The Page 3 model is offered up as an ideal, but is she really? Photo: Getty
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The Sun is offering a date with a Page 3 girl as a prize – women and men deserve better than this

It’s the logical outcome of countless messages regarding what a woman is supposed to be: beautiful, available, smiling, bending to the will of men and existing only to reflect men’s glory.

Most of the news can be put into four main categories: “men doing important things”, “men doing violent things”, “men kicking balls” or “men justifying doing violent things, with or without balls, on the basis that such things are important”. If women get a look-in, it tends to be because we are incidental to the narrative. Perhaps a woman is married to someone who does important things, perhaps she has been a victim of male violence. Maybe she has slept with a man who kicks a ball. Every now and then, quite by accident, a woman may have ended up in the position of “doer of important things”, but in that case her clothing, demeanour and family status must be constantly scrutinised, lest we become immune to the incongruity of it all.

The Sun does at the very least have a space devoted to women doing something else: having large breasts. Of course, not all women have large breasts and some do not have breasts at all, but that’s beside the point; at least it’s a woman doing her own thing, albeit entirely in the interests of satisfying the heterosexual male gaze. Even so, I do sometimes wonder how one might explain all this to a visiting extra-terrestrial: yes, male and female human beings really do consider themselves to be equals. Yes, I know it looks as though women exist only to serve the needs of men but that’s just pure coincidence. I know that if the situation were reversed – if I were to find a planet upon which all Category A aliens were assigned the status “doers/experiencers”, and all Category B aliens found themselves in the position of “carers/accessories” – I’d be drawing some pretty harsh conclusions about hierarchies, equality and inclusion (or perhaps I’d just assume Category B aliens were a lesser species? Either way, the “it’s all equal, it just doesn’t look that way” narrative really wouldn’t wash. Category B aliens could talk about empowerment until they were blue in the face – unless they were naturally blue in the face – and I wouldn’t be convinced).

It has been argued that given the extreme nature of internet pornography, getting in a flap about Page 3 – a woman with her top off – is somewhat naïve. I think this misses the point. While I’ve seen many women with bare breasts (it happens when you’ve been a breastfeeding peer supporter), what matters here is context and the context here is not really sex, but sexism. Internet pornography has its limits. However versatile and (hopefully) willing, a woman only has so many holes to penetrate and her skin will only stretch so far. Besides, sex is demanding and messy and imaginations get jaded. Page 3 gets us back to basics: woman as object, as salve for the male ego, without any of that pesky effluvia nor the risk of friction blisters.

The ultimate demonstration of this comes with the Sun’s decision to allow readers who sign up in its Fantasy Football Dream Team to “enter a prize draw for a date with a Page 3 model”. According to the small print, the lucky winner will get to choose between either Rosie or Kelly (obviously I cannot imagine what criteria will be used in the decision-making process):

Travel not included. Date will be at a location agreed with the Promoter. Choice of Page 3 Girl is subject to availability and schedule of Page 3 Girl. Date must be arranged and agreed with Promoter by no later than 6 October 2014 otherwise date will be forfeited.

Romantic, huh? One wonders whether there are other rules, perhaps regarding physical touch, personal space or topics of conversation. I don’t believe it is a comment on the dateability of Rosie or Kelly to say that the whole thing sounds rather grim, one long, dehumanising photo opportunity: stand next to a woman who wouldn’t come near you, had your name not been picked out at random, and insist to yourself I AM A MAN. To me it seems unspeakably lonely and antagonistic, a million miles away from the soaraway fun it is supposed to be. Nonetheless, it is the logical outcome of countless messages regarding what a woman is supposed to be: beautiful, available, smiling, bending to the will of men and existing only to reflect men’s glory. That this is not what we are really like – neither me, you nor Rosie nor Kelly – makes it all the less surprising when the men who supposedly adore us turn on us. It is humiliating to stand beside a woman who would not want you were it not for the enormous weight of patriarchal expectations upon you both; even more humiliating when both of you know that she is a human being, just as complex and authentic as you are, tits or no tits.

The Page 3 model is offered up as an ideal, but is she really? Relationships between men and women ought to be better than this: more fluid, more real, more open on both sides, with more willingness to expose not just flesh, but ideas, feelings, weaknesses and passions. Perhaps the existence of Page 3 would not matter were it not that this sexless, bloodless woman-as-object ideal seeps into our wider consciousness, increasing men’s reluctance to see women as human and women’s conviction that what men expect from them is not love but artifice. She contributes to a narrative of festering resentments and dashed expectations where there could be warmth, humanity and lasting connections. She implies a dull dependence – you’re only a real man if you want me – that inevitably topples over into rejection.

Both women and men deserve better than this. There are far more stories than the ones we are currently told and far more ways to connect with one another, whether we are using sight, touch or words. You can’t win a person; it’s only through getting to know them that your life will be enriched.

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder