No More Page 3

If like I did, you grew up in the UK, or have lived here at any point since 1970, you will be familiar with the existence of Page 3 in The Sun and other tabloid newspapers. For many people, I imagine that Page 3 is a feature of British life that they do not question or reflect upon. Or if they do think about it, they file it alongside Carry On films and saucy seaside postcards as an eccentric but ultimately benign quirk of our national identity.

Something that intrigues and amuses me is to imagine what non-British people must make of Page 3 when they encounter it for the first time. How completely baffling and perplexing it must be to learn that there is a British newspaper – indeed, the newspaper with the largest circulation of all – that every day, prints a full page photograph of a young, attractive, glamour model showing her breasts, for readers to enjoy during their commute or tea break.

Since its inception, Page 3 had starkly divided opinion. During her time as an MP Clare Short famously campaigned against it, and was duly vilified as a fat, ugly, jealous killjoy by The Sun. That particular movement was unsuccessful, but for those who oppose the daily objectification of women in the media, the discontent has never completely disappeared. Just lately, there have been rumblings from a new generation of feminists, launching an internet campaign to petition the editor of The Sun, Dominic Mohan, to abolish Page 3 for good.

Information about the campaign can be found here, and I urge you to go and read it. In this post, I want to persuade you that if you are a reasonable person who is committed to equality between the sexes, then you ought to support this campaign – at the very least, by signing the petition. I’m going to try to do this by addressing three very common objections you often hear to campaigns like this, and show you why all of them are mistaken.

1. The models aren’t complaining, so why are you?

This is a standard response given to any feminist who tries to object to things like Page 3, pornography, or the so-called “lads’ mags”. The response goes something like this: the women do it voluntarily; nobody’s holding a gun to their heads and forcing them to bare their breasts; they enjoy it and get paid loads of money; the readers of The Sun like looking at them; everybody’s happy. Nobody’s harmed, so what’s your problem?

This is often followed by a sly comment insinuating that the objector must be in some way envious – perhaps she is not attractive enough to be a Page 3 model or to be lusted after in this way, and is resentful of those who are. Or, slightly less derisory is the suggestion that since nobody is harmed by these pictures, the only possible motivation anybody could have to object to them is prudishness. Feminists are humourless, behind the times and puritanical, out to spoil everyone else’s fun by imposing their archaic and priggish dislike of the sight of women’s bare bodies.

These responses are based on a serious – and I think often deliberate – misunderstanding of the nature of our (or at least my) objection to Page 3. Most feminists are very clear that our concerns about Page 3 are not primarily grounded in worries about the welfare of the models themselves. (This is despite some rather disturbing stories about some tabloid practices, such as The Sunday Sport newspaper grooming a fifteen year old girl for Page 3 and including a countdown in their pages until the day they could legally show her topless.)

Rather, the main reason I object to the continued existence of Page 3 is that I think it is harmful to all women, not just the women who choose to appear. I am sure the models are fairly remunerated for their work, and in the absence of evidence of coercion, I don’t deny that they do the job freely and willingly. But the real damage caused by printing pictures of topless women for men to leer over every day is done to all those women who didn’t choose it. The rest of us were never asked whether we wanted to live in a world where Page 3 exists; and if asked, many of us would withhold our consent. I believe that Page 3 has a profound and detrimental effect on all women, and on relations between the sexes more generally. As I argued here, this time in response to a particularly misogynistic piece of Sun journalism, this newspaper and others like it reproduce and promote a world view wherein women are regarded first and foremost as sexual objects. Printing a daily photograph of an attractive young woman baring her breasts for male appreciation creates and reinforces the idea that the primary role of a woman is to be beautiful and sexually available. All other aspects of women’s identities – their talents, abilities, achievements – are secondary. The message constructed and repeated day in, day out, is that women exist primarily for men’s sexual arousal.

For me, the most toxic element of Page 3 is not actually the photograph itself – I am not in the least offended by the sight of bare breasts. The thing I find most hateful and objectionable is the little text box next to the photograph – the piece that has come to be called ‘News in Briefs’. This is a line or two of insight or observation about the big news story of the day, attributed to the model, such as:

Chloe was devastated to hear that Picasso works have been stolen. She said: “I’ve long been an admirer of his bold expressions of cubism and am particularly keen on his Analytic and Synthetic periods. He really knew how to slap the oils around.”

The financial ruin hitting Greeks earns sympathy from Rhian. She says: “It’s a tragedy of epic proportions – but Greece’s budget deficit of 12.7 per cent is fiscally unsustainable. The government fell for the myth of European monetary standardisation and the Acropolis is facing apocalypse now. Homer would be horrified. Even Bart could do better.”

This instance was especially popular, being repeatedly forwarded and retweeted for days after its publication:

It’s quite clear what the joke is supposed to be here. Obviously a glamour model couldn’t possibly have said such things! Can you imagine it – a young, beautiful woman knowing about economics or science?! How hilarious, pretending that a blonde, pretty woman with big breasts would understand quantum mechanics. What a funny joke. Chortle.

