I had almost forgotten, to be honest, that Page 3 was still around. I don’t buy (or click on, I suppose I should also specify in these crazy modern times) The Sun and most people check their phones or read the freesheets on the train these days and so I rarely see it in public either.
But the new campaign No More Page 3 has reminded me that yes, there is still, in a national newspaper, in 2012, a page devoted daily to showing a young woman with her tits out for the lads and any other men who fancy an eyeful over breakfast. Writer and actress Lucy Holmes was struck by the incongruity when Jessica Ennis won gold at the Olympics and the news report was dwarfed by that day’s Page 3 image.
She started a petition asking sun editor Dominic Mohan to “drop the bare boobs” from his newspaper and circulated it on Twitter – you can find her and it at @noMorepage3. At the time of going to press, over 26,000 people have signed. When you add your name to the petition you have the chance to give your reasons. I didn’t have time to do so when I signed but here, now, are mine:
I grew up in the eighties, the Samantha Fox, Linda Lusardi-gilded age of Page 3. I remember the dawning sense among me and my friends that this was the look we should aim for, that big boobs (and a willingness to share them) were the greatest gift that could be bestowed upon a girl. Hard on the heels of this debilitating shift in priorities came the creeping realisation that if an unbenevolent god did not see fit to grant you mammaries of the correct size and shape, you would be in some awful but irremediable way a failure. That we couldn’t articulate it in these terms didn’t make the feeling any less real or influential. I remember equally well how awful and awkward we would feel whenever we noticed a man near us staring at that day’s offering in The Sun, how embarrassed we would become, how we would fall silent and shrink slightly – in our seats and in our thoughts – until he or we moved away.
"It’s a page showing a woman with her tits out for the lads"
I see that experience now as a microcosm of what happens between Page 3 and the wider world. It sends a tiny daily message to girls and women that our bodies should look a certain way and their primary aim is not to carry us safely through life but to pique men’s sexual interest and gratify it. Its presence is just one small way in which women are made to feel subtly inferior – that they do not, quite, belong, that whatever talents and ambitions they may have will forever be subordinate to how attractive and available they are. It is one small way in which their mental space is intruded upon and they are reminded and encouraged to stay silent and to take up a little less room in society than men.
Supporters of Page 3 argue that the pictures are “wholesome” rather than “sexy”. If this were true, of course, the paper would show bowls of muesli set on gingham tablecloths instead of young ladies in their knickers. They mean the pictures are titillating rather than designed to give men the full raging horn. The pictures are there because they are (if mildly) sexy, because sex sells, because there is still a belief that men have the right to – um – stimulus at all times and because any other considerations are of less account than the pursuit of money and erections.
Supporters also argue that, in a world in which hardcore porn is readily available to all, we should concentrate on that. To which the only possible reply is – this is where that begins. Page 3 may be a drop in the ever-swelling ocean, but it is one that falls every day and erodes our chances of ever changing the course of the tide a little more each time. And its symbolic value of what society will tolerate as well as the harm it causes on its own makes its destruction doubly worth seeking.
In the end, my reason would be that I think that a world in which young women can be freely ogled at the breakfast table by men, in front of their wives, sons and daughters is a world that is a little less kind, respectful and safe than it could otherwise be. I think that teenage girls probably haven’t changed much in the 25 years or so since I was one and that they are still made uncomfortable by Page 3’s presence and I think their discomfort is both legitimate and more important than men’s desire to see bare boobs wherever and whenever they feel like it. I think there should be No More Page 3.”