Fascination with Kate's breasts and Karen's clothes makes idiots of us all

Wed, Sep 19, 2012, 01:00

THE PHOTOS, in case you haven’t seen them, show Kate standing beside a dinghy in a rolled-up wet T-shirt and a pair of bikini bottoms. They were published this week in a number of British tabloids, alongside text inviting readers to examine her “bulging belly” and the bare cleavage “popping” out.

Nasty? Yes. Offensive? Horribly. The subject of an international outcry over privacy? Well, no.

The reason for that is because the Kate in question isn’t Middleton. It’s Moss.

According to the tabloid industry’s often contradictory code of ethics – in which we’ve all now been given a useful primer – paparazzi shots of celebrity breasts are fine, so long as they do not belong to a British royal.

Like most people, I think the Irish Daily Star was wrong to publish the Kate Middleton photos. But what I really object to isn’t the single set of blurry balcony shots that show what the future British queen looks like with her top off, from hundreds of metres away.

Rather, it’s the way women are reduced wholesale by certain sections of the media to the sum of their (preferably naked) body parts.

Take the Irish Daily Mail, whose front page yesterday declared, “Kate’s a woman, not an object.” At the same time, its Mailonline website invited you to peruse those Kate Moss holiday snaps or a photo of the actor Salma Hayek, whose infant son had pulled up her top, exposing her breasts.

It’s not just the Mail. They’re all at it, pontificating loudly over the intrusion into Middleton’s life before inviting you to have a goo at Emma Watson’s fractionally exposed nipple or Kirstie Alley’s weight loss.

Of course, the prurient fascination with the lives, the choices and the bodies of women isn’t confined to the British tabloid press.

Several Irish newspapers ran photographs this week of Sharon Collins, who was recently released from prison.

The images were accompanied by references to her “blonde tresses” and her “tight jeans and pink fitted shirt”. It’s difficult to see what public interest, if any, is being served here.

And where is the public interest in the ongoing fascination with the wardrobe of Karen Woods, the wife of Seán Quinn jnr? Or in the full page the Irish Daily Star devoted this week to the outfits worn by Catherine Nevin during her trial a full 12 years ago?

Women such as Collins, Woods and Nevin – along with celebrities such as Moss – are perceived as being “in the public eye” and so have waived their right to be asked whether they consent to having their photographs taken.

“Consent” is the word that keeps coming up in the debate about the way women are represented in the media. It’s the stock argument trotted out to justify the chief principle on which so many titles seem to operate: that attractive women are always a good story, especially when nude.

According to the tabloid code of ethics, Rosanna Davison consented to be photographed naked for Playboy, so it’s valid to splash the images across the papers.

The women on page three of the Sun are happy to do it; ergo it is only joyless, ageing feminists who could possibly object.

Ditto the bikini-clad models who are a staple feature of the Irish PR industry, promoting everything from betting products to new smoothie flavours.

It’s as though consent somehow confers newsworthiness. But what about the rest of us? What about those of us who would prefer not to have copies of Davison’s bikini shoot, as lovely as she is, thrust in our faces at work? What about those of us who’d rather not have to sit on a bus during rush hour amid a sea of page threes?

I can’t be alone in feeling awkward when I get into a taxi and a bare-breasted woman is staring back at me from a newspaper on the front seat.

Or if I’m trying to have a conversation with a male colleague about an article, and Watson’s nipple keeps popping up on the screen in front of us.

And it’s not just women who feel uncomfortable. A male friend told me how he cringed when he went into the men’s toilet in a city-centre pub and found Davison’s photoshoot strewn about the cubicle.

The fascination with women’s bodies demeans all of us. Women are diminished by being made objects of titillation or ridicule, reduced to a bloated stomach or a nice rack.

The part that is hardest to understand in all of this is why we allow ourselves to be complicit.

Because the target for those Kate Moss pictures isn’t men, it’s women – just as Closer, the French magazine that published the first Middleton shots, is aimed primarily at a female readership.

But men are diminished by it too – reduced to pathetic beings who can’t possibly be expected to concentrate on a report about hospital consultants’ pay unless they’ve had their daily fix of breasts.

The tabloid media doesn’t discriminate: it makes idiots of us all.

A lesson in childcare

A PROFESSOR of anthropology at American University, in Washington DC, has reignited the debate about breastfeeding in public, after she broke off during a recent lecture to feed her baby.

Adrienne Pine is a single mother. On the day in question, as she later explained in an essay, her one-year-old woke up with a temperature. It was the first day of the new term, and she didn’t want to miss it. So Pine decided that she would bring the child to work.

She teaches sex, gender and culture and said she thought the presence of a baby in the classroom would be a good “teachable moment”.

When her daughter got fretful during class, she briefly breastfed her. The class ended, and she went home. As far as she was concerned that was that.

But then the student newspaper published the story. In the outcry that followed, Pine found herself becoming the thing she most dreaded: “A cause célèbre for breastfeeding.”

It’s hard not to have some sympathy for her position. I’m all for normalising breastfeeding, and I’m all for employers offering parents a little flexibility, too, especially in those difficult early years.

But flexibility is one thing. Letting a sick one-year-old crawl around the floor while you try to focus on doing your job is another.

It isn’t, as some commentators suggested afterwards, that breasts have no place in a public lecture hall. It’s more that babies don’t.

The next time her daughter was sick, Pine sensibly did what every other working parent does when they find themselves in a similar bind: she left her with a babysitter.

Home running costs send logic through the roof  

NEW FIGURES reveal – again – the yawning deficit of logic in the Irish preoccupation with owning the roof over your head.

According to AA Home Insurance and independent research carried out by this newspaper, the average annual cost of owning and maintaining a home, based on today’s house prices, is €15,400 a year. The study took into account the cost of mortgages, home insurance and utility bills as well as a basket of 10 other goods and services. It found the bottom line is that homeowners need to earn €40,000 just to stay afloat.

Worse, if you bought in 2007 and paid the average price of €344,000, the price you pay for the privilege of not renting is €22,000 a year. For the equivalent monthly figure of €1,833, you could probably rent your own small mansion. What was that we used to say about dead money?

joconnell@irishtimes.com, @jenoconnell

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