The problem with No More Page 3: Right on authoritarianism is still authoritarianism

As much as I dislike lots of the things the Sun newspaper does in the name of journalism, and as much as I generally like Caroline Lucas, something about Ms Lucas wearing a 'No More Page 3' t-shirt in the House of Commons yesterday irked me.

As much as I dislike lots of the things the Sun newspaper does in the name of journalism, and as much as I generally like Caroline Lucas, something about Ms Lucas wearing a ‘No More Page 3’ t-shirt in the House of Commons yesterday irked me.

Not the wearing of the T-shirt as such, but rather what she said afterwards when she was rebuked for breaching House of Commons dress regulations.

Lucas referred to the ‘irony’ of being told her No More Page 3 t-shirt was offensive considering, presumably, that Page 3 is pretty offensive to some women.

Ok, fine so far, she has every right to feel ‘offended’ by what she reads in the press.

But she then called on the government to take action if the Sun’s editors do not stop publishing daily pictures of topless women on page three by the end of the year.

As a liberal, it’s here that I find I have a problem. Do I think Page 3 is silly and out of place in a newspaper that purports to be just that – a ‘news’ paper? Yes, absolutely.

Do I want the government to intervene in the editorial decisions of our papers based on what may or may not be ‘offensive’? No, I most certainly do not.

The argument that Lucas and others have started to use in proposing government regulation of the press over Page 3 is also strikingly similar to the old arguments used by social conservatives when they said that societal violence was a consequence of violence on television.

“A government-commissioned sexualisation of young people review found there is evidence that suggests a clear link between consumption of sexualised images, a tendency to view women as objects and the acceptance of aggressive attitudes and behaviour as the norm,” Lucas said.

In other words, we should censor the media because people may thoughtlessly act out what they see in the newspaper.

There is plenty of evidence that this just isn’t true. The widespread decline in violence in the West despite the boom in violent action films for one thing. Also, after over sixty years of research, the fact that evidence of the direct effect of the media on behaviour has not been clearly identified should at the very least act as a warning against state intervention in the press on that basis.

As David Gauntlett has pointed out, this approach to the media is a bit like

“…arguing that the solution to the number of road traffic accidents in Britain would be to lock away one famously poor driver from Cornwall; that is, a blinkered approach which tackles a real problem from the wrong end, involves cosmetic rather than relevant changes, and fails to look in any way at the ‘bigger picture'”.

A problem with the No More Page 3 campaign is the very premise it appears to be based on – that pornography is inherently sexist. In a sense this represents the triumph of authoritarian elitist feminism over its sex-positive counterpart.

It’s also surely about interpretation: who says a person looking at a picture of a half naked woman (or a man – remember page 7 which, tellingly, was dropped because it wasn’t very popular?) is ‘objectifying’ that person? If looking at a half naked woman does constitute objectification, does this mean that any man who finds a woman attractive based purely on what she looks like is a raging sexist?

Sorry, but I don’t buy it (in both senses of the word). And neither should you, if you don’t like the Sun newspaper that is. Don’t buy it. It’s really that simple.

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32 Responses to “The problem with No More Page 3: Right on authoritarianism is still authoritarianism”

  1. LB

    More laws. Lots more laws. Solves every problem known to man. More taxes likewise.

    From Scrofula, to syphilis to the king’s itch, more laws and more taxes solve everything.

  2. Kathryn

    Well you still end up having to see it if others are ‘reading’ the paper in public. Which makes me feel pretty uncomfortable, and has been a threatening experience in the past.

    I basically agree with you though. There’s no evidence of links between exposure to pornography and sexual violence, so it’s difficult to find a reason why this shouldn’t be allowed, or what positive outcome we were hoping for in banning or controlling topless images.

  3. 3arn0wl

    I would’ve basically blogged the same words.

    I guess the Sun thinks that page 3 brings in some revenue – though I don’t know whether there’s any evidence of that. Would circulation go down if they dropped page 3? The only way to know is for them to try it, I guess.

    In a liberal, tolerant society, I guess it’s down to the newspaper-buying public to put their pound where their morality is. I just don’t understand why they persist in bank-rolling Rupert Murdoch.

