Page 3 – A Defence

Someone remarked that the kind of breasts on display would not be ‘normal’ and that they would be silicone enhanced.
That reminded me of something I knew about Page 3 that perhaps others did not.
I’m no fan of The Sun. I will not buy it and I do not read it. However, I am aware that the woman on Page 3 will not, apart from certain exceptions, have breast implants. The policy has been for the start of the feature, nearly 40 years ago, that the model will be ‘wholesome’ and natural looking. Indeed, when I twitched Page 1 aside, what we saw was a pleasant image of an attractive, curvy young woman with fairly large and normal looking breasts. The makeup and hair were natural and there was little evidence of airbrushing.
The much vilified ‘news in briefs’ section, to which I will return, was tiny – postage stamp sized – and down in the bottom left corner of the photo. The whole offending feature, which has received a huge amount of campaigning flak over the years, took up less than a third of the page.
We were all, I think, surprised at what we saw. We were expecting an airbrushed, plasticised glamour shot of a trussed up model, pouting provocatively at us from this newspaper. It’s interesting how ‘Lads’ Mags’ have created an aesthetic expectation in most people so that when you talk of topless photos, you have a specific image in mind.
Back home, I looked over the Sun’s Page 3 archive. The images in fact stood out as being far more normal looking than any of the other celebrity or glamour photos in the newspaper, and indeed features in other tabloids like the Daily Mail website’s Sidebar of Shame. On the Sun’s home page there was a photo shoot of some odd creature known as Amy Childs, and she *did* have hard silicone hemispheres plonked on her chest, with copious amounts of fake hair to go with her fake breasts. This shoot *did* have the harsh light and airbrushing we would expect. Except Ms Childs is not really a glamour model and the photos were not a feature in themselves. She posed for them in order to advertise her new lingerie range.
I began thinking about why the No More Page 3 campaign has got so much attention when in fact it features some of the least objectionable and ugly images of topless women I’ve seen for some time. 
The arguments are that it creates an oppressive culture of sexism; that it is in poor taste and that it encourages men to see women as sex objects. The campaign sees Page 3 as a totem of women’s poor status in the UK and feels, by a campaign of letter writing, that it will shame the Sun’s editors into removing it and then, somehow, everything will be better. Our pay will go up, sexual harassment will cease and everyone who wants it can work part time from home. Recently Murdoch has been making noises about replacing it.
Apart from the manifest idiocy of believing that getting people who do not and will not read the paper under any circumstances to write to the editor of the best selling paper in the UK and ask him/her to remove one of their longest running and popular features, there is a vast middle here that has not been distributed.
Page 3 is a symptom and not a cause of sexism. That it is sexist is up for debate. I think it’s subjective, but I will say that the fact that many men and women like looking at breasts relates to a highly primal and normal drive in humans. Breasts nurture and nourish us (or they ought to, more often than they do). They allure and seduce us (if we are that way inclined).
Those who object to Page 3 are using it as a shibboleth of all that is misogynistic, sexist and wrong.
 
But it is none of these things. Their objections are a mishmash of anti-porn activism, snobbery and prudishness.
 
The anti-porn people want to ban all porn. They are those who would impose a compulsory porn filter on the UK’s internet – a plan which has recently morphed into demanding that anyone with children must tick a box agreeing to have filters installed, with penalties to be imposed on those who simply fib in order to have their browsing unhindered.
 
I don’t care if my daughter sees porn, I really don’t. The reason is that I understand the internet, I know how it works and I know how to control it. She will know how to avoid it if she wishes.
 
I have also seen enough porn to know that it can span a massive range from high art to extreme exploitation and everything in between. Like cockroaches, those that do exploit individuals to make nasty porn hate any form of sunlight. Banning and restricting them will only allow them to flourish. This is a world in which genuine imagination, tenderness and beauty cohabit with tedious repetitive plastic humping and it is a world with value. It does not in itself corrupt.
 
It is also a world that can be entirely avoided if an individual so wishes. It is not compulsory.
 
However, at least an anti-porn activist has a stance that is logically consistent and defensible. They wish to control who has sex with whom and for what reasons. Sex for money (or other forms of material reward) is anathema. Good luck with that.
 
The snobbishness has struck me as irrational. They want the end of Page 3, but claim to be “sex positive” and pro porn. It’s as if pornography for the upper classes – tasteful monochrome Testino images of nudes, Mapplethorpe coffee table books or vintage Tom of Finland* prints are acceptable, yet accessible muck for the working classes is simply de trop. A catwalk show for a milliner featuring chilly looking models completely nude apart from the hat is applauded as high art: Sandra from Dagenham, in a pair of lacy pants, is not.
 
Tellingly, people who make this argument use derogatory terms about “Sandra from Dagenham” as if Sandra is not an agent of her own destiny. Sandra is apparently a victim and driven to this job by oppression and society. And, to cap it all, is from Dagenham! Imagine that. The hypothetical models are always from provincial towns in Essex – anyone from Essex will confirm they are as sick of these stereotypes as the models themselves. If Page 3 featured “Alexandra from Hampstead”, would that be better?
 
In fact, as a fully enfranchised member of a democratic society, Sandra can do as she wishes. Glamour modelling is a job after all: not a job for everyone certainly but a job nonetheless. Shutting down something which can be either launchpad to a decent career, or a way of getting pocket money whilst at university, is a little vindictive. Sandra may not really want to get a job as a broadsheet journalist, an academic, or a minimum wage position at a trendy third wave coffee shop. Sandra may have considered her options and decided glamour modelling offers good money with no heavy lifting.
 
It may even be that Sandra, denied the income from being a regular on Page 3, ends up feeling that she must have surgery in order to get other glamour modelling gigs and turns into another silicone clone on the pages of Nuts. They criticise the ‘news in briefs’ (a tiny callout allegedly quoting the model’s views on a newsworthy topic) as mocking the model. It isn’t – it’s mocking those who said that Page 3 was objectifying women. I have it on fairly good authority that the News in Briefs is *actually* chosen by the model – a dainty middle finger extended to those who would protect her from her own motivations.
 
Then there are the prudes. Ah, the prudes. The ones who would like the existence of the female nipple swept neatly under the carpet where it belongs.
 
But ultimately, is Page 3 sexist?
 
I would say it is *sufficiently* sexist but not *necessarily* sexist. That people like looking at attractive topless women is not a surprise and in a mature society, is not problematic. Page 3 is also not a *cause* of sexism. It merely reflects a cultural norm that it’s acceptable to show bared breasts in a newspaper but not an erect penis.
 
I also feel that were the Page 3 letter writers to be successful, they would not stop there. Next would be the lads’ mags, and next the top shelf, and then… who knows. 
 
I am with Orwell on this. Liberty, if it means anything, is the right to tell [or show] people what they don’t want to hear [or see]. To me censorship is far more offensive and dangerous than any pornography I have ever seen. And my word I have seen a lot – all legal, I must add.
 
And finally, on the Sun itself, I would be quite happy if every page of that rag were replaced with a topless image of a woman rather than the objectionable rubbish it usually publishes.
 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *