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.
“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, anyway?
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, 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.
‘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)