Through the Looking Glass with No More Page 3

If you want to attract mass support for a dodgy cause, the trick is to sound eminently reasonable. Extremists tend to alienate most people, including those that are inclined to agree with them. If you have extreme objectives, the important thing is to deny them vociferously, however implausible the denial. Remember that most of your supporters don’t pay close attention to the detail: it’s the presentation that counts.

The far-right know this. The British National Party abruptly switched from an anti-Asian message to an anti-Muslim one within days of 9/11. Their target (working class Pakistani communities) hadn’t changed, but the presentation had. Similarly the English Defence League, eager to avert accusations of fascism, tried to show how pro-Jewish they were by carrying Israeli flags on their protests. “You see,” they were saying, “how can we be Nazis when we love Israel so much?” (although their supporters didn’t always get the message).

The anti-sex movement has had similar presentational problems. The powerful campaigner Mary Whitehouse had become widely mocked by the younger generation by the end of the 20th century. The new generation could no longer be convinced that enjoying and flaunting their sexuality was a bad thing. It seemed that the fear of sex had become a thing of a more prudish past.

The Whitehouse style of moral outrage gave way to a new presentation, re-wrapped in feminist terms. The new anti-sex movement talked in terms of objectification rather than decency or permissiveness, and tried to demonstrate that sexual expression was harmful to women, and thus censorship could be justified in the name of feminism. But beyond the realm of student unions and Guardian comment pages, anti-sex feminists suffered from the same problems that had afflicted Whitehouse: they were seen as prudish, humourless and ideological.

The biggest problem with building a popular anti-sex movement is that most people like sex. Trying to ban all visible displays of sexuality is unlikely to attract mass support, especially when the reasoning (“OMG Objectification, Sexualisation and RAPE CULTURE!!!”) is so easy to pick apart, given the chance for debate.

The problem is one of presentation. Just as the far right was forced to adopt a “we’re not racist, but…” approach, so the anti-sex movement had to learn to to be more subtle than repeating “porn is rape”. A soft target for censorship had to be found – one that attracted little sympathy. Enter No More Page 3.

The success of the No More Page 3 campaign has been based on two decisions: first, to pick the widely-hated Murdoch-owned Sun newspaper as the target for censorship; and second, to deny that their blatantly anti-sex, pro-censorship campaign was either anti-sex or pro-censorship. The first move was smart; the second took sheer brass nerve, reminiscent of Saddam Hussein’s Information Minister Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf (aka Comical Ali), who famously claimed Iraq was winning the war, against a backdrop of invading American troops.

As well as nerve, denying the obvious with a straight face takes a good deal of PR expertise and media training, and NMP3 clearly has no shortage of such resources. In politics, most people follow the voice they like, not the one with reasoned argument, and the nice ladies of NMP3 have fashioned themselves an image as the Women’s Institute of the anti-sex movement (though of course, they’re NOT anti-sex). They have successfully formed a broad church ranging from middle-English Christians and girl guides to various strands of feminism and the puritan left.

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Last week, my long-held ambition to meet NMP3 came to fruition, when I was invited to debate the issue against a NMP3 representative at Loughborough University. The NMP3 “argument” is almost identical to the anti-porn one that I’ve found so easy to overturn in numerous debates; the big difference is that NMP3 caveat everything they say with “But we’re not anti-sex, we only care about Page 3”.

Thus: Naked models “objectify women” BUT ONLY WHEN THEY’RE ON PAGE 3! WE LOVE PORN!; Bare female breasts contribute to a culture of misogyny and sexism BUT ONLY WHEN THEY’RE ON PAGE 3! WE LOVE BOOBS! And so on…

It’s all so silly, one should laugh; except that 250,000 people have signed a petition on the back of this nonsense, and various public figures, including MPs, have supported the campaign.