You don’t need to be particularly insightful, or engage in too much reading between the lines, to understand the message that’s being presented here. Science, art, economics, politics – these things are not for women, and certainly not for young, attractive women. These are big boys’ issues. Leave it to the men and their superior intellects to worry about the Higgs Boson and the Greek economy – you girls just concentrate on sticking your tits out and looking pretty.

Seeing that picture, every day, and reading that message, every day, it seems inevitable that many people – both men and women – will absorb the ideology it promotes: that women’s primary role is decorative, not intellectual, and that they do not deserve equal respect. Whether or not Chloe, Rhian or Danni object to being presented in this light, damage is done to all women by Page 3. And so yes, I have pretty good reasons to object to Page 3, even if those who participate do so freely and are handsomely compensated.

This brings me to the second common response, namely:

2. If you don’t like The Sun, don’t buy it!

Given the arguments made above, this response is just not going to cut the mustard. Of course I don’t buy The Sun. I never have. That’s not really the point. I’m not objecting to Page 3 because I don’t like looking at breasts, so that the whole problem could be avoided if I simply stopped opening the front cover. Rather, I consider that Page 3, and the sexist ethos of the newspapers like The Sun more generally, are harmful to me and to all women, regardless of whether we ever pick it up.

Painful as it is to acknowledge, The Sun has the largest circulation of any UK newspaper, and therefore its impact is significant. Millions of people read that newspaper daily, unavoidably imbibing its ideas and values. This is harmful not only to how men view women, but also to how women come to view themselves. As those behind the latest campaign argue, the existence of Page 3 is one of the biggest factors contributing to the continued objectification and commodification of women and their bodies in British society. For those of us who are concerned about this, simply not choosing to buy a product we never bought to begin with is never going to be sufficient.

3. This is censorship! 

At this point, many people start to worry about the effects of these arguments on freedom of expression. Even if everything I have said is true, surely calling for an end to Page 3 is an attempt to censor the freedom of the press?

I think this is a legitimate worry, so it’s important to be very clear that this is not what this campaign is about. If you head over to the petition here you will see that it is not an attempt to ‘ban’ Page 3, or an attempt to restrict the freedom of The Sun in any way. Rather, it is a request to the editor of The Sun that he stop printing pictures of topless women in the newspaper from now on.

This is a crucial distinction. I am a liberal as well as a feminist, and I am fully aware of the central role played by ideals of free expression, and by mechanisms such as a free press, to the maintenance of a liberal society. I do not wish to speak for the other members of the campaign, but I can positively state that if this campaign were about restricting freedom of expression – if the ultimate aim was to pass legislation preventing the publication of topless women on Page 3 of daily newspapers – I would not support it. I place a high value on liberal rights of freedom of expression, and recognise that this only has any meaning if I extend it to forms of expression of which I do not personally approve. The liberal virtue of toleration is meaningless unless one is prepared to extend it to those with whom one disagrees – indeed, that is what toleration is. So while I dislike Page 3, and believe it to promote distorted and damaging gender stereotypes, I do not think that this is a serious enough reason to restrict the freedom of expression of The Sun newspaper and its editors. In my opinion, the harms caused to women’s social standing and to gender relations are too indirect, mediated through a myriad of other social, economic and cultural phenomena, to meet the heavy burden of justification that would be required to restrict the press’s freedom of expression.

But this campaign is not attempting to restrict anybody’s right to free expression – it is not calling for any form of legal censorship. What it is doing is exercising our own right of freedom of expression to call on the editor of The Sun, and ask him to exercise his right more responsibly. Just because you have a right to do something, doesn’t mean that you should do it, and doesn’t mean that others can’t ask you to reconsider whether it is the correct thing to do. That is why I support this campaign. It is not aiming to ban Page 3, and does not represent a call for censorship of the media. Instead, it is a call to newspaper editors to recognise the influence they exert when they exercise this right, and to ask them not to exercise it in ways that are damaging to their fellow citizens. It is also asking consumers of The Sun to reflect upon the view of women they are being offered, and to reject the sexist and archaic ideas about the place of women in society it promotes.

I see this campaign not as a form of censorship, but as operating in the best feminist tradition of consciousness-raising. The aim is to illustrate to Dominic Mohan, and other tabloid editors, that there is a growing, vocal number of people – both men and women – who reject the distorted view of women they present to their readers, and who oppose the daily commodification and objectification of women in the media. The aim is also to raise awareness of the distorted and damaging effects of such imagery and journalism on women’s equality and on gender relations; and to encourage both men and women to make their indignation known, and stop buying The Sun and newspapers like it until their promotion of such harmful views ends. The hope is that if we speak loudly enough, we might challenge the widespread view that the picture of women presented by The Sun is acceptable.


EDIT – 12 September 2012

There’s a fourth myth about this campaign that it has just occurred to me it’s important to address. There’s another standard response you often hear, and that has already been raised in the comments on this Guardian piece about the campaign, namely:

4. The Sun will never get rid of Page 3, it will harm sales!

This reply is regularly trotted out, either in a defeatist tone by those who wish to inform us that we’re wasting our time, or by those who seem to think that the primary obligation of a newspaper editor is to satisfy the demands of the readership. This response assumes that Page 3 exists because there is such strong consumer demand for it, and therefore getting rid of it (NB – not banning!) would be detrimental to sales. From this, depending on your point of view, we either get the defeatist conclusion that it will never happen; or we get the argument that it ought not to happen, because the newspaper should deliver whatever its readers want.

