This is why the demise of Page 3 Girls is so important

by Clementine Ford - 21/01/15, 8:55 AM
Katie Price (aka ‘Jordan’) is a Page 3 alumni, first posing for the newspaper in 1996 when she was only 18 years old.

Katie Price (aka ‘Jordan’) is a Page 3 alumni, first posing for the newspaper in 1996 when she was only 18 years old. Photo: Getty Images

After 44 years, it appears that British tabloid The Sun has finally brought an end to the sexist spectacle that was the Page 3 Girl.

Well, it's only 2015 after all.

For those unfamiliar with The Sun, it's a collection of coloured paper that's stapled together, adorned with lurid headlines and then sold in newsagents for the express purpose of making Rupert Murdoch even more disgustingly rich than he is already. For almost five decades, its third page has featured a full size photograph of a young woman posing topless for the benefit of an ogling, predominantly male audience.

Fighting the good fight: No More Page 3 campaign material.
Fighting the good fight: No More Page 3 campaign material.Photo: Helen Undy/Twitter

Aspiring 'glamour models' vie for the position of the Page 3 girl in the hopes of hitting the big time; in addition to having the potential to earn a large (and finite) amount of money, the successful ones might go on to feature on local television or other 'lad mags'.

Katie Price (aka 'Jordan') is one such alumni, first posing for the newspaper in 1996 when she was only 18 years old. Price's relative youth at the time of her debut shoot is no surprise. Pornography has always made its bread and butter from the bodies of very young women, offering a promise to the viewer that the object of their fancy is as fresh and nubile as one can get while still being on the moral side of legal. And if the law says it's okay to look at half naked girls who might technically still be in school, what's the big deal?

But until 2003's Sexual Offences Act made it illegal, it wasn't uncommon for The Sun to use girls as young as 16 in its page 3 spreads. If you need to put that into context using one of Australia's darlings, let's say it would be the equivalent of opening the Daily Telegraph to find a photograph of Bindi Irwin completely naked from the waist up.

TOPLESS MODELS NO MORE? The Sun is reportedly banning bare breasted women from its Page 3.
TOPLESS MODELS NO MORE? The Sun is reportedly banning bare breasted women from its Page 3. Photo: Photo: Getty Images

Now, the print version of the paper is believed to have quietly published its final titty shot. On Monday, regular fans of the page were greeted with the covered (if only marginally) image of model Rosie Huntington-Whitely, who appeared in a comparatively modest brassiere. (It should be noted that replacing a fully naked woman in a newspaper with just a mostly naked one is hardly a win, nor is the fact that full breadth of nudity will still be available in a user-pays capacity online - but it's a first step that I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt.)

Representatives from the paper have been cagey with details, but it's being widely speculated that the move has come as a result of a two year ongoing campaign founded by Lucy-Anne Holmes known as 'No More Page 3'.

Not everyone is on board with Holmes' campaign, with many (mostly the male audience members, DEIRDRE CHAMBERS WHAT A COINCIDENCE) arguing in favour of personal choice and autonomy. This is nothing new. Wherever cultural oppression of women via beauty and/or career directives is concerned, arguments are always mounted as to the particular will of the individuals involved. No one is forcing them, we hear. They must be benefiting from it, otherwise why would they do it? Stop disempowering them! Isn't feminism supposed to be about respecting women's choices?

Well, yes and no. I make no particular judgment on women who choose to take their clothes off for a patriarchy in order to profit under a patriarchy (and those rewards can be economic or social). We all choose our own way to negotiate a path through a society that doesn't see us as equal and will try to punish us no matter what we do. But choices don't become feminist just because a woman has the temerity to make them. 

None of us live in a vacuum, and our individual choices - although deserving of respect provided they cause no harm to others - are necessarily informed by the world we live in. If society didn't tell us that body hair was unnatural and disgusting, would women be compelled to shave our legs? If women weren't instructed to measure our most important contribution to the world in consort with the degree of pleasure men take in looking at us, would we waste so much time worrying about what they thought of our tits, our legs, our asses and our stomachs? I highly doubt it.

So colour me completely f***ing unsurprised that a culture which is so strictly mired in class warfare and which has languished in regards to real gender equality has also - for almost half a century - been successful in turning such a banal and entitled celebration of the male gaze into an aspirational career move for young women. All so that one incredibly rich man can keep earning more money at the expense of women's rights to dignity, humanity and even their very safety.

We know that men's violence against women exists on a continuum and that the most benign forms of sexism (like that of the Page 3 trend) create the foundations for misogyny's most depraved expressions. We also know from experience that bucking this system can lead to punishment for women that can be either physical and/or emotional. The catalogue of stories of women being subjected to men's fury or ridicule over their inability to provide them with exactly what they want is long and heartbreaking, and if you aren't strong enough it can chip away at the very fabric of your being.

And in the end, this is what millennia of patriarchal rule, sexual objectification and bodily oppression does to us; it creates a society in which women are instructed to live with abject fear that men will rape us,  and dormant fear that they won't want to.

Because as Holmes argues on her website:

"The Sun newspaper could be so much stronger without Page 3...currently, any story they run about women's issues such as rape, sexual abuse, harassment, domestic violence or the dangers of online porn is drowned out and contradicted by the neon flashing sign of Page 3 that says 'shut up, girls, and get your tits out.'"

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