Last week brought the apparent end to the institution of Page 3 as media outlets everywhere reported that the 44 year old feature had been retired, and topless girls disappeared from The Sun. But it wasn’t to be. Thursday saw The Sun reinstate the feature with a winking half naked 22 year old “Nicole from Bournemouth” and citing a “mammary lapse”. Hilarious stuff.
However, what may have been just a publicity stunt for the paper has fuelled the flames of an already growing national debate. Journalists, campaigners, celebrities, models, politicians…all contributed opinions to the Twittersphere. Reading the comments of those in favour of this daily dose of media chauvinism made me feel sad, frustrated and if I’m honest, angry. When the feature appeared to have been dropped, former Apprentice candidate Luisa Zissman tweeted “today the extreme feminists won, a message to them & a nod to page 3 from me”, alongside a selfie of her boobs, with her middle finger up at the camera. Model Rhian Sugden declared “It’s only a matter of time before everything we do will be dictated by comfy shoe wearing…No bra wearing…man haters”.
Why is it apparently them versus us, as if there’s a group of hot good-time girls up against a group of ugly kill-joy feminists? Feminism is the belief that there should be equal rights for men and women – that is all! Sometimes I feel like banging my head against a brick wall with the number of stereotypes applied to this radical notion. If the very essence of feminism is equality, then no, man-hating is not feminism. And albeit perhaps beside the point, I don’t know a single female feminist that doesn’t wear a bra (I specified female because of course, men can be feminists too). This should rather be about us joining up to fight misogyny, to recognise the real enemy here. I’m not prudish, I’m not offended by the sight of boobs or a model dolled up and flaunting them. But I am upset by the context in which this appears, sitting casually amidst serious news stories, lying out in waiting rooms, cafés and newsagents up and down the country, readily available even to children, shouting loud and clear that a woman’s place in the news is as an object to be lusted over. As MP Stella Creasy pointed out, “this was never about being “offended” by Page 3, but being affected by it”. Female objectification affects us all, from an intimidating catcall in the street to a violating grope in the club, and tragically for many, violence and even rape. I am not saying for a minute that I think The Sun condones any of these things, or that someone sees Page 3 and instantly feels the need to go out and sexually harass women. What I am saying is that portraying women as sexual objects in the public sphere doesn’t help. And that whilst yes, there are other more serious gender issues we need to fight, this matters. Page 3 normalises female nudity in our culture, bringing the top shelf to the coffee table.
Another more worrying argument in favour of Page 3 does not ridicule the feminist movement, but rather claims that Page 3 is at one with it! Former model Jodie Marsh claimed this week that “telling girls they shouldn’t do Page 3 is NOT being a feminist; women should do WHATEVER they want!!”. Of course equal rights should mean freedom of choice, and I agree that feminism should not be about telling other women what to do. But saying that women should have the freedom to get their kit off if they want to? How is that freedom? Our culture has taught us to believe that our bodies are more important than our brains and that our looks are what get us ahead. To campaign for the custom of Page 3 to end is not to tell other women what to do, but to want better media representation for all of us, representation that goes beyond the physical. I would argue that to believe modelling topless for Page 3 is ‘self-expression’, is to be conned into thinking that we are somehow doing this for ourselves, not pawns in a misogynistic media. Page 3 doesn’t express women; it expresses the sexual desires of men.
The Sun may think it has been clever, creating controversy with their shameless stunt. But the No More Page 3 campaign has just got itself a whole lot more supporters. Journalist Sali Hughes summed it up pretty neatly: “What a hostile act…I didn’t feel anything like as strongly last week as I do now. Appalling.” Watch out Page 3, next time you might disappear for good.