Nineteen days ago, I signed Lucy-Anne Holmes’ petition, calling for The Sun to end the practice of including topless women in their newspaper. I don’t remember the exact number of signatures it had collected at that point, but I believe it was in the hundreds. Just over 500 perhaps, certainly fewer than a thousand.
Since then, the petition has seriously gained momentum. Featured in The Guardian at least three times, as well as in foreign newspapers, the tally has hit 21 303 supporters at time of writing, and is shooting up rapidly. In fact, the last 10 000 signatures were collected in the last three days alone, and as @NoMorePage3’s twitter feed proclaims, “This is only the beginning.”
The first topless Page Three model appeared in The Sun on 17 November 1970. SInce then, it has become a tradition, with newspapers in other countries embracing the concept too. Today, according to the National Readership Survey, The Sun enjoys the largest readership in the UK, with an overall average readership of 17.8 million a month, across both print and online mediums. Given its wide circulation, as well as its marketing itself as a family newspaper, The Sun’s participation in the routine exploitation of women’s bodies is despicable, and highly irresponsible.
Perhaps The Sun needs to be reminded of what a newspaper’s purpose is. It is to inform the public of significant events, both locally and around the world, to provide insightful commentary on society, and to be a platform for intellectual discussion. A large picture of a topless woman has no place in it. It is bad enough as a standalone picture, but when taken together with the rest of the paper, it becomes far more problematic.
You see, looking through the articles that The Sun has to offer, one finds that the representation of women is very narrow indeed. Women appear as victims (“2 Female Cops Shot Dead”), mothers (“Amber Rose flashes her baby bump”), sexual objects (“Selma Blair’s baby bares her boob in public”, “Birthday Girl Catherine is Too Darn Hot”, “Pixie Lott Flashes a Load of Leg (and a bit of bra) at LFW”) or wives/girlfriends (“Liberty Ross Finds New Man After Hubby’s Fling With Kristen Stewart”). These representations culminate with the biggest female offering in the paper – a naked pair of breasts on page three, and speaks volumes about how women, and their role in society, are viewed by editors and readers of The Sun.
This is not the first time that their casual objectification of women has come under fire. In the mid-80s, Labour MP Clare Short campaigned against it, and renewed her bid in 2004. In response, The Sun unleashed a barrage of vitriol against her, calling her ‘fat’ and ‘jealous’, and asking readers to vote on whether they’d rather see Clare Short or the back end of a bus. By choosing to attack her by criticising her looks instead of engaging with her on an intellectual level, they demonstrated how completely they had missed the point, and actually strengthened Clare’s argument by proving that the objectification of women goes hand in hand with the idea that a woman’s sexual attractiveness is the main thing she has to offer.
Needless to say, I am excited about the new petition and would urge everyone to sign it. Page 3 opposers have hitherto been swept aside, silenced by the raw, hulking power of the patriarchy. But I have a feeling that this time, they will no longer succeed in silencing us. And no matter what happens now, our voices have spoken. We have said that the objectification and degradation of women on a daily basis is not acceptable, and you can be sure that this message will be heard loud and clear.