Good riddance to News in Briefs, the nastiest part of Page 3

The Sun has ditched its "joke" that attractive, topless women can't possibly have opinions on politics.

Only 20 per cent of the Sun’s bylines go to women and as of yesterday, there’s one fewer column inch staked out for female voices: let us bow our boobs and solemnly remove our tops in honour of page 3’s News in Briefs, which is no more.

Still, don’t let your chest be depressed for too long. This would be a much harder loss for women’s journalism if the Page 3 girls had actually written the News that appeared by their Briefs – but obviously and insultingly, they didn’t.

The naughty nibs started in 2003, when Rebekah Brooks took over as editor of the Sun. Before her ascension, she was reportedly an opponent of Page 3, so maybe the introduction of a jaunty speech bubble containing a short commentary on current affairs was a way of patching over Page 3’s incongruity.

At the beginning, News in Briefs was just a naked echo of the paper’s editorial line. Ruth “hailed yesterday’s court appearance by Saddam Hussein”. Kate “was devastated to hear David Blunkett had quit”.

 

 

 

There’s a theory in anti-pornography circles that violent imagery in erotica is especially concerning because men are most suggestible when tumescent. If there’s any truth in that (and it certainly hasn’t been proven), News in Briefs is a spectacularly cynical example of propaganda, leading millions of man to wank themselves into an orgiastic condition of right-wingery.

But really that’s not the problem with News in Briefs, which for my money has long been the nastiest part of Page 3. The comic disjunct of this section has always been in the assumed unlikeliness of a pretty, smiling, topless woman expressing the opinion attributed to her. The kind of girl who can get a man hard, says the logic of this joke, is the kind of girl who’s soft in the head.

Over time, that joke was cultivated to baroque standards. Over her various appearances in 2010, Peta (23 from Essex) volunteered informed opinions about the price of gold, myoglobin, the Tolpuddle Martyrs and Theodore de Banville.

 

 

The fact that these weren’t really Peta’s opinions doesn’t mean she’s stupid. There are some requirements for a Page 3 girl – most importantly, being under 25 and having big, unaugmented breasts. It isn’t necessary to be dumb.

But redtop journalists are notoriously more educated than the audience they write for, or in this case, the individual they were writing as. There’s something distinctly distasteful about using that advantage to make a sneering joke at a nude woman’s expense.

 

 

It’s a joke that plenty of people enjoyed, though, including the well-educated men of the Conservative party. According to Paul Waugh of Politics Home, when the Tory “Breakfast Club” met each morning, the newest member would be called on to read each day’s News in Briefs, in (oh my lol-wracked sides) the voice of the Page 3 girl.

On Monday, our democratic representatives could have enjoyed ventriloquising Kelly’s ventriloquised thoughts on Andy Murray’s Wimbledon chances: “As Muhammad Ali observed, ‘Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach into the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win.’”

But on Tuesday, there was nothing but space next to Lacey, and on page3.com today, India from Reading sits beside an unpopulated box where the News in Briefs would once have been. The joke is up.

That doesn’t mean page 3 is on the way out. The new editor, David Dinsmore, confirmed this morning on LBC that hanging on to the girls in defiance of campaigners is a point of pride for the Sun, and if Brooks didn’t have the will to axe them, it’s hard to imagine an editor who will.

But the end of News in Briefs is reason for a tiny feminist cheer on its own. The Sun still gives more room to docile-looking girls with nice racks than to grown-up women with something to say, but it’s no longer snickering at the very idea of something smart emerging from a pretty mouth. 

 

With thanks to Tim Ireland for the scans of historic Page 3 girls.

The final Page 3 News in Briefs.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.