The perks of page 3
Harriet Harman may wish to see the end of 'page 3', but freedom lovers nation-wide should protect its existence in earnest
A few years ago when I was working in Brussels, we hired an American into the office. One morning, about a week after arriving, he put down his coffee, leaned forward across his desk and whispered “is it true they have naked girls in British papers?”
“Oh yes” I replied, “Come on, I’ll show you”. So we trotted off down to the newsagents in the atrium and I spent about €4 on the most expensive copy of The Sun I’ve ever bought.
Needless to say my colleague was astounded, and in a funny kind of way I’ve rarely felt more proud to be British than in that moment. It was up there with hearing the national anthem played over and over this summer at the Olympics, or eating tiny scones at the Queen’s jubilee party in our village.
America may have Coca-Cola, Marilyn Monroe, and the Empire State Building, but we’re the nation that’s unafraid to have scantily clad girls in our newspapers and attribute erudite quotes to them. America makes much of their freedom, but we’re the liberated nation.
“Wow” said my colleague, awed. “You’d never get that back home”. He’s right, of course, and there’s a reason: in 1630 the first puritans set sail from England for Massachusetts and founded Boston. They were joined in the New England colonies by up to 20,000 fellow puritans, all seeking a place where they could be free to worship as they saw fit.
Consequently, early America was a far more pious place than the England that was left behind. The celebration of Christmas was banned in New England between 1659 and 1680, and the festival only started to gain widespread popularity in America in the 1800s – Alabama being the first state to declare it a national holiday in 1836 until Ulysses S Grant declared it a national holiday in 1870.
Those puritan beginnings have stayed with America, and today visitors from the UK often note how stuffy Americans, so often thought to be the more flamboyant nation, can be when it comes to morality.
But it seems that a vein of puritanism still runs through British society, as now Newsnight reports that there is a petition circulating on the internet to do away with ‘page three’ girls. The fact that it has only attracted 40,000 signatures – compared to the 2.5million copies The Sun sells daily – and is therefore highly unlikely to be successful seems to have passed the editors of Newsnight by. Or perhaps it was simply a good excuse to get Harriet Harperson on to drone on about how exploitative the whole thing is.
However, it did provoke this exchange between Harriet (from Camberwell) and Neil Wallis, former Sun editor:
Neil Wallis: “With respect, Harriet, who are you to say that people can’t choose to look at it?”
HH: “I’m arguing that women should be respected for what they can actually do in their lives and that girls should be able to have higher aspirations than just looking good with no clothes on”
NW: “What you’re saying is that a girl shouldn’t have the right to aspire to be a page three girl”
HH: “well I wouldn’t call that aspiration.”
You might not, Harriet, but the handful of girls who earn over £100k a year, and the hundreds of others who want a shot at that kind of success do. Not even gaining elected office will get you that kind of financial reward, unless you’re lucky enough to be made a minister.
Anyway, I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of these new puritans telling us what our aspirations should be. And they don’t stop there: they also want to tell us what to eat, what to drink, how to raise our kids, where to shop, where to live – the list goes on and on.
So I’ve started a petition to keep the page three girls. Not because I think the girls are in danger, as I’ve said, I think the Sun’s circulation figures will keep them in work for some time. But because I want to show these puritans that the people of Britain won’t stand for it. We’ve sent them packing before, and we’ll do so again – even if it means finding an as yet unexplored island for them to go to.
You can sign the petition here. And don’t forget to Tweet about it too. Do you think that once we hit 40,000 people Newsnight will invite us on?
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