Time to close the cover on Page 3

ONE DAY last summer, a Brighton writer called Lucy Anne Holmes noticed that the most prominent photograph of a woman in The Sun newspaper was not Jessica Ennis, the brilliant young athlete who had just won gold at the London Olympics, but an unknown young woman with no clothes on.

Inside Lucy Anne Holmes’ head, something went ping. Why was this newspaper, with its circulation of almost 2.5m, still offering images of women as sexualised decoration, rather than highlighting female achievement? No More Page 3 was born.

Using social media, Holmes got a petition going. Turns out lots of other people were not keen on naked women being served up as visual entertainment in an everyday publication that is stocked not with the top-shelf porn, but with the rest of the family newspapers. So far 102,910 people [as on May 24, 2013] have signed the online campaign which is asking The Sun’s editor, Dominic Mohan, to shelve Page 3. So far, he hasn’t.

The Girl Guides are the latest group to add their support to the No More Page 3 campaign. In a statement, the organisation recently said, “The Sun is a family newspaper. Anyone can pick it up, turn to Page 3, and think it is normal for young women to be treated as objects. This is just wrong. It is impossible to nurture your ambitions if you are constantly told that you aren’t the same as your male equivalent. It is disrespectful and embarrassing.”

I show my 12-year-old daughter a copy of The Sun’s Page Three, where a colour photo of a naked young woman a few years older than her stares back up at us. My daughter looks a bit put out. “Ewww. Why is she there?” she asks. Men like to look at her, I suggest. “Then there should be a naked man on Page 2,” she says immediately. “To make it fair. Although putting naked people in newspapers is stupid.”

Stupid and unfair, yes, but what may make Rupert Murdoch stage a tabloid intervention is how laughably, ridiculously out of step Page 3 is with contemporary society. It belongs in an era of Jimmy Savile, of throwing bananas at black footballers, of mother-in-law jokes and legalised homophobia. It is an anachronism, being naff and offensive at the same time.

As well as the No More Page 3 campaign, which has been receiving steady coverage in the mainstream media — although not, oddly enough, in The Sun — an almost identical campaign backed by comedy writer Jennifer Saunders and BBC presenter Lauren Laverne has received almost 84,000 signatures on change.org. David Cameron has even been asked for his opinion, but while he instigated a comment on the 10-match ban of footballer Luis Suarez in relation to negative role models for young boys, when it came to naked ladies in a daily newspaper, he suggested it was up to parents to keep their kids from seeing Page 3. He did not suggest Page 3 might be a negative role model for young girls.

Other dads, however, have been more proactive. A recent anti-Page 3 campaign, also on change.org, amassed 12,000 signatures in a fortnight. This time, it was started by Steve Grout, a man who was being hassled by his two small sons to buy The Sun, because they had seen in a television advert that The Sun and Lego were running a promotion — so the little boys associated the newspaper with toys.

“It sowed a seed in their mind that the Sun is linked to toys, but I don’t want my kids to see a naked woman in the newspaper,” Grout told an interviewer. He then appeared at the newspaper’s Wapping headquarters and at the UK Legoland theme park with a giant Page 3 model made of Lego. It worked. Lego no longer promote toys in The Sun.

Page 3 is a throwback from an era where topless tabloid models could become household names in Sun reading households, a poor man’s Playboy centrefold or Penthouse Pet, back when that kind of stuff was considered glamorous. That’s the official term — ‘glamour’ model. It began in 1969 when Murdoch relaunched The Sun, adding semi-clothed female models on Page 3 who by 1970 had dispensed with their clothes as 20-year-old Stephanie Rahn became the first woman to appear in “her birthday suit”. It was all a bit a laugh, you see. A fit bird in her birthday suit. Harmless, jokey. Lots of double entendres.

The Star and the Mirror followed suit with topless models, but the Mirror dropped Page 3 in the 80s, deeming it demeaning. In the 1990s, the Sun dropped the double entendres, adding a mini-bio instead, and after consulting its readership, decided it would not use ‘glamour’ models who had undergone breast enlargement. Only real bosoms were allowed (an exception being the silicon-filled Katie Price, who got her boobs in the door while operating under her former nom de guerre, Jordan).

Until 10 years ago, it was legal for 16-year-old girls to pose for Page 3. The Sun used to count down to the 16th birthday of teenage girls, until the 2003 Sexual Offences Act deemed this deeply creepy and raised the minimum age for models to 18. In the same year, a documentary called ‘The Curse of Page 3’ examined the lives of models, showing how some had fallen prey to drug dependency and abusive relationships.

Being a Page 3 Girl, in the era prior to the internet and the more graphic and airbrushed lads’ mags like Nuts and Zoo, was a form of celebrity. Samantha Fox, Maria Whittaker and Debee Ashby were all posing for The Sun aged 16. Other Sun household names throughout the Page 3 heyday were Jilly Johnson, Linda Lusardi, Kathy Lloyd, Suzanne Mizzi, and later, Jodie Marsh, Nell McAndrew, and Jayne Middlemiss. Geri Halliwell did it, as did transsexual model Tula. And of course, Jordan, now a one-woman business empire which began with the exposure of her giant bosoms in a tabloid.

Of course the current No More Page 3 campaigners are not the first critics of the, erm, institution. British MP Clare Short has been asking for a ban since 1986, when The Sun called her “killjoy Clare”, and again in 2004, when it responded that she was “fat and jealous.” That is, a high-ranking politician deemed jealous of tabloid topless models because of their differing body sizes, by the biggest selling paper in the British Isles. Take a moment to think about that. Two other female politicians were termed a “feminist fanatic” and a “battleaxe” when they voiced their distaste for Page 3.

It was assumed that when Rebekah Brooks took over as the Sun’s editor in early 2003, she would abolish Page 3, given how she had previously stated that it reduced circulation as women Sun readers found it offensive (and yes, women Sun readers are an actual demographic). Brooks then u-turned completely once she became editor, talking about “intelligent, vibrant young women who appear in the Sun out of choice and because they enjoy the job”.

Amongst Sun readers themselves, the popularity of naked women in the paper remains significant. A 2012 survey found that 61% of readers were in favour of Page 3, with 24% against. The same question asked to Guardian readers found 86% wanted the end of Page 3, while just 4% didn’t object.

But as the world outside of The Sun continues to evolve, the days of the Page 3 ‘glamour’ model are numbered. If you want to view naked ladies, there is an abundance of them online, doing far more than posing topless for a camera. Meanwhile the real editor of The Sun, the octogenarian Rupert Murdoch, recently tweeted about taking up transcendental meditation. Could he experience late-stage enlightenment? Or will the sheer weight of public opinion, and perhaps still cringing from News Of The World outcome, persuade him that Page 3 belongs in the dustbin of history? It’s up to you.

* nomorepage3.org

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