Activists in the RMT union, and wider labour movement, were dismayed in March 2014 when a boxing tournament organised to raise money for the RMT’s London Widows and Orphans fund was promoted with a poster including a stylised, cartoon image of a bikini-clad “ring girl”.
The cartoon woman, with an exaggeratedly small waist and exaggeratedly large breasts, entirely played into sexist stereotypes about body image and beauty standards. Although women boxers did participate in the event, only one was featured on the poster, compared to 15 men.
The ring girl image frequently appears on the material of the “London White Collar Boxing Championship”, the body in conjunction with which the fundraiser was organised. This raises the obvious question of why the RMT is organising events alongside bodies which routinely use sexist cartoons to promote themselves.
The publication of this poster was particularly regrettable because, as Women’s Fightback has previously reported, women in the rail industry still experience sexism at work and therefore need a union that will vigorously challenge this culture.
RMT Assistant General Secretary Steve Hedley (against whom there are allegations of domestic violence which many believe were not dealt with adequately, as well as other accusations of sexism), as well appearing on the poster and boxing at the event, promoted and defended the poster.
RMT Women’s Conference, which took place from 7-8 March 2014, passed a motion condemning the union’s promotion of the poster. The motion was written, moved in RMT branches, and promoted at the Women’s Conference by Workers’ Liberty members.
The kind of sexist values clearly implied by the poster need confronting – in society as a whole and in within the labour movement itself. Posters that recycle and promote sexist stereotypes have no place in our movement.