Of Breasts and Badgers

The problem with the petition to ban Page 3

Feeling a bit democratically lethargic this autumn, like you have more to offer the world? Good news! A couple of e-petitions are in vogue, which means you can, in the style of lounging Adam on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, summon all the might in your finger and click on a link. Your choice of topic is breasts, or badgers. You can click on both, but then you risk looking undiscerning and bandwagon-y. So it’s Brian May’s heroic efforts to prevent badgers from becoming, in May’s own words, ‘scapegoats’, (although he clearly meant ‘scapebadgers’) or campaigning to get bare breasts off Page 3. It’s a tough one. Badgers, breasts, Battlestar Galactica. (It’s an Office reference. If you don’t get it, you clearly haven’t been making the most of your university career.)

Interesting conclusions emerge when comparing the two petitions. Let’s talk numbers, Erin Brockovich style. At the time of writing, 47,124 is the number of supporters that Lucy Holme’s campaign against Page 3 has mustered. 7.3 million is the number of readers the Sun claims as its readership. 160,733 is the number of those that support Brian and his badgers. Ergo, allowing badgers to run free beats banning Page 3 any day of the week. Go badgers.

The actual conclusion to be drawn is that some people will sign anything because it’s easy to exercise the democratic right to click, then sit back and feel smug; it’s even got its own portmanteau; ‘slactivism’. Signing the ban Page 3 petition may well indicate that having bare naked ladies in the Sun sends out the wrong message about women’s place in society. But clicking doesn’t necessarily equate to forming and expressing an opinion, and many will happily jump on a bandwagon to make it look like they’re down with feminism or badgers, in the same gormless way that people presumably buy The Sun, ogle at the women, and tell themselves they’re reading the news.

There are good grounds for not clicking. For starters, you’d be getting into bed with such mindless supporters as Glamour magazine. While the oleaginous Glamour condemns Page 3, it likes nothing more than persuading women that having Rihanna’s thighs and being perpetually ‘beach-body ready’ is important. In doing so, Glamour and the glossies do just as much harm in urging women to view their looks as their greatest assets.

And what about evidence from groups such as Object, whose testimony at the Leveson Inquiry made it clear that Page 3 is hardly the problem in today’s media? ‘Upskirt shots’ of a clearly unaware Cheryl Cole? ‘Nipple slips’, anyone? Not to mention everyday portrayals of women, such as fresher’s fancy dress ‘CEO and Corporate Slut’ parties that make Page 3 look positively prudish.

The seedy will always exist and most women can cope with that. They don’t demand that it disappear because it’s patronising to think we need to be draped in cotton wool in order to function as women. What’s more important is that when it comes to badgers and breasts, the real debate isn’t obscured by a smug click and a gormless ogle.