Should Page 3 be scrapped?
But its defenders - including former deputy editor of The Sun Neil Wallis - say only Guardian reading liberals are bothered about topless women appearing in national newspapers.
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"Don't like it? Don't buy it!" So says the ever-helpful internet commenter. Sweetly thinking they're the first to make this insightful point. And at first sight it really does seem like the answer to my prudish eyes, that can't cope with a bit of flesh. Just don't look at it. Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that?
Unfortunately, sage as this advice is, it fails to address the reasons behind the No More Page Three campaign. Because the problem with Page 3 is not contained within that page. The problem with Page Three is that women's main function in the UK's highest circulating paper is adornment. The problem with Page Three is what happens to people after they have seen that page and its context over and over again, for days, months, years. The problem with Page Three is that these people make up the society that I, and other women, have to live in. So although I'd love a single action of mine to have the power to change an entire society, I sadly fear that my not buying the Sun, or not looking at Page Three, just isn't going to cut it.
To all those who are now scoffing at the idea that repeated exposure to an image might have an effect on the way you think, I suggest you consider why £16.1 billion was spent on advertising in the UK last year; do you really think those advertisers are just drawing our attention to some great products that they hope we will make logical decisions on?
Of course not: they are vying for our brain space with jingles, vivid imagery and catchy phrases, so that when the time comes to buy insurance or dishwasher tablets, theirs is the one that jumps into our heads. And if that doesn't convince you, what about David 'personal responsibility' Cameron, who has got so keen on 'nudge theory' -- and rightly so according to the latest figures.
So in which direction does Page Three nudge us? Let me introduce the uninitiated to a little box called 'News in Briefs'. This little box purports to be the thoughts of the girl posing that day; they are presented in erudite fashion, and contain an esoteric quotation. And the message of this funny little box is clear: these women posing for us in their pants are "as daft as they look". We are meant to chortle at the idea that a beautiful woman, who poses for us to "admire", could possibly have read Nietzsche, could possibly understand physics, could possibly formulate any coherent thoughts whatsoever.
It's not that I have a particular problem with News in Briefs and would be happy if it were taken away - on the contrary, I think it's a useful indicator of just how 'empowering' the Sun really thinks Page Three is. And it's a potent revelation of what kind of "empowerment" the Sun is talking about here for these women: it's talking about the power to make people look at you and not listen to you. Or if they do listen to you, to laugh at you and dismiss you.
And what happens in a world where women are judged on their looks rather than their minds?
I've written about the treatment meted out to Clare Short when she took on the Sun. Like News in Briefs, the Sun's behaviour is highly indicative of their worldview, where the usefulness of women exists in direct correlation to their attractiveness (as judged by the Sun's editorial team). Short's arguments were given short shrift. Instead, the Sun chose to make their argument by emphasising Short's fatness, frumpiness, ugliness and - god help us - oldness. Their message? If you're not 'good' enough to be a Page Three girl, your opinions are irrelevant - and considering how relevant Page Three girls' opinions are, well, why do I, only a woman, even bother writing? (cue inevitable comment telling me to shut up and make a sandwich)
But let's move beyond the Sun and have a look at the wider world in which it exists. Let's consider a certain US Secretary of State, who dared to bare her make-up-less face in public. It's not so much that the coverage was mainly negative and shocked: it's that there was any coverage at all. This was not just any woman going without make-up, it was arguably the most powerful woman in the world. The position of the US means that her decisions affect many of us materially - and yet the world's media spent about a week fretting over the meaning of her wearing glasses.
Let's consider a world where 92% of girls under 22 say that 'they hate their bodies'. Let's consider this unemotionally: even in a world where looks are all for women, it is hardly likely that 92% of these women's bodies will be worthy of hatred. So why do they hate them so much? Let's look at another finding: 63% of these women want to be glamour models rather than teachers and doctors. I can already hear the cries of 'correlation doesn't equal causation' and so it doesn't.
But it is impossible not to view these figures in a reciprocal relationship: wanting to be a glamour model is, at least in part, an expression of a desire to be desired. If you hate your body, you can have no reasonable expectation that you are desirable. This suggests that these young women are seeking validation via the only means that our society currently offers them: appreciation of their bodies.
And this emphasis on physical perfection is not just something that can be dismissed under 'self-esteem issues'; according to new research from Future Foundation it materially affects the ability of women to succeed: "Britain could lose some 319,000 future businesswomen, lawyers and doctors, as well as more than 60 women MPs by 2050 unless young women can be helped to retain confidence in their own abilities". The likelihood of a female PM is also reduced from an already poor 73% to 62%.
This is the society in which Page Three flourishes. It is the society in which GQ's Woman of the Year is presented naked bar a groping hand on her boob, while the four Men of the Year are dressed in identikit suits; conclusion. It is the society where a recent Vogue shoot commemorating Edith Wharton contained a female model and a female actor, but no female writer - oh, and there were three male writers. It is the society where 80% of photos that exist to 'lift' rather than clarify newspaper articles are of young women (Gill 2006)
This is a society that tells women that they are no more than the sum of their parts. If you don't want to be part of that society, you know what to do.
Sign No More Page 3's Change Petition Here
There are two nationwide petitions scrapping furiously for the nation's attention and support this morning.
