Keep it buttoned, ladies

Ladies! Check your frontages! We’ve been searching for decades to discover just why it’s so damn hard for woman to advance in parliament or the media. Why are there just five women in the cabinet? Still, with 21% of posts, female politicians are only doing slightly worse that female journalists, who racked up 22% of articles; compared to the Today programme (where a measly 16% of reporters and guests were women), the House of Commons is a full-skirted matriarchy. The good news, though, is that Anne McElvoy has figured it out, and the answer is right under your nose. The answer is boobs.

“Just put your cleavage away if you don’t want it commented on,” McElvoy told the first meeting of the All-Party Women’s Group. Of course! The main drag on women’s success comes from the terrible burden of our mammary glands, like two squidgy cannonballs chained to our torsos and dragging us down, down, down. The only thing we can do is hide them away, hoping that we can conceal them sufficiently for the world to take us seriously.

Because – and this is very, very important – tits are the opposite of intelligence. The more noticeable the former are, the less merit it’s possible for the latter to obtain. They’re a literal obstacle to achievement: puny women would struggle to approach a microphone anyway, even without the adipose barrier of their own cleavages blocking the way. You can hardly expect a girl to carry a dispatch box, let alone one already weighed down with humungous wobble-pockets.

Luckily, McElvoy seems to have checked with the rest of the world, and brokered an agreement. If we ladies pretend we don’t have breasts, the patriarchy will ignore them too! As proof of how successful this strategy can be, just look at the career of Clare Short. Ever professionally dressed, always keeping her cleavage carefully wrapped in the modesty-double of scarf and blouse, Short shimmied through her ministerial career without so much as a swipe at her appearance.

Well, apart from the time the Sun called her “fat and ugly”. But she probably provoked it by flashing her tits at the newspaper… What? She wanted the newspaper to stop flashing tits at her? Well this is confusing. Everybody! Put down the polo necks! The McElvoy advice might not be completely reliable! Still, at least we can look to Janet Street-Porter and Gillian Shephard for some robust, positive contributions. We should all “stop whinging” and “not get hung up on the stuff you read about yourself in the papers or be enticed into victimhood”, apparently. See that portion of public life we’ve been gifted, ladies? That magnificent, generous fifth of democracy that we have to play in? The only way we get to keep it is by never suggesting it should be any bigger.

Well, I say “we” have been gifted it. Actually it’s gone to them – Street-Porter, McElvoy, Shephard and their Thatcherite like. The kind of women who’ve been able to thrive in a world that has routinely squeezed power from the majority of their sex. Maybe they don’t actually know very much about how women generally could be better represented. Maybe it’s not even in their interests for that to happen, given that they’ve done alright with things as they are. Maybe the panel could have invited contributions from women who aren’t professional trolls, rather than damning itself to futility with its own cast list. And if I could just bind my chest tightly enough to have some ideas, I might even tell you what I think about how a culture of braying laddishness in politics works to keep women exactly where they are.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2012; photo by jessjamesjake, used under Creative Commons

31 thoughts on “Keep it buttoned, ladies

  1. I’m not ‘trying’ anything. Nor am I disagreeing with you; I know all too well that the presence of boobs can invite unwanted attention, even if they are covered up. All I’m saying is that in many work environments, there are double standards when it comes to acceptable attire.

  2. There are very different conventions when it comes to male and female attire, but it doesn’t matter where the collar goes: gawpers gonna gawp. So McElvoy’s contribution was intensely facile.

  3. Forgive my cynicism, Charlotte, but I really don’t think one MP’s competence with buttons is the reason women are under-represented in parliament.

  4. If you don’t want it _noticed_, cover it up. If you don’t want it commented on, don’t be in the public eye, or in fact in front of anyone at any time ever, just stay at home. I notice and comment on people (men and women), I just also know when it’s ‘work time’ – time to forget appearances and talk more seriously. Surely that’s the issue – we can’t stop people noticing appearance, we can just hope that we’re mature enough not to let appearances (ours and others’) affect our work. “Just put your cleavage away if you don’t want it commented on” is a mechanic for dealing with people in an environment where you don’t want to invite comment, and it isn’t even bad advice. To put it bluntly, I don’t care if people comment on my tits or not so long as they don’t let them affect their judgment of my work.

  5. And again: is this really the sort of insight that will propel women to equality? No. It’s stupid distraction, and a bloody waste of the opportunity offered by the cross-party group.

  6. The cross-party group probably can’t achieve anything. Time and gradual change will achieve things. People aren’t going to stop making comments overnight. Equality happens when everyone is judged in the same manner, not when all judging stops.

  7. Probably best if no one does any activism of any kind and just keeps quiet about all the various things keeping women out of politics. What is your organisation for, Charlotte?

  8. We focus on the millions of low and middle-income women who have been completely excluded by the extremism inherent in the current feminist agenda.

    Women in parliament, women on boards? Elitist concerns of the Establishment, backed up bizarrely by feminists. Meanwhile many millions of women worry about feeding their family and making ends meet.

  9. Nope. But I don’t believe that only women can represent women – it is a far more complex web than that and there are very few, if any, purely ‘female issues’. Feminism has shut down the debate, particularly from the male side – we are in a very bad place.

  10. A place which we can escape by cutting out the whinging and the cleavage? As for cutting down debate from the male side – I don’t know if you spotted it, but what with the MPs and the journalists being almost uniformly male, the debate is *only* from the male side.

