Thursday, 22 May 2014

Woman wears the same dress twice

Sarah Millican in the offending dress at the 2013 Baftas
The comedian Sarah Millican wore the dress that she wore to last year's Baftas twice. She wore it again for this year's Baftas (although she didn't actually attend). I know, it's pretty shocking.

This fact has been all over the internet. Millican was wearing the dress to make a point, as she explains in this article for the Radio Times, after last year her night out to the award ceremony ended in tears when she was slated for the way she looked on the red carpet.

Crimes against fashion and feminism

This story isn't about to rock the feminist world. It's a small tale about a single privileged and successful individual.

Having someone insult your dress at the Baftas isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.

As Millican points out, she’s a comedian. Her job is to make people laugh, not to stand about looking pretty.

Millican-gate is a symptom of the fact that we see women’s bodies and the way they clothe them as something for public consumption. How dare Millican show herself at a high-profile public event with her over-size-8 body and department store dress! Twice!

If we object to her dress, maybe we should be asking why, as she says: "Fancy expensive designer shops are out for me as I’m a size 18, sometimes 20, and I therefore do not count as a woman to them."

Red carpet action

Red carpet dresses (and people) at the 2012 Golden Globes
Showbiz events such as the Baftas are attended by actors and models, many of whom do make a living from looking pretty (and acting a bit too). The red carpet is also a showcase for designers, as exorbitant frocks are paraded for the camera, in the knowledge that the world is watching and judging. 

And so, watching and judging, lots of people on Twitter felt it was OK to comment on Millican's figure and attire. Forgetting, or not caring, that famous and successful though she is, she is also a woman. And we get very upset when other people (usually other women) mock the way we look.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Will Clifford lead to a greater good?

By Howard Lake via Wikimedia Commons
This week the celebrity publicist Max Clifford began an eight year jail sentence for sexually assaulting young women and girls. This is good news for feminism.

It won't fix anything. Putting Max Clifford in jail won’t give his victims back what he took from them. It won't take away the years of pain they have experienced as a result of what he did to them, and the increasing sense of degradation they must have felt as they continued to be faced with his image on TV.

And there will still be Max Cliffords out there - more or less powerful than he was, who can intimidate young women and molest them, feeling safe in the knowledge that they are rich and powerful. With some insignificant little girl's word against his, who will be believed?

But Clifford's downfall does send the message that rich and powerful men can be called to account for what they do to women. They won't always get away with it. Sometimes, but not always.

Making women's words count

In court one of Clifford's victims told how, when she tried to stop him assaulting her, he asked "Who is going to believe you?"

Clifford's blatant acknowledgement of his power over the young women he assaulted gets to the heart of the issue. Men are not usually physically stronger than women, but men in positions of power are more credible. 

Hopefully, the big result of this case will be that men like Max Clifford no longer seem unpunishable.

More alleged victims of Clifford's abuse are believed to have come forward during the trial, which could potentially lead to further court proceedings in future. We can guess that through the news of the court case, they found the courage and confidence to speak out about incidents which, fearing they would never be believed, they may never have told another human being. 

The police also announced 'a significant increase in the number of sexual abuse allegations reported', as a result of high-profile cases like Clifford's.

The legacy of Clifford's case, which will hopefully outlast the term of his jail sentence, could be helping women to speak up about their abusers.

Balanced scale of Justice


On the one hand, Clifford's jail sentence is justice for the girls and young women whom he violated.

On the other hand, the sentence is a signal to every woman who has been abused, harassed or undermined by men in positions of power, that they can be called to account.

Sadly this isn’t always the case, as Jimmy Savile’s numerous victims would no doubt testify – he went to his grave without having to answer for his crimes.

Maxwell Clifford's jail sentence is a small piece of justice in an unjust world, particularly for women. But you never know, it might play a tiny part in helping women to find their voices against assault.