One wants to 'Ban the Page Three Girl' from the pages of the Sun - you know, the topless photo of a pretty girl the paper runs five days a week (though not on Saturdays). The petition has been running for about a month, has attracted huge debate and coverage, not least here on The Huffington Post, but also in the Guardian, Independent, at the LibDem Party Conference from a government minister, on Facebook and Twitter.
The rival is Save Badgers from Culling, the move to stop a government-inspired move to kill wild badgers which may be inadvertently transmitting fatal TB to farm cattle. Despite having a high-profile champion in Queen guitarist Brian May, it has received grudging comment and coverage in the 10 days or so since it has gone properly public.
As I write, one of these petitions has raised 95,014 signatures towards its 100,000 target. The other has managed to scrape together 32,358 towards its ambitious peak of 1,000,000 names. Which one is which? Yup, you're right - the badgers are beating the boobs out of sight.
How can that be, the pundits cry, fooled just as those 32,358 signatories are fooled, by all the hysteria and shrill over-the-top support the stumbling campaign is getting from wide-sections of the wimmin who dominate the social commentary sections of the broadsheet media? The answer is easy to those who will hear it: NO-ONE. CARES.
I was first alerted to the No More Page Three Campaign on Twitter by my old friend and now brilliant Times columnist Janice Turner. I was her boss when she was Women's Editor of the Sun years ago. I liked and respected her and her opinions very much, and have always enjoyed seeing and hearing from her over the years since. She tweeted me, as an old Sun hand, apropos the new campaign to the effect of "Don't you think Page 3 is old hat and dated now?"
I responded on @neilwallis1 that "only women of a certain demographic" care about it, added that "ordinary women have better things to worry about". No, I don't think Page Three is out of date.
Janice then kindly re-tweeted my views, pointing out I was a former Sun deputy editor. The heavens opened - I was deluged with fury and outrage from an army of women all demanding like Janice that I explain who this "certain demographic" is while insisting they too were perfectly ordinary.
I sort of know I am making matters worse here, but here goes...
Overwhelmingly white, middle-class, aged late 20s-late 30s, university educated, work in academia, meejah, public services, know what macrobiotic means and how to use a fondue set, don't watch X Factor, go to Greece on their holidays, read the Guardian and watch Channel 4 News, suffer serious sense of humour loss at certain times... (add in all the other obvious ones I can't be bothered to list.)
My beautiful 28-year-old daughter advised me wisely "they also know what wheatgerm tastes like..."
They're the sort of people who would never dream of reading the Sun in the first place, and have no real idea of the people that actually do. Well, the Sun is a largely working-class newspaper that approximately THREE MILLION women choose to read every day. Yes, that is 3,000,000... not 32,358. The important word in that sentence is CHOOSE. No-one makes them, no-one forces them to hand over 40p that morning to purchase an item that contains Page Three. I've yet to hear an intelligent explanation about why the petition's 32,358 should decide whether three million are bright enough or entitled to choose their purchase for themselves.
Do those three million worry about Page Three? No, they worry about their kids' health, the rent, putting food on the table, work, their relationship, benefits scroungers, immigration, the telly, and a drink at the weekend.
I'm also baffled about the WHY of this petition? Why care enough about Page Three to concentrate on that to the exclusion of something in the world of sexual issues that really does need addressing.
Why aren't those petition signatories putting their energy into campaigning against, say, female genital mutilation? White slavery? Sexual stereotyping in the workplace? Forced marriages? Under-age sex and pregnancy? TxtSexploitation in schools? The list is endless - in my view, all these are far more important... but silence.
The very fact that government minister Lynne Featherstone mentions Page Three today in the same sentence as domestic violence is almost self-parody beyond words. You can't help but get the sneaking feeling that this petition is about making that "certain demographic" feel rather pleased with themselves, winning themselves a few headlines, preening themselves over nice self-congratulatory pats on the back from their peers and who they admire. "Gosh, look at how jolly brave and radical WE are!"
The other losers in this, of course, would be the Page Three girls themselves. The patronising way this "certain demographic" insultingly insist these young women are being exploited ("there there, you wouldn't know any better...") bears no resemblance to the truth.
Since the first on 17 November, 1970, there has been approximately 4000 Page Three girls. The original photographer Beverley Goodway would tell me, and I'm sure his successor the excellent Alison Webster would concur, that their most stressful task is gently fending off all the girls who dream of being Page Three girls but just aren't suitable.
The truth is that Page Three is an institution that has been there for more than 40 years, just like the leader column, the letters page and the cartoons have. If you buy the Sun you know its there. Women simply aren't offended by it. In truth, people see it if they look for it and many just don't. If you do, it's nice and the standard of the photography is always particularly high. I remember once asking Beverley Goodway (tongue in cheek, I have to admit) what made a good Page Three Girl. His serious answer "nice eyes and a nice smile - without them the best body in the world rarely works."
And why shouldn't a girl stuck behind the bread counter at Tesco, an office girl down the local council, the unemployed, find a new glamorous life via Page Three? Who are the 32,358 to deny them that? What arrogance.
No wonder the badgers are winning. Hope that one succeeds, by the way...
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