  11. The debate around women is almost nonexistent from the male side – male jounos don’t write about issues which are relevant to females. If I were a man, I would be terrified. Most of the most vocal women in the feminist arena have nothing good to say about men at all. All very backward and very depressing.

  12. Speaking as a feminist woman who likes men, knows many wonderful men, and has been poor my entire life (and a member of an ethnic minority), I can honestly say that I never, ever want you speaking for me, Charlotte. You seem to have fallen – hook, line and sinker – for the concept of poor, belittled men, being attacked by the mean ol’ feminists. You seem not only to be deeply anti-feminist, but you are actively promoting misogyny. You appear to have no concept of what feminism actually is and what true feminists hope to achieve. I work with women’s aid and see the true effects of women having virtually no political voice. Ending debates and/or shifting them away from the true issues by complaining that women should cover up in order to be taken seriously is spectacularly missing the point.

    Please, just stop commenting. You’re making yourself look like a fool.

  13. ‘Anti-feminist’ yes. ‘Poor, belittled men’ nope. Never said that.

    And it doesn’t matter whether I do or don’t understand ‘true feminism’, the truth is that it does not speak for women. The 2008 Pew survey found that just 20% of young US women self-identified as feminist. So you can talk about feminism all you like, but if it no longer resonates with the mainstream you have an empty ideology forced to the extremes.

    ‘Women’s aid’ great – please continue to work for women who need aid. I work for women who don’t need aid, but do need help and support – not always, only sometimes – because most of the time the vast majority of women can stand on their own two feet without be treated as victims and awarded special treatment at the expense of men.

    Oh and ‘please, just stop commenting’. A feminist trying to close down debate again? And the ‘fool’ bit? Surely this goes against everything you stand for, a personal attack. Oh dear.

  14. Your entire philosophy screams ‘poor, belittled men’.

    The fact that you don’t understand true feminism does matter, because you said yourself that you’re anti-feminist. Not understanding what you’re against says A LOT about you. One of the many reasons women don’t identify as feminist is because the word “feminist” has been demonised. It’s not that it “no longer resonates” – it never gets a chance. As soon as you say you’re a feminist, you get subjected to a barrage of insults. Many women don’t want that hassle, which is understandable.

    The women I work with are not victims incapable of “standing on their own two feet”. They are survivors who recognised a dreadful situation and got themselves and their families out. They most certainly are not “awarded special treatment at the expense of men.” They and their children are sheltered from men who have attacked them in every way possible. Attacks that they could not escape for a long time partly as a result of attitudes like yours, i.e. women should just shut up and take whatever is handed to them and be grateful for it.

    I’m not trying to close down a debate, I’m trying to stop you from looking more like a fool than you already have done. Alas, I have failed. If you don’t want to take my advice (as you clearly don’t), it’s not my problem.

    Being a feminist doesn’t preclude trying get fools and concern trolls off legitimate feminist internet forums; and you, my dear, fall into both categories. “Oh dear” indeed.

  15. Many reasons. Do your own research. Virtually everyone else here did theirs. Maybe if you got to know what it was you were so vehemently against, you’d not be so against it.

    And no, I didn’t put words in your mouth. I used the exact ones you used. Oh, wait… were those my Evil Feminist Powers at work, making you say them in the first place? I’m sorry, I just can’t take you seriously.

  16. As for putting words in Charlotte’s mouth: Charlotte did say men are “terrified” because of feminists (Melissa scores one for “poor, belittled men”); she also made a distinction between women who can “stand on their own two feet” and women who need aid “at the expense of men”, so Melissa gets another point.

    Honestly, I don’t care whether Charlotte individually is a feminist or not, but I do wonder for who and what she thinks she’s speaking. Women who want “help and support” but would rather faint than challenge overall male dominance in any field? She seems to be heading up a philanthropic organisation for the furtherance of individual women’s self interest (a fairly nonsensical concept when you think about it), while resisting any kind of structural change that could help women generally.

    I suppose that if she ever helps enough individual women that she has an appreciable influence on the gender balance of social power, Charlotte will have to immediately disband and set up a rival service (Men On?) to help those poor chaps she’s inadvertently helped to “terrorise”…

  17. As a white heterosexual male your post and the ensuing debate has left me confused, aroused, terrified, emotional and confused. The next time I’m confronted with a breasty barrage I’ll not know whether to turn and run, dive in or weep like a newborn.

    Charlotte you’re being a plum. Men aren’t terrified of feminists, the smart ones aren’t anyway, they are feminists. Because you can be a feminist and hold feminist views whilst being a man. A cock and balls doesnt stop you from regarding the world as an unfair place where women are marginalised.

  18. Sarah and Chris, you win ALL THE CAKE. And tea. Or whatever your respective choices of beverage are.

  19. I bloody love tea and cake. I’m in the mood for a slice of lemon drizzle.

    A teacher once said to me, ‘Are you a feminist?’ I replied that I wasn’t sure, I didn’t think so. He then said, ‘Do you think women should have equal pay and equal rights to men in the workplace?’ To which I replied, ‘Well, of course.’

    ‘Then you’re a fucking feminist.’ He said.

    This prompted me to read up on it. It turns out I am a feminist, he was right.

  20. Lemon drizzle it is, then! Shock, horror – I’m a feminist who bakes AND shaves my legs AND wears pretty underwear!

    That teacher of yours deserves ALL THE CAKE too. If I met him, I’d probably also make him a starter and a main course.

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