There is much media attention surrounding the ‘No More Page 3’ campaign launched by Lucy-Anne Holmes, aimed at banning topless models featuring on page 3 of the The Sun newspaper.
The petition is a hot-topic on Mumsnet, and supporters include Eliza Doolittle, Jennifer Saunders, Frances Barber, Lauren Laverne Frances Barber, Tony Hawks, Chris Addison, and Graham Linehan. Caitlin Moran has tweeted: “Teenage tits aren’t news OR a feature.”, and Janet Street-Porter wrote in The Independent: “Page 3 girls started in the 1970s as part of a tabloid circulation war. They seem so old-fashioned today… it’s hard to see how a pair of nipples can sell a paper in 2012.”
At the time of writing, the ‘No More Page Three’ petition had reached 45,376 supporters. Yet, despite 45,376 signatories, recent figures published by the National Readership Survey suggests that that “a pair of nipples” do not deter a person from buying a paper, as The Sun is the most read newspaper (both in print and online) in the UK, reaching an audience of approximately 13.6-million per week. Based upon these figures, it would appear that the majority of the UK population do not have that much of an issue with Page 3.
This latest campaign to abolish page 3 as we know it, is nothing new. In 1986, Labour MP, Clare Short, was branded “fat, jealous Clare” by the newspaper when she launched her campaign against page 3. Last year the feminist campaign groups, ‘Object’ and ‘Turn Your Back on Page 3’, made a joint submission about “the hyper-sexualisation of women in the press” to the Leveson inquiry. MP Evan Harris also backed the campaign, stating: “Why should it be considered acceptable and mainstream in hypocritical family newspapers to portray women in this way? It’s just wrong in my view that this should be seen as normalised.” Dr Harris added, “These images can be available for adults if they want to access them, but they should have to reach up to a higher shelf than what is at the general view for young people.”
Why are we so offended by the human body, and is page 3 really as degrading as the protesters claim?
Lucy Holmes felt the necessity to launch the latest campaign after reading a copy of The Sun during the Olympics. Despite the extensive coverage given to the victorious achievements of British female athletes such as Jessica Ennis and Victoria Pendleton, Holmes stated the dominant female image in the paper was “a massive picture of a girl in her pants”.
Journalist, Deborah Orr wrote in The Guardian that “The Sun’s Page 3 is the highly visible tip of misogyny’s iceberg”. Orr claims:
‘A lot of women feel the people who want an end to Page 3 are uptight harridans, envious, bitter, prudish and prescriptive. They would love to be glamour models themselves, given half a chance. They want it for their daughters. You can see them in any city on a Friday night, hobbled by their Lycra dresses and towering heels, so keen to be viewed as “empowered” that they can barely walk…. They are on Team Katie Price, those women, not Team Lucy-Anne Holmes.’
Being neither in support or condemnation of Page 3, I would like to believe my view is a little more objective. I am not at all enamoured by the “busty-babe” look, and I am most certainly not a woman who is on “Team Katie Price”. In fact, when spending time at a friend’s house during my childhood, we would sometimes spend our afternoons giggling at the nonsense printed in The Sun, which her father would leave lying around on the kitchen table we used to do our homework. We would draw moustaches on the face and a bra on the breasts of topless page 3 models, etc., and draw big breasts, fangs, and long hair on John Major and William Hague, whilst (supposedly) working on algebraic equations. “Dear Deidre” – The Sun’s Agony Aunt page, was also a hoot. Yet, I do not pretend to understand the minds of those who buy The Sun because, to be perfectly honest, I am now educated and middle-class. However, I do possess a keen sense of humour, and this has ensured that I have never taken frivolous tabloid stories, or Page 3, too seriously. In my view, The Sun is little more than an adult comic bought by the working-class, and is not really a “family newspaper”. It is only deemed a “family paper” because it happens to be stumbled upon by the rest of the family, as they lounge around on the sofa watching daytime TV, or happen to find it lying on the kitchen table when grabbing a snack, or perhaps whilst the children do their homework – which, of course, was my first encounter with the paper.
