That page 3 Thing

Since it has been brought into the argument, and as one of the instigators of the original campaign, 25+ years on, I’d like to revisit that Page 3 thing.

The early 80’s Thatcher had just come to power. ‘Ditch the Bitch’ was the kind of popular anti-Thatcher slogan that focussed on her gender rather than her class, and conflated working class frank sexism with outspoken working class expression. (An earlier version of that was ‘Ted Heath is a queer’.)

The Yorkshire Miner, paper of Arthur Scargill’s most militant area of the NUM, ran a regular topless page 3 girl. We argued, I still think rightly, that such sexism, implying a lads-only labour movement, undermined the unity of the fightback against Thatcher. All credit to Dave Douglass, then of Yorkshire NUM, who took the battle into the heartland of working class militancy and sexism, and won.

I think we were vindicated in the Great Strike of 1984/5, When  women of the pit communities were the backbone of the struggle. You could argue fairly that it was their pivotal role in the strike, rather than our puny propaganda offensive, that decisively changed the consciousness of the labour movement on sexism: militancy was no longer presumed to be the province of the lads alone. It would be a false counterposition, I think. The material obviously weighs heavier than ideology, but ideas do have their place.

So where does the argument stand today?The argument about sexism in the labour movement has largely been won. I am not denying persistent material inequalities. Nor am I precluding reactionary attempts to roll back these gains. but women’s equality is now the default assumption. Sexist language is frowned upon. When we took up the issue of the Miners’ page 3, we were going against the tide; it flows the other way now.

Does sexism still exist in the labour movement? Of course.

Are there individual boorish men in exalted positions in the movement? Yes indeedy.

Is sexism used as stick to beat yesterday’s heroes- turned today’s villains? Undoubtedly.

Do victim-feminists protest too much? Get a grip. Yes, the remarks were crass: you’ll tie yourself in knots trying to defend them.

Were they ‘indefatigable’ George’s worst moment? Not by a long shot.


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