We all know about Page 3, the infamous Sun feature of a topless woman. It’s the largest image of any woman in newspaper circulation, and is also visible on their website (though only as far down as the breastbone unless you register). For some time there has been a growing campaign, spearheaded by the No More Page 3 movement, to end the practice, and finally, it seems like it might be about to change. Rupert Murdoch tweeted last Wednesday that he found the page ‘old fashioned’, and wondered if ‘beautiful young women [were] more attractive in at least some fashionable clothes’. While this does give hope to the campaign, Murdoch’s reasoning leaves a lot to be desired.
The arguments against Page 3 are based on feminist reasoning: women should not be portrayed as sex objects, and valued only in their attractiveness, and there is little place for them in something that claims to be a newspaper. The Sun is in wide circulation, at approximately two million copies daily, meaning exposure to Page 3 is inevitable. Furthermore, it advertises as a family-friendly newspaper, notably offering discount holiday packages and the ‘Sunbeams’ baby photo competition; it seems to be a paper you can safely leave lying around at home. The presence of topless women normalises the sexualisation of all women, which has negative effects on how they are seen and treated.
When growing up, we absorb the images of others we see and use them to form our own standards of beauty and normality. The message that Page 3 sends is that a woman is only beautiful when she’s half naked; men are not held to the same standard, and are rarely seen shirtless in any newspaper. This pressure to be attractive contradicts with simultaneous pressure to be chaste, and to not ‘lead men on’ and therefore incur (or even ‘deserve’) violent consequences. Both sexist attitudes are proven to do damage, and their contradiction even more so.
Yet, Murdoch’s reason for reconsidering the feature is not because he has recognised the double standard that hangs over male and female bodies. It is not because he has realised the incongruity and gratuity of a topless model amongst news stories. It is not even because he is simply ceding to widespread pressure from groups as diverse as Breast Cancer UK and the Scottish Parliament. Murdoch’s concern remains sexist and superficial: whether or not the models are more or less attractive with clothes. The purpose of Page 3 is eye candy, and doubtless some buy the paper just for that; putting clothes on them won’t change that. There’s nothing wrong with the female body, but the body belongs to the woman, not to the public, and Page 3 teaches the opposite.
So Murdoch is right when he calls Page 3 old-fashioned. But it’s old-fashioned not because it shows bare breasts, but because it shows them as sex objects without real people behind them. Ultimately The Sun is a business looking to sell its papers, and Murdoch indeed concluded both of his tweets with reference to the opinion of the readership. It may still be unlikely that he’s willing to sacrifice readers, because Page 3 is part of a larger problem. Women are over-sexualised in all media. Page 3 is just one example. It remains important because it is a significant and famous example – as I said, we all know it, although how many of us read The Sun? Hopefully, if it is scrapped, it will be leading the way to greater change.