Not every person shares my permissive perspective, however. Deborah Orr seems to believe that glamour models affect a woman’s sense of self worth, stating:
‘I remember, as a teenager, studying the breasts of the women who appeared in the tabloids, and fretting about the dismal fact – to me, then – that mine weren’t “like that”.’
Contrary to Deborah Orr’s belief, not every woman wishes to have large breasts, or to look like a glamour model. Not once have I ever looked at a Page 3 model and compared my body to hers, nor have I ever aspired to look like a glamour model. Every person has a different take on what they believe to be attractive. Furthermore, if Page 3 were to be abolished, and more “positive” body images were featured by the media, such as pictures of victorious Olympic athletes like Jessica Ennis, the new body comparison will subsequently become, “My abs don’t look like that”, or “I’m not that muscular”. The subsequent trend could, thus, become a cocktail of steroid abuse, over training, and eating disorders; instead of the breast augmentation and eating disorder combination that society is familiar with at present.
Women will always be of the belief that her outward appearance is dependent and related to her personal worth. No matter how confident one particular woman is, she will always compare herself to other women. As psychologist A. Schopenhauer has stated:
‘ … women are all in the same profession (competitors for the attentions of men), they all stand much closer to one another than men do, and consequently strive to emphasize differences in rank.’
In many cases, this is unfortunately, true. An interesting study can be found in this psychological article: R. Joseph, Competition Between Women (1985), (Psychology, 22, 1-11, 1985).
Ironically, the misogyny Orr suggests, appears to lie not in the media’s sexualisation of women, but in womens’ hatred of sexualised women and their naked bodies. If that were not the issue, one must question why this campaign is so focused upon naked breasts on page 3, and not the unpleasant, opportunistic, civilisation-eroding content, and the blatant lies that so regularly appears on other pages of The Sun. This is, after-all, the newspaper that invented the phrase ‘gay plague’, and ironically, if anything is at all misogynistic in the paper, it is some of the text and headlines featured on pages 1,2,4,5, etc. Why is Page 3 such an issue, and why are the campaigns not drawing attention to Mail Online and its “sidebar of shame“? It would appear that the petition is rather distastefully using the subject of misogyny merely as an attempt to rally support. Let us remember that the term ‘misogyny’ means a hatred or dislike of women. Surely, those who enjoy looking at the women on Page 3, are more philogynistic and misogynistic, because if they hated women, why would they wish to ogle at their breasts? Does a woman with a hatred of men enjoy looking at a penis? – No.
Nevertheless, the politician Lynne Featherstone has felt it necessary to focus her argument on a different aspect of misogyny, by specifically linking page 3 to domestic violence – an assertion made without any evidence whatsoever. In her “farticle” ‘Page 3 pictures cause domestic violence’ against women‘, Featherstone claims:
‘When you know that one in four women experience domestic violence in their life, two women are killed each week by their partner or husband, there is a very long way to go. While a lot of blokes say ‘You are mean, sour-faced, whatever – it’s harmless’, actually it’s not harmless at all.’
Perhaps Lynne Featherstone would be interested to learn that despite her absurd assertion that Page 3 pictures somehow drives men to kill their partners, the National Centre of Domestic Violence statistics suggest that 1 man dies every 3 weeks as a result of Domestic Violence perpetrated against them. However, due to factors such as shame and embarrassment, most men will not seek help to get out of the abusive relationship. Approximately 4 million men are affected every year by domestic violence, and practically the same percentage of men as women are victims of severe acts of Domestic Violence. Bearing in mind the large amount of non-reporting, official Data from Home Office statistical bulletins and the British Crime Survey show that men made up about 40% of domestic violence victims each year between 2004-05 and 2008-09, the last year for which figures are available. In 2006-07 men made up 43.4% of all those who had suffered partner abuse in the previous year, which rose to 45.5% in 2007-08 but fell to 37.7% in 2008-09. Yet, men assaulted by their partners are often ignored by police, have far fewer refuges to flee to than women, and usually see their female attackers get away with their crimes.
I think this goes some way in invalidating Featherstone’s unsubstantiated assertion that page 3 is the cause of domestic violence. This is, of course, assuming the victim is female, and not the man – for, ironically, looking at page 3 pictures.
