Open letter to the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP

I have written to my MP, Greg Clark. Many thanks to Pippa, a NMP3 for supplying a template letter.

Dear Mr Clark,

THE SUN NEWSPAPER

 I am writing to you to outline my concerns about the representation of women in The Sun Newspaper. I have had concerns about the paper for a number of years, but I feel compelled to write to you as my member of parliament now.

You will be aware of the No More Page 3 campaign*, which is rapidly gaining pace and public support across the UK. However, I am writing to you today because some of The Sun’s editorial decisions taken last week seem to be deliberately inflammatory and at odds with the commitments your government has made to eradicate sex discrimination and promote gender equality.

 If you were in the UK last week, you will no doubt have seen that The Sun featured a nude woman on their front cover. I saw this nude image at the Co-op store on Silverdale road, then again at High Brooms Station. I saw it several more times on the train to Charing Cross. In fact, I sat next to a gentleman who was studying the harder-core version of the image on page 3 at length on my train journey into Charing Cross. It was rather hard to avoid. I imagine as the Sun is stocked at your workplace, the House, you were unable to avoid it too.

 The following day, The Sun ran an article comparing a woman to a vegetable. The tempting invitation to imagine “bedding her”, references to “tiny panties”, “seedy nightclubs” and “pert bottom, bulbous chest”, are demeaning, insulting and specifically urge the reader to view her as a sexualised object.

Charities that work to end violence against women such as Rape Crisis and the End Violence Against Women Coalition have voiced their concern over The Sun reinforcing negative stereotypes of women in this way. I am in agreement with Caroline Lucas MP, who most eloquently represents my views and the views of many women I know, when she points out that sexism, such as the sexual harassment I encounter when I jog in Tunbridge Wells, does not happen in a vacuum. We have to recognise the wider, detrimental impact sexual objectification of women in the media has on our society.

In my view, these articles by The Sun – which I feel are becoming more extreme since the beginning of the No More Page Three campaign – are not only offensive but amount to unlawful discrimination as set out in the Equality Act 2010:

1. Discrimination against women – they are clearly being treated less favourably than men; and
2. Discrimination against campaigners for standing up to discrimination against women; and
3. Harassment against women and campaigners trying to stop this type of misrepresentation.

Your boss David Cameron’s stock response of “if you don’t like it, don’t buy it” is crass and ill-judged. You will also be aware of the Everyday Sexism Project which Laura Bates initiated. She has recently written a letter to the editor of The Sun citing examples of harassment and discrimination directly involving The Sun (but without the victims ever buying it or wanting to read it). If you have not read Laura’s letter I would urge you to do so.

 I do not buy The Sun out of principle. I find it extremely offensive. But I have personally been badly affected by page three of the Sun, and similarly, nude calendars, while working in a male-dominated environment in a previous local government job.

You will remember the Prime Minister signing the UN Resolution on the Status of Women on March 15th 2013 on behalf of the British people. The resolution promotes balanced and non-stereotypical portrayals of women with a view to eliminating discrimination against women and girls. In particular, may I draw your attention to Section B subsection (vv) which refers to the role the media can play in the elimination of gender stereotypes. In the context of Page 3 and The Sun’s other discriminatory articles about women, it is hard to understand the benefits of signing a resolution of this kind when the State demonstrates such reluctance in upholding its recommendations.

Can your government seriously continue to defend The Sun, which is so blatantly sexist and discriminatory? It is freely available in supermarkets, newsagents and garage forecourts (and the Houses of Parliament) and it is easily accessible to and in full view of children. Don’t forget, its current daily circulation figures stand at 2.2 million. Is the unregulated exposure of soft porn to children on this scale an oversight or negligence?

I am asking for your support in asking the editor to remove the Page 3 item from The Sun newspaper. Please do not miss this opportunity to recognise and act on the groundswell of opinion about Page 3 across the country, and in particular within your constituency.

 I look forward to hearing from you, and may I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your 10k run for the Hospice in the Weald at the weekend. Perhaps we will meet at another run in the area. I will be one of the women proudly sporting a No More Page Three t-shirt.

 Yours sincerely,

 Lizzy Woodfield (constituent)

 *No More Page 3 is a campaign appealing to The Sun newspaper to please stop showing the topless Page 3 images. It has public backing from Girlguiding UK (over 500,000 young members) the British Youth Council (over 220 youth organisations) the NUT, ATL, NAHT (combining over 500,000 teachers, lecturers and Head Teachers) Unison (our largest union, 1.3 million members) and The National Assembly of Wales. In addition to this over 118,000 people have signed an online petition, 138 cross-party MPs have signed a letter of support, as have a host of charities including Rape Crisis, Women’s Aid, End Violence Against Women Coalition.

