My picture was featured in two articles about the No More Page 3 campaign (here, and here). I am one of the campaigners who stood outside The Sun’s offices in the winter, and held a placard that said ‘Page 3: Promoting Negative Body Image Since 1972’. Considering what the campaign is about, I thought that it was ironic that this picture surfaced twice. So I’m going to add my voice and explain why I bothered getting up that day and trekking to London to sign a giant birthday card for page 3 and sing about women’s rights.
Photographically, I am the antithesis of the typical page 3 girl: fully clothed, active, surrounded by people and using my voice to have my say in society.
In contrast, Page 3 girls are presented as what it says on the tin: infantilised as ‘girls’ with their longing stares; only identifiable by their place in the publication (and society); isolated, silent and passive. In reality, these models are adult women with voices, emotions and opinions, and not just the ‘opinion’ that The Sun provides for them (e.g. ‘Kelly, 19, thinks that the UK should leave the EU’). But that’s not what The Sun would like you to think.
Despite my smile in the photo, I am exhausted. Exhausted by the weak, recycled arguments for page 3, and tired of being told to ‘pick my battles’ in the fight for women’s rights. I’m exhausted of being sexually harassed in the street and all the while being told that ‘page 3 isn’t a problem’. But I’m relentless, because like all the other No More Page 3 campaigners, I refuse to accept the profoundly entrenched notion that it’s fine for our nation’s best selling newspaper to make money from the display of women’s half-naked bodies, and that it has no impact on society.
The reason why activists are targeting page 3, rather than pornography in general, nude modelling, or even lad’s magazines, is the fact that it’s in the most widely read newspaper in the UK. Context is the key word in this campaign. By its readers, it is deemed to be a respectable, honest publication that is upholding one of the key principles of democracy: a free press.
However, the freedom of the press championed by Human Rights scholars and advocates is a freedom of the press from state control; this is unarguably necessary to a democratic society. It does not exempt publications from basic respect for the society they are a part of. ‘Freedom of the press’ is about independence from the state; it does not justify or condone newspapers capitalising on the sexualisation of young women’s bodies.
I object to Page 3 because it is featured in a national news source. The social function of Newspapers is to reflect what’s happening in society; they are documenting our culture, making our history. Every day their pages are filled with different things, new things. Except Page 3.
‘Don’t like it, don’t buy it’
The standard knee-jerk response to this campaign. This is a statement I would normally stand behind – I’m a vegetarian; I don’t like the meat industry and therefore I don’t buy into it. I believe in worker’s rights, and don’t buy sweatshop-manufactured products. However, though I have control over what newspaper I buy, I don’t have control over the way that some men leer at me in a sexually suggestive way on trains, grope me in public, crowded streets, or shout “nice tits, fancy a bonk?” at me when I’m walking to work.
Newspapers are a part of our culture. They have influence. And as part of a newspaper, Page 3 champions the attitude that young women are to be celebrated as objects of sexual desire and entertainment. To see them expose their breasts is the best offering they can make to society. Their passive gaze into the camera presents them as mute objects to study and evaluate.
My problem with page 3 is nothing to do with nudity; it’s the mainstreaming of sexualised female nudity for capital gain. Page 3 has absolutely nothing to do with news, and everything to do with selling papers at the cost of reinforcing sexualised attitudes towards young women. Because, ‘sex sells’.
Let’s not forget The Sun is a financially motivated business. With the rapid decline of print media, they are clinging onto what first truly set them afloat: Page 3 was first published so that men could access soft pornography in an easy, take-home way. Back in the 1970s, it was less awkward to just buy a newspaper and ogle at a photo of a stranger’s breasts instead of shiftily waiting until the shop was empty before asking for a top-shelf porn magazine.
Power beyond the page
As a national publication, it has influential power with deeply resounding repercussions in gender relations. The Sun is using that power to capitalise on sexualised images of young women. And yet, Page 3 is selling society short.
Yes, the models consent to the photography, and they are paid. What I’m saying is that, for The Sun, the impact of Page 3 stops at the moment the paper is sold and they’ve got their 30p. For UK society, Page 3’s impact is ubiquitous. It influences the way that (*heterosexual) men look at young women in both public and private, the way women are represented to young boys and girls, and the way that breasts are deemed to be ‘entertainment’, ‘a bit of fun’; completely detached from the female body and mind.
We are happy to accept that what we read in newspapers makes an impression on our minds; every day, conversations start along the lines of “This morning I read in the paper that….”. If we read newspapers and just forgot about their content, what would be the point? Their content travels into our thoughts and shapes the way we see the world, usually in a political or emotional way. So why is Page 3 deemed to be exempt from this?
Day after day, Page 3 communicates the same message to its viewers. In a best-selling paper that has few other photos of women who aren’t entertainment figures, the Page 3 ‘girl’ becomes a female youth ambassador for Britain. She’s silent, undressed and passive. Male readers of The Sun applaud this, and many young women internalise this reward-system. The cultural effect of this has been disastrous for women’s body image, and the way they are treated in school, work, on the street and in bars. The Sun tells us that a woman’s best assets are in in her bra, not her brain.
And we expect it. Some men genuinely expect an entitlement to see breasts. Some men see no problem with shouting ‘get your baps out!’ to women at bus stops. Because it’s funny, right? No, it’s because sadly, that’s the first thing they think of when they see a young woman. Because its just so ‘normal’ to have visual access to a young woman’s breasts. Unable to imagine how that comment might make the woman feel because after all, they’re just ‘appreciating’ her body, aren’t they?
The reason why many people still see no problem with Page 3 is because mainstream sexual objectification of women really isn’t a problem for them. They don’t bear the brunt of sexual violence, insult and harm on a daily basis. They’re not pressured to be sexually available, but not sexually active; to be a fantasy; a 2-dimensional reflection of a real human being, printed out on a piece of paper, waiting to be thrown away when the viewer is bored. Seen and not heard, right?
That is why I ended up in front of News International’s HQ in Wapping. That is why I signed the No More Page 3 petition. The No More Page 3 campaigners, female and male, are witnesses to the effect that media objectification has on a huge part of our society: sexual harassment of women. This systematic evaluation of women’s bodies and the detachment from their humanity doesn’t belong in Britain anymore.