Padraig Reidy at Index on Censorship explains about the Sun’s page 3.
The Page 3 girl was a typical product of the British sexual revolution. What started, with the availability of contraception to women in the 1960s, as a liberation, quickly became another way to reduce them. Freed from the terror of unwanted pregnancy, women and girls were now expected to be in a permanent state of up-for-it-ness. The popular films of the late 60s and early 70s, the On The Buses, the Carry Ons, the Confessions…, portrayed British society as a parade of priapic middle-aged men, always attempting to escape their middle-aged, old-fashioned wives, in pursuit of seemingly countless, always available, young women.
It was fun, it was cheeky, it was vampiric — depending on how you wanted to look at it.
Page 3 was part of this culture; this idea that sweet-natured young women with absolutely no qualms about sex were out there, just needing a wink and a Sid James cackle to persuade them into a bit of slap and tickle. Slap and tickle, though, is not the same as sex, or at least not sex as we might hope to understand it. The slap and tickle of the British imagination owes more to the pre-pill “sort of bargaining” described by Philip Larkin. In spite of the poet’s hopes, sexual intercourse hadn’t really begun in 1963.
Page 3 models were (are? Who knows?) very rarely erotic creatures. They were “healthy” and “fun”, perhaps a little “naughty”; always girls and never women.
Why not just inflate a couple of balloons and let it go at that?
In the 90s, new laddism, spearheaded by James Brown’s Loaded magazine, somewhat rehabilitated the Page 3 girl, or, more accurately, made looking at topless models seem respectable to men who would never buy the Sun (“men who should know better” as Loaded’s tagline went).
As the post-Loaded rush for young men’s money descended into boasting of nipple counts, the focus of feminist campaigning switched to the weekly Nuts and Zoo magazines. The Sun’s Page 3 carried on, outliving the rise and fall of Nuts (somehow, Zoo is still going), but is now taking a severe battering from the No More Page 3 campaign, led by young feminists. The very fact that there is uncertainty over the future of the feature is testament to that campaign’s success.
It would be easy to look for a free speech angle on this and come up with “killjoy feminists” versus, decent honest yeomen of England.
But it would be bullshit, he says. Calling for No More of something is more free speech.
Meanwhile, with hot and cold running porn in every kitchen, what’s the point of Page 3 at all? No one knows.