An unprecedented thing has occurred over the last two weeks, a thing it would be nice to celebrate, a thing which we have watched closely, with more than a little confusion, wondering quite where it was going......Page 3 of The Sun did not feature fully bare breasts for 11 days! Count them!! 11!!! Granted, some of those were weekend days when the feature is dropped anyway because, apparently, children are more likely to see the paper at weekends (are they really?) but, nonetheless, that is still 7 (almost) boob-free days that would not normally have occurred.
Perhaps more startlingly, nothing happened.....the earth did not turn on its axis, cats and dogs didn't start living together in harmony and men didn't forget (as far as we can tell) what boobs looked like, or have any kind of sexual identity crisis, or at least not one they were willing to share...
There was a sticky moment on Friday, when a bare chested man also appeared on the page, alongside a model revealing approximately half an inch of under boob...things looked a little dicey for a moment, and twitter saw tweets like "What the hell, why is there a bloke on page 3 of The Sun - what's the world coming to :/"...what indeed? One can only wonder at what is next, male nurses? Stay at home fathers? On Monday The Sun truly surpassed itself; there was a beautiful young woman in a charity T-Shirt and trousers and, other than a lean to the provocative, with flies held open, (although she may, of course, be having the same trouble I had with a work skirt which simply had a dodgy zip...who are we to judge) all was above board. Were it not for the history, this would seem completely acceptable. Although to be clear it is still somewhat objectifying in that there is no relation here to a news story and this woman was here purely for decorative purposes. This was otherwise however a young woman supporting a charity in a perfectly respectful manner, which is pretty difficult to argue against. What I'm not going to do is criticise the other days in that week, when the same charity tees were shortened to show provocative under boob, I'm not entering here into the overall issues of promoting military charities with Page 3, when we know that the MOD has firewalled page3.com as inappropriate content. Charities are under masses of financial pressure at present, regardless of my views or any others on the matter.
What I am interested in is the issue of "respect" that The Sun would, presumably, give as their reason for dropping page 3 for such a prolonged period. Respect for the young male service man who was brutally murdered whilst on leave and wearing his Help For Heroes T-shirt. It is entirely correct of course, absolutely, that this man and his family deserve respect and, so, the Sun covered up page 3, presumably, because they felt that showing a bare breasted young woman posing provocatively is disrespectful when dealing with such serious and tragic news. It would be like turning up topless to a funeral.
This is not the first time The Sun has taken similar action, although rarely for so long. Thatcher's death, along with April Jones' trial conclusion, saw movement of the feature to a slot further down the newspaper, as indeed it did during our gold medal achievements in last years Olympics (and, on the fateful day that Lucy-Anne Holmes picked up the copy containing pictures of Jessica Ennis et al, it was on page 12...It was still, however, by far the largest single image of a woman featured in the paper and so No More Page 3 was born). The enormity of tragedy that was 9/11 saw page 3 dropped for several days and it was also dropped after the Lockerbie disaster, the M1 plane crash and for Hillsborough, when The Sun made a fateful mistake with its piece "The Truth," which saw most of Liverpool boycotting the Paper, an action which largely continues to this day....
So, now and then, it seems The Sun takes itself seriously, it grows up and cleans up its act as a show of 'respect' for a particular tragedy and, in doing so, its editorial team reveal two important things. In moving it, they reveal their awareness of the fact that a feature containing a naked, sexualised image of a young woman is not as important as a serious news story and its in depth analysis and, in removing it altogether, they reveal their awareness that alongside tragic and serious news stories, such images are not respectful or appropriate. Let's just make that clear.....that it is it is not important enough and it is not respectful or appropriate.
So, with that in mind, within the context of a Newspaper, when is it important to feature a topless teenage image? When is it respectful or appropriate to place soft porn with news stories, TV listings and holiday giveaways? When does this give out a good message to the readers? If it is not appropriate at the weekend because children are more likely to see the paper, then why is it appropriate to continue to feature it on bank holidays or during school holidays and, if it has been decided it is not appropriate for children, why does the Sun run promotions of children's toys, family theme parks etc. that are promoted on the front cover and in TV adverts, drawing children to the paper? Why does it advertise with a child actor?
The truth? It is never appropriate to place an image such as this in a newspaper. It is never respectful, it is never important enough, it is never harmless and the evidence of that is becoming somewhat overwhelming. From EU research to government commissioned reports and in numerous other papers, the same conclusions are drawn over and over again. That images such as page 3 reduce women and girls' aspirations, their self-esteem and their ability to stand up to or report sexual aggression and assault. That repeated viewing can lead to men and boys seeing women as objects, making them more likely to be aggressive towards women, making them more likely to legitimise violence towards women and be less concerned with consent or causing pain. In short, whilst porn may have it's place (something which many would argue against) it should, at least, be treated with some level of understanding of the harm it may do to some, and only be accessed by those who have made a decision for themselves to seek it out. Let's be clear, I am not talking about general nudity here or discussions about sex or sexuality. I am referring to posed pictures of sexualised passive women, like those featured on Page 3.
You might think that the very time The Sun would consider showing "respect" by removing Page 3, would be when it is running stories about violence against women or rape (again, one would presumably not turn up to a rape scene or trial topless) yet throughout such stories, and even during The Sun's own campaigns against domestic violence, Page 3 stays firmly routed to the spot. When the increasingly horrific details of the Jimmy Saville scandal were being revealed it was deemed entirely appropriate to keep page 3 and, if that wasn't bad enough, the joint women's groups submission to Leveson revealed instances where, for example, stories of death threats received by a young woman were illustrated with a sexualised photograph of the woman in her bra looking provocatively into the camera, alongside a story about "Battered Towie Sisters," featuring a sexualised photograph of one of the sisters in lingerie, clearly eroticising and trivialising the violence. How is this appropriate or respectful? How can it be suitable to portray the victim of a violent crime as a sexual object? What does this reinforce to readers about the importance and relevance of this woman's experience, and the experience of thousands of women in the same position? Total disregard for placement of serious, tragic stories next to titillation are not hard to find - a girl savaged to death by dogs followed by Page 3 overleaf; a story about a family's shrine to their dead 3 year old girl next to a feature about the perfect cleavage. The awful suicide/murder of a mother and baby on the train tracks next to a naked sexy photo shoot of Abbey Clancy,
...and let us not forget the full front page bikini shot of a 'not 24 hours dead' murder victim, Reeva Steenkamp. Traditionally, The Sun has made it all too clear that no matter what has happened to any female victim, showing nudity and sexuality in order to sell the paper is more important than any worry that this may give the wrong impression, belittle the suffering or the seriousness of the crime.
Against all odds though I have decided to have hope.....Hope that this recent, significantly long period of no traditional page 3 image may be a move in the right direction. That The Sun may perhaps be "growing up", that the editorial staff may be testing the waters and seeing what backlash, if any, occurs if they dress the women in the paper. I truly hope that it is a sign that, perhaps, this popular paper will begin to take seriously its social responsibility. That it will begin to consider, not just some of the time, but every single day, not JUST what will sell, but what is important, what is respectful and what is appropriate.