THE BLOG

Our University Students' Unions Are Ideally Placed To Help No More Page Three - And To Benefit From It, Too.

17/01/2014 11:11 GMT | Updated 18/03/2014 09:59 GMT

At the end of last year Leeds and Kingston Universities took action to remove The Sun from their union outlets, bringing the number of students' unions officially endorsing the No More Page Three campaign up to 31. In doing so, they have become part of a very visible student presence in a fun and participatory movement. No More Page Three has clearly struck a chord across Britain, but for university students the campaign should hold an additional relevance. Just as Page 3's place in and impact upon British society has come under much greater scrutiny, so has the puerile 'lad' culture that continues to pervade the university experience.

So what do Page 3 and any incident of sexism or harassment towards a female student have in common? Both are a source and cause of a sick sense of entitlement in those who enjoy them, and reduce the women involved to how 'shaggable' or 'bangable' they are. Most importantly, the last place either of these things should be found is in a university students' union - somewhere specifically designed to make its members feel represented, safe and respected. For a long time our students' unions have pushed for social change and progress, but their efforts to tackle sexism on campus haven't always gone far enough.

Therefore, getting involved with the No More Page 3 campaign might provide a chance to address the treatment of female students at your university. Most students' unions in the UK have some form of policy against sexism, discrimination and harassment. My SU at Sheffield University in particular has a very thorough and well-publicised 'zero tolerance' policy in this area, and we were able to create a 'No More Page 3' policy to complement it. The very purpose of students' unions is to represent and empower its members - it struck us that selling a publication which takes such a dismissive attitude towards objectifying women was completely inconsistent with that. We decided that adding Sheffield University to what was then only a small group of institutions boycotting The Sun would be the best way to express this. That was in February 2013 and now, less than a year later, over 20 more have declared publically that they are not okay with Page 3.

Since our 'No More Page Three' policy came into force, I have been contacted by a considerable number of students wanting to take similar action in their own SUs. I have also had a lot of people - from Sheffield and elsewhere - getting in touch to tell me that while they dislike Page 3, they cannot get on board with measures amounting to 'censorship'. For this reason I would say to both groups that the solution is a boycott - not a ban. Anyone who buys The Sun somewhere else and brings it onto campus shouldn't face any consequences - this isn't about telling students what they can and can't read. The message that comes across should be that our students' unions - which of course represent a large number of women - are unwilling to condone overt misogyny in a so-called family newspaper, nor indeed in their own shops. A principled boycott is nothing new - Sheffield and Sussex Students' Unions currently boycott Nestlé products, for example. At the end of the day, The Sun is a product to which many people have very reasonable moral objections. If a students' union boycott is a way of contributing to a campaign that has caused widespread questioning of Page 3 for the first time, without questioning anyone's choice to read what they want, doesn't it sound like a good idea?

This is a genuinely exciting opportunity for our students' unions. With a history of seeking change for the better and tackling discrimination, they are uniquely placed to speak up for and strengthen the No More Page 3 movement. Every time an SU adds its name to the campaign, it reaches the national press and sends ripples across social media. At the same time, getting involved with this campaign has led to increased interest in improving women's welfare at university. Attendance of Sheffield Union's Women's Committee meetings has increased dramatically this academic year, and very real change is happening. Women who excel at everything from Philosophy to Astrophysics want to know why the biggest female presence in the nation's best-selling newspaper is a topless model put there solely for men to gawp at. If your SU hasn't already said 'No More Page 3', isn't it about time it did?