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We don’t need photos of topless women in the newspaper—we have the Internet for that

The Internet is for porn, not the paper.


Chris Osterndorf


Posted on Jan 23, 2015   Updated on May 29, 2021, 5:08 pm CDT

It’s widely accepted as fact that the Internet is for porn, and not just because Avenue Q told us so a few years back.

It’s strange then, that so much controversy has erupted lately over Britain’s famous tabloid, The Sun and their notorious Page 3 section, which features photographs of topless women. This happened Thursday, following a week where it was believed that The Sun had dropped the segment after 44 years. Returning as a “clarification and correction,” the latest edition ran accompanied by a headline that read: “We’ve had a mammary lapse.” Naturally, England’s reaction to the fake-out on social media has been fairly strong, eliciting severe disappointment from some, and general cries of “don’t we have bigger things to worry about?” from others.

It’s difficult to comprehend why Page 3 has even existed this long.

In the age of the Internet, it’s difficult to comprehend why Page 3 has even existed this long, much less apparently come back from the dead. Besides whatever dark social implications it holds, the trashy feature doesn’t make sense in the year 2015. If anything, it just comes off as desperately antiquated.

There are clearly reasons to dislike Page 3. Case in point, as soon as it was revealed that the section would be returning, the Sun‘s Head of PR, Dylan Sharpe, tweeted that day’s topless photos at various politicians and journalists who had been quick to criticize or report the death of Page 3 previously. Particularly because several of these individuals were female, the gesture was quickly referred to by others as harassment. For instance, journalist Caroline-Criado Perez alleged on Twitter that “whatever you think about p3, there’s no getting away from the fact that the Sun‘s actions today were intended to degrade women.”

Another opponent of The Sun’s infamous topless women is Labour (England’s centre-left party) Minister of Parliament and supporter of activist group NoMorePage3, Stella Creasy, who recently talked to English female-centric culture website The Debrief. Creasy argued:

Some people might say this argument is reduced to: ‘I can look at boobs if I want to.’ It’s never been about boobs, it’s always been about the fact we have such a narrow story about what the value of women is… [The Sun needs] to get their act together, they really need to decide what kind of world they want to live in and what kind of world they promote. It’s not some Great British institution; even James Bond has evolved over the years… It’s actually about control, it’s about the designation of value, about women’s worth. If you can’t see the connection, then you don’t understand the scale of the problem.

According to Creasy, her group isn’t “looking to ban topless modeling.” Instead, she hopes to “start a conversation about the kind of world we want to live in and that’s a world where everyone is freer,” as the amount of breasts you can see in the tabloids doesn’t equate to more freedom. Creasy explains that, following the Page 3 controversy, she’s been subjected to “two solid days” of harassment on Twitter, with users calling her “fat-thighed” and a “flat-chester,” while being referred to as a “feminazi” in the media. Creasy asks, “You wonder in that kind of debate, do we really think that’s OK? Do we really think that any time a woman expresses an opinion. that’s the reaction she should get?”

“I can look at boobs if I want to” is not a good enough reason to keep Page 3 alive.

Creasey makes some great points, especially about how we see the value of women not only in English society, but all over the world. However, her argument that “I can look at boobs if I want to” is not a good enough reason to keep Page 3 alive brings up an interesting discussion about modern sexuality. If anything, the problem with Page 3 is that it demands that people, namely men, have the right to look at boobs anytime they want. However, everyone already does have that right, in the privacy of their own home, where nobody is there to feel uncomfortable about it.  

We are, of course, talking about the Internet now, where the world of pornography has mostly resided for years. According to the BBC, while statistics about the amount of porn on the web have frequently been blown out of proportion, up to 4 percent of all websites, and 14 percent of all web searches, are devoted to pornography. That might not sound like a lot initially, until you start to think about what it would be like if 4 percent of all television shows were pornographic or 4 percent of all print media was had breasts and vaginas in it. By those standards, the amount of porn out there on the Internet is staggering. 

The war for so-called middle-American decency versus hardcore pornography online is over. Porn won.

Suffice it to say, it’s not difficult to find porn on the web, which is why Page 3’s existence, as a space solely devoted to looking at boobs, is kind of absurd, given how many other opportunities there are to look at boobs as long as you have a computer and a Wi-Fi connection. In essence, the war for so-called middle-American decency versus hardcore pornography online is over. Porn won.

Not that American publications like Playboy aren’t still trying to survive on the merits of photos of bare breasts either, but the continued existence of these magazines is puzzling, too, since Playboy is not only incapable of offering the same variety as the Internet, but since you have to actually pay for the magazine, too. “Everything Hugh Hefner is responsible for—the magazine, the clubs, the philosophy, the T-shirts, the keys, the bumper stickers, the brand—has been deposited in the junk shop of 20th-century life, where it belonged,” the late Nora Ephron wrote for Newsweek back in 2011. “The stock tanked. The magazine’s circulation fell. The clubs were closed, one by one.” And indeed, Playboy‘s circulation has fallen dramatically in recent years.

The same is true for the Sun, which, despite being one of Britain’s more popular papers, has suffered the same type of decline that all print media has in the digital age. This is perhaps why they made such a big deal of the Page 3’s supposed comeback in the first place. 

“Media insiders believe today’s ‘return’ to bare breasts is a stunt, designed to rile and confuse critics and retain the upper hand in the conversation. the Sun‘s long-term plan…is indeed to stop or at least reduce the use of topless women,” writes HuffPost UK’s Louise Ridley. “A media source claimed the Sun‘s strategy was to remain silent after removing the topless pictures, and never confirm the plan, so it had complete flexibility to bring them back on a whim to disprove the critics and ‘own the moment.’ The source said: ‘They might do a week without doing a page 3, and then they’ll do it again. That way, they own it.'”

Despite Page 3’s “triumphant” return, it seems that the feature’s days are numbered anyway. 

So despite Page 3’s “triumphant” return, it seems that the feature’s days are numbered anyway. “The reality is that newspapers—especially successful newspapers like the Sun—don’t have a future beyond tomorrow. They are reactive, reborn every day,” asserts Ridley. “The Sun has, in fact, always been flexible on what it places on page 3 and will give the space over to a lucrative advert, or a major news story, when it feels they trump a pair of boobs.”

In any case, regardless of what “major” stories threaten their place in the Sun, the topless women of Page 3 are simply part of an outdated system. Women are more than sexual objects used to sell papers, but while the Sun gotten our attention back for now, it’s worth remembering that there are no long-term results in sight here. If you want to see boobs, you can go on the Internet. But if you want to pay for a newspaper, you might as well be trying to stay informed.

Photo via Joel_Nilsson/Flickr (CC BY-S.A. 2.0)

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*First Published: Jan 23, 2015, 12:00 pm CST