Last month (i.e. mid 2013) I was shopping my local Marks & Spencer food hall, and I noticed an old man standing absolutely still in the middle of an aisle, staring fixedly at a big photograph of a topless woman. My first instinct was shock at how brazen he was being, looking at porn in the middle of a family supermarket, and thought he must be deranged and therefore a possible danger to the public. I looked around for a security guard to raise the alarm. I then realised that the old man was looking at page 3 of the Sun, next to the newspaper stand where the Sun was on sale. He was looking at a product that Marks & Spencer had chosen to put on sale alongside everything else in the food hall. So I didn’t bother complaining – I didn’t think that the store would have done anything about it. If I saw it again I think I’ll complain, but it takes more courage, spontaneity and energy than I normally have on a Saturday morning supermarket run so I’ll have to work my way up to it. And until then I’ll just carry on feeling slightly nervous and ashamed every time I go past the newspaper stand in Marks & Spencer.
Mary Ann, Kent
This isn’t a story of direct deliberate harrassment, but of Page 3′s insidious effect on girls who see it. I was around 12 when I first saw it in my own home, and I can still feel the shock, humiliation and confusion I felt then when I think of it now. I remember every detail of the Page 3 model, what she looked like, her pose, it’s burned on my memory. I remember thinking ‘my dad is looking at this’ ‘does he look at me in that way?’ ‘is this my main value to him?’ ‘why doesn’t my mum say anything?’ I felt anihilated as a human being – because it was in a newspaper I suddenly got it, that that’s how society sees women, it’s normal, and that’s a woman’s value. It was like everything my parents had ever said about my value, and the value of education was exposed as a lie. It was like a huge ‘fuck you’ from society. I felt degraded, dirty and shamed. I had already seen porn at primary school, I wasn’t ‘protected’, but that had no effect on me, I think because we all knew it was hidden and ‘shameful’, it wasn’t out there in public. Page 3 told me ‘everyone sees women like that, including your dad’ so it was the sudden realisation that that’s what I had to become if I wanted to be a real woman and attract a man. I felt sick, humiliated and depressed. And that’s how I went through puberty.
In the 1980s I worked in a government office in an open plan large room. I was in a team of about eight people, a mixture of males and females. My team was led by a man. This man was blatantly sexist and was always moaning about “bloody women” etc. He thought it would be a good idea to put up a Page 3 calendar by his desk – on the wall – clearly showing to the entire office. If we complained, he said it was his “right” to have what he liked by his desk. I found it offensive and intimidating. It felt like he was trying to put us women in our place – by showing us as naked and available. At the turning of the page at the start of the month he would comment loudly and openly on the woman’s breasts and often say that us ladies could aspire to that. He also put up a calendar in the store room downstairs. I never had the courage then to remove the calendar in the office (I would now) but I was only 19/20 then, but every time I went to the store room I would take the calendar down and hide it.
Critics of the campaign against page 3 often assume that campaigners are motivated by unfounded concerns for the models’ welfare. A recent quote in the Sun from one of their models said that “I wish my critics could follow me around for a day and see how empowered I am.”
But I don’t care how the models feel about themselves during page 3 photoshoots and while going about their day to day lives. It’s none of my business. What I do care about is where the topless photos of them are published, and what that means.
Page 3 photos enable and encourage harassment of women and girls
Because they are in a newspaper, the pictures can be looked at in public. They can be bought by children, looked at in front of children, and commented on, discussed and brandished about with impunity by adults and by children on public transport and in other public places. On a bus or train people generally have little or no choice about who they sit next to, when they need to get on or off, and absolutely no control over what other people might be reading or might decide is an acceptable topic of conversation with a stranger. “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it” does not apply. And whether or not the page 3 models feel personally empowered by their jobs could not be less relevant. I hope that the stories collected on this website will make it clear how common this harassment is and how seriously it affects people.
Page 3 photos and the page 3 brand tell young female readers that a brief career of taking their clothes off for money is the best they can hope for
This message is spelled out as well as implied. The Sun has held a “Page 3 Idol” competition every year since 2002. This year’s contestants were quoted in the paper saying “Winning Page 3 Idol is the pinnacle of any girl’s modelling career” and “It would mean everything to win.” Page 3 models are courted by numerous charities, who should know better, and even by David Cameron, who really should know better.
The lack of other images of young women in the Sun, apart from crime victims, compounds the message. Well-meaning government initiatives about raising the aspirations of girls are completely drowned out by the way that page 3 modelling is pitched by the Sun as a prestigious career and the fact that our prime minister doesn’t see any problem with it.
Page 3 photos sexualise school girls
Page 3 idol contestants are quoted saying things like “It’s been my dream forever to be on page 3” and “I’ve wanted to be on page 3 since I was 11”. The Sun no longer includes pictures of the models as primary school-aged children next to their topless shots in school uniform like it did in the 80s but these quotes from contestants are still, if more subtly, introducing the idea of them as children in this context. And this election video from 2011 shows that the Sun can’t quite manage to leave the schoolgirl associations with page 3 in the bin of historical shame where they belong. I find it hard to understand the editorial decision to launch a campaign against child pornography while continuing to promote glamour modelling as a career for 11-year-olds to aspire to.
Page 3 photos damage body confidence of women and girls
The Sun likes to tell us that their page 3 models are a healthy body weight and that they take a range of dress sizes from 8 to 14. And that this makes them much better, healthier and more natural role models for young girls than, for example, fashion models.
But the breasts of page 3 models are so uniform in shape that their proportions have been turned into a formula by plastic surgeon Patrick Mallucci. A formula which gets used to slice open and remake the breasts of other women into copies of page 3-shaped breasts. Natural beauty comes in many forms, but not on page 3. Pubescent and prepubescent girls waste time and energy worrying whether their breasts are or will be the correct shape and size, time and energy which should be spent enjoying their bodies and daydreaming about the future. More than this, it teaches teenage girls that their bodies exist for other people to look at and to judge rather than for them to use to achieve things, just as their male classmates are becoming noticeably bigger and stronger than them. This is a double hit – girls lose the sense of ownership over their own bodies at around the same time as they can be physically overpowered by their male classmates. No wonder sexual bullying is now so common in our schools. Even if you don’t care about the individuals being undermined by this widely accepted “British institution”, the economic cost to the UK of disempowering half the population while they are still at school must be huge.
Page 3 blights our country. It enables and encourages harassment, destroys confidence and limits the horizons of women and girls. I hope that the collective power of the stories recorded on this website will help people to understand how badly we as a country need to move on from this national embarrassment.
If you haven’t already done so, please sign the petition.