It seems to me that this response is based upon a pretty dubious empirical assumption that I am not sure stands up to scrutiny, namely: that a significant proportion of The Sun’s readership buy the newspaper primarily for the photograph of a topless woman. Now, I don’t know whether that is true. But it seems to me to be highly unlikely. It would have been unlikely in 1970, but in 2012, with far more exciting things on the internet, it seems ludicrously unlikely to think that some people buy The Sun because without it, they wouldn’t know where else to go to see some breasts.

At the same time, each of the following scenarios seem quite likely to me to be true:

a) Some people buy The Sun in spite of Page 3, but dislike it, and would prefer it not to be there

b) Some people buy The Sun while being indifferent to Page 3, and would continue to buy it whether it were there or not

c) Some people do not currently buy The Sun because they dislike or are embarrassed by Page 3, and would buy it in future if they got rid of it.

Given that all three of these seem possible, I don’t see any good reason to so quickly assume that getting rid of Page 3 would be detrimental to the Sun’s sales.

Further, this response assumes a one-dimensional and simplistic account of the nature of consumer demand and market supply: the reader has the desire, the newspaper simply meets it. This entirely neglects the possibility that the newspaper might not only be responding to consumer demand, but also helping to create and reinforce that demand. It seems likely that if they stopped printing the photographs, readers would over time stop desiring to see pictures of topless women with their daily news. The Sun and its editors cannot retreat entirely from moral argument by claiming to be merely meeting the demand of their customers. They have further moral responsibilities, besides simply satisfying consumer demand. They have obligations not to contribute to social inequality, or to reproduce and promote a world view wherein half of the citizens of the country are demoted to the position of sexual objects and commodities.

If I have persuaded you, please sign the petition

You can also follow the campaign on Twitter: @NoMorePage3

51 thoughts on “No More Page 3

  1. You should have taken this blogging lark up earlier; you’re obviously a natural…

    Point 1 is pretty obvious, especially to anyone familiar with the harm principle (though apparently not to defenders of Page 3, hence the need to state it). I might add, in the spirit of Mill, that institutions such as Page 3 may be harmful to men as well as women. I don’t choose to live in a world with Page 3 either, and it distorts people’s perceptions (perhaps even mine) of women *and* men (am I not masculine if I don’t want to ogle over Page 3?).

    On the other hand, I have a worry that this line of argument can be a threat to liberty. For practically anything, someone can complain ‘I don’t choose to live in a society where that kind of thing goes on, and alters people’s attitudes’. Anti-gay religious types, for instance, may claim that their marriages are harmed by homosexuals, because homosexuality changes the meaning of marriage in ways that they do not endorse. Can we find a principled reason why the dispersed harm to women in general seems like a reason for interference, while harm to religious conservatives does not?

    Perhaps, however, this point is unnecessary, given your point 3. If there was a harm, then it could justify censorship. But, if this isn’t censorship, then harm isn’t necessary.

    This brings me to point 3, which is really interesting, but I’m not sure it’s quite adequate as stated. A Millian liberal recognises that freedom can be restricted by both state and society. If the Sun editor is cowed into not publishing Page 3 by social pressure, then that could be considered civil society censorship, even if no law is involved. I think we need to distinguish between the campaign successfully persuading him of the error of his ways and it failing to change his attitudes but nonetheless leading him to stop publishing because of social pressure. The latter could, I think, be considered censorship. I take it that your real aim is the former, which I agree is morally unproblematic, but it’s important to distinguish the two.


    1. Dude. “Censorship” happens all the time. But when advertisers threaten to pull their advertising from newspapers because they didn’t like a story, and get that story killed, nobody ever seems to invoke that word.

      They only cry “censorship” when some activist challenges their dudely right to eyeball-rape women’s bodies.

      Translation: Sit down and shut up, little lady, you don’t want to encroach on the rights of your oppressors. Don’t worry, they’ll toss you a crumb or two, if they have the time, and if you strive to please them hard enough. Um, no thank you.


    2. Thanks for this Ben.

      I agree with everything you say here. I make the point that Page 3 causes harm to people who didn’t voluntarily choose to engage in it just to show that the really quick liberal response – that everyone who is affected by it has consented to it, so there’s nothing more to be said – doesn’t hold.

      But as you rightly point out, this argument can have worrying implications for liberty, if people can claim to have been harmed by any number of practices to which they didn’t consent. I would want to make the stronger claim that the harms done by Page 3 are objective, as opposed to the subjective but ultimately mistaken claim made by those who dislike gay marriage that they are harmed by it. I realise we’re then in difficult epistemic territory about how we identify what constitutes objective harm – and perhaps that’s precisely what’s at stake when those who object to gay marriage claim to be harmed by it.

      But anyway, I don’t think anything hangs on this for my argument here. I believe that there are objective harms caused by Page 3 – and your points about the harms to men are of course spot on as well. But I think these harms are too indirect and unclear in their operation to justify the imposition of restrictions on free expression. Institutions like Page 3 interact with other social and cultural practices in complex ways, and while I have no doubt that they contribute to patterns of gender inequality, the way in which they do so is complicated and unclear, and so I don’t think these are the kinds of harms that could justify censorship.

