It’s time to say “No More Page Three”

June 21, 2013 6:07 pm

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 We agree that the newspaper should no longer be a place for soft porn – it only reinforces an out of date view that women are there to be objectified for men, hence our 1970’s wigs and disco glasses.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Sun is seen by 7.5 million people every day, meaning this is not a trivial issue but a pervasive force in shoring up out of date attitudes towards men and women, as well as their own self image.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.

Watch the flashmob here. Sign the petition here. And find out more about UNISON’s work on equality here.

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

  • Ben Cobley

    What a silly campaign this is. If it was consistent, it would focus on topless/sexualised imagery and porn as a whole, but instead it focuses on a single newspaper.

    Personally I don’t like Page Three. It is distasteful and objectifying, but I was under the impression we lived in a liberal society in which we have our freedoms and others have theirs – which means a trade-off called tolerance in which we accept and tolerate some things we don’t like. Page Three girls are doing what they do voluntarily and getting paid for it. Sun readers are buying their newspaper in order to read and see what’s inside. There are choices involved here, and the hectoring, controlling, dictating tone of this sort of campaign makes me uneasy. I also wonder how much say UNISON’s 1.3 million members were given in it given they are being used to promote it – would I be incorrect in guessing virtually none?

    Myself, I would however be up for a ban of highly sexualised imagery on billboards and posters, since we have no choice in whether to look at these, as explained in this short blog article: http://afreeleftblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/reclaim-our-public-spaces-not-just.html

    • i_bid

      Prostitution can be defended on the same ‘liberal’ basis, do you support prostitution as well, Ben?

    • Jeremy_Preece

      Two points really Ben.
      Firstly there is a sense of some wanting to justify the indefensible by making claims that pornography is just harmless, or saying that somehow the women have the last laugh because they make so much money from the sad dysfunctional males who buy it. This really is a very poor excuse for trying to avoid that fact that porn is totally degrading and that the place for sex is inside of a loving relationship. Porn is actually just debasing. It is created by people with sinister motives who want to exploit not only the subjects in the pictures, but also the human weakness of people tempted to pour over it because it is there and readily available.
      My second point is that sexuality is overused in the media, advertising and so on. Therefore advertisers consider the “sex appeal” of everything down to a bar of chocolate. Images that are certainly not suitable to be around every day and to be seen by children are everywhere. I think that this is where the anti Page 3 fits. In short, pornography is no longer something that people have to seek out if they want it, it is something that you would have to actively avoid. For example, how do those in the anti-page 3 campaign feel about all of the TV adverts for perfume etc.?

      • Ben Cobley

        We have a new moral police in town. You want to tell everyone what they can and can’t do – including that they are only allowed to have sex in ‘loving relationships’ and filming it is ‘*just* debasing’ and done only by ‘people with sinister motives’. You think you know what is right and wrong for everyone all the time – a very dangerous, totalitarian attitude.

        • Jeremy_Preece

          In terms of anything goes, Holland is the European place known for Liberal attitudes where prostitution can take place in state registered brothels, and porn was liberalised way ahead of most places. According to your theory then that should make for a perfect society. Instead it became the centre of the so called “snuff movie” where children were filmed being abused and even murdered.

          You are a Liberal who thinks that any type of guidance, advice or whatever is somehow evil dictatorship, and presumably that people should be free of boundaries and so on. This has proved to be very dangerous. In the end, even
          Holland had to impose boundaries.

          As for my advice about sex being part of a loving relationship, I stand by that. That is what I believe and I have not tried to impose on you as a law. I have used my democratic right to express my opinion, and you like so many so called ‘tolerant Liberals’ have wanted to jump up and down and brand me a dictator for not agreeing with you. You don’t have the right to dictate moral behaviour any more than I do, and we have both expressed opinions and I am about as keen on your views on the subject as you are on mine. You need to get over that.

          • Ben Cobley

            Don’t arrogantly tell me what I believe Jeremy and force me into a straightjacket, talking about my ‘theory’ and suchlike. It is you that has the theory, one that is highly morally prescriptive and even totalitarian in character. I didn’t say anything about forcing my standards of moral behaviour on anyone. I would however subscribe to a value of honesty, one that you seem to find either problematic or maybe even irrelevant to your ideology.