 

Seriously??Ms Flaningan

#EverydaySexism in Local Government

I’ve been meaning to write my first blog for ages. Inspired by the recent events, I’ve decided I had to write it now, and about the sexism I faced while working in local government. Coincidentally (or perhaps not entirely?) my female friends and I have all since left our jobs in this local authority, which will remain nameless, although you can probably work it out based on my tweeting patterns. I’m @lizzyswoodfield. 


I believe that sexism is rife in local government.  In my relatively short time working in one local authority it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that sexism was a daily problem for me. It came from many different angles and ranged from the kind of inadvertent cringey career limiting sexism that was the constant assumption that this nice young girl is here to take your minutes, to being sexually harassed by fellow employees on my way in to work,  to the more sinister and outrageous being-felt-up-by-the-drunk-councillor-old-enough-to-be-my-granddad-at-a-work-event-in-front-of-the-HR director-who-did-nothing thing. You know, the kind of thing that makes you vom in your mouth a bit.The kind of thing that shocks you so much you have no idea how to react to it and you don’t complain or move their hand (who do you complain to btw? I’ve still not worked that one out) and then later regret that you didn’t. That kind of thing.

A bad start

I began working in local government when I was recruited onto a graduate programme.  I had high hopes about my career in local government, but was disappointed that my first posting was as a (male middle-manager’s) personal assistant. I don’t mean to suggest there is anything inherently wrong with being someone’s personal assistant, of course not, but it wasn’t what I expected, and it wasn’t what I thought I had signed up to. I asked what in particular they saw in me at interview that made them think I was suited to being a personal assistant. I was told by a female HR officer (ironically?)  ‘he wouldn’t have had one of the boys [on the graduate programme] as his assistant, it had to be a girl’. Oh dear.  I should have known then that this was a sign of things to come.

I would spend the remainder of my three years at the council unsuccessfully attempting to fend off making tea and taking minutes for others, and on the rare and welcome occasion that I was leading on a project, awkwardly having to explain that no, I’m not here to set up the meeting room, I am here to give the presentation. These awkward misunderstandings didn’t happen to my male colleagues. They weren’t ever asked to take minutes, manage somebody else’s diary, collect the post. No-one assumed they were here to bring them tea.

Ah-ha. This is old fashioned #everydaysexism, I realised. And it’s everywhere.

Oh dear it gets worse

The sexism became more pronounced, and more scary, when I was posted to a recycling and waste depot on the outskirts of the city centre. Every day I walked past huddles of male operatives. Head down. Don’t make eye contact. Wolf whistles. Beeping Horns. Laughter. ‘Smile love, it might never happen’.

As a woman who dares to leave the house and walk places, being harassed in the street by strangers is unfortunately something I am quite used to, but it happening to me at work, it being done to me by fellow council employees, that was something else.

New lows…

The most blatant case of sexism, and I think the experience that shook me the most was when the office walls were plastered with posters for the ‘unofficial Christmas party:

  ‘Meet at the pub at 8, then off to a strip club and then maybe a brothel or two’. It read.

I ripped up their posters and threw them away (well actually I recycled them, even in my rage) apart from one, which I carefully scanned, and saved on my computer. I don’t know what I thought I was going to do with it, or who else would care that I was deeply offended and a bit scared by it, but I thought I should keep it just in case. Maybe just so I could look at it. Remind myself that yes, that did actually happen. I didn’t imagine it, and yep, I was right to think it was utterly unacceptable.

When is a ‘compliment’ not a compliment?

This last bit is harder for me to write about. So I’m going to put some hashtags in and keep it short…

#Isitok for a councillor to routinely comment on your figure? For him to say he’s glad it’s summer now because he likes seeing me in dresses, and he didn’t realise how  ‘svelte’ I was?

#Isitok for a drunk councillor to stroke your shoulder and arm up and down in front of the Assistant Director of HR at a council awards ceremony?

#Isitok that the Assistant Director of HR saw how uncomfortable I was and didn’t do anything about it?

#isitok that I blamed myself for wearing a one shouldered dress?

Epi(b)logue

I’ve left local government, and I don’t think I will ever go back. I work in higher education now and I am much happier. I think I am better equipped to deal with sexism in the work place, and, should it happen again, I am less likely to accept it or to blame myself.

I’ll keep you posted…