Turn your back on Page 3

Francine Hoenderkamp explains her campaign to ban Page 3

Francine Hoenderkamp, 13 August 2009

Dear Clare,

I have just finished reading your book and it has inspired me to start my own campaign against Page 3. I would love to discuss this with you as I would hugely value your opinions or advice.

Dear Francine,

I would be happy to meet for a coffee if you would find this useful.

When Clare Short introduced her private member's bill in the House of Commons in 1986, calling for the eradication of Page 3 and other pornographic images from our newspapers, it was followed by a barrage of public interest and outrage. Despite her arguments and public support, it was never taken seriously by the male dominated old-school Parliament types and the bill was thrown out. Regardless of this, she went on to publish a book documenting the experience (Dear Clare ... this is what women feel about Page 3) which partly inspired my own campaign, so I was elated that she agreed to share her expertise with me on this issue.

Nearly 40 years on, Page 3 is as popular as ever. Girls in their thousands aspire to be topless models and enter in their droves when The Sun runs competitions to find the next 'Page 3 Idol'. But where does this archaic symbol of sexism fit into modern Britain and why does it still exist?

According to End Violence Against Women, as many as 3 million women a year are victim to violence in the UK, including domestic violence, rape and sexual violence, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, so-called 'honour crimes', trafficking and sexual exploitation. You could say it is practically legal to rape a woman in this country when you consider that the conviction rate in rape cases is only 6.1%. Thirty years ago it was more than 33%.

Does Page 3 (and its ilk) have anything to do with violence against women - specifically sexual violence? Is the saturation of soft-core pornography in the mainstream media having any impact on society at all, however mild or extreme? And is it purely coincidence that, as pornographic imagery within society has increased, conviction rates for rape have decreased?

turnyourback.jpgThe Sun is the UK's most read newspaper. With this in mind, do you think Page 3 could play any part in shaping attitudes towards girls and women? Is a young girl or woman staring provocatively at the reader, with her breasts exposed for public consumption, served up with our daily news, having any effect whatsoever on our psyche? So prevalent is the presentation of women as submissive 'sex objects' in the British press and media, might society have been brainwashed into believing that girls and women exist purely for men's sexual gratification and titillation? If society does believe this, then that certainly could help explain these shockingly low rape-conviction rates.

All these questions spurred me on to create the Turn Your Back On Page 3 campaign. How could we ever see women as truly equal when we only 'celebrate' them when they're half naked? How can we ever fulfill our true potential as women when we are first and foremost viewed as mere sex objects? And how we will ever eradicate violence against women if we aren't even respected as human beings in the first place? Well, it was time to put this back on the agenda and I was adamant that where Clare failed, I could succeed. Enough was enough and through a flash of inspiration one night in bed, my project was born: a project dependent on the support of the public and their united display of backs all bearing the campaign slogan "Turn Your Back On Page 3". I envisage a wall of backs consisting of different sexes, ages, races, faiths and religions, all collected together making the bold statement that society is now ready to turn our backs on this overt and outdated symbol of sexism once and for all.

So, how does Clare feel about it over 20 years on?

I have never met a politician before and I must say I was a little nervous because of Clare's stature. However, chatting to her was just like catching up with an old friend. She was warm and genial and, after greeting me personally at reception, we grabbed a coffee and got down to business.

"Can this be eradicated?" I immediately asked. Clare seemed positive that it could be, and surprisingly enough she thought even more so because of the current economic climate. She said that the press is under huge pressure at the moment, which leaves them with no choice but to assess their strengths and weaknesses. I was perplexed by this, because I thought surely Page 3 would be the last thing to go? Why, the drop in sales and thus loss of taxes would put such a dent in Gordon's Brown's pocket he may have to close a few hospital wings! Although, if it did ever come to this, maybe he could start with closing the breast augmentation wings, especially as it is now possible to get breast enlargements on the NHS if it is affecting a woman's self-esteem... but isn't Page 3 and its ilk part of the reason women have self-esteem issues in the first place?

Anyway, doubtful its fate should be left in the hands of the potential-flagging Sun's sales, I suggested taking my campaign straight to the Prime Minister. Clare proposed I "cut out the middle man" and go straight to Rupert Murdoch... "maybe he has daughters or granddaughters?" she said.

I touch on this in my campaign. I wonder how society deems it acceptable that men as old as your grandfather are ogling bare-breasted young girls, sometimes barely out of school. Is this really ok? Sometimes the Page 3 model may don a school-girl outfit. Well, isn't that imagery clearly intended to portray schoolgirls as sexual objects pandering to paedophilia?

We cannot move forward as a society whilst this celebrated 'iconic' image is still in existence and lauded in our most popular newspaper

All these questions are why my campaign is so important, because the public doesn't seem to bat an eyelid when it comes to matters such as these. Page 3 has become so accepted and normalised in society that people even go as far as to 'fondly' describing it as being as traditional as fish & chips.

Since starting my campaign, a lot of people have asked me why I'm targeting The Sun, when there is far worse out there. I am targeting The Sun simply because it is our nation's favourite 'read'. It is read by an incredibly broad spectrum of people from all walks of life, therefore I think it the most insidious.

Human Rights organisation Object campaigns specifically and tirelessly on challenging and regulating the sexual objectification of women in the media and popular culture. Even though my project also raises awareness about the proliferation of pornographic images in our press, I am campaigning and calling for the eradication of Page 3. We cannot move forward as a society whilst this celebrated 'iconic' image is still in existence and lauded in our most popular newspaper. It really is as simple as that.

I believe if Page 3 was eradicated it would be so significant – because of its popularity – that the rest of its ilk would have to stand up and take notice. Society would then too stand up and take notice and we would witness the birth of a revolution. We would witness the first major step in recent years in women's fight for true gender equality. That is why I'm targeting The Sun.

Clare loved my campaign. She thought the image striking, the content influential and the message clear. However, there was one thing in it that she wasn't so keen on and that is my alluding to a typical derogatory Sun-esque phrase of "get your backs out" and suggested I change it to "get your backs up". Brilliant, Ms Short, but I'm still in two minds about this so until I make that decision I shall use both!

So, come on people, join my campaign. Get your backs up and get 'em out! Make the statement that you too are turning your back on this decadent symbol of sexism once and for all.

You can upload photos on the campaign's Facebook page and blog.

Photo by Joseph Story Images

About the author

Francine Hoenderkamp

Francine 'woke up' to feminism at 25. She would like to thank her ex-boyfriend to whom she will be eternally grateful, for without his unknowing, unrelenting sexism, she wouldn't be writing and campaigning today

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