Saving Sun readers from themselves

Feminist campaigners against Page 3 are driven by the same misanthropy as every other censor in history.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
Editor

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In an era when you can’t switch on the TV without seeing an S&M-inspired pop video featuring a starlet in a machine gun-shaped bra, why are feminist campaigners so singularly riled by the Sun’s Page 3?

We might live in what MPs rather extravagantly call a ‘pornified world’, with shallow sex omnipresent, but it is the decidedly unpornographic image of an upright, smiling, bra-less young woman in the Sun which seems to most freak out anti-sexism agitators. They have launched a campaign called No More Page 3, whose petition imploring the Sun’s editors to ‘Take the bare boobs out of the Sun’ currently has 64,300 signatures (less than one per cent of the number of people who read the Sun every day).

You can buy anti-Page 3 t-shirts, or take part in noisy protests outside Morrisons and Asda demanding that they stop stocking the Sun, on the basis that it is ‘at odds with the family values promoted by supermarkets’. (Yes, that’s correct – feminists now fight for the thing they might once have railed against: stuffy so-called family values.)

Last week, these feminists demanding that Page 3 girls put their bras back on rather than burn them scored a big media hit when Sheffield University’s Students’ Union, behaving like the love child of Mary Whitehouse and Pope Benedict XVI, banned the Sun from its premises on the basis that Page 3 sends a warped message about women to young men.

What is it about Page 3 which, more than anything else in our sex-mad culture, gets them so hot under the collar? It’s all about context. It’s all about where Page 3 appears – in the ‘trash press’ – and more importantly who gawps at it: ‘trash people’. What really gives these campaigners sleepless nights is not the relatively tame pics themselves (these campaigners will have seen far saucier stuff in some foreign flick at a Curzon cinema), but the thought of who is the audience for these pics: gruff, blokeish Sun readers, whose minds are apparently so malleable that simply seeing a 21-year-old called Kayleigh in her knickers might be enough to turn them into the next Peter Sutcliffe.

The censorious instinct, whether it emanates from the state or, more often these days, from non-state, blue pencil-wielding campaign groups, is always driven by fear and loathing of people – or a certain section of people. Scratch a censor and find a misanthrope, someone who thinks some folk are so fickle, so possessed of a putty-like brain and thin morals, that edgy images and words could permanently warp them.

So No More Page 3 calls on the Sun to ‘stop conditioning your readers to view women as sex objects’. What a striking word – conditioning. It means the process through which ‘the behaviour of an organism becomes dependent upon on an event occurring in its environment’. That is how anti-Page 3 activists view Sun readers – as amoebae in a petri dish, being shaped and reshaped by the Sun’s evil picture editors and editorialists. Other campaigners describe Page 3 as part of a sinister process of ‘neoliberal social conditioning‘, whereby men are pushed towards the ‘dark side of sexual objectification’. Page 3 twists men’s minds, apparently, ‘encouraging negative attitudes… and at worst, acts of violence’. Monkey see, monkey do.

Anti-Page 3 agitators are driven by the same ideological impulse that has guided every censor in history: a belief that while We, the enlightened few, can view all sorts of books or boobs without being corrupted by them, They, the little people, cannot. To make matters worse, these campaigners are exploiting the Leveson effect, the anti-tabloid sentiment unleashed by that inquiry, to try to win their intolerant war against Page 3. You might not like Page 3 or think it adds much to the daily news cycle, and I am personally not that bothered if Page 3 stays or goes. But we should nonetheless be worried by a campaign which depicts huge swathes of the population as easily conditioned and thus in need of moral policing by Leveson-energised squares disguised as rad-fems.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his personal website here.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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