  4. Richard

    The House, and I mean all three political parties, united to sanction the so called ‘freedom of the press’ some months ago in the wake of phone hacking scandal. The Daily Mail was restricted to reporting a story about an affair that could ‘bring’ down the government by saying they knew about events but couldn’t report names. Don’t tell me we have a free press now! What we do have are women represented as sexualised objects. If we had ‘Page 3’ type pages in alternative mainstream tabloids that featured men represented in this way then it would seem to me a little more fair (whether I agree with that or not). But how can we move forward, in terms of gender equality, when one of the UK’s most popular newspapers is representing women as objects of desire as one of its main features. This is 2013 Murdoch, sort it out!

  5. Liz Young

    This is all about context. Is it sexist for you to find a woman attractive purely based on her looks- no. Is it a problem if you stare at porn in a newspaper/magazine in a public place- yes. This campaign started when when Lucy Holmes noticed that the picture of Jessica Ennis- with all her Olympic achievements- was dwarfed by the much larger photo of a topless page 3 model. I’m not sure you have any idea what it is like for women growing up surrounded by these images and constantly being reduced to your body parts. It feeds into a wider culture where women are marginalised and diminished in society. There is a place for sexy naked photos of men and women but this isn’t it. I am so disappointed by some men on left’s blindness to how this affects both women and men.

  6. HerbyAttitude

    So would you be in favour of a national family newspaper being allowed to print an image every day which showed black people in positions which imply that they are stupid, lazy and there to serve white people? You’d support that and say that the solution to it was simply not to buy the paper, ignoring the context of black kids being murdered at bus-stops, black people being regularly discriminated against in the workplace and in housing and the generalised wariness that black people need to adopt in certain areas because they know that they are a target of violence simply because of their ethnic group and / or skin colour?

    Because that is the position that women are in vis a vis Page 3. Lefty boy invariably throws women under the bus and your blog post is no exception. 1 in 4 women will experience rape or sexual assault in their lifetimes. 2 women a week are murdered by their partners or ex partners. Women still earn 17% of men’s wage purely because we are women, women are discriminated against in the workplace and legal system, I don’t know one woman who has never experienced an incident of sexual harassment at least one time in her life.

    That is the context of our lives. That is the context of these images of us which are printed every day in a family newspaper and allowed to be publicly displayed on public transport, in our workplaces, everywhere we go, to remind us that we are there to be assessed by men and the most important thing about us is whether we have male approval and that we’re not yet considered quite as human as men. You wouldn’t support this if it were happening to any other traditionally marginalised group, but you support it against women because sexism just isn’t that big a deal, is it? Way to throw women under the bus – again – Leftyboy. Gah.

  7. Kevin Hall

    I have to say that I’m broadly in agreement – Page 3 needs to be left to
    wither on the vine, like an anachronism from another age. Page 3 is an absolutely miniscule section of the amount of sexual material across all media. You can’t focus on Page 3 without either looking tokenistic or frankly ridiculous. Bans and laws and more censorship in this particular context will fail – for society to become more egalitarian, less sexist and more sensitive has to come from within rather than imagining banning Page 3 will do it.

  8. HerbyAttitude

    I am absolutely not disappointed, it’s absolutely what I expect of left wing men. They have a long and ignoble history of throwing women under the bus and dumping our human rights as being less important than “the bigger picture” (ie pursuing their human rights while retaining the systematic advantage over women being born male gives them). With a few honourable exceptions, they’re not much better than ToryBoy.

  9. leftfootfwd

    Sorry, who is “Leftyboy”? Either address a commenter/blogger politely or please don’t comment.

  10. Mat Bob Jeffery

    Well, as a leftie male, I’ve got to say that I agree with you on that one 🙁

  11. Mat Bob Jeffery

    If you read her response to Liz above, you will see that she is likening left thinking males’ attitude to “toryboy”.

  12. Mat Bob Jeffery

    In honesty, I really don’t understand why boobs on page three of the sun is permissible, but not in pre-watershed tv, or below top-shelf magazines, and the like. If “Anglers times” suddenly started printing topless female anglers, it would come under certain restrictive laws, and rightly so.

    Could someone tell me why we should view a newspaper differently – especially one that markets itself as one for al the family?

  13. Paul Evans

    I don’t understand your problem. Your arguments could be applied to any regulation of pornography. If you think that pornography should not be regulated in any way, say so. Take the argument to its most absurd extreme if you like – can The Sun carry a graphic depiction of a rape scene staged by consenting adults? If not, then it’s a matter for the deliberation of parliament and Lucas is quite entitled to campaign for it without infringing any crude liberal principles. Personally, I don’t agree with her, but she’s simply intervening in the whole ‘where do you draw the line’ debate on soft-porn/hard-porn.

