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Page 3 - individualism vs. society?


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The editor of The Irish Sun’s decision yesterday to remove bare breasts from its magazine has injected further momentum into the No More Page 3 campaign. Despite Paul Clarkson’s slightly dubious citing of ‘cultural differences’ and allusions to Catholicism as part of his justification for the brave move, this is a promising development that owes thanks to tireless campaigning and persistent lobbying. Campaigners praised this ‘first bold step’ as part of the broader battle to ‘dismantle a sexist institution’.

The campaign has experienced a staggering surge of support following endorsements by GirlGuidingUK and the National Association of Headteachers and its popularity further skyrocketed when its message reached the celebrity stratosphere. Famous supporters include Chris Addison, Jennifer Saunders and Caitlin Moran, who has mobilised legions of followers with tweets such as "teenage tits aren't news OR a feature.”

We should celebrate the astounding success of a campaign whose message has been propelled towards the status of a household name and has made Page 3 a topic that frequently peppers wider discussions about the enduring shadow of sexism that still darkens the media.

In only 2008, AskMen posted a feature saluting their favourite page 3 models which mocks the "feminists and other PC whiners" who were lobbying against what they elevate to the status of a “national institution”. Amusingly the writer goes as far as to say that "fortunately, no one has paid these “activists” much attention" - comments to which supporters of Lucy Anne Holmes can now direct a loud and resounding HA.

However, this is not to say that we should solely content ourselves with this new development. Sadly, Page 3 is not an isolated expression of media pressure on women; what is disturbing is the emergence of the cult of appearance and its social, and more worryingly, business value.

Female Apprentice finalist Luisa Zissman said in a revealing interview with The Sun, in which she is described as ‘busty’, that she admired the business sense and cleverness of Page 3 glamour models that exploit sexually charged market forces. This is not a new idea; Katie Price is often hailed an idol or even as a feminist icon due to her ability to manipulate a growing market.

It is a commonly held view that we should respect the successes of the individual, rather than bemoan the unpleasant reality that such personal victories leave society - the collateral damage of an unequal gender dynamic that equates female sexuality with monetary gain.

As the dwindling job market continues to shrink, more women are confessing to using their appearance and sexuality to get ahead. A study by Haas School of Business Professor Laura Kray confirms this trend, arguing that flirtatiousness and using "feminine charm" is a good negotiating method. A sizeable 55% of women questioned as part of a study of 2,000 people, admitted that they’d flirted to get their own way in day-to-day life and 21% admitted flirting at work to receive preferential treatment.

Even if we celebrate these successes individual achievements, the uncomfortable and inconvenient truth is that they confirm a reductive view of a woman’s ornamental role in the public sphere.

Damningly, recent media interest in Hilary Clinton’s presidential ambitions has unabashedly focused on her meetings with diet ‘guru’ Dr Mark Hyman, which serves as scaffolding to the idea that being attractive and thin is a pre-requisite for women in politics.

Furthermore in Australia, former Labour PM Julia Gillard was mocked for her appearance at an opposition politician’s dinner. The menu billed a poultry dish entitled ‘Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail’ that describes as ‘Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail — Small Breasts, Huge Thighs and a Big Red Box’.

While many often dismiss No Page 3 as a tyrannical battle against what is in Dominic Mohan’s words ‘an innocuous British institution that celebrates youth and freshness’, we cannot and should not deny its far-reaching social implications. Page 3 does not exist in a vacuum.

Whilst Page 3 does not singlehandedly prop up aesthetic expectations of women in the public and political spheres, it undoubtedly contributes as a symptom of a much deeper social sickness. To recalibrate an unequal balance of power, we need to redress perceptions of glamour models as canny business women and discourage reaping the rewards of an exploitative sexual power play in the work place and the wider world.

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