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“She’s a game bird.” I overheard someone saying this recently. No other phrase creates more nausea within me. Well, aside from the classic “Let’s have a giggle”. Eurgh. It’s worse when you give thought to what such a seemingly harmless little phrase actually means. Game is an ‘object of pursuit’, with fair game being ‘something equally accessible by any legitimate participant’. It derives from the grouse hunter’s expression to identify a bird that is a legitimate target as opposed to a bird that is injured, or too young. When that ‘bird’ in question is a woman, well, there’s the nausea again.

In my mind’s eye I cringe at hawing and hooraying middle-aged men in pastel linens, winding down with a sloe gin in an Agatha Christie-esque parlour of some vast country estate after a long haul on the grouse fields, his eye on the next target – Florence, someone’s cousin. (Must stop watching all this ITV3.) But, naturally seems as I live not in the country but Birmingham city centre, the fella I overhead making the “she’s a game bird” statement was not in fact a middle-age country gent but a lad in his late teens sporting a sort-of quiff. His friend wore red cords and a smart blazer. There was a cravat present.

It’s striking how this trend in young men’s – and ladies’ – fashion has really taken hold of the great British public. First came the renewed thirst to dress like young Sloanes after the success of Made in Chelsea. Cue Jack Wills, ‘outfitters to the gentry’, sprouting up all over the place – yes, even not-exactly-Oxbridge Birmingham. So I suppose it is only natural that we are now seeing this strange rise through the ranks, if you will, to an upper class of aspirational dressing. A movement that is resulting in the incongruous (and really quite humorous) combination of 18-year-old lads dressed in sat round the local Wetherspoons resembling the head of some old aristocrat in neckerchiefs, waistcoats and loafers-with-no-socks. Likely topped off with a quilted jacket, or tweed if you’re that way inclined.

It’s not hard to see why this look is so popular. I should know, I subscribed to Tatler to a year. (Yes, I know – but I was curious). It’s a bit of fun. And it’s nice to see people looking so smart – much preferable to the full-on tracksuit look – even if it is just as equally ridiculous (arguably more so).

But I digress – it dawned on me after overhearing the ‘game bird’ phrase that in all my 32 years I’ve never eaten game meat. Clearly, I’ve led a sheltered life. It’s strange though, as I’m not exactly unadventurous in my eating and I’m often found in a restaurant these days. Game has cropped up on the menu and in my psyche on numerous occasions. But my abstinence is not a conscious decision based on the blatant sexism (and accompanying nausea) that has infected my perception of game meat. But rather, an (until now) unconscious aversion based on what it represents to me about the sticky issue of social class.

pigeon  edit 2Growing up in north Birmingham there wasn’t much call for game. It was a truly alien concept. I remember, not all that long ago, hearing about fashionable restaurants serving pigeon and my immediate reaction was: food has gone mad. Eating pigeon? Never. The worst I’ve done to a pigeon is chase it… I don’t want one on my plate. Most of them are mangled and diseased-looking with one eye and half a leg. Of course, what these restaurants are serving are not the city pigeons we all love to hate, but wild wood pigeon. Thinking about it, what’s the difference? The wood pigeon’s diet can’t be too far removed from that of their city relatives – so what if they supplement their seeds with a bit of our rubbish…isn’t that what pigs do? And my, do we love our pork!

I think I’d rather take a chance with a city pigeon than dice with dental disaster – who wants a mouthful of lead? – and, in the process, continue to not buy into the stale elitism that today’s game ‘sport’ culture represents. Members – provided you understand all manner of weird rules and codes – of a selective club, wealthy enough to be able to shell out thousands to kill birds for pleasure.

It all seems a bit barbaric and unnecessary. While I can understand the argument that game sport isn’t any more barbaric than rearing a bird in a disgusting factory to be killed, the altogether unwholesome social barbarity of fun-seeking toffs paying through the nose to shoot at animals for sport is something this diner just can’t stomach. But ridding our cities of the pigeon scourge – wouldn’t that be a good thing? A useful thing?

We could get them out of the guns out of the grouse fields and into our city centres for public service shoots. Then we could have a Digbeth Dining Club pigeon burger stand, inspired by this Rentokil pestaurant. Can you imagine…armed men in plus-fours running around town? Paying women and small children a pittance (this does actually happen) to beat the pigeons into flight?