      Of course, the Millian point about censorship taking the form of social pressures, as well as legal restrictions, is correct. So you’re right that I’ve been too quick to say that since I don’t want to ban anything, therefore I can’t be trying to censor anyone. Interestingly, I think this attempt to stifle dissenting opinion is what is often going on when people respond to views like mine with the charge of censorship. The accusation of censorship is quickly pulled out to try to shut down discussion about things like Page 3 or the content of certain comedians’ jokes – if you accuse the person raising the objections of trying to censor or restrict free speech, you effectively discredit them and stifle that discussion. That’s an intriguing and valuable finding, I think – that cries of ‘censorship!’ are often themselves a highly effective form of social censorship.

      But yes, you’re right. I should be clearer that the aim is rational persuasion, not to simply apply so much public condemnation and outrage that Page 3 becomes effectively censored by social pressures. This does leave me in an interesting quandary though, about whether I take this form of social censorship as seriously as Mill does – part of me thinks that if it results in the end of Page 3, I can cope with a bit of social conformity!


      1. “The accusation of censorship is quickly pulled out to try to shut down discussion about things like Page 3 or the content of certain comedians’ jokes – if you accuse the person raising the objections of trying to censor or restrict free speech, you effectively discredit them and stifle that discussion.”

        This. Freedom of expression, and particularly freedom to offend, really shouldn’t go hand-in-hand with unwillingness to take the consequences in the form of criticism. My favourite part of allowing obnoxious views to be aired is that those airing them often just end up looking stupider than if they’d kept their mouths shut – witness Nick Griffin on Question Time or David Irving pretty much anywhere. What arguments are there in favour of page 3, in itself, apart from freedom of expression – the fact that some people like looking at naked breasts,
        are too pathetic to find a girlfriend but need to be catered for somehow? Doesn’t stand up. That’s why they don’t want a debate…


      2. Rebecca, arent you being a bit disingenuous here – with your argument that those who cry censorship are the ones who want to stifle discussion? The fact is that you do want to silence page 3, not by the law but by social pressure. You dont want to simply promote discussion about the ideas in page 3. You believe page 3 itself is a toxic influence that corrupts men and needs to be stopped.

        If you did want to promote discussion about the ideas in page 3 you’d have to argue with people and put forward your views. For example you’d have to argue that women are equally as capable as men, and arent only capable of being beautiful and sexy.

        The problem is that pretty much everyone accepts this and no one (apart from a few cranks) argues the reverse.

        On reflection, perhaps the reason you feel incapable of putting forward an effective argument for equal respect is that no one is arguing for unequal respect. So, unable to enter a debate that doesnt exist, you focus on images that contain a ‘hidden message’ that no one states outright.

        Do you ever pause to consider that perhaps it is only you who see the ‘hidden message’ of misogyny because you are convinced it exists? (Other people just see a beautiful young woman with a nice pair of breasts)

        I know this sounds bizarre, but think about it. What is it that convinces you that men do have negative attitudes towards women? Where is the evidence of this in the real world?

        Or am I missing something here? Do I just exist in a very nice subculture of Britain where men and women get along just fine?


      3. In answer to your question – yes Dan, you are living in a very nice subculture in which you have not been frequently sexually harrassed and occasionally sexually assaulted since you were 12 years old (a.k.a. not being a woman.)


        1. You seem to imply that ‘being a woman’ means being frequently sexually harrassed and occasionally sexually assaulted since the age of 12. That’s realy sad you have that perspective. Is that really your experience of the opposite sex? Did you experience boys at school as threatening and dangerous?


      4. I’m not ‘implying’ it, I’m stating it – because, it’s you know, a fact. If you are genuinely ‘sad’ that I have that perspective you might want to look here – they just had their 50,000th entry or at some of the things right now on twitter under the sharedgirlhood hashtag. If you are using ‘sad’ as a rhetorical strategy to make me doubt myself, because maybe it really is just my problem then, respectfully, I’ll take your pity, and raise you feminism…


  2. “I don’t deny that they do the job freely and willingly.”

    Do you deny that women have less power, privilege, and access to resources than men do?
    Do you deny that having less of those things make women vulnerable to male predators?
    Do you deny that economic deprivation is a coercive influence?


    1. For the argument here, I don’t need to take a position on any of those questions, and so I haven’t.

      But in response to your questions: I agree with the first two propositions. Yes, generally speaking, women have less power, privilege and fewer resources than men do, and yes, all other things being equal, having less of these things makes one vulnerable (to all sorts of harms, not just predators, not just males).

      As for whether lack of economic resources is itself a form of coercion, I’m still undecided. I’m inclined to think it is, but it’s a very complex question. If what you’re wanting to suggest though is that the women who work as Page 3 models have been effectively coerced into doing so by economic deprivation…well, I would want to resist that claim. It seems highly dubious to me, and I’m not sure it stands up to scrutiny. And I don’t think I need to make such contentious claims to object to Page 3, especially since I’m not calling for legal restrictions.


