The Sun turns a page and drops topless models

Bust up: The No More Page 3 campaign helped turn the tide of public opinion © PA

Britain’s best-selling tabloid newspaper has decided to take down its Page 3 pin-ups, thanks in part to the No More Page 3 campaign. But is the decision a victory for women? (See update)

In the end, the newspaper that created a furore with its infamous photos of topless women bowed out with a whimper. It was left to The Sun’s sister publication, The Times, to announce the end of Page 3. After half a century, one of the most controversial traditions in British journalism has finally been dropped.

The news is a triumph for the campaign group No More Page 3, who took on the country’s bestselling newspaper and most powerful media magnate, Rupert Murdoch, back in 2012. The campaign, spearheaded initially by lone crusader Lucy-Anne Holmes, has since then spread like wildfire.

The campaigners had argued that The Sun’s daily dose of seedy soft-porn had no place in a newspaper presented and marketed as a family publication. It wasn’t that they were puritans disgusted by the sight of a naked body: instead they objected to the sexualisation and objectification of women in a paper that could be found in cafes, on the bus, or lying on the breakfast table alongside buttered toast and boiled eggs. They believed that women, like the men found in The Sun’s pages, should be judged on their achievements rather than their appearance.

Hundreds of thousands of people agreed, flocking to sign online petitions and protests. Student activism forced 30 universities to boycott the newspaper, and influential politicians, charities and celebrities joined the growing chorus.

Gradually, the cries of ‘boobs aren’t news’ reached a crescendo. The Irish Sun bowed to mounting pressure and dropped the feature in August 2013. Then, last year, the paper’s owner Rupert Murdoch nervously conceded that Page 3 was ‘old-fashioned’.

Still, it is not a total victory. While the last edition of The Sun containing a topless model was published on Friday, this week's copies have featured female celebrities scantily clad in bikinis, under the title ‘Babewatch’. Page 3 topless photos will still appear online, and the decision could be reversed if it leads to waning sales.

Update:Since this story was published, The Sun confounded reports in the press by reintroducing Page 3 on Thursday morning. Whether it will remain as a permanent fixture is yet to be seen.

Sun block

Some see this as a breakthrough for gender equality. These campaigners have patiently and peacefully managed to take down a stubborn fixture of Fleet Street and inspired a young generation of feminists in the process. The decision is a sign of modernising attitudes, and proves that grassroots campaigns can be powerful instigators of social change.

Maybe, others reply, but The Sun’s reaction shows that the message has not quite sunk in. Continuing to post photos of women in bikinis shows they still treat women as objects. It is hardly a victory if Page 3 has simply moved online. Instead of celebrating this pigeon step, campaigners should focus on the strides that remain to be made towards full equality.

You Decide

  1. Is The Sun’s decision to remove its topless models a triumph for gender equality?
  2. What are the most important issues that need to be tackled in gender relations today?

Activities

  1. What should the Sun’s Page 3 be replaced with? Come up with your ideas and in groups design the new page.
  2. Class debate: 'This House believes that feminism needs rebranding.’

Some People Say...

“The end of page 3 is the end of an era.”

Matthew Engel

What do you think?

Q & A

So should women’s bodies be covered up?
Not necessarily. Most critics of Page 3 do not object to its content, but to its context. They object to a ‘family’ newspaper that celebrates men for their achievements, while only including women for their bodies, arguing that it sends out a terrible message to girls and boys. If Page 3 was about celebrating the naked human form, then surely it would include a more diverse range of bodies, in all different shapes, sizes and colours.
So is the fight for gender equality now over?
Sadly not. There are lots of areas where sexism persists, ranging from the workplace, where women are vastly underrepresented and often underpaid, to issues such as violence against women. But any movement that succeeds in bringing about real change should give us hope.

Word Watch

Lucy-Anne Holmes
Holmes’ campaign began during the London Olympics, when she realised that more coverage in the Sun was given to topless women that it was to the athlete Jessica Ennis, who had just won a gold medal. Prior to starting the petition, Holmes had never run a campaign.
Irish Sun
The decision was taken after asking the paper’s readers about their views and had little effect on sales. Some media experts have predicted that sales of the British Sun could be boosted without topless models.
Rupert Murdoch
Page 3 was born in November 1970, a year after Rupert Murdoch bought the Sun. Murdoch initially opposed Page 3, but it has been credited with helping the Sun overtake the Mirror in the circulation battle by 1978. The Sun’s sales peaked at 4.2 million a day in the mid-1980s.

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