No More Boobs in the British News?

If American feminists think that U.S. media leads the way in objectifying women, they might be surprised to learn that buttoned-up Britain has been receiving a dose of naked breasts with breakfast for 42 years now. The tradition of 'Page 3 girls'—whereby a full-page photograph of a topless young woman appears on page 3 of The Sun, one of Britain's biggest-selling newspapers—began in 1970, and despite various campaigns to end it, no one has yet been successful in dismantling this retrogressive media 'institution'.

However, the latest 'No More Page 3' campaign, launched by U.K. feminist Lucy Holmes, seems to have captured the British public's imagination in an unprecedented way. Her polite request to Dominic Monahan, editor of The Sun, to stop showing "the naked breasts of a young woman in your widely-read "family" newspaper" has gained 52,000 signatures and has sparked a flurry of support on Twitter, Facebook, and across the blogosphere. Both women and men are signing, with comments ranging from the concise—"Because women contribute to society in many ways that do not involve a man's erection" to the poignant "Because I want my  daughter growing up  in a world that respects her for ALL she is, instead of treating her like meat". Although the lack of diversity on Page 3 has largely gone unaddressed, it's also worth mentioning that The Sun has always promoted the most prescriptive version of 'sexiness' imaginable—a white, slim, able-bodied, cisgendered young woman served up for male consumption. Of the thousands of women who have modelled for Page 3 since 1972, only four of them have been black.

But not every woman is willing to condemn Page 3. The Huffington Post's Rita Pal labels the campaign "emasculating," and argues that "we cannot control the biological sexual imperative of men"—that  imperative being, presumably, to ogle the naked breasts of an 18-year-old while eating breakfast with your children. Elsewhere, Sarah O' Meara argues that the body-critical culture of celebrity magazines is far more harmful and offensive to women, and dismisses the idea that "removing [Page 3] would have a significant impact on gender politics."

The campaign does raise issues for feminists, some of whom might defend the right of glamour models to 'exploit' male weakness in return for monetary reward, and consider it patronizing to assume that the models are necessarily victims themselves. Like Rita Pal, sex-positive feminists may feel bound to defend Page 3's "message that women should be confident for who they are, in or out of their clothes" and reframe it as a celebration of female sexuality. However, I'd posit the notion that most women don't see their full and complex sexuality reflected anywhere in the Page 3 version of womanhood– "its passivity, its lack of demands on the male, and above all its perpetual availability" as U.K. feminist writer Joan Smith describes it—especially if they happen to be nonwhite, non-slim, non–large breasted, disabled, or transgendered.  Which may explain why women are signing in their thousands.

As Joan Smith also pointed out  as far back as 23 years ago, opponents of page 3 are doomed to be accused of "motives of envy and prudery ... particularly if they happen to be women." The 'prude' argument has repeatedly reared its head in opposition to the campaign as commenters sarcastically ask "Are you planning to campaign against all classical art featuring naked women?". Campaign supporters might respond that this argument deliberately conflates the reasonable notion that there's a time and a place for naked breasts (and a newspaper isn't it) with the myth that feminists wish to shut down all instances of sexual expression.

Nowhere were antifeminist silencing tactics more clearly demonstrated than in the treatment of MP Clare Short, who in 1986 attempted to introduce a bill into British Parliament to remove Page 3 girls from newspapers. Short's campaign received great support from British women "who finally felt encouraged to express their frustration about what they saw as a daily insult". However, she was also ridiculed in the British media, accused of jealousy by other MPs, and condemned by gay-rights groups and parts of the women's movement for encouraging censorship. Another attempt to introduce an anti-Page 3 Bill in 2004 resulted in hotpant-clad Sun models staging a 'photo protest' outside Short's house. Being a young and conventionally attractive feminist certainly hasn't protected Lucy Holmes from getting such a torrent of abuse online that she has already had to contact the police—sadly, 'twas ever thus when challenging media sexism—but this time, the campaign is standing strong.

The Sun remains tight-lipped on whether it will heed the demands of the campaign. In the meantime, more than 52,000 British women and men are united under the notion that, as UK comedian Jennifer Saunders puts it, "tits aren't news".

Image from 'No More Page 3' campaign page

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Comments

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Sexy pictures everywhere

Unfortunately this is not just in the U.K. I've seen similar things (usually women in bikinis in sexy poses) in several serious Latin American newspapers, though not every day, maybe in the weekend edition. It makes me wonder how common this is in newspapers around the world.

