Last Thursday, LSE Student Union voted to ban the sales of the Sun newspaper from Union shops. The vote was advertised across campus, and took place in a Union General Meeting (which all members of the union can attend). There were good points made on both sides – women’s liberty became central to the discussion, with Alice Stott’s view on sex workers and the class-basis of the motion being the most convincing against the motion.
Despite a 64% vote for the motion and the subsequent banning of the newspaper, a week later, LSE SU Hayek Society decided to take it upon themselves to be the arbitrators of ‘free speech’ and were giving away free copies of the Sun on Houghton Street – opposite the Student Union offices.Initially, I was confused by the way that the Sun was being used as a campaign tool, and what that could possibly have to do with Hayek. However, it was on noticing the yet untouched pile of papers, I realised what the stall’s actual intention was.
The Hayek Society had no belief that the papers would be taken. Nor did they really want to push the message of “free speech”. No, their intention was to actively antagonise everyone who voted for that motion – and more directly – the Student Union itself. I knew then that there was nospace for reasoning with the stall owner. The only course of action was direct – and that, let me tell you, was terrifying.
I tore page 3 out of the Sun because those women had a right to wear whatever they wanted without a newspaper using their bodies to profit. Of course page 3 women have agency, and they have the choice to take their tops off and feature in a newspaper or not. However, there is a huge difference when you are being paid to do so, and when you are not – because that doesn’t only mean those selling are creating the situation but also those buying too. That is precisely why I had Alice Stott’s point about class in mind when I performed the action.
The concept of “free” choice?
In postcolonial studies, Spivak argues that due to the incapability for the poorest (subaltern) to speak the language of the oppressors, their voice cannot be heard, or indeed will not be heard. This is a line that can very much be taken in the context of a patriarchal and class-based society, where the silenced are the poorest women. Here, it is not that their voices are not heard, but that they are misconstrued.
Let us use the Hope not Hate campaign as an example. Here activists discussed with local communities how it was not immigrant groups that were the source of inequality, but the nature of the economic state – leading to a plummet in the number of voters who voting BNP. Individual decisions were changed by empowering some of the most vulnerable people to think outside of fear-based arguments, and analyse the structures of oppression more clearly.
A similar argument can be made for page 3 women. Given that the Sun is the most read newspaper in the UK, specifically in working class communities, getting yourself on page 3 is gaining celebrity status and a bit of spare cash! A fair decision, you may think. However, given the gender pay gap, and female unemployment at an all time high with no real prospects of that improving, the numbers of women in poverty is only rising. In these circumstances the Sun has the perfect opportunity to take advantage and easily convince women to pose for them. Remember: the Sun has agency too.
I am not arguing that there is no agency , nor am I asserting that the women on page 3 are victims, but they also have the right to be seen as any man does – as a human first. What I am arguing, however, is that women’s “free” choice isn’t always as free as it may seem. Why? Because we live in an economic system that continues to disadvantage women.
The so-called battle for “free” speech
If it were my choice, the Express would have been the first paper to be sliced off the university’s procurement. Over and over again, I have seen myself victimised across its front pages – “1 in 5 Britons is Ethnic” is my personal favourite. However, the momentum against the anti-immigrant movement hasn’t started yet. The campaign against the Sun‘s Page 3 has.
Any astute student of politics is well aware that successful campaign needs to act at the right point. Jump the gun, and you won’t create change – you’ll only be ignored. The decision to ban the Sun by LSE SU was directly in tune with the growth of the no more page 3 campaign. If anyone had not heard of the campaign, Alex Peters-Day, General Secretary of LSE SU explained why the motion was presented clearly in her blog a day before the vote.
My end goal – and that of LSE, I believe – is not to see the Sun banned entirely, but to see an end of female objectification (and other forms of repression). This is not a restriction of freedom of press as much as a strategy to convince the Sun to rethink their sexist attitude. I go further to argue it to be reinstated at LSE SU shops once the objectionable material on page 3 is removed. This is a matter of women’s rights, just as boycotting South African goods during apartheid was a matter of the anti-racism.
Whatever the Hayek Society claim, my actions were done with the student body’s right to democratic procedure in sight. I only found out after my actions, but the Hayek Society at LSE is well known for having its misogynistic campaigns – I am told that Jason Wong was a key supporter of this specific campaign. When there are no options for negotiation because the other party is not interested, the only option is non-violent direct action. I can only hope that my actions conveyed that message clearly, and did not only end up supporting the Hayek Society’s claims of victimisation.
My call to LSE students is simple. We do need an end continual objectification of women. Boycott/Ban the Sun is one step forward. No more Page 3.