The return of bare flesh to the third page of The Sun on Friday overturned days of crowing by the left-wing press and political classes, much of it orchestrated by the Guardian, which holds as much love for Rupert Murdoch as North Korea does for its southern neighbour.
Throughout the week the Guardian ran a series of stories celebrating the demise of Page 3, following a report in The Sun’s sister paper The Times on Monday. Most prominent of these was a piece by columnist Joan Smith, rather prematurely titled: “The sexual revolution made Page 3 possible. A feminist revolution ended it.”
Page 3 always had a sell-by date, a fact reluctantly acknowledged by Rupert Murdoch in a tweet in which he called it “old-fashioned”. The reality is that a society evolving towards greater equality could never tolerate Page 3 in the long term, especially now we know so much more about the extent of violence against women and girls.
The objections against Page 3 are part of a wider movement in feminism which has noticeable similarities with earlier conservative prohibitions against unrestrained sexuality — namely the objection it leads to a decay of public morality. As Smith continues:
Rape and domestic abuse are widespread, and it is clear that boys’ ideas about sex are being warped while they are still at school; their fathers and elder brothers may like Page 3 but they can no longer pretend it exists in a vacuum.
The link between violence and pornography consumption is one that a number of psychology studies and metastudies have found, as can be ascertained in a couple of googles.
One such study sponsored by the British Home Office, the Sexualisation of Young People Review, also finds significant psychology costs among teenagers and children, as they place greater emphasis on their self-worth in their sexual appeal.
Yet what the studies also show is the difficulty of discussing such subjects without making political judgements of one sort or another, as the Home Office’s report demonstrates:
In the case of boys, ‘lads’ mags contain a high degree of highly sexualised images of women that blur the lines between pornography and mainstream media. The predominant message for boys is to be sexually dominant and to objectify the female body.
It is debatable whether lads mags have ever intended to have a message beyond the unashamed enjoyment of football, cars, action films and sex, but it is certain they have frequently upset progressives who are often drawn from more urbane stock than the readers of Nuts (now defunct) and Zoo.
Yet the dissonance between fact and opinion only emphasises that the credibility of the case for restricting porn would be much improved if its supporters stopped focusing on their own prissiness towards the images and appealed towards the facts, many of which appear to be in their favour.
Whether liberals should be in favour of restricting such images, which can reasonably be considered a public health issue akin to drugs, drink or smoking, is another matter. But at least with Page 3 back there should be no shortage of opportunity to consider it.