I see a topless woman every morning on the train while turning from Page 2 to Page 4. Despite a hugely diverse array dimensions-wise, since January when I started picking up The Sun on the train I’ve never seen a woman who wasn’t white and barely out of school. It could be a lot worse I suppose. I mean, she always has a face, a name, a distinctive pair of pants and either an espoused cause, a response to a current piece of news or, occasionally, a political view, albeit truncated to about 10 or 12 words. For example:
“News in Briefs. SEXY Sam [22, from Manchester] urged generous readers to support our Help for Heroes campaign, which has raised an astonishing £4million. She said “The money has helped hundreds of troops and their families. But there is still plenty we can do – so everyone keep digging deep”.
“News in Briefs. BECKY couldn’t believe Lotto winner Peter Kyle had frittered away his £5.1million jackpot in just three years. She said “Everyone dreams of going crazy when they win, but you’d have thought common sense would have stopped him”.
I can’t deny that these are thrupennies with a human face but I still loathe Page 3 with every sinew as an icon of female objectification, the sexualisation of young women, male consumption of women’s bodies (particularly the younger ones who are prone to confuse sexual desire for a more multidimensional appreciation), and the standardisation of ideas about beauty. It is also a marker of the invisibility of older women. Page 3 is the Sun’s signature and largest image; if we are indeed an increasingly visual culture, big signals important. Male readers’ most throwaway sexual titillation is highly prized by The Sun while the women are disposable, one a day, appraised but practically voiceless.
OK, the other day two men got on the Central Line at Leyton. They might have been decorators, sounded like they were local to north east London, and were very young – one of them had a starter beard. He picked up the Metro, leafed through a few pages, sighed, turned to his friend and said, “Tell you what, I read this paper and I always end up depressed.” His friend snorted and replied “That’s why it’s free”, and after a moment’s reflection, “There’s no tits”. The first bloke solemnly agreed, “Yeah, you look at those and you always feel better” and then they fell into thought.
So that’s why we get the Metro for free: no tits. Again, tits highly prized. And that’s what photos of breasts are for – to cheer up male Britons and keep them going, like Pictures of Lily and wartime pin-ups. Again, the world as a colourless place without actual shown, rather than imagined, breasts.
Then I was at a conference in Oxford University. There was a debate and one of the speakers, to drive his point home that the Web is far from the sole origin of educationally bankrupt reading material, produced a copy of the Daily Star which, after a cursory check that we were all over 18, he first held folded in half above his head and then allowed to flop open, revealing four breasts. Then later one of his co-debaters, seated behind him at the time, complained that he hadn’t been able to get a glimpse of “the young ladies”, so out came the breasts again to general hilarity. Once again I got confused – either thrupennies are not rubbish, they’re like vitamins for the lads and should be considered with the seriousness due any health intervention, or they are rubbish, pollutants of the mind – in which case why? – because they stop us thinking, or because they promote consumeristic views of, and use of, women’s bodies, and therefore women?
I thought that speaker was walking a fine line. I would never do that in a talk. But he did overturn the motion, with support from me. The woman sitting next to me said that the breasts were a factor in voting against him.
So what conclusions do I draw? I don’t know. Maybe only that I object, for the reasons above. That’s the only conclusion I get to draw, really. Biology, hijab, women’s self-esteem, the extent to which visualisations of womens’ bodies are marginal to feminism – there’s a lot to consider.