The UK boasts universal healthcare, tea flowing like wine, and Conservatives who sound like our Democrats when it comes to gun control and reproductive justice. A foreigner unfamiliar with the journalism landscape in the UK would have no reason to question the country’s progressive values.
The Sun is the UK’s widest-circulation newspaper and is read by more than two million people every day. It is published by News UK, a subsidiary of News Corps, and owned by Rupert Murdoch – i.e., it’s about as far right as the UK gets. I never purchased The Sun, but for the entire four years I lived in the UK I saw it most days I ventured out of my house; it’s absolutely everywhere. The paper costs £2 (just under $4.00), boasts amazing sports coverage, celebrity and political news and a TV guide. But where The Sun sharply diverts from newspapers we’re used to in America is on its third page. Page 3 is a cultural institution: in every issue for the past 40 years, there has been a topless young woman on the third page, referred to as “Page 3 girls.”
When I moved to London at 22, bare breasts in the newspaper astounded me. I can even remember the first time I saw Page 3: on a rush hour bus ride, my fellow commuters and I were crammed in like sardines and I whisper-yelled “yes!” when a seat became available. I settled into my seat, sheepishly grinned at the man next to me and then carried on necking coffee and stuffing toast into my face. The man had his newspaper open wide, with its right page well into my personal space. There, just below my nose, was a full-page photo of a topless woman, who I could only assume was an adult but looked about 15. (NB: I later learned that until 2003, models only had to be 16 to be featured on Page 3). I was appalled that this man thought a bus full of morning commuters and children on the way to school was an appropriate place to look at soft porn. When I told my friends at my new workplace, they laughed, sighed and explained Page 3.
It is ludicrous that in 2014, the UK’s widest circulation newspaper features a photo of a topless female model everyday. Of course it’s wildly sexist and encourages the pervasive kind of devaluing of women’s bodies and experiences that affects us all everyday. One could argue, and I do, that it is not-so-subtly responsible for some of that sexism. Naturally, a number of movements in opposition to the sexist institution have emerged over the years. None has so quickly grown from a quiet rumble to a full-blown shade-throwing activist storm quite as quickly as No More Page 3.
Here is a primer on the little campaign that could, the closest any movement has come to finally eradicating Page 3.
1. No More Page 3 isn’t an anti-pornography or anti-bare breast campaign. It specifically just asks for the bare breasts to be removed from a family newspaper.
Unsurprisingly, Page 3 fans accuse No More Page 3 activists of being everything from anti-woman bodyshamers to anti-pornography campaigners. As is the case with many feminist collectives, there are those within the movement who porn on principle, but that is not the official position of No More Page 3 on the whole. Pornography, a genre in its own right, is easy to purchase for those over 18; the societal norm is to consume it in private. However, anyone of any age can purchase a newspaper a full-page half-naked model is exposing soft porn to anyone in their vicinity. I can speak from experience that it is incredibly uncomfortable to sit on a bus squished next to a man leering at Page 3.
2. No More Page 3 is widely supported in the UK.
No More Page 3 (NMP3) is not a fringe movement. It is endorsed by Girlguiding UK (similar to the Girl Scouts), the YWCA, The Royal College of Midwives, The Royal College of Nursing, Breast Cancer UK, many unions and even the Scottish Parliament. Thirty-three colleges and universities have stopped selling The Sun on campus until Page 3 is removed. The No More Page 3 Twitter and Instagram accounts (both @NoMorePage3) feature photos of celebrities in their now-iconic t-shirts, including author and feminist Caitlin Moran and comedian Russell Brand.
3. Even former Page 3 models are on board to get rid of the section.
Former Page 3 models have come forward in droves to condemn the boob-news industrial complex. Many lost jobs, self-esteem and career prospects by being Page 3 models. In a collection of responses from former models on the No More Page 3 web site, women reported being “seen as a piece of meat” and “being consumed by inner conflict” about their boobs being in the newspaper.
4. Rupert Murdoch is intrigued, if not supportive, of eradicating Page 3.
The News Corps mogul is rumored to have been cautious when 1970 editor Larry Lamb introduced bare boobs into the newspaper. The paper’s circulation subsequently soared, though, and Murdoch has remained mostly silent on the issue. However, Murdoch recently tweeted a message that indicated he could be open to a Page 3-free Sun. In response to one of the many daily #nomorepage3 tweets he must get, Murdoch tweeted at a campaigner who said that Page 3 was “last century”:
“@Kazipooh page three so last century! You maybe right, don’t know but considering. Perhaps halfway house with glamorous fashionistas.”
The News Corps and News UK camps have said nothing further about canceling Page 3, but many have speculated that Murdoch’s tweet symbolizes that the end of an era is imminent.
You can sign a Change.org petition directed at David Dinsmore, editor of The Sun, here.
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[Image via Hynd’s Blog]