No, neither can I.

To those who leave the house – in fact even those who don’t, thanks to the likes of Channel 4 – the following exchange won’t come as the shock that it really should.

The other day, on the bus, I overhead – impossible not to, they were shouting so proudly – a conversation a teenaged lad was having on the phone with his girlfriend, during which he repeated that well-worn loving phrase; “Do you want to get punched up? Six times, no less. Whilst he ejaculated such insults, his cronies – one of them female – cheered him on, giggling hysterically and gesticulating wildly with pleasure, like chimps.

Who’s worse? They boy? The girl who stays with him? Or the society that produced them both?

Such disrespect, such unhealthy relationships, are certainly not something new, but the increasingly aggressive ‘front’ that I see young boys and men displaying proudly today really is concerning to this girl. Unfortunately, I overhear such verbal abuse daily, working as I do in education, and the mindless, go-to phrases – of which ‘do you want to get punched’ up is comparatively friendly – often seem to me like a knee-jerk response to the angry culture that has sprung up in our entertainment industry. It’s like life has become one long rap video, in which we women really are ‘hos’. It’s madness – but, maddeningly, a reality.

Maybe I’m overreacting and this routine verbal assault is just another mode, in a long historical line, of exaggerated teenaged expression; for whom it is all or nothing. The thing is though, it’s not just words that are exuberantly exchanged in our classrooms and on our streets – what gets me are those slogan / graphic t shirts that seem to be a staple of every young man’s wardrobe now. You know the kind I mean. Half (or often, a lot more than half) naked women touching themselves, bending over etc etc. Basically, people are just going about in public with pornography on their chests. The majority of it is especially insulting, considering the woman tend to have their eyes blocked or are wearing sunglasses. It’s just breasts. Great message to send out – thanks. And it’s not even like we’re talking about discerning young men hunting this stuff out in specialist or joke shops either. The following images are taken from products on offer at River Island and Republic, for God’s sake. (Apologies for this onslaught – or you’re welcome, depending on what side of the sexism line you’re on.)

I think I’ve made my point. I mean really – would  you want your son to turn up to college displaying one of those dismissive, patronising messages? Would you want to be served in a shop by someone wearing an aggressive image of sexual objectification? It’s a really quite sinister form of sexism that is being unapologetically shoved in our faces under the apparently harmless guise of fashion.

Of course, at the end of the day this is no different a sexism to subtle inequality, still inherent, exhibited quietly by those more ‘civilised’ members of society dressed in suits and sitting at desks, rather than in their offensive t shirt on the bus.

I can’t decide what’s worse.

As feminism campaigns enjoy a media moment of sorts, and the battle for equality reaches more of us, it seems such a cruel and unnecessary affront that, at the same time, our high streets seem intent on pushing more and more of these angry and downright aggressive sexual messages onto our bodies. Our young men have become walking mouthpieces for outdated sexual stereotypes. Worse still, they are actually shelling out money to be ambassadors for this sexism. Are high street designers fuelling the desire for these messages by producing them ? Or are they sating a demand for them from our young people?

This problem was put into a new context last week when Dr Matt Taylor, of the Rosetta space project, caused a media furore by appearing on a video livestream of the European Space Agency’s mission to land on a comet sporting an inappropriate – and frankly, ugly – shirt. Covered in a bevy of half-naked buxom cartoon blondes, it looked like something from 1980s Blackpool. There was an immediate Twitter backlash, where the scientist was accused of being sexist. I mean, what was he thinking? Typically, Boris Johnson later waded in with an outdated opinion, claiming that ‘if you are an extrovert space scientist, that is the kind of shirt that you are allowed to wear.’ Even more alarmingly, he went on to compare the attacks on Dr Taylor to ‘a scene from Mao’s cultural revolution’, where weeping individuals were forced to confess to their crimes against the people…

The thing is, Boris – and other fellow dinosaurs – you must have had your eyes closed, because there is a revolution happening. People are fed up. And if we are determined to tackle casual sexism, one shirt at a time. Women are always being judged on their looks, what they’re wearing. It’s hilarious to see the  defensive storm that rises after, God forbid, a man is brought to account for his appearance.

