The “Evil Menace” of Page 3

Because nipples corrupt the morality of our youth. Or something.

It shouldn’t need stating that many social conservatives have a big problem with nudity.

Mankind did, of course, start out naked – and in the benign climate of the African tropics where we began, there was little reason to change that. But human expansion into colder regions required the invention of clothing (the needle and thread were invented in Europe around 15,000 years ago), and once invented, taboos began to develop around nudity, especially in Europe. It’s no coincidence that chilly Britain (and its diaspora in North America) still has problems with the public baring of female breasts.

When the British were finally reunited with their African cousins, 70,000 years after their ancestors had originally left Africa, they noted that nudity was commonplace. They of course concluded that this was due to Africans’ lack of civilisation, and set out to “civilise the savages” by persuading them to cover up. Later, the Victorians hid away nude artwork (or pornography, as its detractors might have called it), and the sight of a female ankle was met with disapproval.

The social and sexual revolutions of the late-60s to early 70s challenged British attitudes to nudity. The youth of that time challenged the attitudes of the conservative post-war generations; in 1970, The Sun newspaper began to print a daily topless photo on page 3; today, the very phrase Page 3 is synonymous with topless photography.

The Sun’s move was cleverly timed to capture the zeitgeist. The decision to publish topless photos was a radical one, and of course it was designed to cause controversy, which in turn would create publicity and drive sales. But the old British fear of bare breasts was never far from the surface, and Page 3 generated a moral backlash. Campaigners in the 1980s tried (and failed) to get it banned.

Now, in this newly conservative era, yet another campaign to end Page 3 has surfaced. This time, it comes armed with new language. Instead of screaming that the morals of Britain’s youth are under attack, the campaign wields its favourite buzzword: “objectification”. The benefit of objectification (from its advocates’ point of view) is that it’s effectively meaningless. The idea is that someone who opens The Sun and sees a topless woman thereby becomes corrupted to view all women as “sex objects”, and incapable of viewing women in other roles.

The problems with this idea are numerous: for a start, who says that a woman who poses topless is a “sex object”? The “objectification” brigade seem to have little respect for the women they pretend to defend. And do they really believe that the men (and, yes, women) who enjoy Page 3 are so stupid that, having seen one woman pose topless, they think all women must therefore do so?

“Objectification” only applies in sexual situations; it is a coded attack on sexuality. Just as the conservatives of Victorian times feared sexuality, and tried to suppress it, so the conservatives of today try to suppress sexuality, and rationalise their irrational fears by trying to find harm… harm that only exists in their fearful imaginations.

If there’s irony in “feminists” allying themselves with the religious right’s quest for “morality”, they fail to see it. They claim to disapprove of the way women are covered up in conservative Muslim societies, yet their own beliefs stem from the same basic idea: their reasoning may vary, but their dogma is the same: female flesh must be hidden from weak, stupid men.

The arguments used against Page 3 are beyond moronic. I haven’t yet seen a single intelligent attempt to explain the backlash, just angry shouts that “Page 3 is a backward relic of the 1970s” and similar (the depiction of naked women, by the way, has a far older pedigree than the 70s). And as for objectification – I’ve tried for several years to get a coherent explanation of how it’s actually supposed to operate, and have yet to see one (if you think you can remedy this, please do write it in the comments below).

The campaign has attracted pro-censorship morons from both left and right. When so-called Marxists find themselves in agreement with religious conservatives, they should perhaps decide whether their views are really about “protecting women from objectification”, or whether they’re not quite as radical as they think.

I should point out that I think The Sun, purchased by Rupert Murdoch in 1969, is a detestable rag, and I’m pleased to say I’ve never purchased it in my life. It has been guilty of frequent racism, homophobia and sexism. It helps spread right-wing, nationalistic propaganda through British society, and has been at the forefront of disseminating anti-EU lies. Nor do I find Page 3 interesting – its photography is dull, and its choice of models is narrow and predictable. But do breasts damage society? No more than ankles were a threat to the stability of Victorian Britain.

Sure, it would be nice if there was more diversity on Page 3 – why not feature men as well as women? How about trying out larger, older or disabled models? If The Sun still had the radical edge it did in 1970, it might be brave and try these things out. But The Sun, like its feminist opposition, has stagnated and become conservative over the past four decades. The inescapable fact is: Page 3 sells papers. If it didn’t, it would vanish.

We British find breasts fascinating only because our society has a taboo about the baring of them in public. When we finally outgrow that infantile fear, we will cease to find Page 3 interesting. Until then, nipples will equate to sales, and Page 3 will live on.

