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Thursday, 29 May 2014

No More Page Three

No More Page Three

A few weeks ago I attended ‘The Naked Debate’ at Plymouth University and was lucky enough to witness Lucy Holmes, founder of the 'No More Page Three' campaign, wipe the floor with her  opponents! Ably assisted by Jessica Horner a student at Plymouth University, it was a lively discussion. I was fascinated to watch Lucy use a technique called ‘flipping’ which I had read about only that day. It is the art of taking a common stereotyped presentation of women and ‘flipping’ it putting men at the centre of the image instead. This helps to point out the absurdity of the image and adds humour which of course is one of the best ways to tackle and subvert sexism. A brilliant example of this is how she began by talking about ‘scrotums’. Of course with a debate about page three you would have thought it inevitable that mention of ‘breasts’ or ‘tits’ would ensue. But Lucy ‘flipped’ this and challenged us to imagine being confronted with ‘scrotums’ in our daily newspaper. ‘Scrotums at the family breakfast table, scrotums on the bus, scrotums everywhere for our impressionable young people to see’.

Her fellow debaters supporting page three, Charlie Green a student representative on the Student Union and Phil Ives writer for the university magazine did their best to raise arguments but they really struggled! A member of the audience suggested that the debate was uneven because the supporters of page three knew less about the subject whereas Lucy has been campaigning for months and is more knowledgeable. In reality, of course because the use of semi naked women in our daily newspapers is indefensible there are no stronger arguments they could have used!

I managed to speak to Lucy after the event and we discussed how the whole issue can be narrowed down to equal treatment. If men and women were treated the same the debate would change completely. I told Lucy of this lesson I ran when I was teaching English in a Comprehensive in Milton Keynes about 20 years ago!

I was teaching a unit of an English Language GCSE which required us to compare and analyse broadsheet and tabloid newspapers. I was being asked to bring in a copy of ‘The Sun’ to discuss in small mixed gender groups 14 year old teenagers and I wasn’t happy about it! Without permission (if anyone had found out I would have been in great trouble) I purchased a soft porn magazine with pictures of naked men in various ‘tasteful’ poses and suggestive positions. I removed some of the pages and placed them inside ‘The Sun’ newspapers, I then placed them in the middle of the table and I wish I had videoed the response. The poor lads nearly died of embarrassment. The more confident ones in the class tried to brazen it out making jokes and the atmosphere became very animated. The girls found it hilarious and started laughing and there was a huge amount of nervous, uncomfortable laughter. Some boys got angry and took the images out, trying to cover them out or get them away. The girls got angry too and snatched the pictures back until one boy snatched up a picture and tore it to pieces so it wasn’t visible anymore.  At this stage I intervened and we then had a brilliant discussion because we talked about how they felt. The boys admitted to their feelings of embarrassment and insecurity because they didn’t look like the men in the images. The girls explained that that’s how they also felt when they saw the images plastered over newspapers and other media. It was probably the best lesson I ever taught.

Who would have believed that 20 years on, yes 20 years on we are still having this debate. I’m ready to run this session again – let me know what you think?

Letter to the Plymouth Herald Newspaper October 2013 -

As the subject of Page 3 has come again here's a copy of the letter I sent to the Herald last year.

I’m afraid I remain very unconvinced by Courtnie’s defence of her ‘career’ as a page 3 topless model. Courtnie argues that many of the women who are against page 3 don’t buy the Sun, and asks why a minority has ‘so much power’. Firstly I’m not so sure they do as we have been trying to get rid of page 3 for many, many years! 

The reason why so many women and thankfully more and more men want to see it banned is because strong evidence shows there is a link between media representations of partially naked/naked women and a growing disrespect for all women. We still have a massive problem with women experiencing horrific levels of sexual and domestic abuse and violence and presenting images of women in these titillating poses demeans women and breeds an underlying culture of disrespect. 

Many people who want page 3 banned are also looking at this from the perspective of our young people, both boys and girls. Exactly what messages are we giving out to them about respecting their own bodies and that of their peers when our daily newspapers carry this kind of image? What sort of role model is this? Do parents really believe that a career in this business is something to aspire too? Would you want your daughter doing this? I wouldn’t. It cuts no ice with those who despise the Sun’s page 3 models that they are ‘natural’. So what! Courtnie please answer this ‘If you were able to earn the same money that you earn as a model , in any other professional, would you still take your clothes off for money? 

Courtnie mentions her qualifications and it’s brilliant to see that she has had a good education. In reality it is only a tiny few in the sex industry who earn high salaries. Many more women experience fear and intimidation and turn to this kind of work out of desperation because they feel they have no choice. The education Courtnie is sorely missing is gender equality education – this isn’t unusual as there is a complete lack of it in most schools. I would like to see the University offering this gender equality education and then have the debate about banning page 3, I think you would get a very well informed debate once the audience were properly informed. 

If the Sun continues to refuse to lose the Page 3 images I suggest in the name of equality we introduce a page 4 which includes a semi naked man. The images need to be exactly in the same vein, titillating and with these ridiculous supposedly sexy poses. Of course it would be difficult to achieve equality because a man topless isn’t the same but we could have plenty of scanty, bulging pants. Very quickly we would see that when equal treatment of the sexes if applied page 3 is ludicrous and totally unacceptable in a daily newspaper in the 21st Century.