, marketing it instead as a new form of feminism.

Don’t even get me started on the fact that the piece was celebrating the bodies of women over 50 – something that should be done – by tearing down the younger generation of women below them – something that definitely shouldn’t. If your brand of feminism focuses on bringing other women down, then I’m sorry, but it isn’t really feminism at all.

On a similar note, in all nine photos on this page, the women pictured had what many would consider an ideal body type; likewise, there were only two women of color on the whole double-page spread. Again, if your view of feminism doesn’t include women of all ethnicities, women of all shapes and sizes, and trans women, then you can never truly say that you’re fighting for the rights of all women.  

I am of course not saying that women who share suggestive photos of themselves aren’t real feminists – I understand how empowering this way of creating your own narrative is, and its a great way to encourage female body positivity – but I’ve seen first hand the people who buy these papers, and I’m certain that the first thing they think of when they see these photos isn’t female empowerment or the country’s fight for gender equality.

In a post Me Too era, British tabloids cultivate a misogynistic culture, letting it grow and fester while the rest of the country works hard to scrub it clean; these newspapers provide some of the last remaining drabs of blatant female objectification in print. It doesn’t come as a surprise then, that in a 2012 YouGov survey about the attitudes toward Page 3 girls, 48% of men overall were in favor of keeping the sexist feature – in comparison to just 17% of women.

By British tabloids continuing to print suggestive photos like these, the female body will never be seen as anything but a commodity used to sell stories. It doesn’t matter how hard we fight for gender equality in the UK, if the tradition of page three girls continues to exist in some way, shape, or form, this goal will forever remain out of reach. 


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Gender & Identity Life

If you want to date a black man, you’ll have to raise him first

When I was 17, I had my first child.

He was 19.

He was a nice boy – kind-hearted and genuine – but he didn’t have a clue about how to take care of himself, let alone be somebody’s boyfriend. I remember on our first…I’ll call it an outing, because that was hardly a date, we wandered around the city of Atlanta sightseeing and getting to know each other. It was perfect.

[bctt tweet=”Looking back, I should’ve known what I was in for.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Then we got to that part of the “date” where we get to sit down, share a meal, and see if we have the spark—or so I thought. He said he didn’t really have much money, so I humbly suggested that we get some sandwiches from a nearby grocery store. I wanted to show him that I wasn’t bougie or high-maintenance. We got all the way to the register before I found out I was paying for my own food — and his.

Yes, girl.

This little boy picked up his own sandwich and chips and a drink and had the nerve to look at me expecting me to pay for everything. Looking back, I should’ve known what I was in for. Giving him money, buying him clothes, advising him on every life decision.

I was his girlfriend, but also his mom. I was constantly breaking up with him because I knew that I deserved better, but I always took him back. I chalked it up to him just not having a father figure and it wasn’t his fault for not knowing what he didn’t know.

[bctt tweet=”I was his girlfriend, but also his mom.” username=”wearethetempest”]

It’s no secret that there isn’t a father present in most black homes. CNN reported there are more than 72% fatherless black homes to be exact. Many children are raised solely by strong women who have to play the role of mother and father. For black girls, we’re more likely to turn out okay. We’re taught to be strong and independent and to get our education.

As for black boys, they’re more likely to turn out spoiled or lost. A mother can only do so much to raise a man. There’s a point where boys need a male role model in his life. Young black men are learning how to be men basically from their peers and years of trial-and-error. For the young black women looking for mates, it’s up to us to teach prospects how to be the man we need them to be for us.

You see, black women date black men based on their potential. You take what you can get and the rest, you can work with. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a man who’s loyal but really can’t do shit for you. As long as he’s not out there cheating, you have a “good man” and you can push him to get an education, a job, and do better for himself.   

[bctt tweet=”You see, black women date black men based on their potential. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

But it often happens that after you’ve invested love, time, money, counseling, encouragement, and literally built this man from the ground up you’re either completely drained, or the relationship is tainted by constant “nagging.”

Or there’s always outcome number three, said best by Kanye: “But when you get on, he leave your ass for a white girl.”

Did you know that 42% of black women are unmarried? It’s been the talk amongst black women since it was reported on ABC NightlineThose women who are married, marry down in terms of education and pay grade. Black women are thriving in every industry and our male counterparts are struggling to earn a bachelor’s degree. And we all know how easy it is for a strong, educated woman to bruise the male ego. Then there’s infidelity…. then there’s divorce…. So really, black relationships are doomed for failure because of generations of broken family structures and the shortage of compatible black men for black women.

[bctt tweet=”I didn’t have anything left to give him” username=”wearethetempest”]

About that guy, we dated for a year before I finally had enough. I didn’t have anything left to give him, and he wasn’t making the necessary changes fast enough. He’s doing well now, though. He now knows to bring money to a first date, open doors, walk on the outside of the street, and sit facing the door. He’s back in school and doing well. He got his license and saved up to buy himself a car. I’m not taking credit…but I’m taking credit. I consider it my service to the black community. He’ll be better for the next girl. But sometimes I wonder, should I have stuck around and been patient so that he could have been better for me?

I’m worried about falling into that 42%.