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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