We've all been stitched up like bloody kippers.
Last night, it transpired that the Sun had trolled us all. Far from banishing boobs from Page 3 forever, they'd just had a momentary "mammary lapse", announcing that breasts would be back on Page 3 the following day. In doing so, they blew a big, spitty raspberry at the media outlets who reported on the 44-year-old feature being axed. It's impossible to know currently whether it's a deliberate stunt or a clumsy U-turn, but the fact that the so-called axing was initially reported by the Times – the Sun's sister paper – does make it whiff a bit.
Dylan Sharpe, Head of PR at the paper, tweeted last night: "I said it was speculation and not to trust reports by people unconnected to the Sun. A lot of people are about to look very silly..." This morning, he @-ed several of the people (mostly women) who'd dared to comment on what they felt was a victory.
As Kay Burley suggests, his mother must be very proud.
But while Sharpe's goading was a deeply odd and unprofessional move, it's how successful the move has been in igniting the anti-feminist flame that feels like the saddest thing. They've really done a fabulous job of that.
In the Sun's childish taunting of any woman who expressed alignment with the No More Page 3 campaign's arguments, the newspaper has eclipsed the initial debate surrounding whether it should exist or not almost entirely. That is what has happened today. No woman I know was talking about whether Page 3 should exist this morning – they were talking about a national newspaper provoking a reaction against the very idea of women having opinions. Opinions that can be politely dissenting and, surprisingly, still valid.
It's a tired argument, but it bears repeating: feminism isn't about "good" and "bad". I don't necessarily agree with the women who argued that Page 3 models were empowered, but that doesn't make me right and them wrong. And that freedom of female expression is what has been exploited here. The Sun are effectively saying, in the manner of Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons: "Haha! You thought you won! This is what feminism is, and all you feminazis out there who disagreed can go suck a fat one!" And of course, we barely made it to 8AM this morning before echoing sentiments were being blasted out of Twitter:
Yeah, we do look pretty fucking stupid. That's the problem, mate. We've been told our voices were silly whispers in a far more powerful wind.
Prior to this morning, it had been heartening to see such measured discussion on the concept of Page 3. In a polite Channel 4 debate on Tuesday between herself, Harriet Harman and glamour model Chloe Goodman, Germaine Greer said she'd never been one of the people who thought Page 3 was a major evil. "It's always struck me as innocent and old-fashioned," she said. She's got a point. Even Murdoch himself thinks it's tired and naff.
What the No More Page 3 campaign has done for the image and awareness of grassroots campaigns is admirable and exciting. Yet compared to what we can see online any minute of the day, Page 3 is, Greer said, "simple and meek". For example, over at Mail Online, we are presented with a 24/7 running, visual monologue on women's bodies, ensuring we keep a forensic eye on the precise distribution of someone like Kelly Brook's body fat at all times. Just in case. It's not naked tits presented as precisely that – naked tits – which we see dotted down the sidebar of shame, it's carefully selected, high-res photos of bare female flesh, dished up daily for significantly more readers. Mail Online gets around 10 million users each day. The Sun claims a paper circulation of just over two million. It seems naive to assume that such an old-fashioned stalwart as Page 3 – while it still exists in its paper form, dusty-looking and pixellated – will be the decisive negative influence on young British men and how they view women's bodies. The internet is, as we all know, where the real degradation is.
But again, what the Sun have done now runs a marker pen through all this discussion. For the moment, they've silenced it by revelling in the opportunity to make women look silly and in their power to make impressionable people think the same. That's what this whole thing has become: not about "censorship", but ridicule. Like a toddler digging into the contents of his nappy and smearing it across his sister's face.
We cannot forget how the paper mocked Clare Short as "fat and jealous" for her campaign to end the nation's "favourite" 12-rated feature. They told its readers that women with opinions were silly killjoys for disagreeing with them then and they're doing it again now. The paper's own PR is telling women directly, on Twitter, and hundreds of people are RT-ing it.
But this was never about censorship at all, really. The campaign against Page 3 wasn't about dragging a newspaper through any kind of government approval – it was about editorial decision-making. It was asking if the Sun's editor might entertain the idea that Page 3 has become a bit knackered, that a woman's willingness to go topless might not be such an exciting thing to see in a daily newspaper any more. But the past couple of days has seen people (mostly men) everywhere – from columnists to anonymous eggs on Twitter – suggesting that the Sun's right to print big pictures of tits is a hallowed aspect of free speech that must not be pissed on, even drawing links with the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Even for the most hardened cynics, such comparisons beggar belief.
That the Sun won't let Page 3 go without flogging it right to its last, desperate breath is so sad – for me, at least – that it almost stops being anger-making. They're using it to have one last go at making opinionated women look stupid, to make them feel like fighting is futile and that they're frigid for not playing along. And when you peek beneath the curtain of the public opinion the paper has successfully orchestrated, it's hard to not want to run and hide in the airing cupboard.
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