A Skinny Take: Feminism revisited

Blog by R. J. Gallagher | 26 Nov 2009

Page Three is forty years old and Sarah Maple is not happy.  The 24 year old artist, who gained attention after winning Channel Four’s ‘New Sensations’ competition in 2007, went on a guerrilla style mission ala Banksy last week to protest against what she describes as “too much sex in advertising” in an era of “post-feminism”.

Maple and a team of ‘art ninjas’ covertly slipped 1000 specially produced prints, depicting Maple herself posing as a Page Three model (with a slight twist), into copies of the Sun across central London in an attempt to raise fresh debate about the continued objectification of women in Britain’s biggest selling national newspaper.  As Maple comments: “People are always talking about how women aren’t seen as objects anymore, equality and all that, but how can it be true if The Sun is celebrating 40 years of having Page 3 girls today?”  

But is anybody listening?  Over the course of the last two decades and in the wake of the likes of Melinda Messenger and Katie Price, Page Three or ‘glamour modeling’ has become increasingly viewed as a legitimate career path by many young women, to whom objectification is simply a means to an end; that end being fame and fortune in a society whose only Gods are celebrities and cash.

Maple’s main challenge is in essence that she is just a single voice amid a cacophony of voices; there is minimal unity among women on the feminist issue – and not even the appointment of the first ever female editor to The Sun put a stop to Page Three. 

“We are going backwards not forwards” says Maple, and she’s got a strong case.  Some of her other works, such as the ‘Who Wore It Best?’ photo series illustrates precisely this; presenting a depressingly bleak picture of the potential for a united front in the struggle towards women’s equality – a struggle that still, in 2009, remains urgent.  

Seen in this context Maple is extremely important, for she is garnering mainstream attention with art that is self-consciously political; and she has age on her side – plenty of time to make a difference.  The cause she champions though, is a cause that for many young girls is tragically alien; names like Frida Kahlo or Mary Wollstonecraft mean nothing to a generation that has grown up with Paris Hilton and Heat magazine. 

But perhaps Sarah Maple is the beginning of a backlash.  “Raise more hell and fewer dahlias” the painter James Whistler offered as advice to women over a hundred years ago; a sentiment that is clearly echoed in Maple’s work – let’s just hope Whistler’s words catch on, for it’s about time that cacophony became a chorus.

See more of Ryan's work at http://www.rjgallagher.co.uk/