Happy Birthday No More Page 3 !

I wrote this blog a whole year ago, to celebrate the first birthday of the NoMorepage3 Campaign and the diversity of its supporters. Whilst I would rather there not be the need for a second birthday, this year there is even more to celebrate. Signatures stand at over 200,000, the campaign has attracted support from many more politicians, including Ed Milliband, more and more groups and associations, such as the Girls Brigade and Mumsnet have added their voices, and the media coverage has grown and grown. On top of that, the Sun’s Irish edition has dropped the Page3 feature, and, despite increasingly desperate efforts at promotion such as the misguided CheckemTuesday feature and the failed World Cup giveaway, sales of the Sun have been decreasing all year.The NoMorePage3 Campaign has sponsored some fantastic women sports stars: Cheltenham Town Ladies FC, Nottingham Forest Ladies FC and Scottish mountain biking champion Lee Craigie all now wear NMP3 kit. Over the year lots of regional NMP3 groups have sprung up to capitalise on local support and bring fresh energy and ideas to the campaign. More than all that though is the raising of consciousness which has been achieved by this campaign: media sexism is a talking point again and is part of a bigger picture where women’s lives and voices are being listened to and debated. It’s a very exciting time and the NMP3 campaign has added hugely to it. Here’s what I wrote a year ago, with thanks to all you diverse and wonderful supporters out there, and to the team at HQ that work so tirelessly for all of us:

I have been following the No More Page 3 campaign for a year now, ever since its inception in August 2012. I have watched it grow from a few signatures and Lucy Anne Holmes all on her own, to over 115,000 signatures and a whole team of dedicated campaigners. I have followed the website, the blog, Twitter and Facebook, I have joined in many discussion threads and I have read many articles and blogs that the campaign has linked to or recommended. I have been to a flash mob, to an NUJ event on media sexism and a fantastic Stand up for Women comedy gig, and I’ve met lots of lovely people (that’s YOU, the nmp3 team…!)

It has been a fantastic year, to witness the growth of a movement, and to hear women’s voices, from all backgrounds and walks of life, all coming together to denounce the outmoded sexism of Page 3, and to do something about it. In the process this brilliant campaign has garnered the support of celebrities, charities, unions and the Girl Guides, amongst others, and has had increasing media attention. This subject is now well and truly on the agenda : thanks to the hard work of all involved, it will not go away!

So it AMAZES me that there are still people out there who characterise the campaigners as a group of hairy, ugly, jealous, humourless feminists… The one thing the group ISN’T is one-dimensional, consisting as it does of a huge range of people with different experiences and reasons for signing. So I thought it would be nice to celebrate the campaign’s birthday by making a list of all the different reasons for support that I have noticed throughout the year, and in that way celebrate the diversity of the people who have become involved in the campaign and contributed to it.

So – here’s my list. It is by no means a comprehensive survey, I’ve probably left some people out, and I apologise in advance for any lazy, inaccurate cultural stereotyping…  But here goes :

  • Teachers : ‘Images like this can be brought into school and they are partly responsible for an increase in sexual bullying’
  • Politicians : ‘Exploitation and early sexualisation of girls creates a problem for society’
  • Men : ‘We want the women in our lives to be treated with respect’
  • Women of colour : ‘It’s another expression of the white beauty ideal – it’s racist as well as sexist’
  • Breast-feeding mums : ‘The over-sexualisation of breasts makes it more difficult to breast-feed in public’
  • *even some* Sun readers : ‘Not bothered about the boobs to be honest, I mainly buy it for the football’
  • Feminists : ‘Unequal representation of women – men are usually pictured fully-dressed but women have to be half-naked’
  • Psychologists : ‘Sexual objectification leads to negative stereotyping and the risk of stereotype threat’
  • People of faith : ‘Sex is a private matter between consenting adults within a loving relationship’
  • Parents : ‘We don’t want our kids to come across these images in cafes, trains and other public places where people leave them’
  • The body-concious : ‘I don’t want to be reminded of my imperfections every day’
  • Women’s groups : ‘ Over-sexual representation of women can provide a context in which rape culture can flourish’
  • Social historians : ‘The Sun’s decision to provide soft porn in a newspaper paved the way for the re-branding of porn in lads mags’
  • *even some* Glamour models : ‘It’s not glamorous, it’s demeaning’
  • The working class : ‘Don’t patronise us with boobs in the paper!’
  • Prudes : ‘Disgusting!’
  • Guardian readers : ‘The whole paper is scum, get rid of all the other pages while you’re at it’
  • Artists : ‘Beauty is the human body as nature intended it, not the airbrushed, photoshopped version’
  • Health professionals : ‘Seeing over-idealised body shapes all the time can lead to problems such as depression and eating disorders’
  • Lesbian/gay/bi/trans people : ‘Heteronormative!’
  • Philosophers : ‘In an arena set aside for ‘news’ this is essentially a lie being told every day’
  • Young people : ‘Is that what we have to aspire to…?’
  • Older people : ‘It was bad enough when it was just the Sun, but now it’s the Star and the Sport as well’
  • Even older people : ‘Put them away love, you’ll catch your death…’
  • People who love sex : ‘It pushes the idea of a narrow male fantasy rather than celebrating female sexuality’
  • Family members : ‘I wouldn’t want it to be my mother/sister/daughter’
  • Foreign visitors: ‘You still have naked ladies in the NEWSpaper?? WE stopped doing that YEARS ago…!’
  • And then there’s me – I’m one of those humourless strident feminists. Well, somebody’s got to be…

