Once upon a time, in a land far away, before the internet was a thing, there existed lads’ mags and pornographic magazines. They were the domain of perverted old men and fourteen year old boys who hid them underneath their beds. The Sun played into the hands of this demographic. For forty four years, every day without fail, The Sun has plastered Page 3 with a photograph of a topless, attractive, slender and usually white young woman.
Many feminists have fought their own personal battles with the existence of page three, and that includes the writer. In today’s Guardian Joan Smith outlines how Page 3 came about as a result of the sexual liberation and ‘free love’ of the previous decade. Page 3 took advantage of the looser morals and radical feminists’ aversion to bras by introducing scantily clad glamour models to their ‘newspaper’. The word newspaper surely implies that there is some kind of news included within their pages and is indeed a curious publication to carry photos of partially clothed, semi-naked young women. That is surely the question on everybody’s lips: what kind of newspaper thinks it is acceptable to carry photos of this nature?
The Sun prides itself on being a “family newspaper” but we frequently see sexually explicit stories, semi-naked women and semi-naked men (though not as often) in an attempt to shock people into buying The Sun. Therefore The Sun thought carrying photos of topless women would boost its sales- it sexualises and objectifies young women to sell papers.
Being a socialist and a feminist can often come to blows in a lot of cases. These include issues with sex work and glamour modelling. Do we as socialists criticise the exploitation of these women and their sexuality by the capitalist system to sell newspapers and make profit by calling for a ban on page three? Or do we as support women who want to make a choice of being able to be photographed topless in a national newspaper? It is a moral battleground because even within feminist theory, there are conflicting ideas about whether or not we should support Page 3 models.
Page 3 regularly, if not always, carried vastly unrealistic images of women who were slender, young, in most cases white, attractive and had large breasts. It projects unrealistic and unachievable beauty standards for women. If people see this enough, they will begin to think that this is what all young women should look like when that is simply not true. We come in all different shapes and sizes and that should be celebrated rather than hidden away. When Labour MP Clare Short criticised Page 3 and tried to campaign against it, she was vilified and abused for doing so, Page 3 models were encouraged to call her fat and ugly. Page 3 propagated the idea that women are their own worst enemies by portraying opponents as jealous, killjoys or lacking in a sense of humour when actually we are simply bringing attention to the fact that not all women are the same. Not all women are slender, large breasted or white. We are relenting against the patriarchal beauty standards enforced upon us by a media run by powerful men in suits.
Simon Jenkins today writes in the Guardian that The Sun is in danger of advocating censorship by taking the bare breasts out. For the No More Page Three campaign, it was never about censoring breasts, it was about taking a stand against using women to sell papers, it was about taking a stand against unrealistic, patriarchal beauty standards, it was about celebrating the achievements of women that were not based on their looks and it was about bringing attention to a deeply unequal media portrayal of women.
The days of men ogling women in newspapers are gone-not because The Sun have now found a moral backbone or have had some kind of feminist revolt, but because sales are going down and you can find far better images of topless women on the internet for free so, there was little point of page three anymore. Although it might be seen as a victory for No More Page Three, and rightfully so, The Sun didn’t make this move out of compassion or because women deserve to be seen as more than something that sells papers. They made this move because Page 3 was no longer selling any papers, treating glamour models as commodities and disposing of them when they were no longer useful.
So celebrate the fact that page three will no longer have bare breasts on it, it’s a step in the right direction, but this isn’t a feminist revolution from The Sun- The Sun will still treat women like pieces of meat, expect no better.