No wonder there aren’t enough women in science – it’s hardly surprising with such a culture of casual sexism – reading, as I did researching this post, about what Dr Taylor said when talking about the mission during his presentation, never mind the offensive shirt, is toe-curlingly cringey and blood-boilingly frustrating; “the sexiest mission there’s ever been. She’s sexy, but I never said she was easy.

Ugh. Who’s at fault? Those who make these things, or those who choose to wear them? I can’t decide but, I implore you – give our young men a chance. Don’t buy them one of these t shirts as a festive gift. Their message could have an impact for life, not just for Christmas.

Blog post – Walking in Heels

I’ve never been able to walk in high heels. Rarely does the powerful click clack of sex and glamour resonate in my wake. I can’t even cope with a kitten.

Of course I tried that kind of femininity on for size for a period in my youth, as most of us do. There’s that right of passage, the first time we sneak into our mother’s wardrobe and trial our little feet in those giant, cartoonish courts. We realise right then how uncomfortable they are, but for some reason we persevere. I gave heels another go in my late teens – I’d managed to conquer a pair of sky-high bright white trainer-wedges, a la The Spice Girls, the previous year. So, I had high hopes. But of course, we all know wedges don’t count as a true heel, and my trainers were certainly not a true test of my walking ability. After wearing a pair of not-even-that-high sandals from Select for my 18th birthday jaunt to Pizza Hut, the next morning I vowed never to wear heels again.

I just can’t seem to physically master them. I read a hilarious piece in The Telegraph about a journalist – struck with the same affliction – who was sent to some terrifying woman’s class on how to walk in heels. I mean, there’s a class in everything isn’t there. This woman apparently wore high (high) heels all the time. Everywhere. Well, obviously she’s insane. And no doubt now riddled with back problems. Anyway, it made me wonder if a class of that ilk would have any impact on me. But I fear it would be futile.

In theory I should have the genetic equipment to walk in heels quite competently. My sister owns more than 200 pair of shoes. Yes, 200. They consumed our verandah in a slow painful suffocation, before spreading their chaos throughout the rest of the house. She used to go to work in them. The library. The dentist. She’d never consider going on a night out in a pair of flats. Heels are just in her psyche. And she didn’t need any pricey training sessions to show her how to walk. Here’s a flesh and blood relative who can function normally – glamorously – in a pair of stilettos. Surely I can follow in her footsteps?

But whenever I try I just look like Tina Turner gone wrong. And nothing works – plasters, gel cushions, only walking on carpets, being drunk – I’ve tried them all. Unfortunately I can’t afford to pay someone to walk around with a carpet in front of me all the time. So I have to ask myself, is it that I can’t walk in high heels? Or that I won’t?

I was reminded of this little failure of mine the other week, when I started reading a book said sister lent me: How to be Parisian. There was a line in it that touched a nerve, “What you won’t find in the Parisienne’s closet – three-inch heels. Why live life halfway?”

Well – what’s wrong with being comfortable? And not just in shoes – in your own skin?

It pains me to admit that I’m actually bothered that I can’t strut to the shops – how ridiculous, it’s just a pair of shoes after all. But that’s the thing, it’s not about the actual shoes – a heel represents much more. Sex! Power! Glamour! That’s what a pair of heels screams. Then there’s me, plodding along in my Clarkes boots and coming up short (literally). All in all it makes me feel rather inadequate, like I’m missing a major string in my bow. Killer heels are weaponry in a girl’s arsenal. -whether that’s power in attracting a mate (because that’s what heels are designed to do when it comes down to it – display your childbearing hips). Or whether it’s power in securing a high-flying job (assuming most high-flying jobs are male dominated and you’ve got to try and attract one with your childbearing hips…)

And then of course there are the rest of us, apparently not in high-flying jobs or a bearer of children, jealous spinsters unable to master the skill of walking. And we think, well actually it’s all very well looking especially lengthy-of-leg and being tall enough to look boardroom suits in the eye, but – aren’t you a bit of a slave to that shoe? That’s a friendly torture device you’re strapped into there. And you’re endorsing it. Suffering. You are in actual pain.

Of course, I’m being way too serious here (that’s flat heel wearers for you). I agree, I could accurately be accused of taking the fun right out of shoes. Because I can see that they are a bit of fun for a lot of people. They make us look good. They give us confidence, even if that confidence is based around men and hurts us in the process.

