I think page 3 is bloody fantastic. At the risk of sounding like a sex-positive Ed Miliband, when I see page 3, I think empowerment. And I think the anti-page 3 movement is starkly hypocritical in its condemnation, and what it essentially boils down to is a particularly classist form of Victorian prudishness.
Most feminists would hopefully agree that women have every right to express their sexuality as they see fit – the idea against page 3 is instead that it normalises the objectification of women in what is supposed to be a ‘family paper’, and somehow raises a new generation of sexist assholes. Well, I doubt there are many kids who read the papers, even if there are boobs in them – the new generation of curious pre-pubescents have iPads, and probably scoff at the idea of discovering the naked female form in such antiquated types of media as Playboy or Nuts or the Sun. But even if they did – is the idea that we should hide sexuality from children and teenagers such a positive one? Repression did a lot of damage in Victorian times that arguably still exists to this day. When combined with a decent sex education that teaches the values of consent and respect I see no reason why it would be so problematic for our youth to learn that, hey, some people are sexually attracted to breasts. And if the lack of this type of education is the real concern – as I truly believe it is – why do we not focus our attentions on the cause rather than the boobs that some perceive to be a symptom?
As much as we’d hate to admit it as intersectional feminists, the real prominence of page 3 as the poster-girl for objectification may well be its reader demographic. Look at Suicide Girls, a porn website featuring alternative-looking, tattooed and seemingly higher educated pin-ups, the website is often billed as the feminist-friendly side of glamour modelling. Can we really say that the reason we aren’t more comfortable with these type of breasts is because both the girls and their audience are from a higher stratum of society? There is some inherent classism in the idea that a page 3 model with her blonde hair and fake tan being ogled by a builder on a tea break is being objectified, whilst a university-educated Suicide Girl admired by an IT consultant is being empowered. A woman’s agency is not dependent on whether or not she holds A Levels. It’s also equally irrelevant if she chooses to hide her sexuality behind a paywall on the internet or brashly display it in a national newspaper. Both are her choice, and her actions. Both are designed for the titillation of a predominantly male audience. Both the Suicide Girl and the Page 3 model are aware of this, and to hold up one as empowerment and one as exploitation and objectification because one is done more ‘tastefully’ than the other is nothing but slut-shaming.
After all, what kind of message are we really sending here? You can have your fun in private, but don’t you dare display it in public lest you corrupt the minds of the children! It’s an argument that has been used time and time again, from the repression of the queer community – and for that matter, let’s obliterate the heteronormative assumption that only men enjoy page 3 right now – to kink-shaming, and most damagingly as an argument against rape accusations. If we say that page 3 teaches objectification because it is public, we are tacitly admitting that these women are playing a hand in their own objectification. Maybe they even deserve it. This is not a thought process that bears continuing.
Lastly let’s remember that these are not abstract photos on a page – these are real women, many for whom this will have been their big career break as a glamour model. You may not approve of what their career may signify but I struggle to imagine a world where trying to get a woman fired just because their job choice involves public sexuality is a feminist act.