  3. So, something is bugging me about this:

    “Seeing that picture, every day, and reading that message, every day, it seems inevitable that many people – both men and women – will absorb the ideology it promotes: that women’s primary role is decorative, not intellectual, and that they do not deserve equal respect.”

    I don’t think that’s true, and I’d like to see some evidence that this is. Anyway, even ideologically I don’t think this aligns with Liberal Individualism – that is, the Page 3 model is a *person*, and that defines her. Just as another woman somewhere else is a separate person, not a representative of women everywhere who is damaged by the action of another woman somewhere.

    (I must say I don’t actually have a problem with this petition – I don’t think removing Page 3 does any good, but I don’t think removing it in this way does any harm. Good luck!)


    1. Thanks for your comment!

      It looks like there’s two different points there – what seems to be basically an empirical question, about whether the media have the influence I am claiming for them; and the other seems a conceptual one about whether a liberal can make the kind of argument I’m making.

      On the first point – I accept that this is an empirical assertion, but I don’t think it’s based on a particularly outlandish or controversial view about human psychology. Presumably you don’t deny that the content of The Sun – Page 3, News in Briefs, articles like that revolting Matt Bendoris piece to which I responded (linked to above) – is sexist, and embodies attitudes of disrespect and contempt for women. Presumably what you dispute is that reading messages with that content on a regular basis influences the values and beliefs the reader comes to hold. Admittedly, I’m neither a sociologist or a psychologist, and I don’t know what the data actually illustrates here. But wouldn’t it be odd if reading hateful, sexist material every day didn’t influence you at all? Isn’t it a much more controversial assumption, based on a far less plausible account of human psychology, to think that we could read stuff like that every day and not be in any way affected by it, in our attitudes or actions?

      As for your second point, I don’t endorse the picture of liberalism it suggests. Liberalism as a moral and political philosophy holds that the individual is the primary unit of moral concern. But it would be rather useless as a political philosophy if it instructed us to disregard all the features of people’s concrete identities that, in practice, have implications for their social standing, for the share of society’s resources they receive, etc. I simply don’t accept that a commitment to liberalism and to the rights of the individual requires us to be blind to their specific identities in this way. If it did, then it would be a pretty unattractive theory.


    2. Hi James
      I am really sorry to inform you that this is absolutely true. I have never read The Sun or looked at Page 3 for the exact reason that Page 3 is in there. So I was stunned reading this blog to discover that little box next to a topless women exists.

      I am a fairly well known author – former medical GP and I now talk about physics and other ideas in science to the public. I was horrified to find a whole page on the internet written about me questioning whether or not the readers of the forum wanted to rape me! They then concluded that they didn’t based on the fact that I didn’t have my kit off in pictures and look like a Beauty Queen candidate.

      I have never used the sexy card in my work. I speak about science. I think the issue is if you do not play up to the current expectations of women, I am afraid that sometimes puzzlement and at worst hatred is piled on you.

      I have some specialised knowledge and can hold my own with scientific Professors etc , but I am a freelance independent thinker who does not do this within the confines of a job, which sometimes makes it more difficult for people to understand why a woman would do this. A lot of women admire my courage and comment on my ‘bravery’, but why are not more of them also speaking up?

      I repeatedly walk into rooms of male scientists in which I can feel the incredulity. I even sat once with a scientist and spoke about physics and he focused on my male partners’ face as I spoke the words. It was almost like he could not take the words coming from the package. I have been asked repeatedly if I really wrote the books I have written. One man would not even speak to me once he found out my work, which he admired, came from a woman. I think if I didn’t have Dr before my name my career might have been more difficult.

      Page 3 casually placing bodies as objects in with the news and taking the mickey out of their intellect has contributed to a wider culture in which if a woman, especially a young, perceived pretty one, opens her mouth to speak and comes out with anything intelligent, sometimes it doesn’t even register. So pervasive is this image of women. I saw a video which summed this up once and it included a clip of Sarah Palin being asked if she had breast implants. Ask yourself this – where are the women in this country under 40 known for their intellect and not their looks and you will be hard pressed to name them. Because young women themselves are buying into this idea too – that they are there for the male gaze.

      This campaign is a sign of something deeper and wider then Page 3 and I have seen first hand that fostering the page 3 mentality really does affect how women are seen. It is raising awareness of this issue – good luck to it.


      1. I have to agree with this, advertising and media is totally dominated by scantily clad young ladies, even, nay especially, in that portion of the media that is by/for young ladies themselves. I cannot believe that people who pass themselves off as journalists can bring themselves to pass comment on how Hilary Clinton looks or whether Palin has had surgery, it’s irrelevant,patronising and completely ridiculous.

        A good way of combating such idiocy would be to introduce a $/£10,000 fine for even asking such blatantly sexist questions or passing such moronic comments.


  4. Thank you for writing this clear-sighted and articulate blog – in my view it adds something very valuable to the campaign, which I already support.

    Personally I’m glad you opted not to talk about the models and their choice (or ‘choice’, depending on how you look at it) – as I agree it’s a very different discussion.

