How the Broadchurch finale got me thinking about sexism in print

If you’ve been following the ITV crime drama Broadchurch and haven’t seen last night’s finale, you might want to come back to this post later once you’ve watched it. Alternatively, close your eyes and scroll past the next paragraph. There may be spoilers ahead!

For the benefit of those who weren’t following the show, or are in countries where it’s not shown, the third series centred around a rape investigation, and in the finale, it was revealed that the rapist was a 16 year-old boy, groomed and pressured into the act by an older male who had committed several unreported rapes previously. In his police interview, the older male, Leo, explained his motivations in the most blasé manner imaginable: “it’s just sex”. The scene cut to the steps outside of the police station where DS Miller was sitting, distraught at what she’d heard in the interview. Her colleague, DI Hardy, in his usual bitter, Scottish tones, explained “we’re not all like that – he’s an abomination”.

While it is a fictional crime drama, it’s not without its realism. I will admit that, after watching the finale, it sickened me a little to think that there will be men out there with similar attitudes – that men are just a slave to their sexual urges, motivated by feelings of power and domination, and a woman’s body is a mere plaything to be used as they see fit. Okay, such people are a very tiny minority, but where do they get such attitudes from?

I watched one YouTube video presented by the late Christopher Hitchens disassembling the ten commandments, who took aim at the commandment against coveting your neighbour’s ox, ass or wife – noting that a man’s wife was mere chattel and of similar value to his livestock (he also noted that this was the only one of the ten that condemned one’s thoughts rather than one’s actions). Obviously, this command was handed down to a culture many years and many miles from our own, but the devaluation of women is still an issue today despite many significant progressions.

Today’s media aren’t exactly blameless. You only have to look at the likes of Page 3, lad’s mags and other such publications to find examples of where women have been reduced to such base levels, all in the name of marketing. I don’t read such publications myself, and I’m not against any woman who appears in such magazines of her own free will, but my main concern is for their readers and their interpretations. Yes, the female body is a beautiful thing, in all shapes and forms, but where do we draw the line between the harmless and the harmful?

Let’s say, for example, in the centre pages of a magazine is a photo of a Size Zero model (Size 4 in UK), clad only in underwear, draped over the bonnet of Lamborghini supercar. Of course, the marketing department want you to believe that if you were to drive one of these cars, you could attract a woman of similarly-desirable aesthetics. Looking and admiring in a complementary way is okay – no harm done to anybody. Concern for her health and welfare, even better. Shaming her for her chosen profession – not exactly helpful. If you start seeing this picture as a minimum standard for all women to follow, and it’s affecting your relationships, that’s when attitudes start to cross the line into objectification and obsession.

The attitudes towards men in such publications is also somewhat questionable – at their core, are men are just hyper-masculine alpha meatbags, interested only in sex, sport, cars and booze? Imagine if everyone’s expectation of the opposite sex was defined by such magazines?

One article published in the Telegraph opined that men have evolved to become more feminine as a result of increasing female influence. Men and women in relationships are no longer the separate entities of “provider” and “home-maker” from recent history, but a co-operative unit. There will be a few that see this as progressively emasculating, taking away the status associated with the man’s traditional role, but fail to see the real-world positives that an equal partnership brings. Relationships are more open, tolerant and, for want of a better word, cooler: when both husband and wife share the load, tempers between them are less likely to become heated.

I strongly believe that, once men stop resisting their feminine side, and stop criticising or shaming the “feminine” traits in other men, we will start seeing a reduction in sexist attitudes and behaviours.

By all means, admire the beauty of the female body, drool over the sleek and aerodynamic curves of the Ferrari, cheer on your local football team and have a few lagers afterwards if that is what genuinely interests you… just don’t forget the difference between fantasy and reality.

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