THE BLOG
03/07/2013 07:45 BST | Updated 01/09/2013 06:12 BST

Page 3 Is Not All About the Boobs

Imagine switching on BBC Breakfast to find Bill Turnbull sitting next to a topless young girl. "And we'll have more for you later on the government's crime statistics, but first it's time for Boobs of the Day. Tracy, those are some great breasts. Tell us what you think about immigration..."

Shocking? Apparently not. This is how The Sun delivers its news to 7.5 million Britons every day. Open a copy and one of the first images you will see is naked breasts on the third page. Of course, the tabloid is not a public service like the BBC, but every day it finds its way into thousands of homes, cafes, trains, offices, schools, hospitals, and even to Westminster.

Since the Green MP Caroline Lucas gave a recent speech about media sexism in Parliament, the press and internet have been inundated with opinion pieces, blog posts, and forum discussions. But more often than not our politicians, journalists, and bloggers have simply retread the same old ground.

Here are six of the most common arguments defending The Sun's Page 3 - and why are they wrong.

1. "If you don't like it, don't buy it" - Nick Clegg's answer to the No More Page 3 campaign

The ones who don't like it already don't buy it. No More Page 3 activists are not preaching to the choir. They are concerned about the impact of erotic pictures of semi-naked woman printed daily in a national newspaper with no age restriction.

As emphasised by the United Nations' Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, there is a strong link between the portrayal of women as sexual objects and the attitudes that underpin violence and discrimination against women and girls.

The No More Page 3 campaigners are not a group of unsatisfied customers. They denounce the trivialisation of depicting women as sexual objects displayed in a widely accessible newspaper.

2. It's just a bit of a harmless fun

Professor Nik Coupland says the media have a significant influence in standardising language, images, and opinions, and they are playing a key part in shaping what society considers mainstream. Using pictures and language that belittles women into crude sexual objects, whilst largely ignoring them in their actual news content, The Sun and other tabloids help to fuel a wider sexist culture.

But this significant contributory role of the media has already been recognised by UK authorities, with broadcast and Internet content subject to the strict regulation for sexually explicit content, primarily to protect minors. So why the different standard for print?

3. "Broadcasting is pushed into the home, whereas it is often a matter of choice whether print media is brought into the home. That is why the level of regulation is tighter for broadcasting."

Ed Vaizey, Culture minister

It doesn't matter how sexualised pictures of women find their way into children's minds. The problem is that they do. And Page 3, likewise other erotic visual content, introduces some issues that are potentially harmful for children and teenagers.

Page 3 promotes an extremely narrow definition of what is sexually desirable: very young women, almost always white, always big breasted, who feel happy about showing their bare chest. This may not only have a negative impact on young girls' feelings about their own bodies, but also on the ideas that the girls and boys have about sexuality. Buying a photo of semi-naked woman in a newspaper every day sustains the idea of sexuality as a product to acquire, rather than linking it to intimacy and feelings.

4. Banning Page 3 would be "deeply illiberal" - Nick Clegg - yes, him again

The main reason is that the No more Page 3 campaigners do not seek a ban on Page 3. Although MP Caroline Lucas urged Parliament to act against media sexism - for example by making it mandatory for content containing nudity to be sold on the top shelf in stores - there was no hint of a proposition to make it illegal.

Quite understandably, an attempt to legislate on press content would enrage the British media, who are still recovering from the aftermath of the Levenson enquiry. On the other hand, some defenders of free speech seem to forget that the press is not operating in a state of total freedom. For instance, hate speech or libel are illegal and editors are accountable for the content they approve and publish.

So, how could Westminster address media sexism without upsetting news editors who are so fearful of state intervention? Soraya Chemaly, American feminist and writer, said that first of all politicians need to be able to identify to the harm that is being done - and that is what activists expect.

The fact that our most prominent (male) political representatives are belittling the harmful effect of media sexism itself contributes to the harm. David Cameron's famous "Turn the page over" quip flippantly suggests that women can instantly escape from the sexist attitudes that Page 3 helps to mould. If only all women had to do is "turn the page" in their everyday lives.

5. "I feel so proud to be a Page 3 girl [...]. I wish critics could follow me around for one day, then they would see how empowered I am."

Nicole, 20, glamour model, extract from a column. So far, the only "reaction" published in The Sun

It is tempting to endlessly discuss whether women who embrace their objectification are empowered or not - only this discussion completely misses the point of the NMP3 campaign.

The constant exposure of the public, including children, to erotic pictures of women nourishes the idea that women's normal role in public life is to show their bare bodies for the simple titillation of men and little more. The trouble comes when this idea fuels real-life sexist behaviour and thousands of women (who did not chose the glamour modelling career) are subjected to its pervasive effect.

6. "Lucas and her fellow activists should switch their efforts to the real issue: the explosion of easily accessed, women-degrading, child-abusing, genuinely corrupting pornography that exists in the wild west of cyberspace."

Paul Connew in The Guardian

In his piece, Paul Connew says the campaign is "tedious and disproportionate", given that the Murdoch-cherished "national institution" is an anachronism and it shall soon vanish on its own.

The problem is that it's 2013 and Page 3 is still here. And for Millennials, it has been here since they were born. But there is one thing that Paul Connew doesn't appear to see. The portrayal of women as sexual objects in mainstream features such as Page 3 is hardly unrelated to internet pornography.

He could rather ask: Why do teenagers go online to search for the crudest porn clips in the first place? An unexpected piece of reflection of Martin Daubney, the longest serving editor of lads' mag Loaded, says a lot about how constant exposure of readers to sexual objectification of women fuels the hunger for more.

If women portrayed as one-dimensional sex objects is considered mainstream, just where does that lead us? A debate that continues to focus on ideas of decency and personal choice may be simply missing the point.

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