    Instead you zero in on one of the aspects I’ve always considered most undermining – the ridiculing of intelligent women (and, through the use of a male writer, the ‘playful’ denial of the right of women to speak for themselves, full stop).


  5. Reblogged this on Not a PhD Thesis and commented:
    A well-argued demolition of the myths that perpetuate the Sun’s Page 3, at least from a woman’s perspective.

    I would add that Page 3 (and the lad’s mags) are damaging to men because it perpetuates the idea that women are sex objects and is possible doorway into more extreme forms of pornography, resulting in sex and internet addiction. I am a man so I kinda know what I am talking about. I would therefore argue that there is a logical and real connection between Page 3 and all forms of sexual abuse (whoever the victim).

    One thing that my mum used to say when my mum discovered copies of FHM in my room in the past, she always commented: “I have to remember that I have a sister.” (I never really understood it until much later, when I had more experience.)


  6. Great post – I had seen references to the campaign and felt uneasy about it on grounds of disagreeing with censorship/banning until I read your blogpost.

    (I read the Guardian article you linked to your blog on first, which didn’t explicate exactly what the campaign was for anywhere near as clearly)


  7. Great post, I also found this article through the guardian website article, I hope this campaign works and have signed the petition I would also agree with one of the above posters that it damages men aswell, some men may start thinking its the norm to look at these pictures because of the sly comments you hear such as the ones you describe in the post. I read somewhere once that broadsheets have an average reading age of 18 where the mind has developed enough to understand the concepts I presume. Tabloids have a reading age of much lower which says alot about the content (not the pictures) being for that agegroup. Lots to think about from your blogpost. Thanks Ben


  8. Hi Rebacca, this is a very well constructed and reasoned post, I’m particularly impressed by the counter-counter arguments made. I never read the Sun myself because I find it akin to opening a daily newspaper only to find someone has cut a big hole in the middle of the paper out and stuck their bum through it. Nevertheless, I dont think the Sun will ever stop page 3 in its current incarnation, infact I’m surprised they have tried to get away with more, such that the entire newspaper looks like a mammogram instruction manual; however I do have an alternate proposal. Let the Sun keep page 3 with the model with her boobs out, but right next to her picture make them print an equally sized photograph of a morbidly obese, middle aged man with a big, overhanging beer gut and hairy shoulders, wearing only an ill fitting pair of speedos and some sandals, leering at the reader with a menacing look in his eye (and he’s got one of those looks that follows your eye line as well, so no matter how hard you try its never out of your peripheral vision). And instead of the ‘News in Briefs’ (its a good thing repeating a joke everyday makes it funnier) have ‘Uncomfortable truths’. Things like “Tracey is dismayed at the realisation life is unfulfilling, ultimately meaningless trudge towards the inevitability of the grave”. That way Sun readers would be conditioned to associated objectification with a deepening existential crisis; batchelor parties in strip clubs would then become overwhelmingly depressing affairs, making certain men perhaps appreciate women for other reasons other than the precise angle of her nipples. What do you think?
    All the best


  9. Good post – and I’ve signed as a result. Utterly horrified by the “news in brief” comments – was completely unaware of that. An entire Sun readership pointing and laughing *shudder*


  10. “It’s quite clear what the joke is supposed to be here. Obviously a glamour model couldn’t possibly have said such things! Can you imagine it – a young, beautiful woman knowing about economics or science?! How hilarious, pretending that a blonde, pretty woman with big breasts would understand quantum mechanics. What a funny joke. Chortle.

    You don’t need to be particularly insightful, or engage in too much reading between the lines, to understand the message that’s being presented here. Science, art, economics, politics – these things are not for women, and certainly not for young, attractive women. These are big boys’ issues. Leave it to the men and their superior intellects to worry about the Higgs Boson and the Greek economy – you girls just concentrate on sticking your tits out and looking pretty.”

    I think you’re missing the joke slightly here (although I see that it could be iintperpreted the way you suggest).

    I think the intended humour in those “News in Briefs” quips is not just that the pretty blondes don’t really understand advanced quantum phsyics or macro economics….it’s that the readers of the Sun don’t understand such subjects either. I doubt the average Sun reader is chortling at the quips out of some misguided sense of superiority in that department.

    I think the joke is almost self-deprecating in that sense. It’s a tongue-in-cheek acnkowledgment that nobody is looking at Page 3 for the political soundbites. I think there’s also a certain element of reverse snobbery too – like these topics (economics/physics) are for the “posh” papers (broadsheets) not for “normal folk” who read the Sun. So in response to the Guardianish/Indy sorts who would criticize P3, the Sun has thrown in a mock-high-brow sounding quote, as if to say “there, happy now?”

    Not sure if that’s come across exactly as I intended it, but I think it’s a bit more complex than simply a case of men laughing at the presumed intellectual inferiority of the models.


  11. This is a really great, thoughtful post with some brilliant comments as well. One thing I would mention is that tits in newspapers aren’t, alas, something uniquely British. During German elections many years ago I was in Italy and the only German newspaper I could find was Bild – which featured a lovely spread on how much the newspaper and its readers weren’t at all racist and totally loved Turkish Gastarbeiterinnen – providing they weren’t wearing anything on top! Quite where to begin with that I don’t know (haven’t bought Bild before or since, so I have no idea what other hateful crap lies in store).


