Hey there. This topic is one which has recently created a lot of (heated) discussion amongst people at the University of Leicester, as it has been decided that the Student’s Union will be boycotting the Sun until it removes it’s page 3. Just in case you didn’t know, the “no more page 3” campaign is a boycott campaign which asks the Sun to remove page 3, and it has received support from quite a few student’s unions across the country, and also many other organisations. I won’t do the topic justice, so there is a really informative page here which explains what the campaign is about, who is supporting it, and answers a lot of FAQs, which I encourage you to check out. What I want to go over is some of the reactions against boycotting the Sun that I have seen, and give my personal opinion as to why I don’t believe that this is a credible response. Firstly though, these are the main reasons I support the boycott, briefly summarised:
1. Page 3 portrays women as sexual objects
This page is created primarily for the enjoyment of the newspaper’s male readership. It is not a ‘celebration’ of women’s bodies, as women are being shown in the way which is likely to bring the most approval for men, and furthermore if it were a celebration of women’s bodies then there would be more than the few specific body types which are shown- predominantly white women with big boobs. Whether or not you agree that the women have chosen to be there and so this is an empowering act, the fact remains that the women are being displayed as sexual objects on this page.
2. It doesn’t have a place in a newspaper
The Sun uses the tagline “showbiz, babes, celebrities, sports and racing, national and international news”. Women here have been reduced to one category, and the category clearly shows that the women are being judged for their appearance. What role does this play in news? Is it news that women have boobs? Whilst there is a heavy emphasis on sport coverage, which is what many readers say they go to the newspaper for, there is a clear divide with most of the sports being covered being to do with men, whilst the coverage of women involves them standing still and being pretty whilst wearing minimal clothing which is meant to make them more sexually desirable. Surely if a newspaper were to have a page dedicated to women then it should be a page documenting women actually doing something, actually creating news? For me the depiction of a woman as a sexual object just has no place in something which purports to be about ‘news’.
3. It doesn’t give a positive message to people, especially children, who may come across this page
The Sun is sold as a ‘family’ newspaper, but I don’t believe the page 3 is appropriate for children who come across it. I believe it encourages girls who see it to believe that this is the body ideal they must aspire to, whilst boys who look at it are encouraged to view girls as objects for their own pleasure. I think that this has the potential to be damaging to children, and as such I again believe that page 3 has no place in the newspaper.
There are other arguments, a lot of which are put a lot more succinctly on the page I mentioned earlier, but I thought I would go over my point of view first. Now, these are some of the arguments which are put forward in defence of page 3 and which I do not agree with:
1. If you’re going to argue against topless women, then what about topless men?
I am against sexual objectification of men and women, and therefore I understand this claim and I do believe that advertising which uses men’s torsos in a sexual context to sell a product is wrong, for example, but I don’t think that this campaign damages this belief. Firstly, this is not a “tit for tat” scenario whereby if women can be sexually objectified then so can men. Secondly, I believe this campaign actually goes towards stopping men being objectified because it is a campaign which is against objectification full stop. Lastly, these are separate issues so this claim actually has no relevance here. If someone wanted to start a campaign against sexual objectification of men that would be fantastic, but the issue which requires direct engagement with now because it has been a topic at the Leicester student council meeting is to do with whether or not you support page 3: which I don’t.
2. Why don’t you just not buy the Sun?
This would just be ignoring the problem, which is them implicitly allowing the page to continue and therefore supporting the objectification of women. The point of this boycott is not just to get rid of page 3; it represents taking a stance about the whole culture which surrounds objectifying women. Therefore although getting the Sun to remove its page 3 may not seem like a big deal it actually stands for something on a much larger scale, and this is why it cannot just be ignored.
3. Well then shouldn’t we just ban all boobs, including Leicester’s burlesque society, then?
This boycott isn’t about getting rid of all displays of the female body: it is about getting rid of the female body being portrayed in a sexually objectifying manner, in a family newspaper. This in turn stands for arguing against sexual objectification of women as a whole. The burlesque society is not a society which has been created solely for the enjoyment of men, it is an art form which supports the empowerment of women. Similarly, there are several websites to my knowledge run by women which encourage women to send in naked pictures of themselves to support body confidence. I believe this is a very positive thing as it is to do with a woman celebrating her body and loving herself- rather than the female body being used as a ‘thing’ to appeal to men. Presenting the female body as something to be used for a man’s enjoyment is not empowering and does not help to de-sexualise the body of women, so that is why page 3 is unacceptable.
4. Well what about porn then?
I think that this is a separate issue. I do think that there is a serious problem in the porn industry of objectification of men and women in general; this is not to say that I am against porn, but certain cases are unacceptable in my opinion e.g. rape porn. The relevance ‘no more page 3’ has to this debate is that it stands for arguing against sexual objectification, which is an issue within the porn industry, and that porn is usually restricted in some way- putting porn magazines on a top shelf, having age limits etc, whereas page 3 can be accessed by anyone; another reason why it does not belong in a family newspaper. But just like with the objectification of men, I don’t think that arguing for no more page 3 prevents you from realising that objectification in porn is another issue which needs to be tackled.
5. You’ve taken away freedom of choice
This is one of the big debates which is going on, because students feel that their freedom has been taken away by this boycott. However, I would argue that firstly it is a boycott, not a ban, so should you wish to read the Sun of course you can- you just can’t purchase it on campus. I feel that this is fair for people who are for and against page 3 and therefore no freedom has been taken away. However, the main argument is that this decision was not opened up for discussion but was passed by a specific group of people who may have their own agendas- although I would point out that they were voted in by students and therefore do technically have power to make decisions like this. Although petitions were run which could be seen as asking the students their opinion, the fact that there was a petition in support of page 3 draws attention to the fact that possibly the boycott should have been put to the whole student body for them to decide, rather than just one group. Again this is a separate issue to do with how decisions are made for the Union and how much say students have in such matters, which should not be used to detract from the fact that ‘no more page 3’ is about standing against the objectification of women.
6. What about real problems? And you’re just a university, you’re not even the Sun’s target audience, what’s the point in even discussing this?
The ‘no more page 3’ campaign may seem small in the grand scheme of things. But people have to start somewhere, and if this gets support and the Sun decides to remove page 3, then this would be a victory for the campaign and also have an important role in showing to society that the objectification of women is not seen as acceptable. As I have already mentioned, this one campaign stands for something more complex and doesn’t need to be undermined. If this campaign were to be successful then it would encourage people to tackle other areas of sexual objectification (including male objectification), which is why it is important. And although we are just a university, we are joining a significant body of other university student’s unions, other organisations, and other people who are against page 3. As an individual group we might not have much sway, but the combined force of all of these people together might have the power to actually get the Sun to listen and consider removing page 3.
Although this has by no means exhausted the topic I will stop now, having made my main points. I would be really interested to hear thoughts on this, so feel free to comment below.
And as a note to any prospective students: university gives you a unique opportunity to access campaigns and support issues. Since being at Leicester I have become much more aware of topics of controversy and being in this environment has played an important role in helping me realise what I believe in and what I want changed- which I hadn’t ever properly considered before. I would strongly recommend that you take these opportunities and get involved in what goes on at your university 🙂