The largest teaching union, the NUT, has just announced its support for the No more page 3 campaign, stating: 'The consequences of gender stereotyping and the sexualisation of girls in the media are very real...Not only can such images impact on the self-respect and confidence of young girls it could also have a detrimental influence on boys as they develop views of women'.
Such a statement from teaching professionals challenges David Cameron's dismissal of the issue of Page 3 in deference to 'consumer choice' in a recent interview on Woman's Hour. Comparing the High St to the internet, Cameron said: 'Children can't go into the shops or the cinema and buy things meant for adults or have adult experiences - we rightly regulate to protect them.'
He is wrong, children CAN very easily go into shops and buy things meant for adults, they can go into any newsagent or supermarket and buy the Sun, a non age-restricted newspaper which displays adult content. Children don't even have to buy it to be aware of Page 3, as it is the most visible newspaper in the U.K., available to read in cafes, children's play areas, takeaways, barbers -as well as being opened in all public spaces where people read newspapers.
Teachers see the impact of this awareness of Page 3 amongst schoolchildren, and the No More Page 3 campaign continually receives evidence from both schoolgirls and boys as to how its influence plays out in real life. These stories below are typical:
- "The boys in my class at school have made a folder where they stick pictures of Page 3 girls and stick pictures of all our faces on them that they've printed off from Facebook. They are always laughing and showing it to us to upset us and we can't do anything about it."
- "It makes it possible for a middle aged man to show a photo of a topless woman to a 14 year old girl on a bus and say "she looks a bit like you love!" while leering at her."
- "I'm 16 and have been receiving sexist comments from older boys since I was about 13, in school and out of it. They shout "rape!" if they're in a group walking down the corridor and see a girl, loudly rate girls out of 10 while we walk past, look at Page 3 and compare girls to it if we walk past, discuss girls' bodies, it happens literally every day and even worse is girls go along with it and sometimes JOIN IN to impress them. Boys in my year and younger boys make lots of comments obviously spurred on by the older boys. I never wear skirts to school anymore as it'd sometimes get lifted in the lunch queue.. how anyone can say it's harmless I don't get! Why can't the editor of The Sun or a lads' mag spend one day in a school and see what girls have to put up with in the culture they help create. I challenge them to do it and still think Page 3 or their mag is harmless."
- "We didn't have the Sun at home when I was growing up, but like everyone else, I knew what was on page 3. Which meant that at 14 when I got a paper round, I suddenly had access to something which for a boy at that age was entirely encapsulating. I would always have a quick peek before posting the paper each morning, this cycle inevitably led me to being entirely addicted to hardcore porn for years. At 20 this is still something I struggle with and I passionately wish that I had never gone near it in the first place."
- "I'm a 15 year old boy and find the exposure of a lady's breasts in a newspaper is not right. I have met other boys who seem to have an obsession with the images and make degrading remarks about them and girls in general. It's sending out wrong messages and should be banned."
This disrespectful attitude from boys towards girls is not innate, it is learned, and Page 3 is our society's most salient teaching tool. Young boys intuitively understand that the message of Page 3 is not a celebration but a put-down of women.
The pernicious influence of Page 3 lies in the fact that newspapers, unlike the internet, represent the socially accepted norms of a society. In this country young girls see that their society publicly promotes a view of women which reduces them to the status of passive sexual entertainment for men. Boys and young men learn the 'normal' way to view women from the older males in their culture, and newspaper editors have the social platform to drive home their message every day. Page 3 gives boys an entitlement and an authority to treat girls as objects, and provides them with a tool of sexual harrassment. The girls who feel degraded and humiliated as a result see that their society supports the boys.
Any messages from parents or teachers about the value of girls and the importance of respect and equality are contradicted by the culturally-condoned message of Page 3. And when even the Prime Minister of our country defends it how can we expect our young people to question this view of women?
The daily social conditioning of boys to view and treat women as sexual commodities, leaving our girls to cope alone with the fallout, is shameful. It is David Cameron's comment last week about internet porn which correctly applies to the issue of Page 3: "In the balance between freedom and responsibility, we have neglected our responsibility to our children."
The NUT's statement concludes: 'It is high time that we accepted it is simply wrong for a national family newspaper to be carrying such images'.
Given the support for the No More Page 3 campaign from the Girl Guides, the National Youth Council, the National Association of Head Teachers and now the NUT, perhaps it is time for the Prime Minister of this country to concede that the issue of Page 3 goes beyond 'consumer choice', and finally add his voice to the mounting pressure on David Dinsmore, Editor of the Sun, to scrap the feature. In a country where girls have to negotiate a culture of sexual harassment while still at school, it is time we sent an unequivocal message to young people that respect for women and girls is a consistent and non-negotiable value in our society.