  12. Ok flippant bit first, can you not be opposed to page 3 AND still be fat,ugly etc. also no one is asked if they choose to exist in any sort of world or with any institution, for page 3 substitute the Cof E or (sorry,flippant again) Man Utd.
    You could mention the Sun’s own internal hypocrisy by claiming frequently to be a family newspaper and carrying pieces by it’s own or guest writers about the sexualisation of children. It would be the first to be up in arms about shops selling push up bras or t-shirts with inappropriate slogans to pre-pubescents and yet open the paper and…
    Found this piece via your tweet to Deborah Orr so not sure how long it’s been out but you could also reference Mohan exercising responsibility in not printing the Kate pictures.
    Re. The news in brief comments, I agree to some extent with the tabloid vs broadsheet comment above. Surely you could do something similar with footballers and get a “chortle” at their expense too.


  13. I think you’re over-complicating point 4, about whether it will harm the Sun’s sales. Scenarios a) and b) are irrelevant, and what matters is which group is larger:

    i) Those who would stop buying the Sun if it stopped printing topless pictures
    ii) Those who would start buying the Sun if it stopped printing topless pictures

    Until group ii) outnumbers group i) by enough of a margin that the decision to stop page 3 is an easy one to make, I don’t think it’ll happen.

    I don’t think that the campaign is a waste of time, since it will make people think about these issues, and the point will hit home for some of them, but I don’t think it has very much chance at all of actually stopping page 3.


  14. Excellent blog, thank you!

    I do wish those defeatists would stop Eeyoring. If you don’t keep trying, nothing will ever be achieved.

    What I find particularly depressing is the women who support Page 3 with an unthinking, “If you don’t like it, don’t look.” As you say in your article, Page 3 reflects on ALL women who do not choose to get our boobs out for male gratification. The models are well-paid, I’m sure, for blithely whipping their assets out, not realising/caring that they’re making every aspect of life more difficult for women who want to keep their clothes on.

    How will the sexes ever be equal when women are made to feel their status and worth is solely tied up in how they look and how sexually attractive they are to men?

    Both the sexes deserve better than this.

    Chastity x


  15. The most depressing thing for me is the fact that The Sun has the highest circulation. The Daily Sport did stop eventually and I think comes out just twice a week now (twice too many IMO). Along with the decline of the lads mags it shows that these types of media are gradually losing popularity, hopefully because they are not being taken up by new younger readers. I disagree with you on one point though- Men who feel entitled to look at women’s naked bodies are not a minority. Unfortunately they are a significant majority which cuts through all social classes, cultures and ages. They are on building sites, high ranking city jobs, politicians, Mp’s, council workers etc. If I recall, it was the last Labour government which relaxed laws on pornography, so what message did that send out? As much as I wish your campaign success, I feel it’s a losing battle against an entrenched mentality and a multi-billion pound pornography industry.


  16. If the Sun got rid of Page 3, I don’t believe sales would plummet because most people buy the paper for its sports coverage, followed by celebrity gossip.


  17. Hi thanks for this, excellent and well reasoned article. I have never really followed current feminist topics/ initiatives as it didn’t seem relevant to my personal circumstances, relationship or job and as certain stigma is attached to it. However, I noticed recently in my extended social circle that this cheap, outdated, shallow image of woman (no brain, tits out etc) is being pushed and I felt quite insulted and angered by this. In fact it took me a while to put my finger on where the upset is coming from so thank you for your words there!
    To be clear, I am certainly not “ugly, fat, jealous or frustrated” i.e. lacking in looks, male or female attention or unable to take pleasure in my own body, I just wish that equal and higher importance is given to female sporting, intellectual, business or artistic achievements (of which there are plenty around us) and less focus on simple visual stimuli that the average guy seems most comfortable with.
    I am signing the petition and I wish you best of luck with all this!


  18. A very interesting piece however I feel you are wrong on a few points. Male and female are sexual objects, it would seem to me arguments like yours, plus Harriet Harman who appeared on Newsnight, would argue that a nation should aim to become asexual. I’m sure this could be achieved if we all wear baggy grey boiler suits and no make-up! Of-course both in the animal world and to an extent in the human world sexuality entails an element of availability. Availability, dating, weighing up the physical are part of the human process else we may as well get a computer match us via our gene pool. Nobody says page 3 reinforces the idea that the primary role of a woman is to be beautiful and sexually available only those who argue against it. If this were the case we should ban anything that promotes this type of idea.

    What was of great concern to me from the interview with Harriet Harman is that her view is that a glamour model is some kind of second class citizen who has not reached their potential just because they have chosen their job to be a glamour model. This kind of thinking is a dangerous as reinforces the idea that everyone else is a ‘pleb’. As for the equality argument I’m not sure even if those who argue for it really know what they are talking about as quality takes many different forms.