The debate itself felt like some combination of Alice Through the Looking Glass and Orwell’s 1984. Bianca, the NMP3 representative, seemed to be treating the occasion as though she were a government minister, sent to appear on Newsnight to defend a policy she didn’t really agree with. So, for example, when I questioned whether she really didn’t have a problem with sexual imagery in general (for example, lads’ mags), she simply refused to answer, saying that her own views were irrelevant, and she had come to represent the official position of NMP3. When I pushed the issue, she embarked on a long, skilled and off-topic ramble of the type that Jeremy Paxman is so often forced to deal with.

Again, asked why NMP3 appears to have strong links with anti-sex organisations and individuals, the response was one of faux outrage: To label NMP3 anti-sex was totally unjustified! (Although I hadn’t actually done that). Yet she refused to provide any clarity as to why NMP3 mingles with anti-sex campaigners when it is a pro-sex organisation. Questioned as to why NMP3 attended the extremist Stop Porn Culture conference in London, she simply denied that they were anti-porn, but didn’t clarify why they had attended. Surely if an “anti-racist” had attended a BNP conference, they would at least have a case to answer.

I was genuinely impressed, and somewhat thrown, by the skilled use of doublespeak. When I pointed out the the lack of any research evidence linking Page 3 with harm against women, Bianca announced that NMP3 have never claimed Page 3 was harmful! And as I tried to stop myself falling off my chair, she then embarked on a speech listing instances of harm caused by Page 3: body image problems, a culture of sexism, and so on. So no evidence of harm, but lots of harm. Who needs evidence when you just know, deep in your heart, that it’s wrong? Again, doublespeak was much in evidence when dealing with the issue of censorship: NMP3 is definitely NOT in favour of banning anything, explained Bianca, before proudly stating that 33 student unions, with the support of NMP3, had voted not to allow sales of the Sun on campus. But – I questioned – isn’t that a ban? No, she replied, because NMP3 don’t call for legislation. The Sun isn’t banned from those 33 campuses. It’s simply not sold because the student unions voted to – er …. No, not ban it! Simply prevent it from being sold. There’s a word for that kind of thing… it’s on the tip of my tongue.

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Similar wordplay is in evidence whenever NMP3 talk about their goals. They don’t want to censor anything! They simply want the Sun to remove Page 3 so people can’t see it any more. I was ultimately reduced to suggesting the attendees should look up the words “ban” and “censor” in a dictionary, as well as read 1984, to get an understanding for how skilled NMP3’s abuse of the English language was. Dictionary.com provides this definition of censor: “any person who supervises the manners or morality of others”… and what could better describe a mob of non-Sun readers trying to dictate what Sun readers can look at?

The debate ended with a stereotypical, and comical, student-leftie discussion about “capitalism”: It’s outrageous, claimed a speaker, that Rupert Murdoch is profiting from women! Ignoring the fact that “profit from women” happens anywhere that women choose to work, from banking to sport to journalism to… well, everything. The only solution to this horrible exploitation would be to ban all women from working! And although that may sound snarky, it reveals a truth about much that is said in the name of feminism these days: many self-declared feminists are working to reverse, not defend, the gains of the Women’s Lib movement.

No More Page 3 is establishing a dangerous pro-censorship precedent: that there are cases (or one case, anyway) where imagery of women must be suppressed for the wider good of all decent women and girls. It’s an old, moralistic viewpoint with a new twist. That precedent being established, where would the anti-sex, anti-woman witch-hunt end?

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8 thoughts on “Through the Looking Glass with No More Page 3”

  1. I have been “debating” on a thread on NMP3 facebook page which I blogged but one thing did strike home they are not interested in facts and figures unless they agree with their position. I was only pointed at it because they quoted Lilith which I detest as possibly the worst Zombie stat I deal with. Every argument, every fact, every bit of research is so obviously wrong because they believe it is.

    I do feel for anyone who tries to engage NMP3, Object or any of the “campaign” groups. They do seem to hate any woman who dares choose anything over what these groups represent. The lunatic fringe is buried deep and they are aggressive in how they defend their position to the exclusion of facts unless they are doctored to back their story.