Page 3

Sexism vs. Sexuality really all comes down to how much you know about the model.
Do you get a dose of this young woman's perspectives on current issues?
Do we know her name, age, and goals in life?
Is it tastefully done?
Or are all they staring at is some woman sprawled out on a table like (literally) a piece of meat?

Even if all British men are chauvinistic pigs who just want to ogle breasts all day: Save it for the skin mags!
Like she said: Tits aren't news.

The paper does let us know

The paper does let us know her name, age and thoughts on current events, but always presented in a mocking way, written by a (usually male) journalist to make fun of the idea that a glamour model could have two braincells to rub together.

I'm not sure how knowing these real details would matter, though — a half-naked woman being the biggest female image in a newspaper is a clear attempt to undermine every other achievement women make, reducing all of us by association to nothing more than a series of body parts to be ogled.

OK then....have a beautiful

OK then....have a beautiful well-built nearly naked man on page 4 everyday.

There was, for a while!

Although he was on Page 7, not Page 3. Possibly in response to feminist objections, or equally possibly just in an attempt to boost sales, The Sun did feature a topless 'Page 7 fella' for a while in the 1980s.
http://www.80sactual.com/2005/05/equality-in-80s-page-7-fella-and-story....

For whatever reason, this was short-lived, but I would never consider it a solution anyway. For one, it consists of levelling the playing field down, not up - objectifying both sexes instead of just one. It would also mean complicity in further dumbing down our media by giving not one but two pages over to a sexualised image with no relevance to news.

This line of argument also implies that objectifying a man would somehow 'make it even' when men's bodies have never been as widely demeaned in the public arena as women's have. Admittedly the objectification of the male body is picking up speed but the rate at which and the way in which men are objectified is still nowhere near comparable to the insults heaped upon the female body. Even when shown as oiled-up, muscle-bound buff gods (e.g. in aftershave ads), men are still being depicted in a way that prizes strength, 'manliness' and using one's body as an instrument rather than an object. Women, on other other hand, are depicted as passive, man-pleasing pseudo-dolls, with no purpose other than to be leched over and sexually conquered (or so the male gazer is led to believe). And that's exactly the problem with Page 3, which would not be in any way ameliorated by 'doing the same' to men.

Not to mention that a man's

Not to mention that a man's bared chest does not carry the sexual implications that a woman's does and need not even be covered by law in many public places (for instance a beach, park, or gym) the way women's breasts are. In order to truly level the playing field, the equivalent of a page 3 featuring men would have to reveal parts normally covered by a bathing suit. Let's see the hetero male public get behind a photo spread of some d*** 'n' a**. Not likely.

Couldn't agree more!

Definitely something that people fail to consider when mounting the 'just have a topless man on the next page, that'll level the playing field' argument!
And as you say, the fact it would be extremely unlikely that a man would ever be objectified in this way in a newspaper, shows how the media remains patriarchal and run according to sexist values.

This is not just a UK (or

This is not just a UK (or Latin America) thing. One of the major circulation papers in a city where I used to live in Canada published scantily clad females on a daily basis. Not topless, generally lingerie, and excruciatingly frustrating regardless. I don't think I ever managed to form a completely coherent argument about why this was offensive, and certainly could never convince my male colleagues that it was unnecessary and inappropriate.

Available on-line too!: http://www.calgarysun.com/sunshine-girl

Yuck!

I feel your pain. I think it's indicative of how feminism is still painted as 'unreasonable' that you felt you even had to state your case for finding it offensive. I think the 'tits aren't news' angle is a pretty reasonable one, but I think it's also OK to simply say "it pisses me off, and I don't want to have to see it" (The Sun is regularly visibly read on UK public transport, and it's been left around my workplace before). If there were huge erect penises in daily newspapers, I'd imagine men would start to feel fairly uneasy pretty quickly yet most of them wouldn't be able to form a coherent argument about exactly why it bothered them. I think it's one of anti-feminists' greatest tricks to make us feel like we have to justify ourselves, when really it's the makers of Page 3 who should be justifying themselves to us (especially when 52,000 of us are telling them to ditch it). It's a shame that being anti-objectification has not yet become a default position, and is still seen as a somehow 'extreme viewpoint'. This shows how normalised treating women like window dressing has become.

yes, Canadian sun newspapers

yes, Canadian sun newspapers have them. :(

from the mid 1980s up until 2005 there was a Sunshine Boy as well... pretty much whoever they could convince to be photographed. it was not unusual for the Sunshine Boy to be nearly double the age of the Sunshine Girl! they were usually topless at first but eventually they were fully dressed, often wearing suits and such.

but i am firmly in the camp that this type of thing can be just as degrading even if it is used in parallel with both genders.

