On the 23rd January 2015, after two and a half years of campaigning by No More Page 3, The Sun newspaper stopped the feature showing pictures of topless women on its 3rd page, something it had been doing for 45 years.
Page 3 was described as harmless, as a British institution, as a pivotal part of The Sun newspaper. As a feature it heralded from the 1970s, the ’70s being an era in which some women had to seek the signature of a male relative in order to open a bank account or obtain a mortgage; a time when Benny Hill was on our TV screens alongside The Black and White Minstrel Show and On The Buses and a decade when Jimmy Saville was a national favourite on the radio. A lot of things have quite rightly moved on since then, some of them perhaps by accident but many because we have since recognised them to be offensive, discriminatory, and contributory to the derogatory treatment of certain sections of society. They are wrong; and now we have finally said goodbye to the overt sexual objectification of women in a news publication that was Page 3.
Was there a reason for the longevity of Page 3? Society made strides forward but there is no escaping its increasing sexualisation in all areas. Perhaps this was the reason Page 3 escaped the critical eye of so many for so long. Amongst movies, adverts, billboards, magazines and music videos, did the ongoing existence of Page 3 really matter and will its end make any difference?
The No More Page 3 Campaign believed it did and does matter, and with the support of over 250 000 signatures on the online petition, over 60 charities and organisations and over 160 cross party MPs, we were finally able to make enough noise and encourage the editors at The Sun to make the change.
Why Page 3?
Whilst all sexual objectification may be an issue both collectively and individually, the additional issue with Page 3 was one of context. Amongst serious news stories and seas of images of men, generally fully clothed in suits or sports wear and featured for their actions, talents and abilities; the largest image of a woman would be one of her posing in her pants for the sexual gratification of men.
No matter what your feelings and thoughts about access to porn online or in magazines, and the availability to individuals who may choose to seek them out, there is a resounding difference between this and an image in a newspaper that makes access to the sexualised female body as much of a given as the provision of a crossword or the TV listings.
It is difficult given our complex culture to make definitive connections, but how much does this portrayal of women in a newspaper feed into the mindset that allows female bodies to be viewed as open to public scrutiny and comment? How much does it reinforce the type of attitude that sees women to this day shouted at, sometimes explicitly, on the street, or manhandled in pubs and clubs as though a woman’s body is not her own and consent is not a necessity?
No More Page 3 was started in August 2012 by Actress and Author Lucy-Anne Holmes.
It was during the London 2012 Olympics that Lucy bought a copy of The Sun following the ‘Super Saturday’ where lots of gold medals were won, she picked that particular paper because of its’ reputation for sports coverage. Whilst leafing through it she discovered that Page three wasn’t there and that the page had been taken up by pictures of athletes’ sporting achievements, thinking the feature had been dropped as a sign of respect to the Olympians she was later dismayed to find it on page 11. The Page 3 image was the largest image of a woman in the paper, larger than the image of Jessica Ennis who had just won gold for her country.
Lucy describes that moment as being a ‘huge slap in the face. A reminder that it’s a man’s world’. So she wrote to the editor at the time Dominic Mohan, who never responded, and so she decided to start a petition and a twitter and Facebook page.
Lucy ran the campaign with help from friends but largely alone for the first 6 months and then suffered a burnout. She reached out to some people who had been involved on the periphery and at that point the campaign became a team – NMP3HQ was born.
Starting initially with about six core members NMP3HQ grew to about twenty five with perhaps ten to fifteen of us involved and active at any one time in one way or another.
HQ was a virtual online space rather than a physical one but many of us often felt that when we entered it we walked into a warm, if somewhat dishevelled room and sat down at a messy desk or on a squashy sofa with a warm mug of tea/a glass of wine/copious amounts of gin.
On busy days in real life many of us forgot to go for a wee for several hours, failed to brush our hair or teeth, ignored the cries of our partners and children and instead typed away furiously into cyberspace inexplicably collapsing intermittently in tears of laughter or emotional exhaustion.
The levels of organisation in HQ were varied as you’d expect for voluntary work carried out around jobs, children, homes and all the other pressures and challenges of life. Yet throughout it all the key goal was strong and the team was absolutely solid and supportive of one another.