    But let’s deal with this ‘as a liberal’ argument. I understand the argument that the market is a mechanism and that it is possible to make claims about the capacity of the market to trump the decisions made by other democratic and deliberative processes (broadly, I don’t agree with these arguments, but I know that we have to pretend that they’re sensible and valid). But are you really saying that we should accept the current manifestation of the market in these things (i.e. the markets governing newspapers, web-hosting and connectivity) to be the sole arbiters of what we collectively decide is permissible imagery for public circulation?

    The appears to be a line that quite a lot of left-liberals are happy to cross. It’s one that highlights the tensions between a lot of versions of ‘liberalism’ and democracy. Personally, I’d prefer representative democracy….

  14. Elena Blackmore

    I largely agree with what a lot of the others have said. You seem to have taken a rather narrow view of what ‘being a liberal’ is. Is any regulation or legislation that is put in place ‘authoritarian’? Because all of it has some kind of impact on our choices! I think what you are talking about is ‘neoliberalism’ – betrayed by your final paragraph, which suggests the only power we have left is as consumers (“don’t buy it”), rather than as citizens (who should voice and share their concerns about society with other citizens, who can then collectively, democratically decide on it).

    It would be difficult to disagree with the idea that we, as individuals, learn our ideals and our values throughout our lives – from family, friends, education etc – but also from media. There’s a fair amount of evidence that shows that media does have an impact on the ideas we develop. And I think it’s really important that we decide collectively what ideas we want to encourage in society (including what each of our place is in society).

    Citing evidence that there’s been a widespread decline in violence despite there being lots of violent films fails to take into account a) all the evidence that suggests media violence really does have an impact and b) all the other societal factors that may have been pushing social norms in a more peaceful direction. It’s worth pointing out that a) we’re still pretty horrible to each other and b) maybe we’ve exported our violence.

    As far as I can see, all you’re saying is that you don’t mind if other people hold sexist views – they’ve chosen those views. The evidence would suggest that even if we do hold certain views beforehand, the propagation of those views can definitely serve to cement them by legitimising them.

  15. Jacko

    I bet you’re single.

  16. Simon

    It’s worth pointing out (if it hasn’t been already) that the No More Page 3 campaign is absolutely not calling for Page 3 to be outlawed legislatively, but for the editor of the Sun to remove it voluntarily.

  17. Frankie Reeves

    Liz, I could not agree with you more. Thanks for putting into words the frustration I felt reading this article.

  18. Guest

    As much as I see your point, I think Page 3 is a good place to start because the images appear in such an established, popul

  19. CBR

    Blech, boring defence of something not worth the breath.

  20. Life Peace

    Interesting piece – just not sure why it is on “Left Foot Forward” – I thought this was a place where left wing ideas were published, as opposed to Left wing ideas being attacked. Essentially, you have attacked the principle of state intervention, and encouraged the capitalist idea of laissez-faire economics while hoping that common sense will mean that due to financial considerations, the editors of the Sun will come to the conclusion to drop this. I applaud Left Foot Forward for bringing in Tories to do occasional pieces, even if they are Tories of a Liberal stripe, but personally, I am fully in support of the idea that if the Media choose to act irresponsibly then society has more ways than merely financial to be able to demand that they do not demean women and promote sexism (and therefore inherently violence against women) in society. Proud to be part of the No More Page 3 campaign. While I prefer not to use censorship, as long as we do not live in an ideal society, we will need less than ideal ways of protecting the health, welfare and freedom of all, and that includes limiting hate speech, and limiting the ability to disseminate images designed to degrade, objectify and sexualise women in general.

    Now, I am off to throw a woman under a bus and dump her human rights, as they are less important than “the big picture”. (What big picture?)

  21. Richard Jannaway

    I have just taken part in the Brighton World Naked Bike Ride with 800 other people. The experience was extremely liberating, most of the men and women taking part.
    Thousands of photo’s were taken by members of the public and other riders and by and large people of both sexes were happy to be photographed naked and topless.

    There was one exception to this and that was the behaviour of some amateurish would be paparazzi who insisted on using long lenses to photograph women getting undressed
    and/or applying body paint. This behaviour has created much discussion on WNBR and naturist websites about how to deal with such ‘trolls’.