I’d much rather be comfortable. As long as I’m not getting too comfortable… Maybe I’ll sneak into my sister’s wardrobe the next time I see her, try walking in her shoes for a moment or two.

We edit ourselves as we go about life, don’t we? Not in the wholly condemnable Photoshop way employed by magazines etc, but we do present ourselves differently depending on the situation. Sometimes we choose to. Other times, we have to.

Now with this in mind, I am about to tiptoe into semi-dangerous territory as I essentially attempt to dole out advice on what people – well, women – should and should not wear. To work. Yes, I am mad.

We (most of us) do, of course, have the right to dress in whatever bloody way we like. Feminism is about the right to choose, after all. But for God’s sake ladies – pull it together when you are at work.

Just as we can’t be as gobby as we perhaps are in our personal lives, we can’t really be as loud with the clothes we wear in the workplace also. There is a time and a place, as they say. Being greeted by a crop top and leather leggings makes me uncomfortable at, say, the doctor’s surgery reception. Everywhere else – fine.

I am aware I am coming across as a ragingly conservative anti-feminist, but hear me out. Like it or not, you cannot get away from the fact that how you dress does project an image, a message to others. And at work, the only thing you want to show off is your professionalism.

I feel (relatively) passionate about this subject. On my commute to work I see a lot of other people on their way to work. A lot of young women. And there are times when when I involuntarily tut out loud as I watch one of them topple into an office in Spice Girls-eqsue trainer wedges. Cringe as a I catch a glimpse of the pants of another under a too-short skirt. Too much denim. Sports wear (literally, like they are going to the gym). A lot of skimpy, downright uncomfortable looking outfits that just seem plain incongruous with the workplace.

Maybe I’ve just been brainwashed by decades of fashion magazines – you know what I mean, those hilarious work wear sections that I’m sure most of us just flick through, yawning. Forever  dispensing the same advice, the same rules. It’s all pencils, body-con, shirts, cardigans – basically stuff that makes you look like a sensible grown up in the day, but will let it’s hair down with you as you ‘transition’ into a raucous evening. Stuff that says you’re ‘serious’, ‘strong’ but still ‘feminine’. The language is silly but it does ring true. This style of dressing gives us the flexibility, that armour we need.

And far as I’m concerned, flashing the flesh hasn’t really got much to do with empowerment, other than that you have freely chosen to flash it. But, more importantly, what you have almost certainly chosen is to mark your card as someone who can mis-read a situation.

Look, I’m not deranged – I can see how in some workplaces a relaxed dress code, a controversial one even, is accepted. Welcomed, even. Hairdressers spring to mind (the kind where people have beards and piercings, tattoos a-plenty… not Nicky Clarke). Bars, too. Trendy shops. Some PR companies maybe? I don’t know.

But take my place of work, for example – a creative small business founded by an artist who went around for three years in her twenties wearing the same boiler suit everyday. So you can imagine the atmosphere is a little loose – we can pretty much wear whatever we like. However, we are also a training provider, working with vulnerable school children. So, whilst we are not exactly your typical school, we do have a duty to be good role models for the kids. We also have a responsible image to project to our partners in the schools. Plus, there are times we have to look even more grown up for the local authority.

We are also, coincidentally, an all-female team. Each one of us has to re-edit ourselves a bit, depending on who we’ve got coming in – we constantly have to meet other people’s expectations. And, as a tiny company competing with the ‘big boys’, we have to push even harder to be taken seriously. How we dress plays a part in this. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but it is. It’s obviously especially true for women, but men do have the same standards and expectations to meet also – a man coming into a meeting in a vest and shorts wouldn’t be tolerated in most workplaces.

It would be nice to think we could all just go about life true to our own code, the whole time. But this is not a reality for anyone (well, maybe Kate Moss). Perhaps this is a good thing, anyhow – I imagine we would turn out to be a pretty selfish race if we all did exactly what we wanted to, all of the time.

This mini-rant is brought on by something that happened this week, at work. One of our female students came in wearing a sheer lace corset dress and stiletto heels.

Now, we have a policy where our students are treated as fellow staff members. They are ambassadors for the company. Plus, this girl is just 14 years old. It was genuinely frightening that she had thought it was acceptable to come in dressed in the way she was – that she even owns such clothes. After a frank talking-to about self-worth and choice (my boss actually likened the get-up to that of a prostitute’s…not the most pc of strategies but I could see where she was coming from…) we had to send her home.

