Laura Parker introduces Jo Cheetham's funny and inspiring account of becoming a reluctant campaigner.
“How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?” “That’s not funny.”
If you think feminists have no sense of humour, or if you think that the women who campaigned for the Sun to revise its policy of putting naked young women on page 3 were ‘middle-class wheatgerm eating whiners’ (as they were described by a former Sun editor), then you might not like Jo Cheetham’s book.
Or you might find yourself not only pleasantly surprised, but chuckling as you turn the pages. Because it is FUNNY – self-effacingly and deftly written, while extracting all the comedy possible: from the early protests attended by just three people, one of whom is there by mistake, to when she is standing by the broccoli in Sainsbury’s ‘deleting pictures of tits on my phone’. (Trolls and social media backlash formed an inevitable response to the campaign.)
This is the story of a successful campaign by a small group of determined and outspoken women to change the editorial policy of the Sun. It was not about removing bare breasts, it was about balance. Lucy-Anne Page, founded the No More Page 3 campaign after noticing that coverage of the London Olympics contained plenty of pictures of sporting men. Women – who had won their fair share of Olympic medals – were represented visually by only one image in the whole paper: that of a topless teenage girl.
Jo Cheetham was a reluctant joiner, having never protested against anything and having always been the quiet one in class. She was a working-class girl from Rotherham with a lorry-driving, Sun-reading father and a stay-at-home mum who unexpectedly progressed from an art history degree at the local ex-poly to a PhD at the venerable Courtauld Institute in London. Mocked for her accent by the ‘Julians’ of the arty world, Jo does everything in her power to avoid public-speaking, even running away from the only conference she agreed to speak at. By the end of the book, she is giving interviews to news outlets from around the world.
The book charts the course of how a random group of women managed to effect a long-held change, and is also partly about how Jo found her voice. It also brings out the deep empathy that the campaigners develop for each other as it charts the things that moved and infuriated them, as well as their small gains and immense setbacks. It is thought-provoking too, as Jo confronts her attitudes to everyday sexism from wolf-whistling builders to serious art.
And the funny bits? Here are a few examples.
“The World Cup [trophy]…looked like an energy healing lamp you’d buy in Hebden Bridge.”
“I wondered why women attending music festivals were encouraged to dress like children’s party entertainers, Little House on the Prairie characters or Noddy Holder.”
“I only had Penguin bars, and I couldn’t imagine a French woman in such a lovely blouse eating a Penguin.”
“It was like the Diet Coke advert, but with a topless cardboard woman and four wet feminists instead of a shirtless man.”
If you enjoyed these, you’ll be pleased to spend an hour with Jo on Saturday 29 April 6-7pm in the Parish Rooms.