    The relevance of all this to the discussion above is that the smut of page 3 only exists because of the guilt ridden sexualisation of nudity in our culture. Much of what is labelled ‘pornographic’ is only perceived as such because of the way our culture represses our natural body image and locks sex to visual images of body parts.

    The solution: support those brave women who campaign tor topless freedom and people of both sexes who act to promote the acceptance of public nudity. If nothing else flooding the market with images of naked people will make the activities of voyeuristic photographers unprofitable and page 3 will no longer sell many copies of The Sun.

  22. alunapgwilym

    “the smut of page 3 only exists because of the guilt ridden sexualisation of nudity in our culture. Much of what is labelled ‘pornographic’ is only perceived as such because of the way our culture represses our natural body image and locks sex to visual images of body parts.”

    Absolutely. And that’s what this kind of debate usually misses. Repression is never going to work in the long term. We’ve all got bodies. Let’s create a culture where we all feel OK about them.

  23. HerbyAttitude

    Your post rather proves my point doesn’t it Jacko.

  24. Max K

    Exactly. Here’s what the campaign website says: ( Which changes the argument entirely.

    Q. So why are you trying to get Page Three banned?

    A. That’s not what we are doing. This is not about censorship, or passing an Act
    of Parliament to force Dominic Mohan, the editor of The Sun, to scrap
    Page Three. We are asking him – politely – to remove it voluntarily,
    because it mocks and disrespects women, and tries to teach Sun readers
    to do the same. It is also so outdated! The Daily Mirror used to feature
    topless Page Three girls in the 1970s. It dropped the feature in the
    1980s because it realised that, culturally, the rest of Britain had
    moved on, and to keep on featuring bare breasts in a family newspaper
    would make it look like a dinosaur…

  25. robertcp

    People do not have a right not to be offended. If a pair of boobs offends them, tough! It is usually middle class feminists who hate working class women that make money by taking their top off. Not everyone can go to university and get a well paid job.

    It is obviously extremely rude to look at pictures of naked women in front of women but should it be illegal?

  26. James Appleton

    I found it a little strange that Caroline Lucas talked about the government legislating if necessary. I agree that it shouldn’t, but if you actually pay some attention to the campaign itself this is not at all what it’s about. In fact it emphasises that all it wants to do is ‘very nicely’ encourage Dominic Mohan to voluntarily remove Page 3 from The S*n. This isn’t about authoritarianism.

    Also you write: “A problem with the No More Page 3 campaign is the very premise it appears to be based on – that pornography is inherently sexist.” This is patently false, and again the organisers of the campaign have repeatedly said that this is not a campaign against pornography. It is a campaign against naked pictures of women appearing the in the news section of a national newspaper alongside News In Briefs, which definitely IS sexist. As their regularly used hashtag says, #BoobsAreNotNews.

    At least do a little reading about the campaign before mouthing off about it.

  27. HerbyAttitude

    Lefty boy always pretends that women’s demand to be considered as fully human as men, is a bougeois deviation. That way, he can carry on being a sexist creep while being ideologically sound.

  28. robertcp

    You are entitled to your opinion.

  29. Clare in the community

    Might have known this was written by a bloke. Completely missed the point. I thought the world had moved on from the days of Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall, but I can only assume that James Bloodworth respects their behaviour as ‘freedom of expression’.

  30. HerbyAttitude

    “the smut of page 3 only exists because of the guilt ridden sexualisation of nudity in our culture.”

    Not quite. If it were only about the sexualisation of nudity, then we’d have Page 3 boys as well as Page 3 girls.

    If you ignore the fact that it is only women who are naked with come-hither looks on their faces – IE in deliberately sexually suggestive poses – then you are ignoring the source of the objection to it and pretending that the objection is some kind of prudishness or objection to the human body, rather than a political objection based on women’s lower status than that of men, which is underpinned by the designation of women as the sex caste.

    People don’t object to nakedness per se, they object to the objectification of women in a national daily ubiquitous newspaper. Here’s a great example of a woman doing nakedness on her own terms, not in order to give men a boner or remind them that women are there to be assessed and approved of or not by them:

  31. Bla

    Of course a man would say this. You have a privilege that you should be using to support women, not telling them they should deal with it. Thankfully I will never meet you.

  32. robertcp

    Sorry but topless models, male or female, are not an important issue for me.

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