    1. AM, great to read a slightly different view. The danger with any line of thought, ideology, activism is that it only attracts those who agree where their existing view is merely reinforced and nobody learns anything much new or changes their mind about things.
      Male and female can both be sexual objects- yes but you don’t see anywhere near the amount of male images in the everyday media that would balance this, right? We see men who are successful businessmen, scientists, musicians, politicians, sportsmen etc.
      On the other hand, the most prominent and popular image of woman seems to be that of the half naked and dimwitted “glamour model” or similar. It is naive to think that this does not affect the way men and women see themselves and the other gender. Otherwise why would we have such a dispproportionate number of girls who are keen to undress and attract money and attention in that way but not keen to read a few books and develop themselves a bit further in business, artistic or academic sense. It is because the society and men tell them directly or indirectly that this is the way to go.
      Any lady who sees herself as a bit more than a pair of tits and legs to be gawped at and values work, ambition, intellect, independence must be at least a little annoyed by the state of things if not even pushed into a knee- jerk “don’t tell me how to look and speak (or not speak) else I am growing some funny hair and wearing these unsightly trousers!”.

      Not the biggest fan of H Harman myself and wouldn’t trust her to regulate our culture and media (no more than I would go into an all-out war to legally censor of things like page 3) but it is absolutely right and in some way an obligation to promote a different view and image of woman which gains us more respect outwardly and personal satisfaction inwardly.
      As far as glamour models being “pleb”/ second rate citizen or being called this, not sure of that. Personally it wont ever be the choice I make (unless very desperate and hungry!), the choice is someone elses to which they have a right. I just think providing young girls with more healty role models which affirm themselves through means other than sticking their tits our (which I don’t suppose is much of an achievement, do you?) and with another way of thinking and seeing themselves is the right thing to do.
      Equality is affirmed by this and freedom to do and view what one wants are not jeopardised. Quality (if that’s what you meant to say?) is to me about meaningful content which I fail to see in simple one- dimensional images of half naked girls produced for daily consumption by men at the expense of more positive and high achieving examples.


  19. Hi Rebecca,

    I would rather page 3 not exist, but I think this is probably a class-based prejudice of mine. If it could be shown to cause harm, then that would indeed be a good reason to get rid of it.

    On the question of what do non-British people make of page 3, it would likely depend on which country they came from. Finland and Denmark for example both have equivalents of page 3, and yet they are noted internationally for their progressiveness in respect of gender politics… and also in respect of socialist economic policy, which makes me wonder again whether this is really a debate about behaviours surrounding sexual images or about class disparity in Britain.

    The principle criticism I have of the campaign however is that it is predicated on a monolithic second wave feminist conception of womanhood to the exclusion of all else. A third wave feminist would see the predominantly white middle class campaign as hegemonic. By polarising the domain of discourse into “reasonable” people (i.e. people like “us”) and the rest, the campaign ends up simply shifting the demography of the marginalized. If the campaign continues with its present narrative, those troubled members of the white middle class will feel better, but those members of society less able to voice their point of view will be further stigmatized and silenced.


  20. Page 3 is optional to look at, if you do not like the content then don’t look at it. No one is making you pick up and buy a copy of The Sun. These girls are not objecting to having their bodies on show and neither is the majority of the British public. This month page 3 is 42 years old, surely if it was generally considered offensive, then it would have been abolished a long time ago.

    This whole campaign and petition seem to be a man bashing feminist argument opposed to free speech and a what you are fighting for. The suffragettes burnt their undergarments to get the vote and that helped to bring in equality. You are trying to reduce this and stop women from doing what they want.

    I would like to remind everyone that any image published in the media requires the permission of the person(s) the image is of in order to be published.


    1. “I would like to remind everyone that any image published in the media requires the permission of the person(s) the image is of in order to be published.”

      What on earth are you on about? Have you ever even read a newspaper? The idea that every picture has to have the permission of the people in it is laughable, as even a cursory glace at any newspaper will tell you.

      Your other points I disagree with, but are a matter of opinion.


  21. This article is brilliant. Well thought out and hits the spot.

    Sadly, the reason why Page 3 won’t disappear from The Sun resides with Rupert Murdoch. It doesn’t matter that maybe Mohan the editor thinks that Page 3 is dated or no longer relevant or any of the reasons given here. He can think all these things. He probably does. However, the real power at The Sun lies with the Murdoch man. As long as Rupert Murdoch is owner of News International, the Sun will carry a half naked lady on Page 3. The reason is this: Rupert Murdoch has no time for political correctness or anything to do with feminism. In fact, he hates feminism. The idea of getting rid of Page 3 would mean that, in his eyes, he was capitulating to the feminist lobby and he isn’t going to do that. It would also mean a loss of face.

    This doesn’t mean the end of the campaign, however. Pressure can be brought to bear on the owners/editors of The Sun. This is achieved through the advertising revenue the rag (I can’t call it a newspaper – it really isn’t) enjoys. If enough advertisers pull out of the Sun or end their advertising, stating they want no more part of a rag showing half naked women, then maybe Murdoch may have to re-think. My opinion is that, if he loses enough money from advertising then he may drop it.


  22. Just one question….. isn’t one of the reason why The Sun does Page 3 is its immense popularity? Indeed , many Page 3 models, such as Samantha Fox, Linda Lusardi, Jordan, Keeley Hazell and Melinda Messenger do enjoy immense popularity and go on to persue media careers.


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