You would think that the Rupert Murdoch Empire would be cautious by now since the disintegration of News International, the phone hacking scandal and Prime Minister David Cameron’s clamp down on a sexualised British society. But every time national tabloid, The Sun makes an exhibition of Page Three; it’s another reminder of the rampant sexism within what’s considered ‘British institutions.’
Although the media may be modernising in terms of moving onto multimedia platforms and overt technological rejuvenation; the content still resembles an old Victorian titillation magazine with sensationalist stories and sex used as a tool for marketing. The British sense of humour has always been recognised as frightfully conservative inundated with sexual innuendos, as explicit references to sex were regarded as offensive before the making of The Sun.
So when it came to origination of the newspaper during the “swinging sixties,” wartime sexual oppression for women was broken down and social revolution meant times of liberation and exploration. The Sun attempted to push the boundaries, and hold a stance synonymous to the social context during this period.
Unfortunately, at the same time media tycoons such as Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and Murdoch hijacked the opportunity, and began to sell women’s liberation in print form. Instead of women gaining the chance for independence and self-discovery; it was fed to the masses in bite-size pornographic pieces, and has been growing more graphic and exploitative since then.
The first topless Page Three girl appeared on 17 November 1970, German-born Stephanie Rahn, little offence was caused as she was presented as a one-off “Birthday Suit Girl” to mark the first anniversary of the relaunched Sun. Controversy was only ignited over the next four years when the topless Page three girl gradually became a regular fixture, and with increasingly risqué poses, also being credited with the increase in circulation.
And for that reason, the women who saw through the façade formed the 1970’s feminist movement and have been fighting for the removal of Page Three ever since. The institution of Page Three stands upon a foundation of promoting the commodification of women’s bodies in order for the newspaper to make sales; and not the ‘radically political’ newspaper that it claims to be.
Both feminists and many cultural conservatives saw the pictures as pornographic and misogynistic, and as for modern-day it would be considered as softcore pornography, inappropriate for publication in a national newspaper.
The paper has been banned in public libraries because of its “excessive sexual content” and Members of Parliament have suggested the paper could be prosecuted for indecency. In 2005 a college in Lewisham, South-East London banned The Sun from the campus because it felt its Page Three pictures were degrading to women.
The debate was taken further in 1986, as Clare Short, Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood, led an unsuccessful House of Commons campaign to have topless models banned from all newspapers. After her proposed bill failed, Short accused the House’s predominantly conservative male MPs of not taking the issue seriously, remarking “If you mention breasts, fifty Tory MPs all giggle and fall over.” Perhaps these Tory men were part of the generation of sitting in a tree house with flashlights, ogling nude women’s silhouettes.
Ms. Short renewed her campaign against Page Three almost two decades later, in 2004, but found herself on the receiving end of an ad hominem attack by The Sun, which superimposed her face on a Page Three model’s body and accused her of being “fat and jealous.” If being quaintly ‘British’ means demeaning women whether they are posing topless for the Sun or have an opinion against it – is it worth keeping as an institution?
Several women’s organisations have been part of the push to stop the landscape of pornography affecting women and children. OBJECT, a leading feminist organisation as well as the ‘Turn Your Back on Page Three’ campaign have been demanding for socially responsible media by promoting equality within newspapers such as The Sun.
“With the recent Murdoch scandal, the enquiry into the culture and ethics of the press, Government concern over the ‘sexualisation of children’, and the subsequent Lib Dem Party vote to adopt a motion to end the projection of women as sex objects in newspapers, now is the perfect time to step up our lobbying to get rid of the Page 3 phenomena.”
Alongside equalities minister Lynne Featherstone, former Cabinet minister Clare Short and Ex- MP Dr Evan Harris; Labour’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, has recently bought up the Sun’s reinforcement of gender inequality through the shameless use of topless women in an interview with Sky News. The shadow deputy Prime Minister spoke in her new role as shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport stating:
“I don’t, I am not saying that we should ban it, but I think that women in the 21st century who are going out to work, who are bringing up their children, who are playing a full role in public life, I think that the idea that women are sex objects to be posing in their knickers to be leered at by men in a national newspaper, I don’t think that that’s the right thing for women in the 21st century.”
And she hits the nail on the head with the last statement. In times where sex is no longer seen to be an implicit innuendo, instead painted across our screens and the Murdoch Empire use new tactics such as phone-hacking to keep newspaper sales up; it seems strange that Page Three still exists. And what’s more important, the recent scandals show the move to eradicate irresponsible and inflammatory media is more necessary than ever before.
If you want to join the campaign: Turn Your Back on Page Three