Say what you like about me, I’ve never been prudish when it comes to a beautiful bosom.
I can appreciate the aesthetic qualities of a pert, plump set of boobs as well as the next man/woman/Renaissance painter and I’m not censorious regarding graphic depictions of sex in the arts. But this week I discovered that I do firmly object to what many people consider the acceptable face of naked breasts (if breasts can indeed have faces) — that cherished national institution we know as Page 3.
Page 3 is not something which has ever occupied much room in my psyche. If I’d ever been asked about it I’d probably have merely said I regarded it as a silly anachronism from a weird bygone era when people found a camp fat man chasing a bunch of bikini-clad lovelies around a park deeply amusing.
But a radio programme I was taking part in asked me to buy a copy of The Sun to read Germaine Greer’s comments in support of its nipple-tastic institution and so it came to pass that my seven-year-old daughter opened the paper and was confronted with ‘curvy Chloe’ and her gravity-defying assets.
And it was my daughter’s shell-shocked and confused response that made me think again about the damage that Page 3 does.
My girl is a fiercely independent, ambitious, smart little thing, entirely confident that she can match the opposite sex in her class at anything. Few things give her greater pleasure than taking on the boys, whether at writing poems, making biscuits or running the 100 metres, and so far, she’s right up with the best of both genders at most things.
She’s become used to the idea that everyone competes on the same grounds, using tenacity, hard work or, if they’re lucky, talent to shine. And as a naturally competitive type, she relishes the challenge.
So finding out that in the adult world girls only a few years older than her make a living appearing naked in a newspaper purely because men like looking at their breasts has shaken her understanding of how the world works. As well as changed her ideas of how the sexes relate to each other, and what they value in each other.
I’m not stupid, I know these are lessons she’d have had to learn at some point. But if she hadn’t seen Page 3 at such a tender age, those lessons could have been postponed until a time when the complexities of gender relations had begun to dawn on her in a more sophisticated form, when she was old enough not to have her whole world view knocked askance by the curveball of seeing naked knockers next to a story about the new Harry Potter film.
As it is, I worry about the conclusions she’ll come to now that she knows society sometimes measures a woman’s worth by how she looks undressed — and that, more to the point, such reductionism seems to be a widely tolerated everyday activity. It must be, it’s in a newspaper that sits next to the Doctor Who magazine in our local grocer’s.
The great feminist thinker Germaine Greer, on the other hand, thinks Page 3 is just a bit of fun that cheers up plumbers. But then she’s never had children, so I suppose I can forgive her for having thought through the implications of boobies for breakfast as deeply as Alan Partridge pondered the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre.