Last week, it was reported that The Sun were going to quietly suspend the featuring of topless models on Page Three – and everyone fell for it. For two days, ‘No More Page Three’ campaigners and supporters celebrated and the British media lapped it up: apparently, the decision was a victory for feminism. But then The Sun came back with their typical Page Three in print, blowing a huge raspberry at everyone who had believed the hype but failed to pay attention to the fact the publication itself never actually confirmed the move. The tabloid seems to have won this round in the battle against Page Three, but even if they hadn’t, it’s hardly good enough to say that this move would have been a big step forward in the battle against sexism. If anything, it would have been a step backwards.
Campaigners argue that Page Three is sexist and demeaning to women, yet other feminists and the glamour models who have worked for The Sun have pointed out that for the women who chose this work, Page Three is a source of income. Bodybuilder and occasional glamour model Jodie Marsh led the backlash online, saying that she “never felt exploited” when working for The Sun, that telling women not to do Page Three was “not feminist” and that women should do “whatever they want”. Page Three, in this case, is not exploitation: it’s work. Consensually being photographed topless and getting paid for it is not a bad thing: it’s empowering. Just like Keira Knightley asking to be photographed topless for Interview magazine on the condition that her body was not retouched was meant to be empowering. Equally, being allowed to breastfeed in public without any judgement or stigma is a big step forward. There is a great contradiction in allowing some breasts to be seen but not others.
It’s hypocritical to call the removal of topless models from Page Three a feminist move if feminism is meant to be about women’s choices. It’s also hypocritical that the return of Page Three hailed a minor Twitter trend, started by comedian Richard Herring, where men offered their nipples to The Sun for consideration. The naked male body is not taboo in the same way as the female body; photos of topless men are everywhere. There are issues here with idealised masculinity, yes, but this is a different problem. Women are unnecessarily objectified and sexualised in the media.
The removal of topless models on Page Three is hardly a feminist victory, especially if they were to be replaced by other sexist material, while taking away some women’s livelihoods. Other sexist aspects of the media also need more scrutinising.
For instance, the way women’s magazines place unreasonable expectations on physical appearances. Sexism in the media is a structural problem and it’s not going to go away with the censorship of just one tabloid page. Attitudes to women’s choices and the female body, where the sexual woman is both objectified and stigmatised, are what need to change.