No More Page 3, Baby Sol, and Me

Baby Sol - photo by Jerry Barnett
Baby Sol – photo by Jerry Barnett

Some days, really weird sets of coincidences happen. For me, yesterday was one of those days.

Readers of this blog are probably not aware that I’m a photographer, and for a number of years I’ve followed many of London’s up-and-coming soul singers, musicians and hip-hop artists. London is brimming with musical talent, and my photography has allowed me to follow and get to know some of the best. Among the most amazing singers I’ve got to know is Baby Sol. I was lucky enough to see one of her first public appearances during a gig in Mau Mau Bar, Portobello Road, when she was handed the microphone by the performer. I’ve attended and photographed several of her performances, and once shot her in the studio. She’s beautiful, smart, has a wonderful, distinctive voice, and yet is utterly modest, with no hint of diva about her. It’s no surprise that in the last few years, Baby Sol has rapidly climbed the ladder to success.

Yesterday, I was contacted by Baby Sol’s manager to request use of one of my photosbaby-sol-no-more-page-3-guardian-screenshot in a Guardian blog post. I made clear that I don’t provide images free of charge to commercial publications; but, due to a miscommunication, the image appeared on the blog. I then spoke to Baby Sol’s manager, who explained that the image was being used to back the launch of a new charity single, in support of the No More Page 3 campaign. Those who know me and my views will realise that I am not a supporter of NMP3. Finding that my image had appeared without my permission, to support a cause I object to was a surprise, to say the least. I made my view clear, and the image was removed from the article early this morning.

Why Oppose NMP3?

I founded the Sex & Censorship campaign with the primary aim of countering anti-sex moral panics, which in turn are used to build support for censorship. Of all the moral panics that have raged in recent years, the one created by NMP3 has probably been the cleverest and most successful. Targeting the Sun newspaper, which is hated by many left/liberal British people, was a stroke of genius, as it brought on board people who would normally consider themselves too liberal to support a pro-censorship cause. It also tapped into that most potent of all bigotries: snobbery. The “Sun reader” has for many years been the archetypal ignorant working-class person.

The UK Will Block Millions of Sites
Install a VPN

I too have always disliked the Sun: for years, it has poured out anti-immigrant, anti-gay and other nasty attitudes. It was blatantly racist until blatant racism went out of fashion at some point in the 1990s. It was a strident supporter of the Thatcherite war on trade unionism, and in 1986 was the focus of one of the great attacks on trade unionism, when Rupert Murdoch suddenly relocated his newspapers to a new location, with a new, non-unionised workforce.

The way to deal with publications one doesn’t like is to boycott them, and encourage others to do the same. In my dislike of everything Murdoch, I’ve never bought the Sun, nor its sister paper the Times, nor have I ever taken a Sky TV subscription. But anyone who values free speech will defend the right of a publisher to distribute whatever content they choose, without censorship. NMP3 have instead taken a directly censorious approach, calling on the Sun to withdraw Page 3, and applauding student unions that have banned the Sun from sale on campuses. Oddly, NMP3 deny being pro-censorship, even though censorship is all they stand for. They show as much disdain for Sun readers, and their right to choose what to buy and read, as they do for the free speech of the publisher. And as for the models’ right to work? This is a right that NMP3 don’t recognise.

NMP3 also claim that their only goal is to close Page 3; that they have no interest in wider anti-sex campaigning and indeed they claim on their site: “We love breasts!”. The dishonesty of this claim was revealed when they attended the Stop Porn Culture conference in March, which played host to anti-sex fundamentalists from around the world, including the British anti-sex worker hate group Object. So although they claim they only want to close Page 3, NMP3 have links with campaigning groups that seek to ban pornography, close down strip clubs, remove lads’ mags from supermarkets, criminalise prostitution, and attack music videos from “sexualised” artists such as Beyoncé, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj (yes, all black artists – surprise!)

The NMP3 people I’ve encountered are all terribly nice: they seem to be the Women’s Institute wing of the anti-sex movement, leaving the nastier attacks on women-who-dare-to-be-sexual to Object and Gail Dines. But for all the politeness, they are building a formidable pro-censorship movement, and a head of steam that can be directed far beyond Page 3.

The arguments made by NMP3 employ a variety of false claims and moral panic techniques that we’ve seen many times before. Although there is no evidence for the nonsensical “sexual images cause men to objectify women” claim, they make it frequently, and then go on (completely dishonestly) to link Page 3 with abuse and violence against women. The NMP3 organisers are no-doubt aware that there are no studies linking Page 3 (or any other sexual imagery) to harm against women, and yet they encourage, and retweet, these claims from their supporters.

The anti-Feminists

Although the NMP3 attacks are couched in the language of women’s rights, the campaign actually creates false “rights” in order to attack real ones. The Women’s Lib movement (which, ironically, created the conditions for sexual freedom that allowed Page 3 to ever come into existence) focused on choice and agency: the right for women to choose what they do with their own bodies and how their bodies are depicted. Models have the right to go naked in front of a camera, and to allow their image to be published. Against this genuine right, NMP3 creates a false right: the right for other women to attack the choices of models as to how and where they are depicted.

