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24th September 2013

Time to end Page 3?

The No More Page 3 campaign has reached national prominence, Sam Dumitriu speaks to campaigners and asks is Page 3’s time up?

Lucy Anne-Holmes launched the No More Page 3 campaign in 2012 after buying a copy of The Sun the day after Jessica Ennis’ impressive heptathlon win.  Reading it she was pleasantly surprised noticing that the usual Page 3 model had given way to extra coverage of Britain’s success in the Olympics.

Any hope that The Sun had taken topless women out of the paper soon faded. They had just shifted it to page 13. On a day when female athletes like Jessica Ennis inspired the nation, the biggest picture of a woman in the country’s most widely read newspaper was a young woman in her knickers.

Starting with just an online petition, the No More Page 3 campaign has grown to become one of the nation’s most influential. They have built support along the way from major youth organisations including the Girl Guides and the British Youth Council. Stunts such as Green MP Caroline Lucas’ wearing of a No More Page 3 t-shirt and subsequent breach of parliamentary dress code has kept the campaign in the public eye.

I spoke to No More Page Three campaign team member Stephanie Davies-Arai about the success of the campaign and her response to the campaign’s criticisms. Davies-Arai was motivated to campaign against Page 3 after her personal experience of growing up in a Sun reading household.

“I know the impact it had on me growing from a young girl into a woman. I’d like to protect teenage girls from seeing their dad opening the paper and looking at breasts every day.”

She spoke of feeling humiliated when men would look at Page 3 in her company and the mix of contempt and lust men would hold for the women in these images.

“I felt put down. I felt I had to be like that; the message I got was that was she was the ideal. Not just ideal in how she looked but in how she behaved, being sexually open and sharing it around. It put a lot of pressure on me as a young woman to be sexually active before I was ready.”

“It’s taken me a lifetime to understand just how it affected me; It made me feel excruciatingly humiliated, when I saw it. It’s not how I wanted my gender to be represented, I wanted a newspaper to treat me with respect, not to expose me or treat me as a piece of meat.”

With this in mind, is buying The Sun an act of bad parenting?

“Speaking from experience I don’t think parents should buy the sun or have it in the house. A lot of parents believe it’s harmless but it sends a harmful message for girls growing into women.”

She stressed multiple times that the No More Page 3 campaign was not pushing for censorship.

“It’s a petition asking the Editor of The Sun, David Dinsmore very politely to drop the on-going feature.”

Davies-Arai believed censorship would ultimately be ineffective at achieving the wider aims of the campaign.

“I don’t think bans work, you change some things but you don’t change people’s hearts and minds. With the campaign as it is people are becoming more aware of Page 3. They are saying “Hang on, this isn’t ok anymore.”

Considering that there is a wide variety of ways in which the media promotes sexism, why should we focus on Page 3?

“Page 3 is iconic. What The Sun did when they launched it in 1970 was they brought the top shelf into the newspaper and called it glamour.  The fact that it’s in a newspaper makes it culturally acceptable. It gives it society’s stamp of approval.

That Page 3 is a naked woman doing nothing except presenting herself as sexually available in her facial expression and pose makes it problematic. It is the most sexualised image we will see in the public space and that gives it so much power.

The iconography is also important, if Page 3 goes it will be symbolic as the last bastion of the sexist seventies. If Page 3 falls, other things will go to.”

I suggested that there might be an issue with a feminist campaign focused on a lowbrow mass-market paper aimed at the working class.

The Daily Telegraph’s Brendan O’Neill argues that what motivates the campaign is a class-based prejudice towards the sort of people who read The Sun.

“These people are presumed to be so ill-educated, so incapable of distinguishing reality from fantasy, that if they gawp at Page 3 for long enough they will automatically turn into sexist beasts who believe that every woman is like Chloe, 21, from Essex: saucy and sexually available.”

Davies-Arai rejects these allegations. “We’ve got Unison, Britain’s largest trade union, supporting us. The Sun tries to portray critics as Guardian reading middle class whingers. But I’m working class that was why I saw the Sun in my home when I was young. It’s not a class issue; it’s a gender issue.”

How did The Sun’s many readers respond to the criticisms of Page 3?

“Some Sun readers have come forward supporting getting rid of Page 3, they believed it was disrespectful.”

This doesn’t represent the majority of Sun readers though as a YouGov poll suggests that 61% of Sun readers would like Page 3 to stay where it is.

Davies-Arai is confident, however, that if the poll were rerun today Sun readers would be more open to ditching Page 3.

“Organisations such as the Girl Guides, and the four major teaching unions have come out in support. This suggests experts in working with young people believe that Page 3 is harmful.”

I asked whether she canvassed the views of Page 3 models and whether they were resistant to the campaign. It seemed she did not make a particular effort to engage with glamour models. However, there had been some communication over social media between her and Page 3 model turned bodybuilder Jodie Marsh.

