I am watching Good Morning TV. The two presenters are Susannah Reid and Charlotte Hawkins: one very attractive brunette, and one very attractive blonde. They are sitting on a large sofa, only they are almost sitting on each other’s lap.
I see short skirts and shapely legs. I know this because the person handling the camera exposes a full length of flesh every few seconds or so. There is a glass table in front of the girls; high enough to hide their modesty, and low enough to keep me interested. I don’t normally watch the news – it’s depressing.
This morning, it has my full attention.
I am not interested in the guests, nor am I interested in the news. I only peek upwards from my laptop to see if they are baring any flesh. I look across at my Dad, and I know he is probably thinking exactly the same thing as me.
I imagine we won’t be alone.
Or perhaps we are?
My only gauge is my experiences with other men. I think back to these interactions. We were very sexist. When we talked about women we viewed them as objects. Tits, legs, bums and fannies were the order of the day. We didn’t care about what was inside their minds; that would come years later when we realized that a good lay doesn’t necessarily make a great long-term partner. No, I don’t think we are alone in our thoughts as we break our daily toast.
I start thinking more deeply. I push aside thoughts of fornication and pull out my philosopher’s stone. Is this a cleverly manipulated scene designed by the media to attract more male viewers, and therefore help them win the ratings war? John Stapleton is a 40-year veteran. Why isn’t he interviewing the stars? We isn’t he front and center on that very large couch? Why is he reading the news? Why are his bare legs hidden from view?
I have been thinking about sexism a lot this week, and in particular the way that we are bombarded with degrading images of females on a minute-by-minute basis. It started after my wife asked me to watch a documentary called Miss Representation; a 2011 documentary written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom that explores how the media is under-representing women’s influence in the world; it continued throughout the whole Sun Page 3 debacle; carried on after I saw Ebony Kenney talking about her ‘best assets,’ and ended with a conversation with my 14-year old son.
The Good Morning TV setting that I described is not what I would call ‘degrading’ to females. If I am completely wrong in my view that the set up is a premeditated way of using sex to sell ratings, then it goes without saying that the only ‘sex’ that existed during the 30 minutes I was foraging for flesh is in my own head.
So how did it get there?
There are two main influences that I can point to that I believe became my values around the way I perceived women when I was my son’s age: The Page 3 girls and my father’s porn collection.
Let’s start with the Page 3 girls.
The Page 3 girls first started appearing in The Sun newspaper in 1970 (for those of you who are not British, the Page 3 girl is a topless shot of a young woman on the third page of one of our most popular national tabloids). I grew up believing that seeing topless young girls was normal. I remember the reaction of my American wife when she first saw it – complete and utter amazement. To the Brits it’s part of our society, to anyone else it’s unbelievably crass.
This week, it was reported that a feminist group known as No More Page 3, organized by activist Lucy-Anne Holmes, had been successful in their two-year campaign to ban Page 3 from our living rooms. I was glad. I don’t want my son to see that. I don’t think it was healthy for me, and I don’t think it’s healthy for him.
During my poker night I raised it as a discussion. We are all male, and the verdict was nearly unanimous. It was a ridiculous decision to ban Page 3. The girls wanted to do it, they were paid well, so what’s the problem? I was the only one who disagreed.
As we discussed it the story was breaking on the news channel above the table. A camera crew had gone onto the streets of London to ask the local builders what they thought of the decision. Are you having a laugh? The local builders? There is more testosterone in that group of men than King Kong’s left testicle. Predictably, as the media suspected, they all said that Page 3 was a wonderful thing and that it should never be banned.
It’s at this time that I want to confess. I have been a sexist pig, of that there is no doubt, but I am a changed man. I strongly believe in gender equality, and will do whatever I can to support this notion. I am, however, struggling to understand what it is I am actually supporting. I am confused, and my confusion upsets feminists, including my wife. Confusion leads to questions, and questions seem to indicate, certainly in some feminists’ minds, that I am still a stone age sexist. I’m not. I am just confused, and it’s the women who are confusing me.
I have trawled the Internet to gather feedback on the Page 3 scandal, and I have spoken to the females I know in my sphere of influence. I was expecting the research to uncover a hardcore group of men who were opposed to having a beautiful pair of boobs taken away from their bowl of cornflakes – instead I found only women opposing the idea.
So we have women who say they are supporting women’s rights by championing to ban Page 3 fighting with women who say they are supporting women’s rights by getting their little girls out and showing the whole of the UK. Can you see why this can be, initially, confusing for a young man trying to make a difference in the world?
“It’s only a matter of time before everything we do will be dictated by comfy shoe wearing…no bra wearing…man haters,” tweeted Rhian Sugden.
“So called ‘feminists’ really annoy me. Telling girls they shouldn’t do Page 3 is NOT being a feminist; women should do WHATEVER they want,” tweeted Jodie Marsh.
“If you meet any Page 3 girl who has gone on to pose for The Sun, we are all very strong-minded women that have made our own choice and feel very happy with what we are doing. We certainly don’t feel like we have been victimized,” Nicola McLean told Digital Spy.
How can two groups of women be so far apart on this issue? And if women can be this divided, how on earth are men supposed to understand it?
I asked my sister for her opinion on the Page 3 ban, and she said it was a travesty that it was being banned.
“If women want to show their tits off then let them,” she said.
