What does “popular support” mean? A case study of No More Page 3

It’s no secret that, like many other feminists, I’ve been somewhat sceptical of the No More Page 3 campaign. Since its inception, I’ve been squabbling with liberal bourgeois feminists about the worth of pouring so much time and energy into getting rid of a single, solitary page of a single, solitary newspaper.

The thing is, I love to be proved wrong. I really, really do. Just once, I’d love for my critique of something to turn out to be completely off the mark. Just once, I’d like to be able to say “Whoops, my bad, I’m a pessimist, I expected the worst and that didn’t happen.” Just once, I’d like to be unassailably and objectively wrong in my doomy, doomy predictions. But no. I’m fucking Cassandra.

The main defence used by NMP3 supporters is that the campaign has “popular support”. And they’re right about that, I suppose. They’re popular among the high-profile media feminists. They have the support of charming individuals like Alastair Campbell. And they even have trade union support! The official campaign website trumpeted proudly about UNISON passing a motion in support of the campaign. Unfortunately, they remained rather tight-lipped about another motion rejected at the very same conference: where UNISON voted against starting from a position of believing women who reported gendered violence.

This strikes me as pursuit of popularity at the expense of getting anything done. Yes, they have some big-name backers, but many of their big-name backers are demonstrably no friends of women, and no allies in the fight against structural misogyny. And all the while, the Sun is continuing to print things which make the lives of many women actively worse, dumping all over poor women, disabled women, women of colour. And Page Three is still going strong.

We need to ask ourselves why NMP3 is so popular. On the face of it, it seems quite nice that a campaign resonates with everyone. However, let’s take a minute to think about who this “everyone” includes. This is a cause that has united a warmonger, a union that doesn’t think rape survivors should be believed and Caitlin fucking Moran. And the reason that they’re all united in their opposition to putting a pair of tits on a particular page of a particular newspaper is because No More Page 3 isn’t creating a challenge against patriarchal hegemony.

Gaining popular support, by default, means making oneself as palatable as possible to the status quo. It means becoming appealing to those who directly benefit from the structures of power and privilege, so that they will allow you to have your minute on a soapbox with your paltry demand.

It will never be popular to articulate a structural critique which highlights how things are broken and wrong all the way down, because that means that major changes will have to happen. With mass communications controlled by the most privileged, the message will not get out through these means. With a system of government controlled by the most privileged, the changes will not come through this channel. With businesses working only for themselves, they will only do the best thing for themselves.

Some may decide it’s worth it to work within this system anyway. Perhaps they knew all along that what they wanted posed no direct threat to the status quo. Perhaps they watered down what they wanted to make it sweeter. Either way, whether they win or lose, little difference will be made.

But for true change, to really dismantle these structures of power, a lot more is needed. We need to be creative and robust with our demands. We need to be fearless: we will be loathed and despised by the powerful. What has been won so far was not won by being popular, and we still have a long way to go.

6 thoughts on “What does “popular support” mean? A case study of No More Page 3”

  1. Isn’t it interesting how no one makes the point that Page 3 is racist? Or that Page 3 is ablist? Or that its heteronormative? Or ageist*? Why do we make it all about the sexism? Is this a hierarchy of oppressions?

    OK, I’m playing this as devils advocate – and I freely admit to signing the NMP3 petition to be part of the in-crowd and to see what they got up to. But seriously, there is as much wrong with Page 3’s omissions as there is with its inclusions.

    * NB, incase its not bleedingly obvious, I’m talking about how young the women are, not asking for under-age models.

  2. The ‘No More Page 3’ campaign is an example of ultra-conservative neo-puritanism used by people who claim to be either ‘liberal’ or ‘left-wing’; and it is no surprise that Caroline Lucas supports the campaign as there has always been a strong element of neo-puritanism within the Green Party which regards certain activities, driving a car for example, as ‘sinful’. The authoritarianism in the NMP3 campaign is in keeping with a lot of what appears in the Guardian, which is neither liberal nor a newspaper.

    Of course there’s nothing wrong with bashing Rupert Murdoch – he’s a scumbag- but having lived through the Thatcher era, I always thought that Page 3 was the least ‘offensive’ thing in The Sun, along from the football pages. And speaking of football why do the NMP3 campaigners not get wound up when David Beckham appears semi-naked in an advert, or about strip clubs like Tricky Dickies that cater for hen parties? I guess that, in feminist ideology, men cannot be ‘objectified’ only women can.

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