Are Boobs News?: The Page 3 Controversy

Britain is known for many things, good and bad, from its role in the industrial revolution to its role in the international slave trade. But one thing it is most certainly renowned for is its sense of the value of traditions. But there’s a tradition in the UK that just doesn’t square with 21st century views on what counts as news. I’m talking about the Page 3 girls, topless and peeking out from the pages of one of Britain’s best-selling family newspapers, The Sun. The campaign No More Page 3 lists many of the arguments against the continuation of Page 3 girls on its website, including the fact that up until 2003, 16-year-old girls were posing for the newspaper, to the complete ridiculousness that the main image of any woman in a mainstream newspaper is one in which she has to be mostly naked. But as with any longstanding tradition, there are strongly held views and deeper issues at stake.

The British press has spent much of the week discussing Page 3 and its place in the current social climate. Most controversially, this week saw a turnaround from The Sun, which dropping Page 3 girls a few days prior, suddenly resumed printing pictures of mostly naked women. Many former Page 3 girls came out in defense of The Sun during Page 3’s hiatus, and emphasized their right to bare whatever they liked. While you can’t help but agree with their arguments that empowering women surely means allowing and supporting their right to make decisions for themselves—even if that decision is to pose topless in a national newspaper—there is a wider issue of how their decisions are taking place within the confines of a society that promotes women appealing to, above all else, the male gaze. It’s worth noting that Page 3 only features young, conventionally attractive white women, and not older women and hardly ever women of color. If that’s not clear evidence that Page 3 seeks to please the male gaze within British society, rather than empowering women who feel good getting their kit off, then I don’t know what is.

Nicola McLean (another former Page 3 girl) said on Good Morning Britain: “If you meet any good Page 3 girl that has gone on to pose for The Sun, we’re all very strong-minded women that have made our own choice. We feel very happy with what we’re doing. We certainly don’t feel like we’re being victimized.” Feeling victimized is exactly the point I’m trying to make. Of course these women won’t feel like they were victims. They were playing up to a society that still sees women as being more about their boobs rather than their brains. This inherently perpetuates inequality because when it comes down to it, men don’t get praised for the size of their dicks in national newspapers. In fact, there is such a strong reward system in place for ideas of sexual conduct or attractiveness to conform to the male gaze that even arguments about why women were supporting the No More Page 3 campaign centered on the role of men, with Jodie Marsh (another Page 3 girl) saying that women who didn’t like Page 3 were “jealous and insecure.” “I never felt exploited, in fact the opposite. I thought, ‘Blimey, people are willing to pay to see my boobs’,” she added. While payment for seeing Jodie’s boobs is a whole other topic, what the Page 3 issue clearly highlights is that boobs just aren’t news.

For the moment, Page 3 is here to stay. Hopefully if anything has come out of this publicity stunt by Rupert Murdoch, it’s reigniting the discussion about the human body and society’s gender-based perceptions of it. Because it’s not just about gender inequality for women: Page 3 also functions on the assumption that men can’t possibly go through a whole newspaper without having a break to stare at a girl’s tits. Frankly, that’s just as insulting as the idea that it’s fine for the sexual objectification of women to take center stage in a national newspaper.

To support No More Page 3, visit their website.

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