For all of us so closely involved, the lasting legacy of NMP3 will not just be the victory, but the sheer bonkersness of it all, the extraordinary friendships and relationships we built, the way we worked together and the overwhelming experience of standing together with so many amazing and talented women (and one man…Sorry Steve!) to stand up as ordinary people and say “enough”.
There were many turning points in the campaign when we would suddenly see a huge increase in support and momentum but some of the biggest moments were those orchestrated by supporters themselves.
As well as being lucky enough to be sent a growing stream of amazing creative activism we also had individual supporters turning to their own groups, charities and organisations to back the campaign.
Some of our highest points and the biggest impact came when we were able to announce the support of a new union or charity. Perhaps the most memorable of these of was the Girl Guides who not only drew press attention but also were able to put forward a clear and logical argument for wanting an end to Page 3 for young women and girls.
Other high impact moments were caused by The Sun (home of football coverage) scoring their own “home goals” and inadvertently benefiting the campaign. Examples include a tweet by Rupert Murdoch in 2013 suggesting he may be rethinking Page 3, which earned us about 20 000 signatures in the following week, and in 2014 the launch of “Check-em Tuesday” – an ill thought out effort to give Page 3 a new purpose by every Tuesday reminding young women to check their breasts for cancer. This apparent response by The Sun editorial team to the NMP3 campaign was largely perceived as being in very poor taste and we heard from many survivors of breast cancer or their families and friends who were personally very upset by the association of this devastating disease with soft pornography.
Check-em Tuesday earned the campaign over 50 000 extra signatures in its first 2 weeks.
How did we do it?
We tried to keep things as upbeat and positive as we could, avoiding wherever possible getting drawn into arguments or negativity.
Sometimes however we had to be very serious and respectful of people’s awful experiences. We shared survivors’ stories and stories of inappropriate behaviour and verbal abuse involving Page 3 or similar images, as well as highlighting some terrible depictions of sexual violence and violence against women in the press.
We took several approaches – looking at promotions and advertising and intermittently approaching or lobbying the businesses that were linking themselves with the sexism of this feature.
We were always looking for ways to promote the campaign through media, celebrity endorsements and in person. We tried to get to as many places as possible to speak or run workshops, to try and spread the message as far as we could. We tried wherever possible not to turn anything down.
We built up networks of letter writers and student activists and made links with other campaigns, so that as well as our core HQ we had loads of people working hard, including some absolutely die hard supporters who would argue our points ad infinitum on Facebook and Twitter.
A lot of the time our work was responding to what came to us but with the help of our amazing supporters, who surprised us constantly, we all –
– Gathered support of charities, organisations and unions
– Gathered the support of MPs and politicians
– Had lots of universities boycotting sale of The Sun in their union shops
– Shared articles, blog posts, poetry, art work and music
– We lobbied the Co-op dressed as Sunfragettes (see what we did there) and then lobbied them again using their own democratic system
– We crowd sourced and were able to sponsor two women’s football teams and a mountain biker who took place in the Commonwealth Games
– We set up regional groups in numerous parts of the UK who ran some amazing campaigns and events of their own
– We did a 1970s flash mob outside Sun HQ and on a west end stage!
– We gathered the support of celebrities
– We were written about in the mainstream media lots
– We sold 1000s of T-Shirts and had them popping up all over the place including the House of Commons!!
– We successfully got LEGO to stop running toy promotions in the Sun whilst it had Page 3
– We got some of our biggest supermarkets to change the way they displayed tabloid papers with sexual content (not the Co-op though, they never did listen – we have not forgiven you Co-op!!)
We were all volunteers and we did this in our spare time, but somehow, thanks to the amazing support and dedication of so many people were able to finish the work started by Claire Short, Object, Turn Your Back on Page 3 and so many others and in Jan of 2015 the Sun newspaper dropped Page 3 as we knew it!
Now here’s the thing….there is still so much to do!!!!!
When are still sexually objectified, belittled and ignored in our news media we still have Page 3 in the Star and *cough* “newspapers” like The Sport. Women do SO MUCH MORE and we demand better representation in the news!
Surely in 2016 the time has come to give column space and coverage to women in the same way that we do men – for the stuff they do.
Surely it’s time for an end to THE SEXIST NEWS!