20 Jan 2015

The Sun: from naked breasts to barely-there bikinis

Today is a “truly historic” day. Really? News that the Sun has dropped its page 3 topless photos managed to eclipse the latest Islamic State hostage-taking on the morning bulletins. And at least two ministers took time out of their busy mornings to pen a statement applauding the decision.

It’s a little depressing that this is such a huge story. After all, page 3 should have been dumped decades ago. That really would have been headline news. Instead, the Sun has waited until the idea of displaying women’s breasts in a family newspaper is so laughable it can’t claim any credit whatsoever for moving with the times. No wonder there’s been no public statement from the paper.

There’s another reason, though, why this isn’t such a ground-breaking development. Because in place of the naked breasts and bums “It’s Gem & Jen…in Babewatch” sprinting across the beach in barely-there bikinis. Yesterday it was a woman in her underwear. When the Sun stops objectifying women in this way, that’ll be a splash worth making a fuss about.

Of course, model Rhian Sugden will no doubt call me a “comfy shoe wearing no bra wearing man hater” as she has other page 3 critics this morning. For the record, I’m as partial to a skyscraper heel as the next woman, and I have no problem with either bras or men. Ditching page 3 isn’t about making women ugly. It’s about stopping the pernicious practice of appreciating us only for our bodies.

You could always turn the page, but by existing at all, page 3 tainted society, contributing to the sexualisation and pornification of women. Sending the message that women’s bodies matter more than their brains does long-lasting damage. The way women are portrayed is one reason why girls at school are more likely to do “softer” subjects and less likely to become engineers. That has an impact far beyond the centrefold.

And I’m sorry but I don’t get the notion, propounded by the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins, that scrapping page 3 is “censorship”. This isn’t about reinstating a Victorian notion of nudity, covering up piano legs and making women wear crinoline. It’s about equality, pure and simple. You don’t see naked men perched provocatively for the delectation of women.

So perhaps when we have equal representation in politics, business, the media, not to mention equal pay in all those professions, and when the Sun goes the whole hog and stops showing quite so many women in their undies, will history have been made.

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