I hadn’t really bothered about the 40th birthday of Page 3 this month, other than to notice the irony that it shares its anniversary week with the anti-Miss World demo at the Albert Hall. Then I was roused to tooth-grinding fury by, of all things, the Guardian media podcast which carried an item about how much of a non-issue Page 3 is these days. Explaining why, the (female) contributor commented “we’re so immune to pictures that are worse, that Page 3 becomes quite tame and quite funny… the fact that it’s so ubiquitous …you become immune to things you see on such a regular basis. Familiarity breeds, umm, in this case, lethargy”
Well, no. Contempt. That’s what familiarity traditionally breeds. Contempt. Which is what Page 3 does. And, pardon me for pointing it out, but it was to try and prevent the “worse” images that Clare Short and others tried to ban Page 3 in the first place.
Page 3 – not uniquely, but it’s a useful general signifier for porn-lite – is a means of portraying women as objects. It sends a message that we are the sum of our cup size; that we are perpetually available and up for a laugh (and if we don’t get the joke we must be repressed,ugly killjoys); that we might not be too bright, but it’s OK if we can fill out a g-string; that we’re fulfilled as the recipients of a male gaze. It’s indicative of an attitude to women that makes (some) men feel at liberty to harass us in the street, and (s0me) women argue that they are “empowered” by appearing naked in public. That’s not empowerment, ladies, that’s Stockholm Syndrome.
I don’t know any women who don’t have stories to tell about being shouted at, leered over, groped and worse by men in public places. Some stories are frightening, some are just ridiculous. My friend Laura was once approached by a complete stranger at a railway station who asked her for a date, his eyes never leaving her chest. She had to point out to him the 9-months pregnant bump that was nestling beneath it.
One of the great blessings of the cloak of invisibility that drops over you when you reach about 35, is that men don’t shout at you in the street any more. I no longer have to go out of my way to avoid walking past building sites and I miss it not one bit. So I was really saddened when I was walking Rebecca home from a friend’s house the other night and we were cat-called. I say “we”. Neither of us believed for a moment it was aimed at me. She’s 12. She was as angry, puzzled and embarrassed as I always was when it happened to me. I have no idea what to tell her to do about it, other than try to laugh it off. And start a campaign to ban Page 3.