Page 3 – Ban It!
Page 3 is odious - ban it! says Kate Allen
The hoary old argument over the Sun’s Page 3 stunnas has arisen once again
with the recent appointment of Rebekah Wade as Sun editor.
Wade, a founding member and former chairwoman of campaign group Women In
Journalism, has in the past promoted WIJ’s research into the portrayal of
women in the media. WiJ’s campaigning report called Real Women – The Hidden
Sex exposed the inadequate portrayal of women in newspapers.
It’s as british as fish and chips
“There was a feeling,” said its author, Meg Carter, “that criteria used to
select pictures of women are different from those applied to men.” In the
introduction to the report, Wade wrote: “Women are significantly
under-represented in newspapers, even though they make up almost half the
readers. We need to connect with women readers. We cannot afford to alienate
them.” So will she ditch Page 3?
The pundits are unanimous – no. We’re grownup now, they say. Brits have
developed a more mature attitude to nudity and sex; the sight of a pair of
unveiled breasts is no longer offensive. Page 3 is ‘a tradition’, it’s ‘as
British as fish and chips’. And surely feminists aren’t bothered anymore,
Well I am. Of course there are more significant battles still to be fought –
childcare provision, rape convictions, low pay – but Page 3 is odious.
A naked teenager coyly sporting a thong slapbang in the middle of tales of political wrangling
A naked teenager coyly sporting a thong, mini-apron or beachball as a sop to
the censors, slapbang in the middle of tales of death and destruction,
international intrigue and political wrangling. It turns my stomach.
Women are equal now, Page 3’s defenders cry. What does it matter if birds
choose to make a living by taking their clothes off? It matters because
we’re NOT equal. Men aren’t subject to the same gender pressures as women.
Men have not been historically oppressed en-masse, or taught to prize
appearance before intelligence. It’s a question of power – men’s continuing
power, over women.
In her debut book Naomi Wolf identified the ‘beauty myth’ – an unattainable,
prescribed template of female beauty – as a factor holding women back from
full participation in society and, some of us extrapolated, from political
activism. She documented the crimes of the cosmetics, diet, pornography and
plastic surgery industries, and railed against the images of women presented
in the establishment media.
She wrote: ‘Beauty’ is a currency system like the gold standard. Like any
economy, it is determined by politics, and in the modern age in the West it
is the last, best belief system that keeps male dominance intact.
a topless bloke didn’t set the lady readers’ loins a-tingling
‘In assigning value to women in a vertical hierarchy according to a
culturally imposed physical standard, it is an expression of power relations
in which women must unnaturally compete for resources that men have
appropriated for themselves.’
Some vague recognition of this imbalance was implicit in the Sun’s abortive
‘Page 7 fella’ feature. But the introduction of a topless bloke, oiled pecs
gleaming, didn’t set the lady readers’ loins a-tingling as Sun staff had
hoped, and he rapidly disappeared back to Playgirl magazine.
Page 3 fans claim that Mr Page 7 made things equal – both sides had a chance
to ogle the opposite sex over their brekkie. This is a fallacy. Just because
pictures of naked men are now becoming common currency in certain parts of
the media – advertising especially – doesn’t justify Page 3. Objectifying
EVERYONE doesn’t make objectifying women any better. It will just subject
men to the pressures women have faced for decades.
I’m not calling for press restraints – limiting press freedom isn’t the
answer. I want a change in attitudes; I want the Sun’s readers themselves to
alter the content of their newspaper.
Page 3 isn’t the most important issue in the world today. It’s just one
example, a little microcosm, of our 20th century psychological hangover.
It’d be nice if it went away, though.
(this article first appeared on www.yearzero.org)