Given that Page 3 wasn’t in The Sun this week, it sure took up a lot of media space, especially among Lib Dems. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that loads of us want to wade into a fight that was framed as free speech and sexual expression vs gender equality and quality news reporting. But that’s not actually what’s going on at all: so here is a rundown of what Page 3 is, and why it’s harmful.
Page 3 is normalising objectification of women. The Sun makes printing nude women for the sole purpose of titillation in a national newspaper, which would otherwise be totally weird, normal. Images of nude women and breasts are perfectly normal and widely available in a sexual context (see, 80% of the internet), but a daily national newspaper is not the place for it, because it’s supposed to be for news. “Women have breasts” is pretty much the oldest story there is. Unless, like my mother, your breasts make it into the paper because they are testing the new mammogram machine at your local hospital they don’t need to be in there. If the Guardian decided to swap Polly Toynbee for a massive naked man next week, I’d find that equally inappropriate, because quality reporting is not about getting your rocks off (unless you have a particular fetish for bad photos of Ed Milliband).
The Sun’s behaviour about Page 3 bleeds into the rest of our press culture too. I agree that replacing it – albeit briefly – with women with their breasts covered by tiny string bikinis is hardly a huge step for mankind, but maybe it would have been harder for British tabloids to develop a culture of sexualising every women whose picture they print if they hadn’t had the stick of “but you think Page 3’s ok” to beat any who complained for the last 40 years?
Page 3 is also defining “sexy” in a narrow and damaging way. Glamour models have said they feel empowered by their choice to bare their bodies. Good for them – if being naked and getting paid for it is empowering for you, go ahead. Try one of the many, many places where that would still be possible if Page 3 didn’t exist. If glamour models say they will only model on Page 3, however, their argument is not “nudity is empowering”, but “loads of men confirming they find me attractive by ogling me is empowering”, which is a different ballgame. In that case, the model is really in the same position as the many other girls who look at the Sun every day, because she is valuing herself by what the paper has defined as attractive, and the Sun’s version of sexy is a very narrow spectrum indeed. For every glamour girl who makes it, there are those who are too large, too short, too small-breasted, too not-white to be considered sexy by the Sun. Thousands of girls are fed the image everyday of a white, young, (usually) blonde woman, who carries all of her body fat on her ribcage. This image was originally decided for us all by old, straight white men and it has barely changed in forty years. The image says that a woman’s only value comes from her ability to be sexual and decorative, and that if your body doesn’t fit their mould, you cannot be either – it literally tells young girls they are worthless. If we can get rid of it, more young women may feel like their body and their sexuality is in their control, and feel free to determine their value for themselves.
My next article will focus on free speech and why getting rid of Page 3 would be an infringement of absolutely nobody’s liberty anywhere.
* Alice Thomas is a member of the Federal Board and leads the FB Disciplinary Sub-Group. She is a solicitor based in Southwark who joined the Lib Dems in her hometown of Bromley & Chislehurst in 2006, just in time for her first by-election and has been campaigning ever since.