Since it’s inception in 1970, Page 3 has faced opposition from various fronts. Most recently, a Campaign called No More Page 3, gained serious momentum with nearly 250,000 signators condemning the feature and endorsements from figures such as Russell Brand and Ed Miliband. Even the powerful overlord of The Sun, Rupert Murdoch, had commented that it was ‘old-fashioned’. Last fortnight, the internet rejoiced as it seemed it was all over: Lucy (22, from Warwick) was wearing a bra! The presence of lingerie was framed as a triumphant victory for a persuasive branch of feminism. But it was all too good to be true and The Sun published their corrections: boobs were back on Page 3.
Feminists argue that Page 3 is an archaic left-over from a different era. This kind of institutionalised sexism is dangerous because we don’t always recognise it. Newspapers are full of pictures and stories of male achievements in politics, science and business. If they are lucky, women will be in the nice pink lifestyle section – or the central figure of a beauty advertisement, fluttering their eyelashes because they’re worth it.
Page 3 is an insidious step further, as it presents women as passive sex objects while simultaneously mocking them with the tagline ‘News in Briefs’, a topical comment placed next to the model, the joke being that young women couldn’t possibly know about current affairs.
The Sun is a particularly damaging outlet of sexism as a tabloid full of lifestyle policing, slut-shaming and the atrocious Katie Hopkins. Why focus on one page, is it not all awful? It really is, but then compared to Page 3 alone, The Sun is part of the wider media industry of female objectification, something difficult to tackle via online petitions and protests. Most people can recognise Page 3 is outdated, so it offers a solid and specific target, unlike other campaigns fighting against the representation of women in the media, which can be well-meaning but too vague.
It is clear that the people who oppose Page 3 are not the target audience of The Sun. The defence goes that if you do not agree with the publication, do not buy it. But with a daily readership of over two million, The Sun is hard to avoid. Lucy Holmes, Leader of the No More Page 3 (NMP3) Campaign, argues that Page 3 sends the message that women are primarily for men’s sexual pleasure and women are forced “to live in a society that says ‘shut up and get your tits out’”.
The trouble is that some feminists equate female nudity with objectification, and think if women cover up more, they won’t be objectified. The ‘Free the Nipple’ campaign turns this around and highlights the double standards of nakedness. While NMP3 aims to remove topless photos, FtN wants to remove the sexual stigma attached to boobs so that women have the agency to do what they want with their bodies. NMP3 may contribute to a culture that sees breasts as a dirty secret. Nipples are natural and bras do not prevent objectification. It is as oppressive to tell women to cover up as it is to hypersexualise them.
In some ways, NMP3 disempowers the women involved. High profile NMP3 campaigners use their media influence to shout over the voices of Page 3 models, the women who are central to the issue and have passionate articulate views about why Page 3 should stay. When the models defend their arguments, they don’t embellish their tweets with fancy exclusionary feminist words like ‘intersectionality’ and ‘female autonomy’, so they aren’t taken as seriously as women who write for broadsheets.
These models are not given tabloid space, which is strange considering the recent bombardment of articles by female MPs and other popular feminists. In a movement defined by equality, why do some feminists believe their views are more valuable than others? Yes, Page 3 is sexist, but the women who chose to be in it do not feel like passive objects, even though their university-educated superiors keep informing them that their choice is unacceptable, uncouth and just not middle-class enough. Maybe partaking in Page 3 is the models’ interpretation of feminism – a sex-positive liberation.
Page 3 is a symptom of the capitalist patriarchy, an archaic system built around making money and male privilege. However the rationale of NMP3 may only reflect the interests of a certain section of feminists. If this campaign is successful, it is hoped the impression left is not that boobs are pornographic, child-corrupting or offensive. It is that boobs are just simply not news.