Across the United Kingdom, 30 different Universities and colleges have voted in favour of boycotting The Sun newspaper until the Page 3 feature has been removed. At Warwick too, we are campaigning hard to try and make it happen. We wrote a letter to our on campus Costcutter supermarket, outlining our objections to the inherently sexist way in which it portrays women, as well as the narrow model of beauty it presents of a woman who is young, thin and white. Myself and the other members of the campaign team are not alone in these objections, and at the time of writing, nearly 900 others have added their names to the petition letter, adding a plethora of their own personal grievances to Page 3.
However, as with just about every feminist campaign in history, it didn’t take long before we found a backlash. Ours came from fellow students as well as university bodies, calling a boycott of The Sun illiberal, painting us an authoritarian, conservative voice out to censor people’s freedoms at every corner. ‘But what about the free press?‘ came the replies.
It’s an argument I have trouble getting on board with. Yes, in theory we have a legally free press, but the theory doesn’t necessarily correlate to what I would term as ‘freedom’. The vast, vast majority of our media is dictated by a few very elite, generally rich, white men. This is epitomized by Rupert Murdoch and his veritable empire of media outlets; The Sun, The Times and Sunday Times, The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal… the list goes on. It is these people who are the authoritarians, deciding which attributes our media should value, and which harmful stereotypes it should continue to perpetuate. It is absolutely in their best interests to produce a model which maintains the status quo. The model which sidelines the woman to the ever-young, ornamental, sexually-available yet passive object. The model which relegates the working class and the disabled to the scroungers, and the people of colour, if mentioned at all, to ‘the other’. Probably the immigrant who is coming to our country to simultaneously steal our benefits and take our jobs. Rupert Murdoch and his ilk directly profit from perpetuating the marginalisation of already marginalised people. Where is the freedom in that?
In any case, the wider No More Page 3 campaign is not calling for any kind of restriction of the ‘free press’ at all; it does not call for a ban, censorship and certainly not any kind of governmental intervention to restrict Page 3 from existing. It is a lobbying campaign. It is attempting to persuade The Sun’s editor to consider some degree of responsibility in the way he presents women in his newspaper, and how this affects the way women are marginalised in public life, politics and the wider world more generally.
Martin Robbins in The New Statesman has called the No More Page 3 campaign ‘sinister’, focused on ‘slut-shaming’ and ‘sexual policing’. Again, no. We support women’s rights to do whatever they want with their bodies. We support nudity, we support sex. Our campaign is all about context. Sexualised nudity is out of context in a newspaper, and the promotion of misogynist press is out of context in a progressive university which professes to value equality. We also resent that nudity apparently always has to be for the benefit of men; it’s absurd that Murdoch can profit off a young woman’s breasts, but I can’t go topless in the summer as men can, because breasts have been so heavily sexualised that it would automatically be considered indecent or sexual. Where is the freedom in that?
No More Page 3 is not asking for a ban, because it would be a far stronger statement for the editorial team to voluntarily remove the most blatant manifestation of sexism within their newspaper; for them to be persuaded that it is not right to portray women’s bodies as exclusively sexual objects; for them to realise that it is actively harmful to perpetuate the notion that women exist to sexually gratify men. With rights, essentially, comes responsibility. The No More Page 3 campaign is simply a call for basic commercial responsibility; or at least for The Sun ‘to stop acting like a bad 70s sitcom.‘