It’s no longer the Sun Wot Won It at 28 UK universities, as Britain’s most popular newspaper now can’t be bought at ban-happy institutions from Cambridge to Cardiff. The latest triumph of moral prurience over free speech occurred on Monday evening, when a cabal of 13 students from Leeds University decided that none of their 30,761 peers could be trusted to make such important purchasing decisions for themselves - and acted on their behalf.
The campaign to censor the Sun and remove it from university campuses has been driven by the group No More Page 3, which argues that the presence of bare breasts within the newspaper ‘conditions readers to view women as sex objects’. There’s been much talk in recent years about the dumbing down of higher education. But are students really so stupid that just looking at a picture of boobs is enough to turn them into lust-crazed monsters? If they are, then never mind the Sun - it’s clearly the students who shouldn’t be at university.
That bare breasts are the cause of female oppression may come as a surprise to previous generations of feminists who campaigned for women to have the vote, equal pay and access to abortion. Why did they risk imprisonment, go on hunger strikes and chain themselves to railings when, all along, the enemy was their own bosom? The logic of No More Page 3 is that Sylvia Pankhurst should have stayed at home knitting herself a burka.
Of course, female students do not cover themselves up in this way. Bizarrely enough, even the online petition to the editor of the Sun is illustrated by a picture of a female student who appears to be wearing nothing more than her No More Page Three t-shirt. (I’m concerned by this - does she not have any trousers? She must be awfully cold.) Yet when other women choose to pose in just their knickers they’re condemned for objectifying the entire female population.
This double standard illustrates the elitism behind the campaign to have the Sun banned from universities: if you hold an opinion that differs from that of the vocal moralists then you’d better take your views off campus. But protecting students from opinions they disagree with won’t help make them any more intelligent. Engaging in argument might. Not only is banning the Sun a stupid idea, its absence from universities will make students more stupid, too.
Joanna Williams is education editor at spiked. She is also a lecturer in higher education at the University of Kent and the author of Consuming Higher Education: Why Learning Can’t Be Bought. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)