18 thoughts on “The “Evil Menace” of Page 3”

  1. Can’t we start a campaign to ban the rest of The Sun, but keep Page 3?? It would arguably raise the intelligence level of the paper…..

  2. The only people who should have any say over whether or not Page 3 ought to stay should be the readers of The Sun themselves: anything else is an attempt by one group of people to exercise unearned power over another.

  3. Ah yes the International Socialist Group and Keri Mcgachy.
    My comments on her piece in which she rails for banning Page 3 challenged her on the choice of women who work as glamour models or lap dancers.
    Of course they feel on deaf ears because she like all anti sex “feminists” refuse to even listen to the notion that many women who work in the sex industry do so because they chose to. She blathered the predictable claptrap about patriarchy causing women to strip off for men.

    For me the whole anti Page 3 campaign is based on class snobbery from sanctimonious middle class feminists. A disgust for the reading habits of the working classes and a belief that working class men are savage sex crazed Neanderthals who only need to get a glimps of a woman’s breast to be compelled to go out and sexually violate every female they come into contact with!

  4. And as for objectification – I’ve tried for several years to get a coherent explanation of how it’s actually supposed to operate, and have yet to see one (if you think you can remedy this, please do write it in the comments below).

    Ha. You really want to know? You might regret it…

    I spent ages trying to answer this one too. Never did find a coherent and satisfactory account, but this is the best article I’ve seen on it. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-objectification/

    The short answer is that it was pinched by feminists from Immanuel Kant. It has never been considered a meaningful concept in psychology (though psychoanalysts like Klein and Lacan did use it to mean slightly different things).

    As for how “it” is supposed to operate, that’s difficult because there is no agreement about what “it” actually is. As the article above points out, it’s a slippery and multifarious concept. So it means one thing, until that one thing is challenged and found wanting, whereupon it suddenly means something else.

    But your question is basically a question of cognitive psychology. Yes, there is some evidence for some effects that could be given the name – eg perceiving someone from a sexual perspective can push back other potential perspectives in our minds (ie considering the person as clever, for example) but there is contrary evidence on that too. Very few psychologists would claim that there is a single process called objectification. Instead there are dozens of processes which could, under certain conditions, be described as objectification, but no real reason to group them together into any kind of unitary theory. .

    In a nutshell, objectification is an archaic philosophical concept that has no real value or place in any kind of serious psychology or behavioural science.

    You did ask πŸ˜‰

  5. Have been very busy, so did not know much about this, Thanks. I think morons try to use that argument, because they have this ‘fear’ inside them. Holy mother ****** did I just commit a sin? lol like get a life. If you don’t want to see naked women, then why look? The naked models, chose to do that, and some women who say that they will be viewed as ‘sex objects’ really need to take a look down there. Very ironic. I agree with you, the Sun is a very controversial and hateful paper. I don’t usually read it, but it’s laughable, people are scared of tits! :O

  6. I love the whole page 3 arguments, mainly for how stupid Banyard and her Cronies are over this. An online petition was p to around 30,000 signatures but when you compare that to the readership figures about half of one percent of the readership. Even better I doubt any of the signatories would read the Sun if Page 3 disappeared. Not a lot people power then.

    As to the objectification issue the whole issue that the paper denies woman have agency comes a bit of a cropper when Banyard and co deny the agency of 3 million women readers. A minority of protesters trying desperately for media column inches to keep their egos going.is my opinion.

  7. Objectification is very subjective. What one person thinks is objectifying another thinks is sexy.
    It’s the anti sex feminists who think this is objectification which is why they want it banned.

  8. Mr Watch, excellent post as always. However, did you run out of steam a little bit towards the end?? Had to laugh at this bit:

    “Sure, it would be nice if there was more diversity on Page 3 – why not feature men as well as women? How about trying out larger, older or disabled models?”

    For the simple supply and demand argument you hint at elsewhere in your post. 2.5 million horrible chavs won’t buy it.

    1. I’m not so sure… I reckon the 2012 Sun reader is a little more sophisticated than the 1970 variety. And besides, if I was Sun editor, I’d cash in on the whole MILF thing. Perhaps even throw in the odd GILF for variety. Plenty of Rooney types out there ya know…

  9. Blokes. Blokes without their gear on, that’s what page 3 needs. It is said that men don’t like the idea because they don’t want to look and discover that they don’t measure up, so to speak.

    Over to you, boys.

    1. I doubt most men mind in the least if tabloids want to use well-built hunk models. Objectification for everyone!! πŸ™‚

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