Its interesting that the lack

Its interesting that the lack of boobs to look at would be "emasculating."

My feelings exactly!

I can't say I agreed with much, if anything, contained within Rita Pal's piece. Her viewpoint seemed to be entirely based upon the tired and untrue notion that feminism's main aim is to shut down anything 'fun' and reduce men to pussy-whipped eunuchs. She also resorted to the pseudio-scientific argument about men being visual creatures and 'programmed' to need a daily dose of areolae with their morning newspaper. I wasn't convinced...

I don't understand the issue

I don't understand the issue that women have with other females making a conscious decision to appear topless in The Sun? I can fully understand the feminist standpoint where concerning equal pay, rights, opportunities, etc, but the refusal of too many modern feminists to adopt a 'live and let live' attitude disappoints me. It's not as if these girls are forced into what they're doing. They are continuously labeled as 'sexual objects'. No, they aren't. They are human beings - yes, female ones! - who are, of their own volition, being portrayed in a sexual way.

Secondly, the 'it's a family newspaper' argument doesn't wash with me. Pretty much everybody in the country knows full well what to expect when buying a copy of the Daily Star or The Sun - two papers whose non-boob-related content is regarded with even more contempt by the majority than the page in question. In 12 months, you could probably count on one hand the number of Britons who pick one up and react with shock to what they find inside. The author of the above article talks a lot without really saying much. The only real point made is that "tits aren't news", in spite of the fact that, as is mentioned, they have been just that for the past 4 decades. In short: if you don't like the paper, don't buy it.

Moreover, why bring race into the issue? To me, it sounds as if the author is making that point that whilst she finds the Page 3 concept abhorrent, it would be somehow more respectable/acceptable if black women could use it as a platform for some kind of undefined equality? Additionally, why would it be an issue if they had, say, 10,000 Page 3 girls and they were all white? Without wishing to sound rude, black women generally are not to my taste, much as many blonde women, women with fake breasts and women with make-up 3-inches thick caked on their face aren't. I just don't find them as 'aesthetically pleasing' as white women. Does that make me any less of a man? Or does it just mean that like most men I have sexual preferences when it comes to physical attributes?

Too many people cannot accept that whilst it is MOST important to be able to find someone attractive for their so-called 'inner' attributes, such as intelligence, sense of humour, ability to empathise, etc, a great deal of attraction is physical. Indeed, it is impossible to have a relationship with somebody you are not physically attracted to.

Where to start?

- the refusal of too many modern feminists to adopt a 'live and let live' attitude disappoints me.

I'm sorry you feel that way, but I doubt you would be pressuring black or gay people to adopt a 'live and let live' attitude towards content that is racist or homophobic. Yet, in the name of silencing feminists, objecting to sexism is still depicted as unreasonable.

- It's not as if these girls are forced into what they're doing.

I never said they were, or that this is the problem with Page 3. But just because a woman does something, doesn't make it right or feminist. Women voted for Romney. No one forced them, either, but nor did they do so against the background of a totally neutral culture. If I were a young woman growing up in a culture that repeatedly reinforced the idea that my worth lay in my body, I might think glamour modelling seemed appealing. Funnily enough, a lot of men and women don't want their daughters growing up thinking that.

- They are continuously labeled as 'sexual objects'. No, they aren't.

Yes, they are objectified. How can standing in one's knickers for the pleasure of a male viewing audience be called anything else? The models are not being celebrated for their talents or intellect, but for one body part only. I suggest a read of this great series explaining what objectification is: http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2012/07/03/sexual-objectification-part-1...

- In 12 months, you could probably count on one hand the number of Britons who pick one up and react with shock to what they find inside.

Just because something isn't 'shocking' doesn't mean it's not something to protest against. Politicians lying and fiddling their expenses doesn't shock most of us because we are used to such corruption - does that mean we should be apathetic and let them get away with it?

- The only real point made is that "tits aren't news", in spite of the fact that, as is mentioned, they have been just that for the past 4 decades.

That still doesn't make them news. That just shows how easy apathy has made it for our sexist media is to override sense and logic and keep putting breasts on Page 3. And saying how sleazy other tabloids are is not a defence either - surely we should be working to challenge that whole culture rather than defeatistly saying 'We'll never change it'? Ending Page 3 would make a powerful statement to the other tabloids that people aren't willing to buy their sexist crap any more.

- If you don't like the paper, don't buy it.

