It was newspaper institution for more than 40 years, but is The Sun’s decision to quietly ditch page three, really a victory for women worth celebrating? Sarah Freeman reports.
It was perhaps not surprising that it took a day or so for anyone to notice.
On Friday it was business as usual for the Sun, but come Monday page three of the tabloid was bereft. Glamorous Lucy, 21, from Berkshire was missing, as were her thoughts on the Labour’s chances at the next election and the possible backdoor privatisation of the NHS.
Yesterday, the usual Page Three model, which has been a staple of Britain’s best-selling red top for 45 years, again failed to appear. In its place was a photograph of two Hollyoaks actresses running across a Dubai beach in their bikinis.
While Sun editor David Dinsmore has been under pressure to ditch Page Three, his decision to swap topless for scantily clad was sign he and the rest of the paper’s management weren’t exactly reaching for the hairshirt. In fact, according to its sister paper The Times, the Sun had been hoping to ditch its daily pin-up as quietly as possible.
Dylan Sharpe, head of public relations for the Sun, was equally tight-lipped, posting an ambiguous message on Twitter on Monday night which read simply, “Page 3 will be in The Sun tomorrow in the same place it’s always been - between pages 2 and 4”
In the history of women’s liberation, the Sun’s move from boobs to bikinis will likely end up as little more than a footnote, but those behind the No More Page Three campaign, which was launched by actress and writer Lucy-Anne Holmes back in 2012, are claiming it as a small, but significant step in the right direction.
“I didn’t grow up in a Sun reading household, but my friend did,” says Sarah Faulkner, a mother of three from York and one of the No More Page Three lead campaigners. “Even back then I remember thinking it odd that her dad would be reading a newspaper at the kitchen table with a topless picture of a girl about the same age as us.”
It was that gut reaction which saw Sarah sign the initial petition calling for the end to Page Three and by May 2013 she had joined the main campaign team.
“It’s not that I find the images offensive,” she says. “It’s a naked body, we’ve all got one, but it’s the fact that it is on page three - the second most important page - surrounded by stories of important men running the country, achieving in politics and sport.
“This is Britain’s best-selling newspaper and the most prominent image of a women is one where she is sexually objectified. Whether you like it or not, it gives the message that men make the news for what they do and women make the news because of what they look like.It comes across loud and clear.
“It’s not a judgement on the models. If that’s what they want to do for a living then good luck to them, but I don’t want my three girls, who are aged between four and eight, to grow up thinking that in order to be popular they have to take their clothes off.”
The campaign to consign the Page Three pin-up to history is not a new one. Introduced by the newspaper in 1970, less than a year after the title was bought by Rupert Murdoch, it has always had its critics, none more so than Clare Short.
It was back in 1986, that then Labour MP tried to introduce a Bill into the House of Commons banning topless models from all British newspapers. The move was unsuccessful, The Sun branded her ‘Killjoy Clare’ and when she renewed the campaign almost 20 years later the paper went one step further, superimposing her head on the body of glamour model and calling her “fat and jealous”.
Those same accusations were trotted out again as the No More Page Three lobby rallied to the cause. They’ve been painted as humourless feminists, intent on sucking the joy out of a very British institution and as the campaign gathered momentum for a while it seemed The Sun and its owner, were set to become more entrenched.
Last year the News Corp boss asked his Twitter followers for their opinion on the future of Page Three.
He wrote: “Aren’t beautiful young women more attractive in at least some fashionable clothes?” He later added: “Brit feminists bang on forever about Page Three. I bet never buy paper. I think old fashioned, but readers seem to disagree.”
It was a position which was born out by countless surveys, including one carried out by YouGov in 2012 which found 64 per cent of Sun readers wanted to retain Page Three, compared to 24 per cent that thought it should be abandoned.
“The readers want it,” was a mantra continued by Dinsmore, who in an interview with Radio 5 Live last year said: “I think that it is a lively issue for people who don’t buy the paper and we’ve done research, done the focus groups and in many ways listened to the campaigners to say, ‘What does it mean to our readers’. The result comes back a resounding, ‘keep it there, don’t take it away’.”
Sarah and the rest of the No More Page 3 campaign were never convinced by that particular argument and they also know that had News Corp thought its removal would damage sales, the Page Three model would have stayed.
“When you ask readers a question, you can pretty much get back the answer you want. When we asked men why they bought The Sun, they overwhelmingly said, ‘For the football, it’s got a good sports section’. I never once heard, ‘I buy it for Page Three’. Why would anyone buy a newspaper to see a topless model when there is so much else available free on the internet?”
And that may be at the nub of the Sun’s decision. When Page Three launched in 1970, it brought glamour models from the top shelf to the breakfast table in an age when schoolboys got cheap thrills by flicking through the lingerie section of Kays catalogue.
That world no longer exists, but it hasn’t stopped past and present glamour models pining nostalgically for that right hand page.
“I loved doing Page Three,” said Jodie Marsh, who made six appearances as a Sun pin-up. “It was good money, I felt powerful, I was definitely in control and all the people (mostly women) I worked with were fab. I never felt exploited - in fact the opposite. I thought, ‘Blimey, people are willing to pay to see my boobs’.”
It might not have been the most eloquent of arguments, but those behind No More Page 3 know that there is still much work to do.
“The campaign isn’t over, far from it,” says Sarah. “The Sun may have decided to stop page 3, but until it decides to replace it with stories of inspiring women rather than celebrities in bikinis then our message is still relevant. Women are equal to men and papers like the Sun need to recognise that.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Times columnist and author Caitlin Moran when she tweeted: “Well done @NoMorePage3 for an inspiring campaign. There’s a million things to improve, and you improved one.”