Modern manners

‘Your hair wants cutting,’ said the Hatter. He had been looking at Alice for some time with great curiosity, and this was his first speech.

‘You should learn not to make personal remarks,’ Alice said with some severity; `it’s very rude.’ 

Lewis Carroll


I don’t often read celebrity news, but I do like a nice awards ceremony frock. Which is how I stumbled across the story of Sarah Millican’s Bafta experience.

For anyone even less up to speed, Sarah tells the story better than anyone else could, in her magnificent response.

So. Not exactly up to the minute. But this is a blog, not breaking news.  And inwardly composing what I’d write if only I had somewhere to put it was keeping me awake, until I remembered I had a blog.

I was so bloody depressed that such a clever, funny, creative woman, who has worked so hard to achieve something that those of us facing that Sunday evening/Monday morning feeling can only dream of, could be mauled in a feeding frenzy – over a dress.

Sarah has carved out a career doing something she clearly loves, and is extraordinarily good at, through hard work and having the courage to give it a go. She talks about self-esteem, being the quiet kid in class – yet she’s felt the fear and done it anyway.  In a male-dominated profession, too. She says that her Bafta nomination being in a genderless category made it even more satisfying.

Yet her presence on the red carpet apparently reduces her to the status of coat-hanger.

We like to think we’ve moved on (and we have) from the culture that turned a blind eye to the abuse by powerful celebrities of young women and girls, behind barely closed doors. But, there are those among us who think it’s perfectly acceptable to publicly deliver verbal abuse to women like Sarah, who’ve had the temerity to put themselves in the public eye – and be good at what they do.

Now, I am in no way trying to reduce the enormity of the effects of physical and sexual abuse to the same level as a bit of cruel carping about someone’s appearance. Nor am I belittling the debilitating effect that the latter can have.

But I am pointing to a link between one way of objectifying women – things to be ‘had’, trophies, props to an over-blown ego, and another – the reduction of hard-working, clever, witty women to the sum of their looks, objects – either of desire, or not.

It’s a great example to set to the next generation of creative talent, isn’t it? “Yes, yes, she’s talented and she’s worked hard to achieve something amazing, but how dare she wear that frock?”

I’m not saying we should, because as we all know, two wrongs don’t make a right, but I wonder what would happen if we subjected the boys to that treatment. ‘OMG. Satin lapels on a tux? With his figure? Didn’t he look in the mirror…?’

Actually, it just sounds a bit daft.

There’s nothing wrong with dressing up, wanting to look at our gorgeous best on a special occasion, or every day. But when did it become compulsory for anyone in the public eye to look and dress like a supermodel? And acceptable to savage them if they don’t?

It’s tough enough, if you’re not the kind of person who naturally seeks out attention, to put yourself out there doing what you have a talent for, and work hard at. You accept that some people will love your work, some will hate it, and a depressing number won’t care either way. We’re immensely privileged these days to have at our disposal the ability to communicate instantly, world-wide. But risking finding yourself judged for falling short of a goal you never set out to achieve – that’s quite a deterrent.

OK, rant over. I’m not much of a live comedy-goer, but I ended up being quite inspired by Sarah’s response, and I’d love to have been there in Buxton last week when she did her gig instead of going to this year’s Baftas, in THAT dress. So next time she tours, I’ll be there, cheering her on. I’ll be the woman in the ill-fitting tux with the dodgy satin lapels.


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