Laziest argument in the universe klaxon! Again, see my first point - would that be your response to a publication that demeaned gay, black, disabled or Jewish people? Just 'If you don't like it, don't buy it?'. I seriously doubt that. Yet you place the onus on the consumer not to buy sexist material, rather than the content producer not to create it. This is simply ducking the issue. Besides, many women have reported that even when they don't buy The Sun, they and their young children are forced to see it anyway when it's read on public transport (I've regularly seen it left on the seats of the London Underground) or brought into homes or workplaces by others.

- it sounds as if the author is making that point that whilst she finds the Page 3 concept abhorrent, it would be somehow more respectable/acceptable if black women could use it as a platform for some kind of undefined equality?

No, you're putting words into my mouth. What I am saying is that the defence of Page 3 as somehow a celebration of women or female sexuality is belied by the fact that they only show one type of woman who fits into a narrow, prescriptive and male-pleasing stereotype. I wouldn't be any happier to see black or Asian women on Page 3, but at least then the makers could at least try to hide behind the idea that they're depicting 'real women'.

- Without wishing to sound rude, black women generally are not to my taste.

Um....words starting to fail me here.

- it is impossible to have a relationship with somebody you are not physically attracted to.

Whether I agree with the statement or not, I'm wondering what the relevance of it actually is to my article? You wouldn't be conflating "the reasonable notion that there’s a time and a place for naked breasts (and a newspaper isn’t it) with the myth that feminists wish to shut down all instances of sexual expression", would you?

Nowhere do I say that it's wrong to find certain people physically attractive, or seek out a partner you find attractive - in fact those statements seem pretty self evident. But as many people arguing in favour of Page 3 seem to be doing, you seem determined to paint feminists as militantly anti ALL THINGS SEX-RELATED. And that's just a lazy stereotype plus a total falsehood. Women are just tired of being told that there's one way to be 'sexy' and that it involves taking your clothes off for a male audience with no consideration of your own personhood or pleasure. That doesn't make us anti-sex, or unsexy, or unsexual.

So your opposition to Page 3

So your opposition to Page 3 is as necessary as that of gays to homophobia, Jews to antisemitism and blacks to racism? Amazing.

To be honest, I don't really have much to say, as you've just repeated the same arguments as are made in the original article, with the exception of having added that you feel that trying to have Page 3 banned is akin to the Black Civil Rights movement (suggestion: take that comment with a pinch of salt).

You've also repeated that a newspaper is not the place to print topless pictures of women, without saying why. The Daily Sport got two decades of business out of printing almost nothing but. I repeat, a newspaper is what it makes itself, and Page 3 has long been an integral part of The Sun's image. The online petition to ban it has just over 50,000 signatures towards what can only be called an 'ambitious' target of 1 million. That's a fairly paltry figure when taking into account that said paper has a daily circulation of 3 million, and when factoring in how many non-Sun readers will have signed it. I'd say that the majority of signatures are from middle class Southerners who, tits or no tits, wouldn't even wipe their backside with it. The working class, who make up the majority of the readership, clearly have more important issues to worry about than men seeing breasts in print as opposed to on television or on the internet. Out of interest, how likely do you think the campaign is to succeed?

PS. Why do words fail you just because black women are not a sexual preference of mine?

PS. PS. It's funny actually, as a quick browse of your profile at your music and comedy tastes tells me that if we actually met we'd probably get on like a house on fire.

I'm the one repeating the same arguments? OK...

- So your opposition to Page 3 is as necessary as that of gays to homophobia, Jews to antisemitism and blacks to racism? Amazing.

What a generalisation. Homophobia, antisemitism, racism and sexism come in hundreds of thousands of forms. Yes, all forms of opposition to them are 'necessary'. That is not necessarily equating the fight against Page 3 to the Civil Rights Movement (which is a comparison I did not draw, which you have falsely attributed to me, and which you seem to have included solely to be provocative as you're pulling the 'take it with a pinch of salt' line. If you don't mean it, why say it?). What it is saying is that Page 3 is part of a larger culture of sexism which the women's movement was formed to fight against. And incidentally, the women's movement and the civil rights movement have masses in common and often overlap.

