There are many reasons I like living in the United States, but among them is that, unlike the U.K., our national print newspapers don’t have a long-established tradition of printing pictures of topless ladies on the third page of each morning’s edition. I’d never buy a paper that features Page 3 girls, as they’re known in England, and I’d be jarred to see them start appearing in either papers of record like the New York Times, or even rags like the New York Post.
All of that said, there’s something refreshing about the frankness of David Dinsmore, the newly-installed editor of The Sun, one of the most notorious publisher of Page 3 pics. When asked about the recent uproar about the feature, Dinsmore was bluntly commercial about the reason his paper prints images of topless women. “We did a survey last year and found that two thirds of our readers wanted to keep Page 3,” he told BBC Radio 5. “What you find is people who are against Page 3 have never read the Sun and would never read the Sun.”
I think it’s a bit depressing that two-thirds of the Sun’s readers are buying the paper to look at naked ladies. But I’m at least relieved to hear Dinsmore argue that this is a business decision, rather than trying to insist that he’s making some sort of third-wave feminist statement by preserving a space for women who want to get their kit off in public. He’s not pretending that he’s doing anyone a favor beside News Corporation, which owns The Sun through its newspaper division. Rather, he’s acknowledging something that’s true: that Page 3 might be crass, but that there is a market for it, and as long as that market exists, and the third of his readers who don’t care about the feature aren’t turned off by it, Dinsmore will happily keep running it.
It’s not pretty, but at least it’s not a disingenous dodge, like Hugh Hefner’s insistence that he’s contributing to the sexual liberation of American. And honesty like Dinsmore’s can help us confront a less comfortable problem. Getting rid of Page 3 Girls might create a less hostile environment in Britain’s newspapers. But stopping publication of that feature won’t get rid of the market for images of topless, compliant women. It’s easy to shut down a business, but it’s much harder to change an entire culture.