September 13, 2013

My problem with No More Page 3

Or How you can support a cause while attacking the motives
Or Fuck I love boobs though

I’ve had about five different discussions with people about No More Page 3 in the last month, and inevitably I’m always on that strange third side of the argument that neither of two main sides agree with.

“I wrote some time ago” about why I have a problem with Page 3, and you can read that but to summarise: having a daily, set, traditional place in a national paper where women are objectified and lightly mocked isn’t on. So I support the goals of No More Page 3. But I sure do have a problem with their motives.

If we lived in an ideal world, it’d be fine to have both naked men and women in our newspapers, there for us to enjoy having fun looking at their hot bodies. But we don’t. We live in a world, – hell, a country – where sexism is still rife, where misogyny is common, where rape is still depressingly commonplace. Page 3 is a symptom, not a cause, but since we’re still decades away from sorting out the cause we might as well tackle the symptoms. And one of those is a national paper maintaining a tradition of objectifying and belittling a woman on Page 3 every day.

Now, the way much of the press treat women is pretty awful, and most people I’ve spoken to tend to agree that things like the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame full of voyeuristic bikini and upskirt shots of female celebrities is far worse than Page 3. But Page 3, because it has this weird status as a British institution is a really easy and obvious target. It’ll help get people on board, it’s a great first step, and that’s why No More Page 3 is targeting Page 3 of The Sun and not, for example, whichever page happens to have Jeremy Clarkeson’s latest woman-hating rant on it. That’s why they’re targeting Page 3. Not because of something silly like nipples. So I thought.

Then something interesting happened. The Irish Sun dropped Page 3 . Except it didn’t really. It agreed not to print topless women on it any more. It was replacing them with “shots of women in swimwear”. So this is when I got excited [oh grow up]. This was it. This was when No More Page 3 were going shout from the rooftops about how the Irish Sun had totally missed the point. That the problem wasn’t with nipples, the problem was in having a page in their national paper which every day objectified and mocked a woman. And that they hadn’t changed that at all. And that a woman was no less objectified if she was in a tiny bikini, for men to lust over, than if she wasn’t wearing a bikini at all. That the problem wasn’t nudity, the problem was the casual, daily, inappropriate objectification of women.

Their actual response? “We think this is a huge step in the right direction and we thank the editor, Paul Clarkson, for taking the lead in the dismantling of a sexist institution like page 3. We are hoping that the UK Sun will follow suit and ultimately hope for an end to all objectifying images and a truly equal representation of women within the British press.”

Huh? No! It wasn’t a step in the right direction at all. It’s a step in the right direction if your final destination is “women in newspapers should be covered up”. It’s not a step in the right direction if that final destination is “women shouldn’t be objectified in the national press”. It’s a step sideways at best. A step in the right direction would be taking the smarmy comments out of the captions. A step in the right direction would be running Page 3 two days a week instead of five. A step in the right direction is not hiding the nipples. For that to work you have believe that a woman is somehow more objectified or demeaned if she’s displaying all her boobs for the pleasure of men rather than just most of her boobs. And that sort of thinking is entirely incompatible with any sort of sex-positive view of the world.

The signs were there of course, I’d just chosen to ignore them. In multiple places the campaign called Page 3 ‘pornography’ which is technically correct it seems. The line between sexy and pornographic is apparently nipples. But it’s a powerful word because if you say “what if kids see boobs in The Sun?” people will just laugh, because most of us don’t see that as a big deal. But if you say “what if kids see pornography?” it sounds so much more wrong.

And of course, the petition that kicked this whole thing off only talks about dropping the naked breasts. Nothing else. Not a single mention of objectification. Just an objection to boobs.

That’s my problem with the campaign. And I know lots of my friends and other people support the campaign because they’re after the end result, and they broadly agree with me. And the campaign has traction now and might actually do some good so I won’t criticise too much.

But when it comes to the people running the campaign, for them this is not primarily a campaign against objectification. It’s a campaign against nudity. I don’t know why. I don’t think they’re a bunch of crazy Mary Whitehouse-ite fanatics that despise sex and nudity. But somehow they saw getting women to cover up on Page 3 a win. And it worries me because this notion that the less clothes a woman is wearing, the more objectified she is seems to run very, very close to certain misogynist bullshit spouted about the morals of women that go out in skimpy outfits.

So that’s why I’m just a little bit cautious about these folk. And why when I see friends openly supporting them on social media or whatever I tend to offer a gentle nudge to be sure the stuff they’re linking to is actually what they think and that they’ve given some thought as to why they have a problem with Page 3, and if it really is the same problem that the campaign does.

Edit: it appears that since my last blog on the subject The Sun has dropped the “News in briefs” – the bit where they sarcastically mock the intelligence of the model. Unlike the removal of the nipples from the Irish Sun, No More Page 3 has neither commented on this change or called it a “step in the right direction”.

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