There has been a great deal of debate in recent weeks across various Oxford colleges about the presence of The Sun and its bosom-clad third page within their common rooms. Arguments have been raging in JCR meetings about whether subs should continue to be used to pay for a daily copy of the paper. My own college, Teddy Hall, was the first to pass the motion getting rid of The Sun with a resounding majority. Since then several other colleges have successfully passed similar motions; while some colleges have unfortunately fallen through, such as Christ Church, at which the motion was technically passed albeit with the inclusion of an amendment to staple a picture of the JCR President’s face over the page three model, which could be lifted, like a flap.
In my JCR and across the university, when motions such as these have been debated, the same old line has come up time and time again: “I’m all for equality, but…”. According to these various arguments, a personal dislike of Page Three shouldn’t prevent someone else from making their own decision about whether or not to read The Sun; just because I may find it disgusting or appalling that the most prominent representation of women in almost every single edition of the most well-read print media in the country is based on the fact that she has big breasts, it doesn’t mean I should force my opinion on others! But these arguments aren’t important when we ask ourselves, in our own common rooms, whether we want a newspaper which has just such a feature included every day, and which is paid for using the money we all get batteled for at the end of term.
Page Three is demeaning, degrading and contributes to an inaccurate, unfair and misogynistic perception of both women and men. Every day in The Sun, the news section will cover various political issues, in which various members of our majority-male parliament and majority-male cabinet will have done something good/bad/scandalous, and we’ll get a full news report and analysis. Then we proceed to the international section, where men in majority-male governments across the world have engaged in similar activities. Let’s go to the business section: which of our majority-male CEOs has flushed most of their company down the toilet this week? And finally the sports section, in which we hear the latest results from men’s football, men’s rugby and indeed men’s cricket. See a pattern emerging?
Well don’t worry, because a woman is in fact represented right at the front of the paper, with only the front page to hide them away. Except this woman hasn’t done anything good, impressive or worthy of note; and nor, indeed, has she done anything wrong. This woman is Ashleigh, 19, from Warrington, and she’s taken her top off. A natural anatomical feature has apparently been a news story worthy of the third page of our country’s most popular newspaper: it’s more important than every achievement made by every woman in every boardroom, parliament, war zone, classroom and hospital in every country on our planet; every woman who is fighting for their right to vote, their right to an education, and indeed, including here in the UK, their right to respect in their own field as an academic or career woman. In a newspaper written almost entirely by men (except for gossip and horoscopes, of course), Ashleigh’s alleged opinion on the latest budget cuts is the most well-valued and prominent opinion of any woman in the entire edition of the newspaper. I often hear the rebuttal, “Well, if you’re so against Page Three, why aren’t you opposed to pictures of naked women in fashion magazines?” Ask yourself if you could look me in the eye and tell me that that’s the same thing.
You may quite enjoy parts of The Sun; their sports reporting, or their film reviews. Maybe, in this case, you’d like to go and purchase a copy of the newspaper yourself; I dare say it won’t break the bank. But can you really justify JCR funds to which all of us contribute being used to pay for a newspaper that includes a daily dose of misogyny, no matter how small the cost may be? Is that fair on me, or on anyone in our college who wish to be respected in their academic and career fields, many of whom are trying to achieve this in a society which is not only sexist but also, in many areas, racist, homophobic and classist? You may call it censorship to take Page Three out of the news we receive in our JCRs. I call it fair treatment of your peers.