I’ve always been a little dubious about the No More Page 3 campaign. Not about its aims as such — I tend to agree that newspapers are not the right place for soft porn, although I would also question whether the Sun can really be classed as a “newspaper” in any real sense, rather than the id of a particularly vile resentful white male football fan — but about its motives, which always seemed to me rather more concerned with prudery and “what about the children?” than I am comfortable with. But I was mildly supportive until today, when conversations with Jennie Rigg and Charlotte Gore on Twitter, amongst others, clarified my position a bit.
Truth be told, I also doubt the campaign had much to do with today’s decision to get rid of topless models on page three of the Sun (or sort-of, at least). Most of those involved seemed to be middle-class self-described feminists, and I don’t suspect many of them will be ending their “boycott” and moving from the Guardian or Independent to the Sun any time soon.
I suspect rather that the reason the Sun got rid of the models is just that the feature is no longer gaining them sales from the people it appealed to. I am reliably informed that it is now possible to see women’s breasts on the internet, and without paying 25p a day, so it seems unlikely that men are still buying the paper to ogle them as they used to.
Even so, I would be giving a qualified “hooray!” to the decision to get rid of topless models on page three, if the decision had actually reduced the objectification of women. Instead, it seems to have done rather the opposite.
Firstly, they haven’t got rid of the page three models altogether — they’re now on the Sun’s paywalled website, and prominently advertised on the page. It’s a way to drive paying customers of the newspaper to be paying customers of the website too, and while I don’t expect it’ll do much (see above, re: availability of free breasts on the internet) it might.
But more to the point, they have figured out that while the market for breasts is somewhat glutted, there are still only a finite number of places that the discerning masturbator can turn to see *celebrity* breasts. And so they have replaced the topless models with long-lens photos of soap stars in skimpy bikinis. These are presumably also cheaper — after all, they don’t have to pay the women involved.
The “old” page three was unpleasant in many ways (not least, as Jennie pointed out on Twitter, the ghostwritten views on current events attributed to the models — there’s little as dehumanising as the actual removal of one’s own voice and its replacement with someone else’s opinions) but the models in question were consenting, not being stalked by photographers. They made a choice to have the photographs taken — a choice not given to the people in the paper in their place today.
Is it truly less exploitative to show photos of women who haven’t been paid than to show photos of women who have? Is it truly less dehumanising to show photos of women who are being stalked and who haven’t given their consent than to show photos of women who have chosen topless modelling as a career? Is it truly less objectifying to show women wearing little more than a piece of string than to show women wearing nothing at all? Is it truly less encouraging of the male gaze to print photos of women going about their private business as if their private actions are solely for the benefit of male masturbators than it is to print photos of women who have at least a modicum of control over their image and how it is presented, and are deliberately posing?
I really don’t think it is.
I found the existence of page three disturbing, and think it said nothing good about our society. But I honestly can’t see any reason for the celebration of the anti-page-three campaigners unless it wasn’t the objectification or exploitation of women they had a problem with, but the mere presence of nipples. I would like to think otherwise, but I honestly can’t see this as anything other than a step *backwards*, not forwards.
And that’s if this really is the end of page three as it was known. I find this tweet all too plausible: