The Sun first introduced Page 3 in the ’70s. Until the early 2000s, they still used 16 year old models in school uniform; now they are using it to show their monopoly over the media and mastery over our culture. Yas Necati, with the No More Page 3 campaign reckons it’s time for the sun to set on Page 3, and I am inclined to agree.
|The real impact of Page 3 culture
For the last 5 years, every morning I have taken a train to Victoria Station from Peckham Rye. It always leaves from the same platform so now my feet know the flights of stairs well. I always arrive too early and have to perch on one of the 3 chairs in the little alcove that shelters me from the dismal city rain. Most mornings, on the middle chair there is an abandoned copy of The Sun newspaper that I often find myself gingerly lifting away so that I can sit down. I don’t know whose paper it is and I don’t know why they buy it but I do know that it makes me very uncomfortable to think that one does not even need to buy it, to see it everyday.
The Sun itself proudly declares that, though on average, about 2 million copies are purchased, their readership is probably closer to 3 times that amount. That means, by my calculations, that 4 million people don’t buy the sun but read it and, in all likelihood, that figure too is only a percentage of the number of people who encounter it every day- whether in adverts, on the shelves in a newsagent, across the aisle on a train, in an office canteen, in the Houses of Parliament or on their family breakfast table (lest we forget that this is a family newspaper). The Sun is omnipresent and, as a result, it has a huge influence on the culture of our society.
Keeping that in mind, let us flick through a standard copy of The Sun. Notice the acclaimed sports pages, the reams of hysterical celebrity gossip, the… errr… concise coverage of current affairs and THE MASSIVE PICTURE OF A TOPLESS WOMAN. It’s quite a shock isn’t it? Indeed, even many regular Sun readers, are attempting to master the art of turning from page 2 to page 4 in one smooth move to avoid spilling their morning coffee all down their front, so I am not surprised that that caught you off guard. Please, take a moment.
The first thing to ask is what is it doing there? I know it seems a lot like I just played a rather nasty collage based trick on you, but I promise that the editor, David Dinsmore, actually chooses to put it there. And has chosen to keep it there, despite all of the excitement a couple of weeks ago. Yas Necati, a member of the No More Page 3 campaign, attempted to shed some light on his motivations when she spoke to me last Thursday. Yas didn’t seem convinced that it was all for sales because, as she observed “most people don’t buy the Sun for page 3 because that image can be found in other places… like the internet”. It’s a fair point and one that begs the question if most images of this sort are found on the top shelf or online, then what is one doing lurking between the leaves of your newspaper? It seems a little- “out of context,” Yas declares. Couldn’t have put it better myself.
Yas is eager to deal with some misconceptions about the No More Page3 campaign and her argument all seems to rest on this essential idea of “context”. “We are not against glamour modelling; we are just asking that the editors don’t put it on the 3rd page of the biggest selling newspaper.” Fair enough, but really what is so bad about boobs that means that they shouldn’t be there? Is the problem with nudity? “We are certainly not against breasts or nudity” and she pauses for a moment, gearing up for something that is on the tip of her tongue, “it is just absurd that women can’t breastfeed in public without being made to feel ashamed and yet there are breasts EVERYWHERE.” Context. The thing is that when women are shamed for having breasts that are performing their natural function but simultaneously found blazoned over a huge page spread in a popular magazine for no other reason other than their aesthetic, breasts cease to be attached to a person and become nothing more than objects that can sell newspapers. As Yas put it, The Sun proves that in our society “Men make the news and women decorate it.”
This was probably best characterised by the Sun’s coverage of the Olympics. As a newspaper famed for its sports journalism, Lucy Holmes (the founder of No More Page 3) flicked through it to see what was happening in Stratford. There were pictures of male and female Olympians alike and as she turned onto page 3 she expected to see a woman’s bare chest… it wasn’t there. She was amazed and delighted. She continued through the newspaper without trepidation. And then in the last few pages, there it was. It wasn’t gone, it had only been moved to the back. But what really shocked Lucy Holmes, far more than a woman’s chest because, of course, at least half the population have them, was that the largest picture of a woman in the paper was the one in which the woman was wearing only her knickers. A woman, according to The Sun in Lucy Holmes’ eyes, is more valuable without a top than she is with a gold medal.
On Tuesday 20 February, it seemed that The Sun had finally lived up to its name and seen the light. Well… sort of… I suppose women in bikinis is progress… baby steps, eh? The media exploded. Suddenly page 3 was polarising society – everyone claimed to have either been against it all along or horrified by its disappearance.
And when it returned, having never really disappeared, there was a public gasp of surprise. The Sun was playing games with its audience. It laughed at the media platforms that had failed to check facts, it marched up to the moral high ground (somewhere it had never ventured before) and wagged its finger at everyone for being so naïve. Was it wrong to have trusted them to have permanently got rid of it? Was it wrong to have hoped that perhaps they had seen sense and sought to stop the normalisation of the sexualisation of female bodies? Was it OK for the Sun to feign innocence and then laugh when we fell for it? When the Sun shouted “ha ha ha got you!” they intended to humiliate the crowds of No More Page 3 sympathisers who had been celebrating. Instead their actions provoked a mass response, a rallying of the troops, resulting in surge in the number of new signatures on the No More Page 3 petition and the biggest number of t-shirt orders in a week. As Lucy Holmes put it in a tweet the day that Page 3 came back, “So it seems the fight might be back on. Thanks to @TheSunNewspaper for all the publicity they’ve given the campaign.
|Sign the Petition at change.org
Other than the fact the Sun’s PR stunt has shown how little respect the newspaper has for women, it has also shown how much power it wields over the masses. It managed to generate a huge discussion between No More Page 3 supporters and Page 3 enthusiasts. It showed us that when a media giant wants to play cat and mouse with the feminist movement, it can, but that the movement will enlist the support of the internet, mobilise the masses and fight back. That it is a movement that will not be humiliated; that will not let women’s bodies be used as pawns to bolster media tycoons prestige or belittle the empowerment of feminists around the country and the world. What we really learnt was that much of society is tired of page 3’s casual objectification of women and that, thanks to The Sun revealing the true extent of how far it will stoop for a PR stunt and how much it is willing to test and probe activists, feminists will no longer be satisfied to be a footnote or an itch on the back of The Sun’s neck.
But in the context of this day and age, I have every hope that Page 3 is about to be washed away by the fourth wave because it is outdated and we should have been asking for it to be got rid of years ago. Because it is a reminder that the media still demand control and claim possession of women’s bodies. Because we must not pander to the tabloids. Because The Sun is the most bought newspaper in the UK and it should represent its audience, both men and women, as the equals they are.
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