I was honoured to be invited to a meeting with a group of vibrant young women of the YMCA in Southend on Sea to discuss the ‘Turn Your Back On Page 3’ campaign as part of their ‘What’s The Point?’ project; – a project to raise political awareness in young people, which includes meeting MPs, campaigning, visiting parliament and eventually creating a booklet outlining the agendas of the main parties which is to be distributed in school and colleges.
The group – although open to boys – comprised of 7 very lively and very opinionated girls; Sammy, Helen, Fiona, Abi, Sarah, Simone & Monique, all aged between 20 and 23 and from very different backgrounds, however, like a large proportion of the nation the girls felt disillusioned about politics and wasn’t sure which way to turn in the next general election.
My mother always stressed to me the importance of voting because, in her words, “there was a time when women didn’t have that right, so you mustn’t take it for granted”. But what are you meant to do if none of the parties represent your own values & beliefs? Out of respect for my sisters of the suffragette movement I most certainly would never waste my vote but that doesn’t mean to say that the party I do end up voting for will be the one I believe in and respect. However, political impact doesn’t have to begin and end with your lone vote at election time. You can make your voice heard in other ways and part of my discussion with the girls of the YMCA was to highlight the importance of grassroots activism; that is, action taken by ordinary citizens where-by you raise awareness and build public support in order to influence legislative change. And of which, if it is something an MP feels strongly about, he or she will add support to it. Such is the power of this form of political expression, two very important laws (thanks to Fawcett, Eaves & OBJECT) were recently changed because of it, and the great thing is – anyone can do it!
The Turn Your Back On Page 3 campaign was borne out of the blatant sexist attitudes and behaviour that I was subjected to growing up, which I believe is the direct consequence of our pornified society. Page 3 is at the heart of this degrading, yet accepted culture, and I felt compelled to do something about it. Since starting the campaign I have made friends with, and joined forces with like-minded activists and regularly converse with MPs and visit parliament to debate the questions and issues raised in it.
The girls from the YMCA personally related to this and all told their own stories of how they had been in the past, and are currently affected by sexism. This ranged from being physically attacked by a member of the opposite sex, to succumbing to the pressures of beauty regimes (“you’re not looking after yourself” was a comment made by one of the group’s boyfriend’s if she chose not to wear make-up), to body issues such as feeling insecure about one’s own breasts, which this particular group member linked to seeing Page 3 when she was 11 years old. The same girl also added; “you never see glamour models photographed having one breast larger than the other”, which – of course – most, if not all women actually do have, and that was something I, myself, had actually never thought about.
These young women may not have questioned any of this before as they might have thought of it as ‘normal’, but by the end of the discussion, because of consciousness-raising, they recognised the sexism underpinning their experiences and wanted to do something about it. The talk had, to my delight, fired them up and by the end of it proclamations such as “I’m never buying The Sun again” and “let’s grow our armpit hair for when we get our backs photographed!” were being made! Quite radical statements to be hearing after an hour’s meeting!
Quite simply, this shows the importance of grassroots activism: spreading the word, influencing, empowering and ultimately, progressing and I thank the girls at the YMCA for inspiring me and welcome them aboard the journey for the fight for gender equality.
“Whether you come from a council estate or country estate, we need strong, smart and competent young women to stand up and take the reins”. (Michelle Obama)