Sun’s apparent end to topless Page Three pictures ‘overdue’

21 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A Cover-Up, of Sorts, at a Tabloid in Britain.

LONDON — After more than 40 years of running a picture of a topless woman almost daily on its Page 3, The Sun, Britain’s raucous and best-selling newspaper, appears to have given in to changing social attitudes. On Monday, The Sun showed photographs of the model and actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who, despite the headline “Rosie’s got no clothesies,” was wearing a range of lacy lingerie.

Her unadorned appearance in last Friday’s edition of The Sun is expected to make her the final model to bare her breasts on Page 3 of Rupert Murdoch’s biggest selling newspaper. But replacing topless women with women in bras only illustrates that the Sun doesn’t understand what’s wrong with its general approach to women and why so many people object to it. The daily display of flesh in Britain’s most popular paper has mystified the rest of the world since it was inaugurated in 1970, but it grew into one the most remarkable symbols of the nation’s odd affinity for innuendo, humor and smut. Or so Hollywood would have us believe. “It was simply a case of Irish readers wanting different things,” said Paul Clarkson, editor of the Irish Sun. “Ireland isn’t Britain.

Decades before Snapchat, sexting and emails marked NSFW, The Sun was bringing pictures of topless women into millions of homes, offices and building sites every day. But The Times of London, which is owned by the same media group, reported that its executive chairman, Rupert Murdoch, was “understood to have signed off on the change of policy.” If there has indeed been a policy change, it would highlight a shift in social mores in Britain and a change in thinking at the newspaper. Murdoch introduced the controversial images within a year of buying the tabloid, which boomed under his uncompromising stewardship, selling almost four million copies a day until the late 1990s.

Page 3 girls—including Katie Price, Samantha Fox and Geri Halliwell, who later starred in the Spice Girls—would go on to became British household names. During the 1980s and 1990s, The Sun captured an average of more than three million readers a day, and it took pride in a buccaneering form of journalism and its connection with ordinary working people. From its inception to its apparent demise, the photographs have always attracted intense and widespread criticism, but Murdoch ignored the complaints entirely until late last year when the first cracks in his position began to appear. “Brit feminists bang on forever about page 3,” he said. “I think old fashioned but readers seem to disagree.” Four months later, the models have disappeared.

The No More Page 3 campaign, which launched in 2012 with the tagline “boobs aren’t news”, got more than a quarter of a million people to petition the paper’s editor to “stop conditioning your readers to view women as sex objects”. In 1992, it asserted that it had influenced the outcome of the general election in favor of the Conservatives, and it ran a front-page banner headline: “It’s The Sun Wot Won It.” While The Sun’s print circulation of about two million remains the highest in Britain, sales, like those of other newspapers, have dropped.

Campaign founder Lucy-Anne Holmes told BBC2’s Newsnight that its opponents had no wish to see Page 3 banned, rather they hoped for voluntary withdrawal. A soap actress wearing a bra and panties featured on the third page of the paper on Monday, while Tuesday’s first edition included two actresses in bikinis. However, she said that it was a “step in the right direction” if they were no longer topless. “The Sun hasn’t suddenly decided that women say, think and do interesting and incredible things, it’s still basically saying women are here for decoration, but it’s a step in the right direction,” she said. Dylan Sharpe, The Sun’s head of PR, Tweeted enigmatically: “Page 3 will be in @TheSunNewspaper tomorrow in the same place it’s always been—between page 2 and page 4.” Harriet Harman, Labour’s Shadow Culture Secretary, said the paper was not going to get away with quietly dropping the exposed models without a huge public response celebrating Murdoch’s climbdown. “It won’t be quiet—we will be making sure it is not quiet,” she said. Fine Gael Fingal County Councillor and champion of workers’ rights Keith Redmond tweeted: “Good work feminazis, you just made lots of fellow women unemployed because their work offended you. #NoMorePage3” A glance at the Sun online would have reassured him there will continue to be ample work for topless models on the website.

