The Drunken Slattern & the Political Cleavage

Freedom of the press - a cracking thing. We can write what we like without fear of persecution, spew our opinions all over the Internet, be rude, be abusive, be provocative. When in some countries you can be executed for a well-informed and balanced opinion piece criticising a government policy, it is worth remembering how lucky we have it.

And yet, for some, this freedom means simply being perpetually, unashamedly sexist. We know this already - the Daily Mail sidebar of “shame” can get even the most well-meaning reader lost in a haze of scrolling through “racy” and “raunchy” pictures of x and y and z “flaunting” their bodies and “making the most of their “assets”. If a woman dares to go in the sea in a bikini (insane!) they are not just going for a swim, but rather “leaving little to the imagination”.

Last week, though, the Mail surpassed itself. First, we had Cheltenham. Jessica Hayes and Katie Salmon enjoyed a drink on the balcony and, seeing a camera, flashed their nipples. They were enjoying themselves, having a laugh, so what. If you want to flash at a camera go for it as far as I can tell. But oh no, not in the eyes of the Daily Mail.

One picture caption read: “Looking at the photos of those two hideous, drunken slatterns at Cheltenham, flashing their nipples and poking their pierced tongues at passing punters, one could be excused for thinking: Is this what Emily Davison threw herself under a horse for?"

Huh? Firstly, Emily Davison died at the Epsom Derby trying to draw attention to the fight for women’s suffrage. Given that this is common knowledge, writer Richard Littlejohn has clearly got himself in a muddle. Fighting for women’s rights isn’t specifically fighting for the right to have breasts, but also the right to enjoy a day out without being destroyed by the media for having fun - something I’m sure Emily Davison would also fight for, after convincing men that women are actually capable of marking an X on a piece of paper.

Secondly, “hideous, drunken slattern”. Oh, sorry, forgive me for not realising this is the 18th century. So two women have a drink and suddenly become “hideous, drunken slatterns” - yet if they weren’t holding a champagne glass and weren’t flashing their nipples, they would probably have their boobs plastered over the newspaper anyway, celebrating them "pouring their curves" all over the racecourse. It’s fine though, Richard Littlejohn is still clearly struggling with his writing to the extent that he has to fall back on a bit of alliteration to try and jazz up his non-journalism. “Poking their pierced tongues at passing punters.” Yeah mate, piss off.

UK feminist zine Parallel Magazine blog - The Drunken Slattern and the Political Cleavage

But the shit coverage of Cheltenham, complete with picture upon picture of women wearing dresses, all which were inevitably “racy”, “daring” or “raunchy” wasn’t even the worse of it - that was left to Andrew Pierce’s misguided comment on the budget. So, the media thought that Theresa May being “audacious” enough to show some cleavage was clearly an attempt to hijack attention and steal the limelight from whatever was coming out of Osborne’s mouth. Suggestions abounded that perhaps a women’s only tool in politics is their cleavage, because a picture speaks a thousand words right?

Andrew Pierce wrote: “When Theresa May slipped into her slinky red dress on Wednesday morning she knew exactly the effect her outfit would have.” Yes, it would cover her underwear, therefore allowing her to leave for work without being naked. It would also play a part in keeping her warm, along with the help of her jacket over the top. Bingo!

Pierce continued: “For while Left-wing feminists have been wringing their hands over the attention paid to her eye-catching cleavage, you can bet that the 59-year-old Home Secretary is not complaining.” Yes I wrung my hands at the likes of you, Andrew, and imagined it was your neck I was wringing. And no, she is probably not complaining because she has more important things to worry about, such as doing her job. Nonetheless, yes, she probably wishes she could do her job without being subject to your sexist nonsense but sadly, like all women in politics, no doubt she is used to it.

“Mrs May - like many women MPs on both benches - knows moving a hemline up or a neckline down can be a powerful political tool.” OK, stop. What are you on about? Women MPs on both benches are there because they have strong political views and believe they can help make a difference. Their hemlines are completely and utterly irrelevant and like men, they get dressed in the morning because that is the done thing. If David Cameron can wash up looking like an over boiled beetroot without any criticism, then why can’t women wear a dress? If women thought they could change the world for the better by rocking up to the Commons naked then they would do so (or at least, I would). Alas, believe it or not, they were there to talk about the budget, not hemlines.

“The Home Secretary, increasingly overlooked in the Tory leadership race between London Mayor Boris Johnson and George Osborne, reminded everyone that she was still a major player.” No, she just went to work.

“And, as you can see from our pictures,” - no, we can’t - “flashing the flesh is always strategic” - no, it’s not - “distracting from scandals, securing coveted political jobs and sending a powerful message.” So, let’s get this straight. Andrew Pierce thinks a) women in politics get their jobs by showing some cleavage, b) cleavage sends a powerful message, c) boobs distract from scandals. Bit insulting to the women on both benches who have worked hard, and, simply because of not being men, much harder to their male peers, to secure their roles as MPs. I’d say it is nigh on impossible for a woman to stroll out of uni, wear a low cut top out around town and magically step into political office the next day.

I would also be intrigued to know what powerful message Pierce thinks Theresa May’s cleavage is sending out? Apart from, women you can wear what you want because we deserve, like men, to be judged on our merits not on our outfits. And finally, no, Mrs May’s cleavage was not distracting, in fact I never even noticed it because I was too busy despairing at George Osborne’s proposals to take money away from the most vulnerable members of society while raising the 40 per cent tax threshold for Britain’s highest earners. If it distracted you, you are a bit pathetic and clearly stuck in some neolithic era.

How long before women can do what they want without being subject to intense scrutiny and ridicule for their actions? If a woman covers up she is dowdy, if a woman wears less she is a slattern and a distraction. If the only way you can get people to read your writing is by lambasting women for doing anything that isn’t stay at home and clean and cook then you need to start looking at yourself, rather than women’s breasts.

Words by Imogen Robinson