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Monday, 21 February 2011

Michael Winner, Breasts and Women's double standards

I found a curious tale of the English eccentric falling foul of the dangers of Twitter in this week’s Observer.  Victoria Coren has come to blows with the infinitely eccentric Michael Winner.  And it’s all over breasts.

 Perhaps when Michael Winner started drooling over the fullness and pertness of Ms Coren’s assets he genuinely thought that it was a harmless, private joke and when his followers  joined in, he thought it was just banter amongst friends.

Obviously, Victoria isn’t so happy about the situation.
 I felt embarrassed and sad. I can bluster my way through a comedy feud, but I'm not a stripper who confidently offers her assets for appraisal. I'm a writer, with an imperfect, private body. It was embarrassing to have a thousand people sharing public opinions about my chest.

There’s no arguing with that, is there? As Victoria points out herself, she doesn’t put her body on show for comment. Although she’s well known and obviously courts publicity, the wares she is selling are her writing and her wit and it is these things that she should be judged on.

So far, so feminist. But the whole premise of this blog is to explore the grey areas and face uncomfortable truths about modern women and modern feminism.

Dare I say it? (Of course I dare!) Many women often enjoy the objectification of their sexuality by men.  I need to be careful here, in so many ways, I’m treading on uneven ground and could easily fall flat on my face.

I’ll give you an example. A couple of weeks ago I was party to a conversation in which one woman related a comment she had heard about her friend’s bum, you know the usual crass, clichéd, slightly dirty remark. Were these women outraged? Made to feel uncomfortable?  Not at all. “I’m quite pleased with that -  I hardly ever get comments on my bum these days.” “I thought you would be -  that’s why I told you.”

Now, that sort of remark rarely pleases me: I just can’t get over feeling uncomfortable and yes, outraged. However, I also can’t help feeling a warm glow if I’m called pretty or, even on occasion, beautiful and it’s always better if it’s from a man.  

Should we be blamed for such reactions.? We live in a world where beauty, attractiveness and sexiness are key female attributes. Of course women feel a sense of achievement and satisfaction when they are complimented because they have just been validated on the terms society judges them by.  I’d be equally happy to hear comments about how clever I am (why, thank you, I do try…) but this hardly ever happens.

 We all want to be attractive, it’s natural. But surely, so do men? I asked a male friend if he ever gets  complimented and he said hardly ever; sometimes someone might say they like his tie. But people aren’t going around talking about how witty and clever he is either. I don’t really know what to make of this.

The main difference between the sexes on this issue seems to be an absence of sexual judgment in the everyday experience of men. I’d bet that nearly every woman has had some sort of unwelcome and unsolicited comment about her looks, and more specifically, about her sexuality. And it’s not just compliments. I’ve been told ‘not to bother – it’s not working’ whilst jogging past a gang of boozing men and have been told I’m a ‘stupid ugly cow’ for riding a bike. Both comments made me angry, and perhaps, to my shame, a little sad, because they chipped away at my sense of attractiveness.

I certainly have the right to go about my life without such abuse but perhaps until we can learn to treat the two imposters just the same, and stop revelling in the favorable comments, we’re giving licence to certain types of men to offer their opinions on our breasts and our bums and anything else they care to dissect for their approval or their judgment.

Because, as Victoria Coren says, it’s not always harmless banter.
How does Michael Winner treat a nervous 23-year-old waitress when he's showing off in the Ivy? What does he say about the daughters of his friends? And these critical men who rush to defend the principle of dirty personal remarks; how do they behave around girls who are more timid, less articulate, less battle-weary than I am?


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