A Marxist defence of Page 3 girls
January 25, 2012 12 Comments
Proving that the Leveson Inquiry has become a magnet for every campaigner who wants to tame or censor the tabloids, yesterday’s line-up before his lordship included a bevy of feminists angrily railing against Page 3 in The Sun.
For some women’s rights activists, Page 3, with its scantily clad ladies making philosophical comments in speech bubbles, represents everything that is wrong with tabloid culture.
It is sexist and offensive, they say, and it contributes to a climate in which women are looked upon as fleshy objects to be ogled by goggle-eyed blokes. It must be banned, they demand.
Harriet Harman has joined this shrill chorus calling either for the outright banning of Page 3 or for The Sun at least to be put on the top shelf in newsagents, next to porno mags. And yet in her next breath, Harman has the gall to declare: “I am going to be a champion of press freedom.”
That she cannot see any contradiction between campaigning to crush Page 3 and claiming to be a defender of freedom of speech not only highlights the severe irony deficit in New Labour – it also says a lot about the weird politics of the anti-Page 3 lobby.
The fact is that shutting down Page 3 would be an assault on press freedom. If you are committed to true freedom of the press, to the age-old idea that newspapers should be free to publish what they believe to be true or interesting or fun, you can’t then add the caveat “Oh, except for Page 3 in The Sun – that page has got to go.”
As Karl Marx said in a stirring piece on press freedom, the true defender of liberty in publishing will fight for the right of rags to publish tittle-tattle as much as the right of serious papers to publish serious news.
“You cannot enjoy the advantages of a free press without putting up with its inconveniences,” he said. He went on: “You cannot pluck the rose without its thorns!” – meaning that even when you pick a beautiful flower you’ll frequently end up with a little prick. It’s the same with the press – there’s some good stuff out there, well worth reading, and there are a lot of pricks, too. That is in the nature of having a free, open press.
The boob-blockers of the anti-Page 3 brigade are driven by the same impulse as every other censor in history – not so much by disgust with images themselves, but by a belief that some images might warp fragile people’s minds and make them go mental.
Censors are always motivated by the fantastically paternalistic fear that if a certain section of the population claps eyes on a saucy or tempting image or overhears controversial words, then it will be driven mad with lust or hate.
And so it is with the Mary Whitehouses cleverly disguised as radical feminists who would like to see Page 3 erased from history. They fret that Page 3 is harmful to both men and women.
The campaigners behind Turn Your Back On Page 3, which presented evidence at Leveson yesterday, say Page 3 is guilty of twisting men’s minds, “encouraging negative attitudes towards [women]… and at worst, acts of violence against [women]”. In short, blokes – especially the tea-swilling sort who read The Sun every day – are easily made violent; they’re such seething pits of anti-women sentiment that just one image of a topless girl called Cherri from Essex could be enough to make them go out and attack some unsuspecting women.
The campaigners think Page 3 is bad for women, too. It causes negative feelings “within us,” they claim, which help to “stall our progress.” In short, women are such sensitive wallflowers, so lacking in moral robustness and sass, that an image of a possibly younger, more attractive, certainly less-clothed female could tip them over the edge into self-pity and inaction.
For a bunch of people who claim to have women’s interests at heart, the anti-Page 3 set is pretty sniffy about women’s ability to cope with the modern world’s daily tumult of words and images.
In their belief that both men and women should be prevented from seeing Page 3 – men because it drives them wild with desire, women because it makes them feel sad and inadequate – the warriors against Page 3 echo that super-snobbish line from the Lady Chatterley trial in 1960: “Would you let your wife or servant read this book?” Only they’ve updated it, effectively saying: “Would you let an uncouth bloke or a fragile woman look at these tits? After all, there’s no telling what damage such an image might do to these volatile/fragile constituencies…”
We should defend Page 3 from these radical censors, not because that page in The Sun is interesting or valuable (it isn’t), but because the censorious sentiment behind the desire to squish it is underpinned by a pernicious paternalism that has no place in the twenty-first century. Keeley, Cherri, Sam, Suzanne and the rest – keep doing your thing.