Something is occurring, there is a chink of light, a slow but steady turning of the tide in our UK media. It seems that the No More Page 3 campaign now has real momentum. It is not alone - Child Eyes has had some significant recent successes as have Object and Feminista's joint campaign against Lad mags. When I first became involved in January of this year the highs came and they went. Flurries of activity would occur, with Murdoch's infamous tweet bringing us 20 000 signatures in one week (it could have been more if the Pope hadn't resigned) and UK Girlrguiding announcing their backing with excellent media coverage despite the demise of Lady Thatcher (Is there a conspiracy here between ex-politicians and religious leaders?). These patches of crazy activity and interest would be interspersed with quieter periods and the sadly inevitable lows of Sun articles like the Reeva Steencamp murder coverage or the comparison of a Swedish woman to a root vegetable (I kid you not).
Over the last month or so however, there has been a palpable change. With reasoned and unchallenged discussion in the Scottish Parliament, the 43rd anniversary protests and a run of support from Universities and celebrities the last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity in HQ. The interest and support from unexpected quarters too such as Russell Brand and Jonathon Ross, whilst inviting some controversy regarding past behaviours, surely suggests a huge sea change in public attitudes and awareness.
In the meantime, as a sure fire sign that we have them running scared, David Dinsmore, current editor was once again wheeled out by the BBC to read from the "Page 3 Stays" prompt card. A stand point which rarely seems to be challenged by any depth of cross questioning. You know, bringing up awkward questions like personal editorial responsibility or addressing the body of research evidence linking sexualised images to low achievement in women and girls, sexual assault and violence against women, stuff like that. That said, there did seem to be a suggestion on this occasion that the Page 3 format is not set in stone and as many an amusing visitor to our twitter and Facebook pages have pointed out, it does make sense that a page 3 of some sort has to stay. The alternative presumably being numerical upset - page 4 directly following page 2 and causing an odd spare page at the back. Anyway, whatever it was that he was trying to cryptically say without looking like he was giving in, there was Mr D again talking about the newspaper keeping a page 3. He also referred again to The Sun's recent, factually illusive focus group during which some women were, it seems, very vocal about the need to leave page 3 alone.
David seemed to want us to believe he was surprised by this. I'm not sure why he thought we would be? All these years of conditioning, convincing a nation that a sexualised, topless picture of a young woman or girl in the newspaper is acceptable and commonplace, have had a certain affect on us all. For many they have caused body image issues, questions about our position in society, our role in our own sexual relationships. But to actually begin to see that, to start to take apart the damage of page 3 and similar images, recognise its effects relies on a certain depth of thought that our lives may or may not give us space for.
A difficult marriage, early family and several traumas saw to it that I personally reached 38 before I gave it any real thought and for many women, to question page 3 would rely on headspace they just don't have in a busy life. It could also easily be instantly shutdown by any fear of unearthing a tirade of abuse or dismantling a persona that has served them well for many years. To remove the blinkers and question the world of sexism we are part of, would mean questioning the very nature of ourselves and of those we hold most dear. For many it is an uncomfortable journey they do not want to make.
The NMP3 Campaign may have been successful, as were others before it, in giving people the permission to question and the space to voice concerns. It will not however reach everyone and it will naturally make some extremely angry, as does any force of change which seeks to challenge the beliefs that lie at the foundation of our current lives.
Despite the protestations of the editor the 43rd anniversary weekend saw more people than ever take to the streets to protest against Page 3. They did so in celebration of women and many marked the occasion by making clear the things that women have achieved that could be celebrated by the media. The question has not been answered - is it really too much to ask that the media in the UK mark the achievements, the talents and the intelligence of the 50% of the population that happen to have breasts? That they represent them for all that they do and are instead of drawing attention constantly to their appearance or the parts of them which may titillate. That they stop reinforcing an idea that women are or should be sexually available at all times, whilst just a few pages away reporting with horror the rape, assault and maltreatment of hundreds of girls every year at the hands of not just adults but their peers who view them as nothing but sexual commodities to be used.
During a "media breakfast" on at News UK on Tuesday Page Three was the first topic of discussion and "A senior Sun journalist has revealed that Page Three may not survive in its current form". Looking to the success of The Sun at weekends when there is no traditional page 3 there was a suggestion that: "What we do in the week might change." and that Page 3 in the UK may well go in the same direction as that of the Irish Sun and/or Rupert's proposed "glamorous fashionistas". It seems then that Dinsmore's words may to some degree be referring to the numeric alone and that page 3 as we have known it for 43 years may be about to don her last signature necklace.
Could it be that The Sun will join The Sport who are also "toning down" in their case their front page, in a last ditch attempt to hang on to newsagent shelf space amidst the growing tide of parental disquiet at the sexualised images sitting alongside the children's comics.
Following on from The Coop's refusal to stock lads mags without modesty wrappers and a growing call to age restrict music videos, if page 3 stops showing bare breasts will this be a landmark moment? I would say, at least to some degree it is. It would after all mark the end to a feature as we know it, which despite protest has remained largely unaltered for 4 decades. An end which will have come about due to the public's growing awareness of the consequences of objectification of women and the sheer volume of opposition. It seems however unlikely that a huge gesture of "The End" of page 3 will be made which seems like a missed opportunity.
43 years ago The Sun newspaper took an image, which was at that time considered pornography and relabelled it glamour. It bought the sexualisation of women into the mainstream and in so doing opened a floodgate of similar pictures in mainstream publications and advertisements. Clearly we cannot hold this newspaper solely responsible for the huge increase in sexualised images, approximately 96% of which are of women, but it has to take its share of the responsibility here. How much has this change, this rebranding of female images in the mainstream fed into a culture that see's women and girls harassed on the street and in public places? How much of a generational reduction in public and private regard and respect for 50% of the population lies with the incessant publication in news media of picture after picture of interchangeable, bare breasted, sexually available women and girls? More importantly if page 3 goes how long will it take to see that gesture ripple down the rest of the media? How long before that section of society, old and young, who think females are first and foremost to be passed around as toys, their appearance remarked on in public as though décor, notice a change. How long before the media that surrounds them stops supporting and reinforcing that standpoint?
Make no mistake, with or without page 3 we have a long way to go before the women of this country are portrayed as they deserve to be, as thinking, feeling, contributing, achieving citizens and as agents of their own bodies. We have a long way to go before we have equal representation and if The Sun lets page 3 slip away into a swimwear / underwear / semi naked celebrity page it misses an opportunity to make a far more important and game changing statement. To send a huge message to men and boys that this has to stop because women are not sexual objects to be used. To tell the women and girls of this country that it has to stop because they are of so much more value to society and to The Sun than page 3 shows them to be. Come on the Sun, "it could be you what did it".