  2. My only experience with these sort of people is on Mumsnet where I pointed out that as a youth I was a fan of Samantha Fox and where I noted that women, like Linda Lusardi, Gail McKenna and Melinda Messenger, who did Page 3 went on to enjoy high media profiles. For this I was branded a confused, creepy, rambling apologist and fantasist. Another blogger felt obliged to defend me, admiring my chutzpah and defending my right to fantasize about anybody I like, be they Page 3 girls, actors, pop stars or footballers. (This blogged pointed out to me that he knew of pro-porn feminists getting attacked on Mumsnet, being branded as ‘handmaidens’). Needless to say he cleared off soon but the whole thing really fired my ammo.

  3. Another well-written piece and I just hope that common sense ultimately prevails.

    I hope you don’t mind me repeating a post I put on my Facebook time line recently.

    In 2009 I posted a number of images which have quietly sat on my timeline ever since. Yesterday I got a message from Facebook stating that two of the images, both artistic nudes had been the subject of complaints and today I have been told that one of them (of Jenny Badeau) had been removed. The other (of Kirsty Miller) has not been removed, and two other images in the same group, of content not dissimilar to that of Jenny, have not received any complaint.

    This is the “Ban Page 3” type of irritation that is turning this country into a very narrow-minded and conservative place again. It’s a step back to the pre-Harrison Marks era fuelled by a small group of web trolls hell-bent on causing as much irritation as possible whilst hiding behind the anonymity that Facebook affords them.

    Do I care that Jenny’s image has gone? No! Do I care that such people care more about the visibility of a few nipples than FGM and the subjugation of women and the denial of their rights in certain sectors even of British society? Yes! And the sooner these people learn to work alongside the beautiful and emancipated women whose images should rightly grace our screens and our media in general, the sooner the scourges of women’s demeaning strati in certain sectors of our society will start to diminish.

    ‘Nuff said!

  4. Like you I suspect the NMP3 and anti porn activists have found a new soft target after their win with Julian Blanc and Dapper Laughs ban

    The end game is all about banning without any regard for the women have determined for themselves.

    The only people hindering womens progress are these same said women policing them

    Its this one group bullying another into submission is what I have a real problem with and I’m find myself defending The Sun and Page 3 when I don’t really care much for either given I dont buy them.

    The only way to fight these radical feminists is to meet them at every turn and voice opposition to the nonsense they spout with facts and the truth.

    Ignoring them only gives them an advantage to bring about censorship if left unchallenged so please keep the momentum going and the good work

    Well done Jerry and all who support the good work going on here

  5. It’s outrageous, claimed a speaker, that Rupert Murdoch is profiting from women! Ignoring the fact that “profit from women” happens anywhere that women choose to work, from banking to sport to journalism to… well, everything. The only solution to this horrible exploitation would be to ban all women from working! ”

    Come now its ok for capitalists to profit from working class women’s labour just so long as there’s no icky sex going on.

    Im sure you’re average middle class Guardian reading feminist from Stoke Newington wants working class women to carry on keeping the shelves in their local Waitrose well stacked up and cleaning out the toilets of Wesfield shopping center. But not earning a living from glamour modeling.

  6. Could I start by saying that I hate No More Page 3 with a passion, primarily for the reason that its objectives fly totally in the face of the values of fairness and tolerance that this country is founded on. Also, on a more personal level, I have been described variously by NMP3 supporters as being creepy, a misogynist and even a rape apologist (all of which I utterly refute).

    Don’t get me wrong, people are as entitled to their opinion on Page 3 as they are any other topic, but aren’t there more important things to worry about out there?

    1. Paul Evans you need to stop trying to pretend you are not an abusive misogynist when ANYONE can look up your Twitter timeline and see the misogynistic abuse you Tweet all by yourself. A middle aged man and you tweet to others “Eat shit and die” and compare people who don’t want to see porn in public to genocidal maniacs among other disgusting abuse. You are a sick man and give people plenty reason to call you out on what you are. If you want to dish out abuse be prepared to receive it back!

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