If the mere sight of naked breasts really are too offensive to have a place in a ‘family newspaper’, as the protesters claim, I must also question why it is considered acceptable for women to openly take her breasts out in the middle of Starbucks to breastfeed her child in public, whilst in front of a number of families with young children. Consider the vast number of “Breast is Best” pictures published and broadcast on daytime television, in order to promote breastfeeding, not to mention the large-scale breast cancer campaigns featuring photos of naked breasts, and topless women on daytime television shows, such as ‘This Morning’ – a program broadcast before approximately 11 hours before the watershed, and viewable by young children. Last year, the family TV show, ‘This Morning’, featured a woman with the largest breasts in the world (ironically, this link is to the Daily Mail – another “family newspaper”), and most recently a feature on a man with the world’s largest penis. Yet, there was no furore over either. There are also the vast number of breast photos published in school encyclopedias and anatomy books, used for so-called educational purposes, and are uncensored. The Guardian also features this picture:
If it is the sexualisation of breasts that is the problem, rather than the image of breasts per se, why are there no protests against adverts such as that for Herbal Essences Shampoo? This is, after all, an advert that sexualises both the hair and product, whilst portraying the man as useless and humiliated. The Western world condemn Islam for oppressing women and forcing them to wear a hijab, which essentially prevents the sexual objectification of hair in the same way as wearing a sweater does for a woman’s breasts. Yet, if we find the objectification of hair to be acceptable, when we condemn Islamic countries’ condemnation of oppressing women with a hijab for the equivalent reason the Western countries revolt the revealing breasts, is this not further hypocrisy?
Herbal Essences is, by far, not the only example of sexual objectification. Just take a look at some of these examples, and furthermore, women are not the only ones subject to it. Take into consideration how the Lindt advert with Roger Federer and the adverts for Emporio Armani and H&M featuring David Beckham, and the infamous Diet Coke advert, all objectify men just as much as women. Yet, if this objectification were reversed and instead featured female objectification, there would be the same ever-so-familiar heated debate on the subject.
Also consider that naked breasts are not the only form of sexualisation in the media, which again discredits the argument against page 3. Bear in mind that for a foot fetishist, a photo of bare feet can be just as provocative as a page 3 photograph for a man who likes large breasts; and for a hair fetishist, the sexualisation of hair in a Herbal Essences advert, may also be provocative. Furthermore, there are a number of websites for those with a breast feeding fetish. Consider how a person with such a fetish will sexualise a woman who chooses to breast-feed openly in Starbucks (which is her right), in a similar way that women, who autonomously model for page 3, are sexualised by another.
One of the signatories of the ‘No More Page 3’ campaign has stated: “How are women meant to be taken seriously in the workplace when this is how they are seen?”. I argue that abolishing page 3 pictures will not change the perception of glamour models, as long as pornographic sites exist. In fact, page 3 is far less obscene than pornographic sites, which so often reveal women and men performing a number of lewd acts, which I shall not mention here. Whilst glamour models may, perhaps, degrade themselves, it is their autonomous choice to do so. Just because some women like to be objectified, does not make it wrong, and as long as the objectified person consents to being objectified by others, where is the problem? Live and let live.
If the answer is to reject any form of glamour modeling in order to prevent women from degrading themselves, it would not only infringe their right to autonomy, but it would drive the industry underground where it cannot be regulated. It would also result in the loss of newspaper sales, and less work for models, photographers, and publishers. At a time of economic downturn, this is surely not advantageous.
It is important to remember that sexual taste is incredibly diverse and complex. Not every man is attracted to the sight of breasts: Some may be sexually attracted to bare feet, just as some women may be sexually attracted to the sight of a “beer-belly” – because being with an overweight man makes some women feel less self-conscious about their own “imperfections”. It would appear that any photo could potentially be subject to sexual objectification depending upon the viewer and their sexual preferences. Perhaps the campaigners should review their protest, and call for a ban on all photos – or just airbrush out all people, just as Ikea removed women from the Saudi Arabian Ikea Catalogue.
I am sure that even the ‘No More Page 3’ supporters would find this a ludicrous proposition.