Murdoch’s mammary mistake

When the No More Page 3 campaign announced unconfirmed reports that The Sun, after 44 years, had dropped Page 3, social media exploded and, for a moment, the world was blissfully able to believe that Rupert Murdoch had done something good. That is, until The Sun staged a dramatic u-turn and brought the feature back after a mere two days. The fact that The Times, another publication owned by Rupert Murdoch, was covering this story made the whole thing seem suspicious to say the least. In an enormous publicity stunt, Murdoch has shown the country that he controls the future of Page 3.

The problem is that they used women’s bodies as a tool for this publicity, an action nothing short of perverse. The ‘dropping’ of Page 3 never involved the removal of the feature entirely, but meant that women were going to have to wear bras in the photos now.

The Sun’s decision not to remove Page 3 entirely wasn’t just disappointing, it was infuriating. As comedian David Schneider tweeted, “Isn’t going from topless to “scantily-clad” page3 [sic] like saying “I’ll stop kicking you in the teeth with my boots. I’ll use trainers instead”?”

By making this move, Murdoch tried to make the problem about women’s nipples, not the institutional objectification of women. All this achieved was to reinforce the idea that a woman’s body is an inherently sexual object. Telling women to cover up their breasts sexualises nipples and heightens the taboo surrounding the female body.

It made for uncomfortable reading therefore that MPs hailed The Sun’s decision as ‘long overdue.’ I have not been eagerly awaiting actions that condemn my nipples as inherently sexual and inappropriate for public view. It is objectification, not nipples whose disappearance is long overdue.

Rupert Murdoch tweeted last month that he saw page 3 as “old fashioned” and with the deluge of easily accessible porn on the internet he’s right in one sense. Yet buying into the taboo surrounding women’s bodies is an attitude more at home in the 19th century than the 21st. Nipples are a completely natural part of the body and, if you hadn’t noticed, a part of the body that men have too. Suggesting they should be covered up only deepens the sexist double standards so visible in popular culture. But what do you expect from a newspaper that, next to a picture of a topless woman, won’t even use the word tits? Preferring instead “t*ts.”

Thankfully, campaigns such as Free the Nipple exist that seek to break the taboo surrounding women’s breasts, particularly the double standard of not allowing women to be topless in public, and the Instagram and Facebook ban on topless images. We really do need to free the nipple.

Supporting the metaphorical and literal removal of women’s bras doesn’t equate to support of Page 3. Page 3 can only be seen as sexually liberating if women are conveyed as more than their sexuality, and without the use of demeaning speech bubbles. The images The Sun peddles are in no way progressive.

The problem with The Sun has is that it highly unwilling to show women in paper unless they are scantily clad or, in the case of Page 3, topless. From June to December last year, No More Page 3 ran an experiment where they cut out every photo of a person in The Sun over six months and arranged them on a wall with women on one half and men on the other. The majority of the photos of men showed them as active, professional and predominantly fully clothed. The women were scantily clad for the most part and, for a newspaper that has a reputation for its strong sport’s section, their failure to include one female sportsperson is appalling. The idea that The Sun is not grossly sexist cannot be downplayed any longer.

A newspaper, yes even The Sun, with its appalling history of suppressing the weakest and most vulnerable in society, is supposed to relay events, facts and opinions. Yet if the only way that women can make it into the paper is if they’re sexually objectified, it implies that a woman is only valuable because of her sexuality. This is not sexual liberation, this is sexual objectification and that is the issue that needs to be addressed. In Rupert Murdoch’s world, a woman can only make a contribution if she is scantily clad.

Women’s bodies should be celebrated in their entirety and in every way. The Sun’s continued presentation of women as sexual objects cannot achieve this. By, even momentarily, suggesting that women’s nipples should be covered up, The Sun simply objectified women further and reinforced anachronistic taboos, all in the name of publicity.

Rupert Murdoch would not have been able to reverse his decision if he had argued that the sexual objectification of women is wrong. By using women’s nipples as a scapegoat, the blame was slyly shifted onto women’s sexuality. Murdoch has further entrenched the misogynistic objectification of women by treating their bodies as sexual money-making objects worthy of taboo. Women’s bodies have been blamed for the anger surrounding Page 3, the real issue conveniently being avoided. We must end objectification and free the nipple.