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Goodbye to Page 3! (And hello again.)

Screenshot 2015-01-22 19.26.19

This week the UK went into mourning as we learnt about the end of Page 3. Prayers were said, eulogies were read, and a lone crow circled ominously in the distance. “Goodbye to Kacey, 19, from Wolverhampton,” whispered the mourners. “Goodbye to News in Briefs. Goodbye to the freedom to ogle half-naked teenagers during our commute without anybody thinking we’re a perv.”

Of course, not everyone grieved with such solemnity. In fact, many of the mourners seemed stuck in the anger stage (i.e. ‘look at what the shrill feminist harpies have done now’) rather than moving on to the acceptance stage and shedding a gentle tear for all the boobs.

Luckily, their fury was short-lived. Today’s edition features the usual topless woman, with the caption:

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So Page 3 was live and kicking all along, that cheeky fake-yer-own-death prankster! A bit like Jesus, if Jesus were a somewhat sexist and profoundly strange institution who hadn’t moved on since the 1970s.

At this stage, it’s uncertain whether Page 3 has a future – most commentators seem to think it’s on its way out – but this stunt has sent a clear message. When the feature does pop its clogs, that will be on the paper’s terms, rather than in response to the campaigners. It has also given the Sun a load of free publicity and, I’m willing to bet, a slew of new digital subscribers.

In fact, I half wonder the real butt of their ‘joke’ is their own loyal reader base. If the Sun can wring £7.99 a month from their most diehard voyeurs – who presumably signed up to during the boob drought – then all the better to bleed ’em dry with.

Aside from that, the episode appears to have deepened an existing us-and-them divide. A lot of people seem to think this is about censorship; the liberal cognoscenti laying in to the ordinary working class male. Check out Stephen Bayley in the Telegraph, taking on the campaigning ‘busybodies’:

“With all the prim politesse that Victorian hostesses used when covering suggestively bare furniture legs with chaste little pelmets, “No More Page 3” has secured its joyless and humourless goals… It was rather like the Puritans who wanted to ban bear-baiting not because it caused pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the audience.”

That’s disingenuous. No More Page 3 has nothing to do with prudishness, and everything to do with the weirdness of putting soft porn in a so-called ‘family paper’. Think of it the other way round – it’s a bit like if you were watching the Chippendales and were suddenly interrupted by a broadcast about the state of the Russian economy.

Page 3, though, is more nefarious than that. As campaign founder Lucy Holmes explains:

‘What does it teach children? They see page after page of pictures of men in clothes doing stuff (running the country, having opinions, achieving in sport!) and what are the women doing in this society they’re learning about? Not much really, other than standing topless in their pants showing their bare breasts for men… [This sends] out a powerful message that whatever else a woman achieves, her primary role is to serve men sexually.”

Now, I’ve seen loads of ad hominem attacks on the “fat, ugly, bitter, feminazi” campaigners, and plenty of comments instructing them to ‘lighten up’ or ‘focus on more important issues’, but I’ve yet to see anyone argue convincingly against this point. Page 3 is not simply a nice picture of a pretty lady floating free from context. It’s a message about what women are, or what they should be, that more properly belongs in the Mesozoic era.

Today was the day the Sun laid its cards on the table. It doesn’t care about changing the visual culture, or sending a message of inclusivity to their (41% female) readership. No, it wants to sell copies and get clicks, ideally while thumbing its nose at the campaigners who thought they’d ‘won’. It’s safe to say that the fate of Page 3 will be tied to money, not ideology.

This is capitalism 101 kids, and we’d better get used to it. Still, a link to the petition is here.





Categories: Gender politics Media fails

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Abi Millar

British freelance journalist living in the Netherlands

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