I can’t think it will lose them an awful lot of sales and I don’t think they’d have done it if they thought it would.” Tom Latchem, a former editor at one of Murdoch’s tabloids, told The Daily Beast it was clear within the News’s U.K. media empire that Page 3 would be immediately reinstated if sales plummeted. “This move has been in the offing for a long time. The idea of girls standing there in their knickers with some sort of pseudo-political quote – I mean it really is not the representation of women’s role in this country that I want to see,” Harman said. One of the most vocal protesters was Clare Short, a minister in the government of Tony Blair who, in 2012, wrote an article in The Independent about her unsuccessful efforts to stop the feature. Instead, her first day in charge featured nude model Rebekah Parmar-Teasdale and the caption: “Rebekah from Wapping.” She worked to strengthen the brand, adding a News in Briefs element in which the woman in her knickers shared an opinion about the day’s news. For example, in February 2004, Zoe, 22, from London offered her support for the faltering Iraq War: “You don’t need to be an international diplomat to realize the world is better off without Saddam,” she said.

Other lawmakers “giggled and sneered at my suggestion that it degraded women, and our culture generally, to spread such images so widely in the mainstream of society,” she wrote. “The Sun went to war with me: ‘20 things you need to know about killjoy Clare’; ‘Fat, jealous Clare brands Page 3 porn,’ ” Ms. It was always about showcasing something absent from our newsfeeds – the voice of those whose lives were shaped by the prevalence of nipples across our news. By highlighting how so many felt about women’s bodies being objectified, this campaign has prompted national debate on the kind of message we send to 51% of the population about their role in our society. Those who think consigning Page 3 to the past where it belongs, or showing models in lingerie rather than nude, means the matter is resolved miss the scale of the challenge.

As the Everyday Sexism project highlights, sexual harassment and discrimination against women of all ages and all backgrounds is such a part of life many have become almost resigned to it. Onwards and upwards we keep going towards making Britain a more equal, prosperous and safe place for all its citizens – whatever their gender or morning paper. Murdoch will want us to believe he has not actually caved in to feminist demands; the move from bare breast to bikini has been presented as a change of style, not content. When I dared to say in 1986 that I thought the pictures should be dropped, the Sun started a campaign of vilification against me that lasted for years.

The shift to images of women in underwear doesn’t send a drastically different message, and it’s disappointing the Sun couldn’t have chosen to start celebrating women’s many and diverse achievements, but it nonetheless represents the fall of an emblem that was representative of wider sexist norms. Of course this isn’t the end of the road, with many more feminist battles ahead, but it’s a testament to the power of collective action and a tipping point in the battle against the argument that everyday sexism is “just a bit of harmless fun”. While the specific brand of the Page 3 woman – a young, usually unknown model, in a studio, plus tits – may have gone, in the last couple of days the same page space has been devoted to model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and the actresses from Hollyoaks, all in their skimpies. It’s not as though the paper’s suddenly running extracts from Intercourse or Pornography: Men Possessing Women by my hero Andrea Dworkin or a long, clothed interview with bell hooks or Roxane Gay.

Campaigners long vilified as humourless, sexless feminist nags and hags have won. (Well, a very small first step, not online.) This suggests a turn in the tide when Murdoch swallows his pride and admits reducing women to dumb bare bodies doesn’t sell as well as it did. Murdoch’s new vision for the page was clear in the tweet he sent out last year, that “beautiful young women” looking “more attractive in at least some fashionable clothes”. If the battle over Page 3 was about changing the idea that a newspaper should be filled with fully clothed, successful men achieving things or debating issues, while the biggest photograph of a woman was often the half-naked, passive model, then really what’s the difference?

Then there was the “news in brief” speech bubble, telling us what they thought about the events of the day – the joke being a girl in her pants would have anything intelligent to say about current affairs, and anyway who cares when there are BOOBS?!! And every university that has dropped Page 3 or supermarket that moved it from the shelves, has given another young person a taste of what it is like to campaign and win.

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