Boobs aren’t news: Why the union is right to take page three off the shelves

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I’m proud that LUSU has joined with other students’ unions to ban the sale of page three newspapers however I know that others aren’t. I guess I’ve gotten so used to seeing this campaign as the ‘right thing’ that I’ve forgotten that not everybody has been persuaded yet. There are a handful of responses which vary from constructive criticism to some classic devil’s advocating.

‘Sex sells.’ – Or ‘People want it,’ something along those lines.  I’m sceptical of this stance because it ignores the influence of consumerism on the consumer, but more importantly it is a huge generalisation which is repeatedly being proved untrue. For example (more on this can be found on the campaign website’s ‘About’ page), out of all the men asked their opinion of page three, ‘none’ said they would stop buying the paper if the topless pictures were dropped.’ I’d imagine the reason for that lies in the fact that, as a newspaper, The Sun is generally purchased for its news.

‘The models are exercising their freedom/empowered.’ This campaign is not against glamour modelling or pornography neither is it attempting to shame the women who participate. Instead, it is advocating that pornographic material should only be located where those who want it can access it, and those who don’t want it aren’t incidentally exposed to it anyway.

‘Freedom of speech/expression’, the anti-censorship angle. This is a particularly interesting argument, based on well-placed suspicion concerning government influence, corruption and human rights. Unfortunately it sounds quite petulant in this context. Whose freedom of speech is being censored here? The ‘News in Briefs’ bubbles aren’t actually written by the models, you know. There are other publications which come with boobs. They’re just on a higher shelf, in the same shop. Censorship becomes a political issue when a particular aspect of media is entirely eradicated from a society. Not when one irrelevant and offensive image is removed from a national family newspaper.

While these arguments can be interesting, and create debate around the wider issues which this campaign relates to, I don’t see how they can be used to negate the validity of the entire campaign. Page three exists amongst a plethora of sexist media content, and it is interesting how many people use this as a reason to knock the campaign. Apparently, if it’s only focussing on one thing, it isn’t worth it. These people have evidently never attempted to manage a campaign. Besides, LUSU has also been focusing on the wider issues, as proved by the recent ‘Red Pill’ event which explored the Miss Representation campaign, and the recent LURADV event run against domestic violence, which raised over £6,000.

Placing images of half-naked women in the context of a newspaper conditions people to see women in a certain way within society; as commodities, whose worth lies only in their appearance. This is partly achieved by the relation between the images used of women and those used of men in the same publication, creating a pretty clear power hierarchy. Find the Miss Representation video if you’re not convinced. This doesn’t only mess with girls’ perceptions of themselves, but can also affect how boys see women, and serves to recycle old stereotypes to the younger generation who otherwise have a chance to escape such outdated ideas.

Page three is part of the culture which has caused a rise in eating disorders and body dysmorphia among young women, a culture which has only served to boost the diet, make-up and plastic surgery industries’ coffers. This exploitation of low self-esteem has been working so well that in recent years we have seen a definite rise in the objectification of men’s bodies too, which is directly linked to a corresponding rise in eating disorders and body image issues in young men.

Some people see this campaign as narrow, irrelevant and pointless when placed within the massive scale of the issues discussed above. But these issues are all linked, and page three is an excellent starting point. It’s utterly irrelevant to have a purposefully titillating semi-nude image of a woman in a newspaper and it sends a damaging message those who are exposed to it. By dismantling this long-standing, outdated, explicitly sexist page, we can express our dissatisfaction with sexism in the media, de-normalise the use of sexual objectification to sell products, and continue forward in the struggle against the more insidious aspects of media sexism.

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