Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Storm in a T-shirt

Oh dear! One piece in praise of a politician might be seen as an unexceptional phenomenon; two is starting to look like a bad habit. Nevertheless, I cannot let David Cameron's apparent refusal to wear a slogan T-shirt pass without comment.

While prepared to give a suitably supportive quote for the campaign, Cameron supposedly stood firm on the issue of wearing the T-shirt even after being asked five times to don the garment - which starts to look a lot like unmannerly pestering on the part of a magazine eager for sensational (and marketable) images.

Naturally this sparked outrage in the expected quarters with all the usual suspects shoehorning in references to the Bullingdon Club and pointing out that 'Nick Clegg did it. Benedict Cumberbatch and Ed Miliband did it too', to which the answer is surely a resounding 'So what? '

Like so many campaigns with a catchy slogan, this one is less simple than its promoters would have us believe, not least because of questions over the exact definition of a feminist. As it happens, I have been reading up on Feminism in the music industry this week so I am in a position to inform you that this is what a feminist looks like...

and this...
and this...

(all pictures from, predictably, the Mail)

If you thought that the revealing selfies or the 'one-rip-and-the-world's-your-gynaecologist' dance routines of today's pop divas were a throwback to the days when scantily-clad females were used to sell a new album or any other commodity, send yourself for immediate re-education! Such displays are, apparently, 21st century woman's way of asserting her independence (though I don't recommend trying it when you clock on at the office next Monday).

Never mind the fact that these women are surrounded by sycophantic hangers-on applauding their egregious sartorial and terpsichorean inventions (and, perhaps more significantly, all the personal protection money can buy); the argument is that they represent feminism in action - the concept of good taste and decorum presumably being regarded as an outdated manifestation of the evils of oppressive patriarchy.

These are powerful women, certainly, but their power is derived primarily from selling an image to fans and the media, and, in order to keep selling, they must continue to provide what a sensation-hungry public wants. However much they talk of 'empowerment' - and they use the word a lot - it is ultimately as shallow and exploitative as the 'Girl Power' that made so many merchandising fortunes in the 1990s.

The T-shirt demand is typical of the kind of media stunt Cameron is quite right to avoid. It was never about equality and freedom for half the world's population; the magazine just wanted an image for its cover - a hostage to fortune that would have put him in the same semantic box as Miley Cyrus and Harriet Harman.

This is far too big an issue for one post so there will be more to come. Meanwhile, however, we are in the unprecedented situation of raising a second glass to the Prime Minister for putting his principles above emotional blackmail.

Update: with a certain depressing inevitability, the hypocrisy continues...
  • Feminist T-shirts worn by politicians are made in'sweatshop' conditions
  • Migrant women in Mauritius are making the £45 tops for 62p an hour
  • They say: 'We don't feel like feminists. We don't feel equal. We feel trapped'
  • Machinists sleep 16 to a room and earn less than average wage on island 


  1. The sweatshop story is almost too delicious. You are right - Cameron's instincts were spot on.

  2. AKH, imagine the outcry now if he had worn it!

    The best bit is seeing Harriet Harman's cheap point-scoring backfire so spectacularly.

  3. God, there's not enough popcorn in the world...!

  4. Indeed there isn't, Julia; we're going to need a bigger metaphor!