Yesterday, UNISON conference got a shock as 30 people burst in through the back doors wearing 1970’s wigs, disco glasses, and danced their way to the front of the hall. Flashmobbing may seem odd at a union conference, but this ‘mob’ had a serious message. To the tune of YMCA, 30 dancers called on conference to support the No More Page Three campaign.
UNISON’s distinct voice and the weight of support lent by its 1.3 million members is important in this campaign because Rupert Murdoch has claimed that working class people don’t care about page three. For our members this claim is not only incredibly insulting, but patronizing and wrong. Through unions, working class people have led the way in battling sexism and campaigning for equality. UNISON was the first union to take a sex discrimination case, we have written into our rules measures to ensure minority groups get their voice heard and we are currently fighting against the government’s attempts to roll back important equality legislation that we campaigned hard for under the last Labour government.
The No More Page Three campaign began during the Olympic summer when organiser Lucy Holmes noticed that, even though Jessica Ennis had won her Olympic gold, the largest image of a woman in the Sun was the topless image on page three. We agree that the newspaper should no longer be a place for soft porn – it only reinforces an out of date view that women are there to be objectified for men, hence our 1970’s wigs and disco glasses. Culturally, Britain has changed, it’s not normal to see a woman’s breasts, but putting them on the page next to actual news, makes it seem as if it is. Market data says that the Sun is seen by 7.5 million people every day, meaning this is not a trivial issue but a pervasive force in shoring up out of date attitudes towards men and women, as well as their own self image. For young men and women this is particularly worrying.
Many people who see page three haven’t chosen to do so, but the Sun’s widespread circulation means that the images cannot be avoided. For this reason, the ‘if you don’t like it, don’t buy it’ argument just doesn’t stack up. Many of our members working in the public sector regularly come across copies at work or in life which they – or their children – did not choose to view. Employment law means that ‘girly’ calendars in the workplace are no longer allowed – so why is a topless image of a woman ok? In some public sector workplaces including police stations and in probation the Sun is banned because of page three. Probation officers tell us that working with sex offenders they can’t have sexually provocative imagery in their offices. If they recognise that page three isn’t just a bit of fun isn’t it time the Sun woke up to this reality?
Our members have already taken to twitter to tell Rupert Murdoch exactly what they think – he will hear their voice loud and clear. As Lisa Clarke from No More Page Three said; “It’s going to be very hard to ignore 1.3 million public sector workers isn’t it?”. It’s a campaign that matters to us as part of our wider campaign for equality. Despite 30 years of feminism, women are still woefully under-represented in the media, in parliament and wider public life. Sexism is still rife in our society and years of progress is being undone by the government’s response to this recession. Whilst men are regularly featured in the news for their achievements, all too often women are mentioned for their looks, or even as an appendage to their husband. What we want to see is a better representation of women in the press – positive stories showcasing their many and varied achievements – not presenting them as passive objects to be viewed by men.
Karen Jennings is Assistant General Secretary of Unison. This piece forms part of our coverage of Unison conference, which is taking place in Liverpool this week