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.