Talking Politics

The Sun’s front page shows how it really feels about women

By Jane Fae

Dismay at the media treatment of Reeva Steenkamp, former girlfriend of South African athlete Oscar Pistorius, turn to anger last night with what many are calling the most shocking and disrespectful tabloid front cover ever.

Steenkamp was shot dead at the home of boyfriend Pistorius yesterday morning.  Initial reports that this may have been an accident quickly reversed, with the news, a few hours later, that he was being charged with her murder.

So far, so awful.  On the day of one billion rising, when activists across the world were standing up to speak out against domestic violence and violence against women, it appeared that yet another name was being added to the roll call of shame.  Or rather, as also became clear throughout the day, a woman had been shot.  A model.  A fiancee. The name of the individual most affected by this story appeared sporadically: now in, now out.

Very quickly, reports began to reduce Ms Steenkamp - surely the most important player in this drama - to a cipher.  How easily she filled a role - the tragic female victim. How quickly the press began to forget she even had a name.

At which point, outrage turned to Twitter action, with those determined that she should not be erased from the narrative beginning a campaign around the hashtag:  #HerNameWasReevaSteenkamp.

That seemed a fair enough point: a useful reminder to the rest of the world that victims are not just that.  They have names, family, lives. That might have been that, were it not for the arrival on the news stand of the Sun (and Star) late last night, which demonstrated that, with Leveson receding into the background, shame appears once more to have gone out the window of many of our better known tabloids.

Because Steenkamp was a model, wasn't she?  So what more natural than to go large with her in a bikini?  That's right: a front cover, reporting the death of an individual, splashing a photo of her gazing steamily into camera.  The focus, lest anyone miss the point: her cleavage.

When asked about this choice of photo, the Sub newsdesk allegedly responded: it's a picture of her at work.  Or, as the top trending tweet on the subject put it last night: "The Sun's family values: a woman is never too dead to be masturbation fodder. A new low."

Is there anything more to be said?  Well, yes. There's a petition out there already.  Overnight it attracted over 200 signatures and, as the blogosphere wakes up, it is expected to attract many more. (The latest total, as of 11:30GMT was past the 1,000 mark.

As its originator, Hanna Curtis puts it: "By printing this picture, The Sun are sending out a message to it's readers, that women are worthless pieces of meat, who aren't safe from objectification even after their death.

"She deserves respect, as do all other women that The Sun objectify daily."

The one redeeming feature of this story?  While the net may be a source of abuse for many women - a means for keyboard warriors to hit back at women for simply daring to voice an opinion  - it is also a place where women are able to get together, to share and to campaign.  The response overnight to the Sun's appalling misjudgment is an object lesson in this, demonstrating once more that in this interconnected age, newspapers can no longer carry on with "sexism as usual".

It may not stop them: but in time, it may give them pause for thought.

Jane Fae is a feminist and writer on gender issues. You can read more of her writing here and follow her on Twitter here.

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