“Apparel oft proclaims a man,” wrote Shakespeare. Yet these days, methinks, it also doth proclaim a cultural catastrophe.
If you wish to take issue with this melancholy observation, just look at former MP Tracy Brabin, who is now mayor of West Yorkshire. In her new job, she is trying to criminalise misogyny and “everyday sexism”, having herself allegedly fallen victim to that outrage.
In 2020, Miss Brabin, a soap opera actress by original trade, showed up for a parliamentary debate wearing a £35 off-the-shoulder dress. She was then traumatised for life by troll attacks along the lines of “a slag”, “hungover”, “a tart”, “about to breastfeed”, “a slapper”, “drunk”, and “just been banged over a wheelie bin”.
That, according to Miss Brabin, “uncovered this split in the universe where the misogynists just fell on my head”. Now, though I realise that any criticism of a woman is a manifestation of misogyny, I doubt her critics hated women. They just hated Miss Brabin’s sartorially expressed contempt for the Mother of All Parliaments.
I’m sure no such opprobrium would have come her way had she worn that dress to a party. Some people might have been put off by a sixtyish woman dressing like a working-class teenager out on the town, and words like ‘mutton’ and ‘lamb’ might have crossed a few minds.
But that’s where such words would have remained. Dressing badly isn’t offensive; only dressing inappropriately is. Horses for courses and all that: a bikini is fine on a beach, but not in a City bank; jeans are wearable in the street, but not at a Buck House reception; a very décolleté blouse is for the evening, not office hours.
Yet these days many women turn themselves into walking mouse traps, with their secondary (and sometimes primary) sex characteristics on blatant display to act in the capacity of cheese. When such a woman catches a man making a frivolous comment or even just looking lower than her eyes, the trap slams shut.
He is a sexist, misogynist and – by confident extension – also a xenophobe, racist, homophobe and transphobe. He ought to have his collar felt; a mere reprimand wouldn’t do.
Two paths are diverging, and women try to perform the unlikely contortionist feat of following both at the same time. First, they wear inappropriately revealing clothes in situations calling for some decorum. Second, they insist that all men nevertheless suppress their God-given tendency to notice the more visible attractions – and men of discernment ignore the clash between dress and occasion.
I like the sight of female flesh as much as the next man, and my most unfortunate CV should immunise me against charges of prudishness. Yet I’m scandalised to see, as one example, female newsreaders on morning shows flashing more breast than they should when reporting on, say, mass murder or, even worse, a Labour conference.
As to Miss Brabin, how was she elected to parliament in the first place? What credentials did she possess for running the country? Her face was known to soap watchers, but is that sufficient to qualify her for deciding which laws should govern the nation?
Nor was she just a backbencher. Jeremy Corbyn appointed Miss Brabin as Shadow Secretary for Culture, no less, which should give you an idea of how culture is defined these days.
I’m not saying that no soap actress should serve in parliament, although thespians in general aren’t known for the prudent sagacity that job requires. But if a soap actress does become an MP, she should dress as an MP, not as a soap actress. That would be a sign of good taste and respect for the institution, which is still, in spite of everything, worthy of respect.
Oh well, that ship has already sailed, and it might even have been blown up like that Russian cruiser in the Ukraine. I’m looking forward to the House of Commons retraining as a house of ill repute. And let’s bring Tracy Brabin back as madam (unless she prefers a more hands-on role).