Emma Cowing: ‘Cultural differences’ impact Page 3

Emma Cowing

Emma Cowing

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STRANGE phrase, “cultural differences”. Up there with “annual leave”, “all walks of life” and “panda pregnancy” as an idiom that could mean practically anything at all.

Last week “cultural differences” were used in Ireland to hide women’s breasts. The Irish edition of the Sun has stopped printing topless pictures on Page 3. This is quite a coup, particularly for the longstanding No More Page 3 campaign (catchphrase: “because boobs aren’t news”), which has been petitioning the paper and its owner, Rupert Murdoch, to drop the images for some time, rightly arguing that they are degrading to women.

Irish editor Paul Clarkson said of the move: “In the Irish Sun we strive to share the qualities that make the newspaper great in print and digital, but we also strive to cater for our own readers’ needs and reflect the cultural differences in Ireland.”

I’m curious, however. The Sun has been published in Ireland since the 1960s. Have they just noticed there are “cultural differences” between Ireland and the UK? Has the notion only dawned on the publishers in the past seven days?

Either way, it’s intriguing to note that since the move there has been just one complaint about the lack of bare nipples. It seems it’s the bikini tops wot won it.

I’m still not convinced by the “cultural differences” argument, however. I suspect that what is more likely is Murdoch may be sending up a test balloon to see what happens when you stop putting breasts in a national newspaper. If sales of the Irish edition collapse overnight they’ll be back before you can even whisper “cultural differences”. If there is no perceptible dent in circulation, it may lead to a wider take-up by the title in the UK.

But before we start popping the Cava corks and declaring a victory for feminism, it’s worth remembering two things. First: the Irish Sun has not replaced those topless pictures with a lengthy treatise on the social consequences of pornographic consumption by Andrea Dworkin. Instead they are using women in tops, and skimpy ones at that – meaning there is still rather more flesh on show than material.

Secondly, we must also remember that part of the reason men no longer hanker so much for topless women in the Sun is because they can find topless women online far more easily, and often for free. Porn is still everywhere, it’s just that how those who use it access it has changed. And unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot more than “cultural differences” to fix that.

SPEAKING of what happens online, the death of 14-year-old Hannah Smith, who took her own life after being the subject of relentless online bullying on a website – has focused many minds on why we are not doing enough in this country to protect our children from the ghastly things said in the often anonymous forum that is the internet. Her father, David, has accused Prime Minister David Cameron of “ignoring” the problem and says we must introduce legislation to protect our children. I agree. But I wonder too about the parents of the bullies. Do they know their children are bullies, and how would they go about stopping them? Such things are, sadly, very difficult to legislate against.

I DON’T know what’s been keeping you awake at night lately, but judging by the trending topics on Twitter an awful lot of people have yet to sleep a wink having heard the news that Beyoncé has had a haircut. The pop star has chopped her long tresses off in favour of a crop. There have been polls, arguments, debates, insults, parodies, to all of which I can only say, if you’re that worked up about what someone else has done to their hair, it may be time for a long look in the mirror. «

Twitter: @emmacowing

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