“They [glamour models] tend to say Women’s mags are worse, that we’ll put Page 3 models out of a job. We make it clear that we’re not against glamour models, if you want to do that job; it’s fine to do it.  It’s about having the choice to see it in private, and having the choice to not see it in public.”

Perhaps glamour models feel threatened by claims that their work demeans others, when many are in fact proud of their work.

“They may feel judged by us, but we take a lot of care to make sure that anyone who says something against glamour models on their page. It’s not my job, but we don’t have any judgement about doing that job. It might be empowering for them, but it’s not empowering for other women. I think women should have choice, but people should have choice in public not to see it.”

David Cameron in response to the campaign suggested it is up to parents to turn the page, rather than for the Sun to self-censor.

Davies-Arai questions whether this is a solution at all? “You can’t turn the page when it’s someone sitting next to you on the train”

She can find support for that claim from The Mancunion’s magazine editor Harriet Hill-Payne.

“One of my housemates asked about the reach of The Mancunion the other day – I gave the figures, then explained that due to the paper being abandoned on the bus, lying around the SU, copies left behind in the library, the reach of a paper is often far beyond the original consumer. Those who say that ‘everyone who buys The Sun knows what they’re getting’ – while the person who purchased it might have, anyone, specifically kids, picking it up will be confronted with the famous ‘news in briefs’ section on Page 3.”

This leads me to the most common criticism levelled at the campaign. If they do not like the content of The Sun, no one is forcing them to read it. In short if they don’t like it, don’t buy it.

“I’ve seen The Sun so many times without buying it; it is left in takeaways, on trains, on buses. You never see copies of The Guardian lying around, it is always The Sun.”

Inevitably, as with everything from Coca-Cola to Blurred Lines, the question of whether the Students’ Union should boycott it has come up.

Student Harriet Hill-Payne supports a boycott.

“The Sun should not be printing this material as ‘news’, such overt and corrosive sexism should not be on general display, and our Student’s Union certainly should not be, by selling it, endorsing the product.”

Manchester Students’ Union Women’s officer was also supportive.

“The Sun defends Page 3 as ‘free choice’ for the women involved and yet led this week with a racist front page pushing to ban Muslim women from wearing the niqab. Within this hypocrisy they highlight how they perpetuate a very specific ideal of what women should and shouldn’t look like, of how they should act and what makes them of value.

Getting rid of Page 3 isn’t the be all and end all in campaigning for women’s rights but I am glad to see students setting up a campaign around this and raising awareness of women’s treatment in our national media.”

The No More Page 3 campaign supports boycotts arguing “Having an image of a topless woman on the wall at work is recognised as a form of sexual harassment enshrined in the Equality Act of 2010. Whether on the wall, on the table, or being passed around, it is still an image that demeans and puts women in their place. It is important in terms of equality that woman should not have to feel like that in their workplace or in their place of study.”

Boycotts of The Sun have not been without problems. When the London School of Economics’ Students’ Union banned The Sun last year, it sparked controversy as the Women’s officer criticised the decision for ignoring other forms of sexism within the media. Students opposed to the boycott staged a protest handing out copies of The Sun for free however they were attacked and their stand was vandalised.

Sheffield University didn’t have much better luck with a largely critical response from the student body after the executive decided a referendum would disrupt the Women’s officer elections.

Former Mancunion Editor Richard Crook was scathing.

“It’s ok for our shop to sell cigarettes, a product which literally kills students, but it’s beyond the pale to sell the nation’s highest selling newspaper because it features a topless woman.

You could say the Mail vilifies some students and violates “safe space” policy, so why not ban that too? And you could say the Mirror uses all but naked women to sell papers, so why not chuck them out? Are we still selling The Star? Is it only damaging objectification if nipples are showing? The possibilities are endless. Just like the welfare officer two years ago, who started the now dead website “liberate yourself”, I suspect this makes zero difference to 99% of students, but serves as great pontificating fodder and top profiling to get some nonsense NUS position”

If the Manchester Students’ Union were to boycott The Sun it’s hard to imagine what it would achieve. Bare boobs are not exactly regularly on display in the SU as it currently stands. Students who wanted to read The Sun could buy it elsewhere and bring it in to the SU.

It could set a dangerous precedent, leading to calls for even more boycotts on women’s magazines like Vogue or it may further weaken support for the highly inconsistent boycotts the union currently runs.

Speaking with No More Page 3, I was struck by how modest their demands are. It probably is part of the reason why they have been able to draw support from so many moderate British institutions. Ultimately, these are not strident Andrea Dworkinesque anti-porn feminists. They are a group making the modest demand that The Sun should consign a sleazy feature from the less politically correct Seventies to the history books.

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