It can be difficult enough being taken seriously at work as it is. At the end of the day, inappropriate clothes make you look out of place. Not in a ‘I’m asserting my individuality’ way. But in an ‘I’ve judged it wrong’ way. And this does nothing for selling your skills.

I feel quite uncomfortable writing this post. I know it will rankle people. I would probably find myself a little rankled if I wasn’t the writer. But I do maintain that you can stay true to yourself as you present different versions of this self to the world. It’s not about conforming, or changing yourself. It’s about making considered decisions.

I genuinely hope that, sooner rather than later, we get to the point where men and women are finally considered as equal in the workplace, and in society in general. In such a society I imagine men will be able to choose to come into work in a skirt and feel no shame or recrimination. Women could choose to come in wearing an embellished bin liner.

But I still wouldn’t get my hair cut there.

Is it me, or are today’s men increasingly choosing to dress in women’s clothes?

I don’t mean cardigans (sorry, mardigans), the odd man-bag, or even skinny jeans. I’ve accepted and adjusted to these additions to the general male wardrobe, just about.

I’m talking about actual women’s clothes, made for women to fit a woman’s body – sheer blouses, deep v and scoop neck tops, leggings, neck scarves, harem pants and embellished thong sandals.

Why God, why? Or rather, why fashion designers and high street retailers – why?

Cut it out – it’s not funny anymore, you may not have noticed but the men are taking it seriously! The average British male is just too damn lazy a shopper to actually think about what it is they are buying. They blindly trust you.

So, I implore you – give us our men back!!!
Let me be clear here. My beef is not with the hipsters (although they did start this). They are a law unto themselves, a weird closed species, and who knows in which unattractive way they will asset their ‘individuality’ next.

My concerns are the impact this movement is now having on the common man. And, in result, common woman. Common, persevering, patient (too patient) woman. This is just yet another thing she has to put up with.

Our men are visiting the high street, a couple of times a year at most – very much out of their comfort zone, and often confused. With this recognised reality in mind, men’s fashion departments in the UK are limited at the best of times. This suits them! They just want to get out of there as soon as, with a few clothes to last them for the next six months.

The fashion industry, it seems to me, are preying on this vulnerability, offering up an assault of flimsy cleavage revealing blouses, jeans that bulge in a madcap, mind boggling manner (phones, wallets – just jutting out like a horrendous utility belt for the thighs, whilst simultaneously reducing the sperm count of our male population) alongside jewellery – actual jewellery – and more. There are shoes that surpass the slight repulsiveness of flip-flops and hurtle full throttle into what can only be described as ladies sandals.

What next? Are you going to have them wearing bras? This must stop!

Don’t get me wrong – it’s encouraging that men are accepting and flaunting their feminine side, publicly, in making this effort to be more…erm…adventurous about the way they dress; something typically accepted to be the domain of women. It’s flattering I suppose, that men want to wear what we do; they must think it looks good. And yes, it does – on women!

In this lies, for me, the real horror and just plain confusion about this trend: why are men, straight men, Dads, dressing as if they have female bodies?

I accept that all this is nothing especially new, really – as ever the case in the world of fashion. Our men are blindly recycling practices of old. Look at the New Romantics, Bowie and Jagger before, and before all that – European men of the 1800s, for whom dressing ‘effeminately’ in decorative shirts and stockings was the norm, a sign of status and wealth – a sign of manhood.

But these men, 17th Century society aside, were demonstrating their allegiance to distinct social groups in the way they chose to present themselves. Very much like our modern day hipsters, they were making their mark through fashion.

In recent times, these feminine styles have spread to the masses. Hence now our nice, plain dressing, no funny business, comfy sweater men (who we know and love, even if we don’t want to admit it) are striding around, albeit bandy-legged, in bottoms fit for the Royal Ballet and tops reminiscent of Shirley Bassey cast-offs.

Surely it’s got embarrassing now? Someone must take a stand and say something.

I suppose some women must like it, surely? Otherwise the men wouldn’t keep doing it… But I ask you – who are these women?

Are we all just too embarrassed to bring it up in order to avoid hurting the feelings of modern man? Has this started a chain reaction amongst all young women in modern society, cumulating in the myth that we all like our men to look like us?

If this is the new face of modern equality, I find myself sorely disappointed.

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