"Stop conditioning your readers to view women as sex objects". That's how Lucy Holmes launched her campaign to stop the Sun publishing an image of a topless woman on Page 3 of their paper every day. I say "her" campaign. It soon became the property of thousands of women (and some men), as more than 215,000 people flooded a petition supporting the call.
In the end, the "No More Page 3" logo became a bit of an iconic image, appearing everywhere from the chamber of the House of Commons (courtesy of Green Party MP Caroline Lucas) to the Nottingham Forest Ladies football shirt. No more. Yesterday, the Sun published on its third page an image of a woman wearing a bra. Today, they did it again. The Guardian was first to call it: they claim that this is the end of Page 3. The Sun, apparently, has decided that 45 years of topless models is enough.
After more than two years of campaigning, many of the No More Page 3 crew seem pretty delighted. Which is understandable – getting the best selling and most powerful newspaper in the UK to end a tradition after four-and-a-half decades is no mean feat. They deserve hearty congratulations. But I have to confess, I'm not sure that the new situation is much better than the old one.
There are at least two reasons to object to bare breasts in a national newspaper. The first is the one I started with. For a long time, Page 3 has been one of the most prominent symbol in the UK of the fact that we still live in a society in which women are judged, more than men, by their physical appearance. As Lucy said, it "conditions readers to view women as sex objects". This is a real problem. As a man living in modern Britain, I can attest to the extent to which I've been encouraged by society to see women as sex objects first, and humans second; to judge them for their bodies rather than their minds. Any blow against that is excellent news for women and men.
But the second reason some people object to Page 3 is prudishness. They don't like nudity in general, and see Page 3 as the ultimate expression of the unclothedness to which they object: replace Caroline Lucas with Ann Widdicombe and you begin to get an impression of who I'm talking about. These sorts of people don't tend to hang around with the excellent feminist activists at No More Page 3 Towers. But, unlike those who ran the campaign, they are more likely to read the Sun.
So here's my worry. The shift in policy appears to me designed to fit the criticism of the second group more than the first. Does the fact that a woman is wearing a bra mean she isn't being objectified? No. It makes it less obvious, sure. But surely subtle sexism is just as dangerous?
After all, if teenage boys (and, let's be honest, grown men) are still being encouraged to ogle at her now-slightly-covered breasts rather than to wonder what her politics are, won't teenage girls still be judged on their figures rather than their grades? Or how funny their jokes are? Or how many keepy-ups they can do? Or how many awesome facts they can tell you about the Mantis Shrimp or Moss Piglet?
Of course, the change will make a difference. It will mean that the Sun is no longer notably at variance from propaganda plastered all over the walls of our cities. The lack of nipples will mean Page 3 would be hard to distinguish from a line up of lingerie adverts – with a "perfectly" shaped model carefully teaching us all how women are "supposed" to look. With a small piece of cloth, Murdoch's British flagship will slip out of the headlines and become just a normal, every day advert for misogyny.
Sometimes it's important to take down symbols of oppression. Someone needed to teach the Sun that they don't get to be the boss of this country, and it's been great to watch as No More Page Three have doggedly done just that. But they say that their next target is going to be sexism in the media more generally and, to use another gendered term, boy do they have their work cut out.
More on Page 3 from VICE:
[Reasons Why Page 3 Needs to Die](Reasons Why Page 3 Needs to Die)