          • i_bid

            Don’t arrogantly tell you what you believe, whilst you continue to do so to others? If you think people in loving relationships filming their own sex is what we’re attacking here, you’re building quite a convenient strawman (one that has us as all totalitarians proscribing everything). Oh and calling us the moral police whilst you’re full of your own moral outrage at the idea some want to legislate to stop this objectification.

    • Liz Young

      It’s not a silly campaign at all. Sorry for the slow reply, I’ve only just clicked on the link to this article. If you stopped to consider campaigners reasons for their focus on page 3 maybe you would understand. Caroline Lucas explains: ‘pictures that are illegal on workplace walls because of equalities legislation are still allowed to be featured in our newspapers. Sexually objectifying images that would be restricted on broadcast media before the 9 pm watershed are printed in national newspapers that are not age-restricted and are displayed at child’s-eye level.’ It’s not logical or consistent that it’s permitted.

      • Ben Cobley

        Hi Liz, thanks for your thoughts. I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree though. In a time in which even when going into my email I am presented with news stories (aimed at women incidentally) highlighted by a photo of a woman in her underwear, and when a huge poster of a virtually naked woman confronts me as I stand on the tube platform, this campaign is as outdated as Page 3 itself. The difference between those examples and Page 3 though is that with Page 3 there are choices involved. Sun readers choose to read the Sun, and Page 3 girls choose to go on Page 3, and get paid for it. In the theoretical jargon we might call it ‘subjective objectification’.

        I have some sympathy though with what Caroline Lucas says and your point about logic and consistency, but that argument is basically advocating banning all sexual objectificaton in public places. That would be a rather big leap into authoritarianism. We should stick to banning things which involve a large element of coercion – like those billboards.

        • Liz Young

          Thanks for your reply but I’ve never seen any mainstream advertising where a woman’s breasts are completely bare. And the context really is important. That in a daily newspaper a passive soft porn image of a woman is the largest image of a woman and dwarfs news of Jessica Ennis winning gold at the Olympics is a problem. There are advertising standards that cover billboards and other public adverts- we are able to complain about ads if they are sexist or racist. I don’t think it is authoritarian to try and apply consistent standards to combat sexual objectification.

          • Ben Cobley

            So bare breasts are sexual but they’re not when covered by a tiny bikini with the aim of trying to sell something? And you’re talking about consistency …

          • Liz Young

            The media sexism debate in parliament ranged far beyond page 3 but it’s still a good starting point for a broader campaign.

  • Monkey_Bach

    As I never read the Sun I couldn’t possibly comment…

    • Jeremy_Preece

      you just have!

  • NT86

    Women with their boobs out is the least of The Sun’s worries. Scrapping it wouldn’t change the fact that it’s still a bigoted gutter publication that smears, exaggerates and vilifies those who it sees as easy targets.

  • Jeremy_Preece

    Actually I don’t like any of the pages of The Sun, hence I don’t buy it. Much of the paper seems to be a real relic of the age when Les Dawson did his mother-in-law material and Bernard Manning was televised and people thought that Jim Davidson was a great entertainer.
    What is the worst part of it is that it used to perpetuate the most ignorant attitudes about immigration, about those out of work or in any kind of difficulty, and it spins to promote the most right-winged bigoted and nasty politics.
    Sadly the owner of this paper is also king of the world’s biggest media empire that seems to be on a mission to dominate and to use its powers to influence and control in the UK, the USA and many other countries.
    So is page 3 OK? Not really. Most of the claims here about it objectifying women are quite reasonable. What I think is far worse is that it seems to be regarded as acceptable that pole dancing is a great thing for businessmen to see on their night out. In fact I wonder whether attitudes have changed much at all.
    This campaign is not one that I can feel very strongly about however. I would like to see and of every page of The Sun, and I am sorry to see that it is still around.

  • Ben Cobley

    Who said I ‘support’ Page 3? Err, you did. I didn’t.

    • i_bid

      Well you said you didn’t like it, but then went on the usual liberal defences on how we can’t ‘dictate’ things like this. But of course we can, just like we dictate all manner of things (including prostitution).

  • JC

    There seem to be a number of commenters here who don’t read the Sun but are quite confident describing the content in some detail. They must either be psychic or projecting. Why can’t we have an informed discussion here?

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