Terri White’s Faux Mea Culpa for Playing the Handmaiden Game

This weekend saw an interesting array of anti-feminist articles written by women. I’ve already complained about Caitlin Moran’s complete lack of understanding about feminism as a political theory [despite professing to be one]. That article was utter twaddle. Then I came across Terri White’s faux mea culpa for her work at Nuts magazine and her part in the massive increase in pornographer. White disingenuously suggests she built her career off other women’s breasts. She did not. She built her career off the pornographication and abuse of other women.

It starts with this:

As the sound of jazz filled the air in the office that night I diligently got on with the task at hand. It was slow. It was laborious. It was tedious. It was decapitating topless women. I was associate editor on the best-selling men’s weekly magazine Nuts and tomorrow was the launch of Assess My Breasts – an online brand extension inviting women to upload pictures of themselves (or rather, their breasts) to be rated out of 10. But first, before we went live, I had to populate it; ensuring it launched with a 100-boob bang rather than a no-boob whimper. Faces were a no-no – part of the “appeal” was anonymity so the girls would feel comfortable with being publicly graded. And so, there I was at 9pm, attempting a mass head-chopping on pictures we kept on file and had sought permission to upload.

Decapitationgate was the peak of the “real girl” phenomenon in men’s magazines – ordinary girls, in ordinary situations, pictured in their underwear. A phenomenon we at Nuts had happened upon several months before and one that had made the magazine a huge success. And along with it, a success of the people who worked on it.

Seriously, where do you even start unpacking that? White worked on a project which reduced women to their breasts (apparently, you weren’t allowed to use the word tits, as if that made the blindest bit of difference) and allowed men to rank them. Let’s be honest with this: they were ranking them for fuckability and nothing else. Any pretence at a different meaning is just intellectual dishonesty masquerading as “fun”.

However, White does attempt a half-hearted attempt to understand the extent of the damage that the lad’s mags made:

While lads’ mags alone didn’t create this sexualised culture, they responded to it and reinforced it, helping it grow into a mass-market monster wearing a glossy mask of normality. We told a generation of young men that a woman’s value lay in the pertness of her breasts and willingness to flash in a public place before going home to have sex. The dirty kind. We told a generation of young women that it wasn’t necessary to get an education or build a career to improve your life. Just be willing to bare your breasts and look what you could win! A pot of gold! And a footballer! And I was a part of that for entirely selfish reasons. I tossed any concerns out of the window in favour of the feel of the monthly payslip and the warm glow of success.

It does lack some serious political analysis but as a concluding paragraph would have at least been an attempt at taking some personal responsibility. Instead, White decides to go for this:

But I still feel awkward at the thought of telling women that they should not and could not participate in this culture. The dominant voices in this debate are still those from the middle class, who can only imagine what it’s like to walk in these women’s 5in heels. I remember what it’s like to feel that opportunities just don’t exist for your kind and that when they come along you need to cling on for dear life. And maybe, just maybe, some of the women who claim to do it and enjoy it really do mean it.

Would I do it all again knowing what I know now? No. We did too much damage. While the magazines themselves may be in decline, the culture they helped to create can still be seen in towns and cities all around the UK – from the Saturday-night porny perspex heels to the casual DIY sex tapes and still-held hopes for fast fame. And, in retrospect, I could have built a career and achieved the financial security I hankered for without my Nuts years and without using other women’s breasts as my stepping stone to get there.

Let’s be honest here. This isn’t really a mea culpa for her participation in an industry which deliberately and maliciously harms women and creates a reduction construction of female sexuality which effectively erases it out of existence. It’s a “it’s not my fault. I didn’t have any choice but anyways the women who did bare their breasts totally had the choice not too” argument favoured by liberal, so-called “sex positive” feminists [that would be sex positive if you think turning over control of human sexuality to Hugh Hefner was a good plan. The term is about as sensible as calling the anti-choice wingnuts in the abortion debate “pro-life” when its patently obvious they don’t give a flying fuck about children since they are the same asshats which vote against universal health care, welfare and education in favour of building more bombs].

So, I’m obviously angry here but its a righteous anger. I want my children to grow up and have healthy sexual experiences with people who love them. I do not want my girls growing up in a society that only celebrates the “accomplishments” of women who have breast implants and sex tapes because those aren’t accomplishments. They are the continuing victimisation and degradation of women. White might be feeling some middle class guilt at exploiting young women but not enough to actually take responsibility for it.

And, frankly, the argument that all the men she worked with were “loving, family men” is laughable. It really is. That’s what people say about their next door neighbour who turns out to be a serial rapist, or the violent alcoholic from up the road who kills his wife or the drunk driver. Women say it because we are expected to play nice and never, ever critique men’s roles in propagating and encouraging misogyny. We just get to blame other women. I call bullshit.

Terri White got a financial reward for her participation in perpetuating misogyny; a misogyny that required women at the forefront to prevent those very accusations. White, Lili Harges, Indira Das-Gupta, and Sali Hughes profited off and assisted in the dramatic increase in the pornographication of young women’s sexuality. Sometimes, all we need to hear is: I’m sorry. I fucked up. Feminists know how hard it is to succeed in our Capitalist-Patriarchy which punishes any woman who puts her head above the parapet but false mea culpas are as damaging as continuing to profit from misogyny.

We all know its a game. Let’s just be more honest about playing it.

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