Thus, NMP3 (and other groups that attack depictions of female sexuality) tell women that they have the right to censor the depictions of other women’s bodies. NMP3 supporters often say things along the lines of “I have the right to sit on the train without having to see breasts”. But that right doesn’t exist. This abuse of the idea of rights comes from the fascist play-book, and is equivalent to “I have the right to go out without seeing gay people kissing”, “I have the right to live in a street with no black people”, and “I have the right to buy my food in a shop that doesn’t sell halal meat”. These rights are fabricated, and are perversions of liberalism.

Women have the right to control how their own bodies are treated and depicted, NOT the right to control how other women’s bodies are treated and depicted. By spreading the false idea that women have the right to attack the way other women are depicted, NMP3 creates the precedent that (overwhelmingly middle-class) women have the right to suppress the depiction of any sexual imagery featuring women.

Boobs Aren’t News?

With no evidence to present, NMP3 falls back on “but what about the children?” type statements, and silly slogans: Boobs Aren’t News. In the argument-free space of NMP3, this is as near to reasoned discussion as it gets. Sure, boobs aren’t news. Neither are horoscopes, but they also feature in the Sun. Shouldn’t these be withdrawn too, especially since they perpetuate silly superstition? How about travel reports, or recipes, or concert reviews? None of those are news either.

NMP3 claim they seek diversity of female representation: but this already exists. Women are presented in a thousand different manners and roles. Nobody attacks any of them, except one: the sexual woman.

The Oldest Taboo: Suppression of the Sexual Female

The idea that women’s bodies must be hidden away – for their own good – is hardly a new one. This idea appears in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, and the Quran, and doubtless other religious texts. Over and over again, throughout history, woman-as-sexual-being has been attacked, and depictions of sexual women have been destroyed.

An exhibition of erotic Roman sculpture that took place last year at the British museum focused heavily on male erotica, and had almost no female erotica. When interviewed, the curator explained that this wasn’t his choice: there was simply a lack of female imagery to choose from. It had probably once existed, but had been smashed in some later, more conservative era.

The UK Will Block Millions of Sites
Install a VPN

Later, women who dare to be sexual were branded witches and murdered. Later still, in Victorian times, sexually liberated women were branded nymphomaniacs and hysterics, and locked in asylums.

And European colonisers of Africa brought “Christian morality”, including the idea that breasts were shameful and should be covered. This old European fear of female nudity has never gone away: it’s just continually reinvented, in new ways, with new language: from witch-hunting to objectification, slut-shaming is one of mankind’s oldest instincts.

There are a thousand good reasons not to buy the Sun. Breasts are not one of them.

10 thoughts on “No More Page 3, Baby Sol, and Me”

  1. Hmm, got to disagree with you on this one. I love porn (and fully support women’s right to sexually express themselves), but just don’t think it belongs in a newspaper. I wouldn’t want to ban Page 3, but surely it’s possible to criticise something without endorsing censorship?

  2. I love your campaign and most of what you write is spot-on but there seemed a lot of personal reaction in this, as well as some of the moral panic that you are seek to challenge. I can’t see how a petition to an editor to a newspaper can be counted as censorship, or how attending a conference relevant to a campaign makes a group guilty by association. I’m left with the thought that problem’s need to be responded to with a higher level of consciousness than that which created them. This seems to be what both of these campaigns are called to now do.

    1. I’d love to know how a deeply ideological anti-sex conference is relevant to a group that claims to only have a single objective, and insists it isn’t anti-sex. Perhaps you could ask them! Calling for the removal of imagery on moral grounds is most certainly censorship. As I said in the article, the only valid response to content one doesn’t like is to boycott it. However, NMP3 know that a call to Sun readers for a boycott would be ignored, so they’ve gone for a “ban it” approach instead. They’re also not stupid enough to think that the Sun editor cares what they think. His only concern is his readership numbers, and he’ll only remove Page 3 if he thinks it won’t lose him readers. Their campaign is smarter than you seem to think, and is about creating a witch-hunt, not about Page 3.

      1. my point being that parts of the article risk becoming ideological to the point that it becomes witch-hunt itself. Most of your campaign is better than that and I hope it remains that way.

  3. If we’re sex positive, then why shouldn’t breasts be featured in a newspaper or any other medium for that matter? Wouldn’t that otherwise continue the negative stigma around sex? That such content should be hidden away because it’s inappropriate or shameful? In my view it is not!

    So if there is a call by this group to ban page 3 because of unsubstantiated claims then in my view that certainly is censorship, because the paper didn’t want to remove it but were pressured into doing so.

    Good article for pointing this out!

  4. The one reason I’ve always considered defending Page 3 is the popularity it gives The Sun. Many Page 3 models like Samantha Fox, Linda Lusardi, Melinda Messenger, Keeley Hazell , Katie Price, Gail McKenna and Katie Price and made Page 3 popular and become popular media figures themselves.

  5. I don’t know if i am allowed to post this word, COCK. I fear being censored HERE on this site. I would think of buying the sun, if instead of or as well as page 3 they showed a page 4 or whatever of a naked man preferably with a nice COCK. Why does it seem it is OK to show womens breasts but not a mans Cock?

    1. I can assure you we have no problems with the word COCK on this site! It would be great if more women wanted to buy images of naked men: it seems that there is little demand though, as the demise of the Sun’s Page 7 Fella showed, along with the death of Playgirl and Scarlet magazines. If you want to campaign for cocks in the Sun, please let us know and we’ll happily support you!

Leave a Reply