After yet another week in which women's bodies have been used as bargaining chips to trade liberal reforms with the American centre-right, our choices denigrated and our self-expression questioned, politicised and ridiculed, I want to shout out for an unsung hero of improper, joyful, self-actualising women everywhere: Knickers Girl.
When a Sun photographer snapped Knickers Girl - aka 20 year old teaching assistant Sarah Lyons -cavorting in Cardiff centre with a pair of pants around her ankles, she instantly became the face of female reprobation up and down the country. Never mind that she wasn't exposing any naughty bits; never mind that dancing with a pair of knickers around your ankles is perfectly legal behaviour; never mind that the pants in question weren't the ones she'd been wearing, but a comedy pair of David Hasselhof knickers a mate had picked up in a bar. Never mind that poor Ms Lyons was on a course of antibiotics and hence was actually stone-cold sober at the time: the new postergirl of binge-drinking ladettes everywhere has been suspended from her job pending a disciplinary inquiry, for the dubious crime of having fun in public. And they say sexism in the workplace is dead.
A reminder: this is The Sun we're talking about. The Sun, whose page three 'news in briefs' section features topless glamour models every single day. The Sun, whose problem with women dancing in their pants in public only extends to those of us who aren't getting paid to perform for the male gaze like good little tarts.
Knickers girl also has a starring role to play in the latest rotten misogynist egg Quentin Letts has laid in the Mail, although Letts has to satisfy himself with a slavering description of the picture, as the Sun is damned if it's going to share the rights to such a juicy piece of moral propaganda. In his article, Letts blames feminism - and Germaine Greer in particular - for spawning 'an entire generation of loose-knickered lady louts'.
"British girls have become fat-faced 'ladettes', goose pimples rising on the skin of their exposed thighs as they clack-clack-clack along the pavement en route to the weekend disco, destination bonk...Older generations would call these women 'slappers' - and they would be right."
Not satisfied with fat-shaming, mocking women's bodies and clothes and branding us slags for any attempt to own our own sexual desire, Quentin goes on to tell eager readers that today's ladettes "have lost the centuries-old idea of being demure in public. The sort of slender-lipped, self-questioning, hesitant lover played by Celia Johnson in David Lean's 1945 film Brief Encounter is now found only in recently arrived immigrant families."
Yes, this is the same Quentin Letts, writing for the same newspaper that regularly shames Muslim women for choosing to wear the veil. Clearly, signifiers of female modesty and social repression are fine and dandy as long as they're not foreign.
Letts goes on to declare feminism the source of all social ills, and taking detour after spluttering, purple-faced detour through teenage pregnancy, the decline of traditional marriage, drugs, free love, immigrants and, for some reason, the Mitchell Brothers' haircuts, in 2,547 words of the runniest excrement I have ever read in the Mail. It's not hard to call out the Mail group for misogyny and double standards, but, sadly for us, todays free-for-all on young women doesn't stop at the tabloids.
Every major news outlet in the UK has recently run stories on this supposed pandemic of female degeneracy. It doesn't matter that most single mothers are in their thirties and have previously been relationships with their children's fathers, to the extent that the Mail had to use a photo posed by models to illustrate its latest spittle-flecked rant about Benefit Scrounging Bitches. It doesn't matter that the hordes of drooling young amazons apparently roaming the streets of our glorious nation in a savage rut of bleary, boozy, bottle-brandishing dick-frenzy aren't, actually, bothering anyone much: although offences by young women are rising, this is partly due to the changing nature of police prosecutions, and women still commit only 14% of violent crime, which is steadily decreasing in city centres. It doesn't matter one bit: we're still blamed for social unrest, blamed for violence done to us, shamed if we cover up, shamed if we bare our skin, shamed if we have sex, shamed if we don't, shamed if we excercise contraceptive choice, shamed if we carry pregnancies to term, shamed if we know about our own bodies, shamed if we don't, shamed if we look good, shamed if we don't, shamed if we choose to work and have children, shamed if we don't, shamed if we're old, shamed if we're young. It seems that, as far as the press is concerned, the only choice that women can legitimately make is the choice to shut up, slim down and strip off for money.
As a feminist, I think the right to dance around in one's pants in public should be sacrosanct, as should the right not to do so if we like to get our kicks in the variety of other exciting ways available to the young ladies of today. In tribute to this noble cause, and in solidarity with the unfairly dismissed Sarah Lyons, I have taken a picture of my own pants and put it on the internet. I hereby encourage all readers - boys, girls and everyone else at the party - to do the same. Young women and the choices we make are not to blame for the hurts of a society at war with itself. It is deeply insulting to suggest that by growing up, having fun, exploring our boundaries and taking risks we are somehow engendering social breakdown, when all we ever wanted to break down were the walls of judgement and repression. Pants off to you, Knickers Girl.