Page three: media objectification

Frances Bell

page 3 against

Whatever your thoughts on the No More Page 3 campaign, you’ve got to admit that it’s been pretty impressive. Started by self-identified ‘non-campaigner’ Lucy-Anne Holmes last September, the original petition has gained worldwide attention, sparked extensive debate in the UK media and achieved over 63,000 signatures – of which the SRC is one of the latest.

In his evidence to the Leveson inquiry last year, The Sun editor Dominic Mohan described Page 3 as a “British institution”, and to a certain extent he’s right. Page 3 has become such a ubiquitous part of British journalism that most people don’t really think about it all that much. When you stop to consider it however, Page 3 does seem a bit…odd. Regardless of what you think about porn, it is a bit incongruous to casually put a semi-naked woman on page 3 of what is otherwise a fairly normal tabloid. As the campaign petition puts it: “George Alagiah doesn’t say, ‘And now let’s look at Courtney, 21, from Warrington’s bare breasts,’ in the middle of the 6 O’Clock News, does he[?]…There would be an outcry.” So why is it okay when you’re reading a paper?

Aside from just being a bit weird, Page 3, and the wider culture of sexual objectification that it represents, is pretty harmful to all those involved. We live in a society where women are taught (often by the media) that their appearance is crucial to their success, and in light of this I can understand why being a Page 3 model – being held up as an example of beauty – is often portrayed as being empowering. However, it doesn’t seem particularly empowering to value a person for just one superficial characteristic. One of the key problems with objectification is that as soon as someone is valued for their appearance, all other aspects of them are devalued. Page 3 directly feeds into this culture – everyone knows that a model isn’t chosen for her opinion on current affairs. Encouraging people to appreciate themselves for their looks, rather than for what they say, do and believe, is not empowering; it’s insulting.

Over the past few decades this culture of objectification has been challenged and society is changing. Although it’s still far from perfect, women are increasingly being portrayed as more rounded human beings, whether in film & television or in the news. In continuing to print the Page 3 feature, The Sun is holding on to an archaic sexism that most of society left behind a few decades ago. Instead of ‘celebrating’ women for their breasts, it’s time for the paper to be celebrating women for their opinions, values and actions. Page 3 should be recognised and dumped as the relic that it is.

One of the most common arguments against the No More Page 3 campaign has been that it’s removal would be anti-freedom of speech. To me this seems a bit strange. I can understand an insistence to uphold the right to freedom of speech in journalistic practice – freedom to publish state secrets or controversial news, for example. But topless photos are not exactly in the ‘public interest.’ In fact, I have yet to hear a strong argument for keeping Page 3. There’s nothing outlawing Page 3 from being printed, but it’s pretty irresponsible and regressive for The Sun to do so.

For all these reasons, I’m proud that the SRC has chosen to back the campaign. It is elected to act in what it perceives to be the students’ best interests, and supporting a campaign to improve the representation of women in the media seems like a no-brainer. It forms just one part of the work being done by the SRC to tackle the issues faced by women on campus. It doesn’t take that long to sign a petition, and commitment to the campaign strengthens, rather than detracts from, other SRC projects. Most importantly, the decision to back the No More Page 3 campaign raises awareness of the issues on campus and encourages discussion of objectification and female representation in the media.