“I got far too drunk” is probably one of the most common sentences used between friends around the world – definitely in the UK – and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t dressed up, let drink get the better of them too quickly and pushed etiquette and decorum down their list of priorities. Because, guess what? That’s human.
Add Moet and the male gaze to the equation, though, and you’ve got Ladies’ Day at Ascot Races, a day that, for me, is in sharper focus this time around.
For the last year I’ve been campaigning to make upskirting a sexual offence, after I was targeted at a festival, and as you might have seen, my lawyer Ryan Whelan, Wera Hobhouse MP and I got there last Friday, only to be temporarily blocked by backbench MP Christopher Chope, who objected to our bill on its second reading. That was until this week when the Government tabled a bill that will ensure the law is changed.
Because of this issue being front-and-centre in the media, I can’t help but wonder if, today, when we table our bill to change the law, the photographers tasked with immortalising ladies accidentally flashing at Ascot will have taken notice of this issue and pop on their lens caps.
Now, let’s be honest, the online coverage of Ascot has never really been about the horses or the friendly competition; it’s always focused on the fashion. But as we all know, when the conversation turns to how women dress – while most of the discourse may be well-meaning – there will always be the predilection for shaming women.
Photographers – tasked with ‘capturing the frivolities’ – will await the moment race-goers ‘struggle to contain their assets’. And when the Daily Mail publishes its round-up, the captions will even go as far as to describe how ‘women struggle to hide their pants’. You see, there’s not even a thinly-veiled attempt to make it sound like these images were just poorly timed or unfortunate. It’s the blatant normalisation of women’s bodies being sexualised. You see, the problem is, the general public have become completely numb to the idea that seeing a woman’s body – without her consent – is unacceptable. And of course they have because, if my inbox for the past year is anything to go by, people still can’t get their head around the idea that sexualising yourself is your choice, but being sexualised without your consent is not.
In March, on the Brits Red Carpet, Holly Willoughby was planning on carrying a white rose to show her support for the #TimesUp movement. But when she swivelled to get out the car, wearing her beautiful white suit dress and holding that rose, photographers lunged to get photos of her crotch. Holly posted about her experience on Instagram, and, before I knew it, she’d jumped onboard to help my campaign and continues to be a wonderful supporter.
The paparazzi are clearly briefed by photo agencies (and offered four times their usual rate) to get photos of female celebrities’ crotches without their consent, because publications pay big money for them. Why? Because the media generally operates through the male gaze – it’s all about what ‘men want to see’, and however far we think we’ve come, women’s bodies are still continually treated like objects. That’s why publications need better diversity on their boards, in order to pull back from buying these types of pictures.
When this goes live, misogynists may call me a ‘snowflake’ and respond with the hackneyed ‘if they don’t want pictures of their crotch then why do they were such short skirts?’, but I’d ask them to name any other scenario in which we blame Person One for Person Two’s actions.
We should always be checking ourselves, and those we love, to ensure we’re focusing on the right part of the conversation. These ladies have probably looked forward to dressing up and laughing off their stressful modern-day lives for months. So, instead of telling them to drink less, wear more and somehow predict every gust of wind, we should be telling the photographers to zoom out, turn a blind eye and find something more valuable to focus on, instead of using booze as an excuse to shame women and perpetuate a culture that gives men on the street the green light to photograph women’s bodies whenever and wherever they like.
Above all, I just hope that if pictures come out today, we call out those who took them. Because if this campaign has taught me anything, it’s that using your voice should be for others. But wearing a skirt? Well, that’s just for yourself.