PS If you haven’t signed the NoMorePage3 campaign yet here’s the link https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/david-dinsmore-take-the-bare-boobs-out-of-the-sun-nomorepage3

The Sun and Schoolboys

The news last week that the NUT has given its public support to the No More Page 3 campaign got me thinking a bit about schoolchildren and their exposure to sexualised images. The wonderful Charlie Free on the Unfinished blog did some research some time ago into the Sun’s archives. She came up with some uncomfortable images from the eighties, where Page 3 was given over to a ‘Back to School’ theme, featuring topless models in school ties and straw boaters and other schoolgirl paraphernalia. (There was no outcry about this at the time, and subsequently we have heard many news stories about child sexual abuse in the eighties, with the accompanying platitude that attitudes have changed since then).

When I saw these pictures, first of all I was shocked because I REMEMBERED THEM! (They must have left a lasting impression, especially odd when you consider that I have never bought the Sun…) And second of all, I remembered my college graduation yearbook picture from 1981, so I went and dug it out. Here it is :

College yearbook picture 001 (582x800) My boyfriend at the time drew the picture of me, and helpfully added a caption cut out of the Sun’s Page 3, as a sort of joke I think… (We’re no longer together. Obviously). He doctored the caption slightly, by substituting a couple of words, to make it more applicable to me, but clearly the message is that this is supposed to be a schoolteacher we are looking at.

Here is the caption in full :

‘Helen’s in a class of her own! Huggable Helen is every schoolboy’s ideal Miss. And she nearly followed her parents into (…). But Helen soon realised that her classy looks score top marks in the Ooh-level ratings – and decided to turn to (…).’

College yearbook picture 001 (582x800)In the original version she clearly decided to turn to teaching, as she is now the ideal ‘Miss’ for all those schoolboys… It’s a shame the original Page 3 girl is lost because, judging by the Sun’s imaginative depiction of schoolgirls, we would be in for a real treat with the school TEACHER! I like to imagine her in a mortar board, possibly with a ruler in one hand and a naughty glint in her eye, dominatrix-style.

The message is clear – it’s ok for schoolboys to view their teachers as sex-objects. In the same era that the Sun was sexualising school GIRLS, it was giving the message to school BOYS that any woman in their lives was fair game for sexual objectification, even their teachers. Never mind that a woman was a professional, deserving of respect, it was ok to assess her on the basis of her breasts.

When we say that the depiction of schoolgirls (or teachers) would not be acceptable now because times have changed, we are acknowledging that the media reflects and to some extent reinforces cultural norms. Back in the eighties the captions attached to Page 3 ‘stunnas’ were bits of nonsense filled with bad puns, because even then you couldn’t just put a topless girl in the paper with no ‘explanation’. The captions served the purpose of making these pictures ‘just a bit of fun’ rather than ‘soft porn’. I am interested now, looking back, to realise how normalised these images  had already become to me at that stage in my life.

I realise I make a very unlikely Page 3 girl, what with that abnormally large hitch-hiking thumb, and the punk haircut, but that reminds me that this was, after all, the height of the punk era. It was a time that was full of exceptional and original female talent. Women like Patti Smith, Siouxsie Sioux and Poly Styrene were challenging the notion of what it meant to be female and in the spotlight. Bands like the Slits and Kleenex were uncompromising in their determination to be on a level playing field with the boys, and were defiant in their refusal to use sex to sell their music. Not everyone was a punk, but youth culture was rebelling against many of the stereotypes in society, including the role of women. Maybe it was all too challenging for Britain’s favourite daily paper, and Page 3 was then, as I suspect it is now, an attempt to keep women in their passive and man-pleasing place. Whatever the reason, I can’t help thinking that, even back then, the Sun was completely out of step with women, and WAY behind the times.