I just find it interesting the way people are willing to get behind opposing oppression of many groups but have a massive blind spot when it comes to women. By implying that the women's movement is trivial compared to other social justice movements, you are disregarding the fact that women have been oppressed, abused, physically harmed, maimed, tortured, mutilated, molested, raped and killed by the ruling male class for centuries, and this is nowhere near ending (look at the domestic violence and rape statistics for the 'civilised' US and UK if you need convincing. Then look at them in less developed countries). You also seem to think it's an indulgence to ask that women aren't treated as window dressing by our mainstream media. I strongly disagree. As Jennifer Pozner says "When an entire class of people are seen as objects, it becomes harder to prevent violence against them and easier to justify denying them equal social, economic and political rights." Just because a pair of tits in a newspaper isn't perhaps as urgent an issue as, say Malala Yousafzai being shot for wanting an education, doesn't mean the two issues don't come on the same spectrum of contempt for women, and don't both require addressing.

- You've also repeated that a newspaper is not the place to print topless pictures of women, without saying why.

Have you really read the piece? The clue is in the last line.

-The Daily Sport got two decades of business out of printing almost
nothing but...Page 3
has long been an integral part of The Sun's image
.

So what? Golliwogs were long part of Robinson's Jam's imagery, but Robinson's have since taken the golliwogs off their jam jars because they've realised this is a racist and offensive image which encourages people to see black people as less then human. Defending something on the basis that 'it's always happened' has got to be the laziest argument in the book. Marital rape was legal until 1992, do you think the lawmakers thought 'Well, it's always been part of British law, let's keep it for the sake of traidtion?'. Upstairs Downstairs was a comedy that was hugely popular in the 70s and contained massively offensive racist scenes and phrases - funnily enough comedy has also moved on since then and that comedy would never be made or succeed again today. So why keep justifying the objectification of women in the name of 'it's always happened'? If you take that line, no social change would ever occur.

Whether the campaign succeeds or not is hard to say, but I do feel that this one has a greater chance of success than previous ones, partly due to the power of the internet in mobilising people and partly because of a new generation of feminists who are not going to be fobbed off with the idea that equality has been achieved. The campaign seems to be spreading, having gained approval of major women's glossies such as Glamour, garnered celebrity signatures and has also begun challenging The Sun's major advertisers. It may still be a long shot, but I've found it heartening to see how this campaign has not stalled like others, even in the face of the usual lazy objections.

As for stating you don't find black women attractive, well. 1) It was totally irrelevant to your argument. 2) It's a pretty huge generalisation. I wouldn't go on a blog which I knew had a lot of British male readers and say 'I don't find [all 33.5 million] British men attractive', and not expect to get some stick for it.  3) Statements like that are just not helpful when too many people are still trying to disguise casual racism behind the 'black women aren't attractive argument' - see this article for more details http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/05/satoshi_kanazawa_is_a_scientific.html

Perhaps we would get on like 'a house on fire' if we met in person, but I doubt it. I don't tend to get on with people who are inherently hostile to feminism's aims and who try to dismiss valid causes by trivialising them and defending a status quo which enshrines inequality. But you never know.

Self-Righteous (Anti)Feminism?

"But just because a woman does something, doesn't make it right or feminist."

This pretty much sums up why I am against the campaign to end Page 3. Yes, it is hetero-normative and reinforces racially imposed concepts of beauty. Yes, it features women as sexual objects of fantasy. It is, however, not the place of any one woman or group of women to judge whether the willing actions of another are "right" or not based on one's own individual conception of feminism. The campaign has always been paternal and preachy. The campaign has also always come dangerously close to advocating censorship. More importantly, however, it ignores the right of women (all women) to present their bodies as they please, when they please, and to whom they please on their own terms. To that end, a campaign to include a wider variety of women from all shapes, sizes, and colors would be truer to the spirit of feminism (in terms of individual self determination) than this one.

asking us to adopt a "live

asking us to adopt a "live and let live" attitude is just one precise reason why we won't.
stop to think about the reasons that so many women refuse to adopt that kind of attitude rather than just pissing and moaning about it.
that comment sticks out as the most ignorant one of them all.

Oppss that is a very special

Oppss that is a very special topic of discussion :P

Prudery is evil

There is an excellent reason for anti-page three campaigners to be called prudes: they are prudes. And while it is wrong to suppose feminists wish to shut down all instances of sexual expression, there can be no doubt that a few of them do. For some women and men, feminism is just a convenient excuse for prudery, hypocrisy, and puritanism.

It may be that most women don't see their full and complex sexuality reflected anywhere in the Page 3 version of womanhood. Tough luck. Reflecting women's full and complex sexuality was never the purpose of Page 3, and I can see no legitimate reason why it should be threatened, coerced or hijacked to serve a purpose other than its own. If women want their full and complex sexuality to be reflected somewhere, they should do it themselves - although I strongly suspect that a woman's full and complex sexuality may be just disgusting and shameless vulgarity in another woman's eyes.