Not just boobs and smile

By Cathy Nugent

“We are asking Dominic Mohan to drop the bare boobs from The Sun newspaper. We are asking very nicely…” So begins Lucy-Anne Holmes’ petition to the editor of the Sun newspaper.

The petition (41,000 signatories so far) has renewed debate on the Sun’s 40 year old “Page 3”. Though polite petitions are unlikely to persuade former showbiz hack Mohan, if the Sun were to get rid of Page 3, it would be a very good thing.

Some liberals and socialists will not want to back a call for censorship, nor line up with the prudish. They may argue this campaign is no substitute for systematic criticism of all the Sun’s reactionary content. Fair points, but not decisive.

Unlike others who have campaigned against Page 3 (Object), or Clare Short in 1986, Holmes is not calling for a government or press-regulator ban of Page 3. Bans are not the way to tackle depressingly ordinary sexism like Page 3, but this is not a ban.

This is an attempt to use the fact that News Corporation have been on the back foot to open up a debate and persuade them to be plain reasonable. As Holmes says, “I just think that in 1970, a group of men, in a male-managed media, in a male-managed country, decided to put the naked breasts of young women in the newspaper, and in 2012, hopefully, we’re a different society.”

Realistically the Sun will only get rid of Page 3 if they thought there would be a short- or long-term boost for their circulation. But “realism” is never a reason to stop a debate.

So prudish then? In my eyes Page 3 is more sexist than sexual. Page 3 is a woman wearing just a pair of knickers, a smile, and a patronising captions. Page 3, like Miss World (still going apparently), is a throwback to the days when beautiful women were “dolly birds”, “sexy ladies” or a “nice bit of crumpet”. Page 3 depicts women as one-dimensional humans, reduced to a set of limited statistics. And you are not “36, 26, 36” you just don’t make the grade. It is this sexism that we need to do something about.

Page 3 is not as bad as the tabloid denigration of the miners’ strike, or the trashing of the Hillsborough victims, or hacking into a dead girl’s phone. But it’s not a competition. Someone wants to do something about Page 3 — good!

Before the miners’ strike, and before it was stopped by a campaign by Women Against Pit Closures, the official paper of the National Union of Mineworkers carried a Page 3 “feature”. It was, it was argued, a bit of harmless fun for hard working blokes. Women involved in the dispute rightly said it demeaned women and by implication trashed the hard work, ideas and courage women contributed to the collective struggle against the Tories.

We should object to Page 3 in the Sun for similar reasons. We don’t think the Sun’s “journalism” is worth much, but it is a mass circulation newspaper, read by an estimated seven million people every day. The Sun has enormous cultural power; Page 3’s in-yer-face demeaning representation of women must have negative impact on how women are regarded in society.

The arguments used to defend Page 3 by Neil Wallis, former Sun hack and ex-executive editor of News of the World are telling. According to Wallis the three million working-class women who read the Sun have more important things to worry about than Page 3.

Like all tabloid hacks Wallis thinks he knows what the “man in the street” thinks. And the “woman in the street”? She thinks the same as “her man”? And of course she either has or wants a man? She is not allowed to be a feminist and she is certainly not allowed to care about politics!

Our answer to Wallis’ “Know your place love!” has to be a better world without sexism; a fight to stop mass circulation news publications printing crap can help us win it.

Despite the limitations of Holmes’ campaign and without wanting to ally with those who sign the petition because they want to ban all porn, socialists have to take her side.

Originally published in Solidarity (259, 3 October 2012)

About esthertownsend

Socialist feminist

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