When you take it upon yourself to argue in favour of the No More page 3 Campaign, there are a few things that come up time and time again from detractors keen to defend their daily dose of soft porn. And one of the most frequent claims is that it’s not porn at all. This is interesting because it suggests that defenders (as I will now be calling them) think of porn as a bad thing, or at least as something that will be perceived as a bad thing, and they do not want to be associated with defending a bad thing. This is understandable, as the porn in question is available daily in the public space where it intrudes upon people who do not wish to see it, AND, crucially, children are exposed to it. Nobody wants to defend something that puts children and porn into the same sentence, do they?
A quick hike through some online dictionaries gives us a few different definitions of porn :
- creative activity of no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire
- pictures etc that show or describe naked people in a very open and direct way in order to cause sexual excitement
- softcore generally contains nudity or partial nudity in sexually suggestive situations but not explicit sexual activity
Seems to me like those definitions might describe Page 3…
It is clear that Page 3 occupies the ‘soft’ end of the spectrum, but it is also clear that it is part of a continuum which has at its other end the really nasty hardcore gonzo stuff, and that it is this association which the defenders want to distance themselves from.
So, if it’s not porn what is it…?
I am frequently told that it is a celebration of beauty, and of female sexuality, and it is the admiration of these things that draws the fans. In order to distance themselves from the more grubby pornographic wank-fodder aspect of things, some fans wax lyrical about the beauty, bravery (?) and sexual freedom Page 3 represents, with the models as some sort of crusading heroines of repressed female sexuality, doing us all a favour with their body confidence and free spirit paving the way for sexual equality…
That’s just rubbish of course. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder sure enough, but for me it is always rooted in humanity. And the thing that makes these pictures porn rather than beauty is the lack of a human personality. If you were to ask someone to imagine a Page 3 picture most people would be able to come up with a picture in their mind, and most of these pictures would be remarkably similar. The models themselves have undoubtedly got various differing personalities but we are never allowed to see them on page 3. The whole point of the photos is to provide a blank canvas for fantasy, and this they do very well. The models have to fit a rather narrow stereotype of the currently fashionable body-shape, but other than that they could be anyone. They are interchangeable because they are not allowed any character of their own. This is de-humanising, and it is hard to see beauty in that. This is the whole meaning of the word ‘objectification’, which is frequently bandied about unthinkingly, but actually means that a person is stripped of not just their clothes but also what it is that makes them human. Why would you do that? The only reason in this context is to provide a vehicle for sexual fantasy which is unencumbered by anything resembling an individual person with their messy and inconvenient needs.
If I wanted to celebrate beauty in a national newspaper I would want to PROMOTE what makes that individual beautiful in their own way, including their particular personality and character and all the things that go to make up a special human being.
So, if it’s not beauty then…
ART! That’s the other thing! It’s art! This is another argument I have heard many times, and I would like to put that one to rest once and for all. Art, by definition, attempts to tell a truth about the world. There are varying degrees of success in this endeavour, but the greatest art illuminates a universal human truth, and the aim of all art is to search for and tell this truth. Porn, on the other hand, tells a lie. Even soft porn. The pose, the sultry expression in the eyes, the slightly parted lips, all tell the lie that the woman is sexually ready and available. It’s not true – she’s just getting paid to do it. It’s not art, it’s commerce. Now this wouldn’t matter so much if you just admitted it was porn and you used it to help you get your rocks off, but you can’t admit that and then defend its position in a daily newspaper seen by millions, without seeming a bit pervy.
Hence the sometimes hilarious tying-themselves-in-knots arguments about higher things like beauty and freedom of expression that some defenders spend hours of their free time trying to justify themselves with. Art and beauty are not things that most of us would wish hidden. We can come across those things in a public space without feeling embarrassed, uncomfortable, threatened or violated. They are not used (generally) as tools to bully or abuse. Many women, if they don’t actively dislike it, are resigned to putting up with Page 3, because it is perceived to be something that men want which we can’t change. A lot of us instinctively know the difference between Page 3 and any other image in the public space, even if we can’t always articulate it.
Page 3 is not an expression of free unfettered female sexuality, it’s not a celebration of beauty, it’s not art, IT’S A JOB. And it’s not even very well paid.