My mother had the same view. In fact, they were worried that I was slightly nutty because I wanted to ban it.
“Oh no, Lee is turning into one of those crazy feminists,” said one or the other, I can’t remember which.
If you believe the underlying message of Miss Representation – and I sincerely hope that yours truly confused gets this right – then the Page 3 girls, and those that support them, have had their values shaped by the media, and those that oppose it did not.
The decades long blast of fishnet stockings, high heels, and exposed breasts that have been fired from the cannons of MTV, the tabloids and Hollywood have really hit their mark. Women believe that this is the way to show their strength. They believe there is power in bearing all. They would argue black and blue that the media didn’t shape their values and beliefs. They made their own minds up.
I don’t know if the Australian tennis commentator, Ian Cohen, was being deliberately misogynist when he asked Serena Williams and Eugenie Bouchard to give him a twirl, but I will share my opinion that he didn’t. I’ve been there before; harmlessly, subconsciously opening your mouth and allowing words to fall out. Words that wouldn’t harm a fly, but in this instance seemed to scratch the eyeballs of others. People like Billy Jean King for example.
“This is truly sexist. If you ask the woman, you have to ask the guys to twirl as well. Let’s focus on competition and accomplishment of both genders and not our looks,” tweeted the tennis legend.
We all know that had Cohen asked Rafa Nadal to bow, we would not be seeing headlines filled with words like ‘sexism’ and ‘misogyny’ and it’s quips like this that I believe create more harm than good for the feminist movement, and angers even those who have decided to maintain an even keel.
Choose your battles wiser.
The same happens in poker. If I am continuously referring to a female poker player’s looks when I am writing about her, then I understand how that can be construed as under-representing her. I would be choosing to focus on her sexuality rather than her skill. But if a dealer says, ‘cards please gentlemen,’ and there is a woman at the table, or if I write, ‘man’ and not ‘woman’ then I don’t think that’s something we should necessarily be worrying about. That’s a subconscious habit, not a deliberate attempt to draw more attention to males over females.
But there is a wider picture here that does need our attention and should be debated, and that’s the role that poker media has in under-representing the female form. As I have muttered numerous times since I sat down to write this article, I am perhaps not the best person to carry the flag. My confusion alone means I am not a worthy bearer. But that doesn’t stop me highlighting the confusion, drawing it to the fore, and allowing the merits of it to be debated.
During a Facebook trawl the other day I was suddenly confronted with Ebony Kenney’s boobs. I love Ebony. I like her style, and love her in your face way of dealing with things. I am inspired by the way she raises two children, on her own, and finds the time to carve out a role in the poker industry for herself.
She had posted a video that carried the title “Thinking About Sex at the Poker Table!!!”
Ebony is smart. She knows that the title alone will attract viewers – males in particular. She also knows that her body will attract viewers, especially when she is wearing a revealing bikini. That’s exactly why she created the video. It’s her leverage. She uses her assets and know how to grow her following. This in turn makes her more appealing to larger corporations that could possibly hire her. It’s a solid strategy.
But by acting in the way she is, one imagines she will divide feminist opinion. When female poker players write about the need for the poker community to focus on female poker players’ skill and not their physical attributes, the return fire will always carry a bullet with: ‘Thinking About Sex at the Poker Table’ inscribed into the steel.
“As far as tricks I use,” said Kenney when answering a question from an admirer as to what tricks she uses at the poker table to fool people, “I think I have them out on full display right now. They are some of my best assets.”
Whether or not Ebony Kenney’s strategy for progressing her career is one created subconsciously by her exposure to the onslaught of media representation of the female form, or not, only Ebony will know. But I argue that she will never know. The media is that powerful. It’s insidious. You don’t even know you are getting hit.
As a father, it’s important for me to clear up this confusion. I need a clear mind on this issue. If not, how am I supposed to teach a 14-year-old boy about the power of the media, and how important it is for him to recognize this, and to have respect for women at all times?
I showed him a nine-minute trailer of the movie Miss Representation and asked him to have an open mind. After it ended I sought opinion. I listened as he described, in some anger, how the documentary was wrong. There was no problem. There was no sexual equality. Viewing the world from his eyes, everyone was treated equally.
As I watched this young man express his beliefs it was like looking into a mirror. His viewpoint was not only borne out of experience, but it also emerged from his values and beliefs. Two parts of his lifeblood that he had inherited from his parents. He can change them, and in time I will teach him to do just that, but for now, he was me.
The views of the female poker players championing for gender equality should be taken seriously. If you listen to them you will not hear too many complaints of the way they are being treated. Instead, they are suggesting that more women could be attracted to the game if the media and organizations such as PokerStars, partypoker, 888Poker, et al. started to direct some of their marketing dollars into alluring women into the game.
Without their oft-silent screams I would not be thinking the way that I am today. I would not be watching documentaries like Miss Representation; I would not be trying to educate my son on the dangers of the media; and I wouldn’t be trying to adjust my pen when my mind automatically tells me to focus on Jennifer Tilly’s cleavage and not her set of aces.
But even if PokerStars and the gang wake up and listen, how they proceed from that point onwards is very interesting. The Page 3 debate in the UK has shown that there is a wide opinion between what being a strong female icon looks like. So how exactly do the large online poker companies represent the women they are trying to attract?
Do they focus on minds, or do they focus on bodies?
Skill or sex?
Poker’s pink & blue – now how confused are you?