Tuesday 10 November 2009

Pants off to impropriety!

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.


  1. Quentin Letts. Jesus wept. This would be parliamentary sketchwriter Quentin Letts, who regularly devotes his column to drooling over Jacqui Smith's tits? Where does he get off pontificating on etiquette for the modern young lady? Still, when Amanda Platell gets to this, Letts will actually look good.

    And good luck to Knickers Girl. Anyone who's just minding her own business and suddenly finds herself splashed all over the tabs needs all the fortitude she can muster.

  2. Quentin Let's Be Having You11 November 2009 at 08:18

    If Sarah Lyons was sober at the time this picture was taken why on earth was she walking around at night, in public, in a short dress, with her panties around her ankles? Is this hoydenish behaviour typical amongst young women these days? I find it kind of odd.

  3. Hear hear. I think it's time to do the same and change my facebook / twitter etc pictures in support. Thanks for the post!

  4. I wonder if he's ever *seen* Brief Encounter, either. Does he really think that today's women should be having affairs, considering leaving their husbands and children, and contemplating suicide?

  5. Penny Red - you are an inspiration...I am now off to write an intellectual biography of David Harvey, significantly more riled than I was ten minutes ago, good work lady, you rock!!

  6. Surely you're not advocating that members of the male gender ape Ms.Lyons and stagger around with their pants around their ankles and their dicks swinging in the wind. Or are you?

  7. I feel sorry for Sarah Lyons and I hope she is allowed to return to work asap.

    However, there is a definite problem with young people and alcohol. They are pickling their livers. I don't mean all young people drink, but many of them are drinking far too much for their own good.

    The "Daily Mail" probably doesn't appreciate the irony of the fact that many of the youngsters with healthy intentions towards their own livers are Muslim.

  8. PS That said, Quentin Letts is a complete dickhead. Am I allowed to say that? From an aesthetic point of view, I am no fan of the Mitchell brothers from "Eastenders", or their hairstyles, but to judge someone's character by their hair is ... sort of foolish.

    Plus, who does he think he is, calling my nephews "bastards"? (My sister was in her thirties when she had them, but that's not the point. The point is Letts sticking an ugly label on about half the babies born in the UK.)

  9. Quentin Lets Be Havin you; read Penny's post properly, particularly this bit:

    "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. "

    They weren't her pants, they were joke ones.

  10. "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."

    That's utterly appalling, I hope the woman is a member of a trade union and that they are fighting this disciplinary, also on what grounds?

    Quentin Letts is in the wrong century...19th century... shame there's no tardis to send him back to that time where he can hold forth, spewing his misogyny on 'fallen women' and busty servant wenches.

    In solidarity with you comrade/sister Penny Red, I too will take a pic of my pants.... nice new ones 'an all.

  11. The job suspension seems bizarre, particularly given the number of people who go out at the weekend and carry out for more unpleasant activities - fighting, criminal damage, verbal abuse etc. - and don't get suspended from their jobs.

    This lady seems to have been penalised for a harmless, non-violent activity mainly because it happens to be unusual and visually interesting - but, as you point out, far less sexualised than a large percentage of the material that the mainstream press (the Mail included) feel is appropriate for the nation's breakfast tables.

  12. The thing is, tomes like Letts' have been appearing for at least the last 700 years, rowdy debauched behaviour is nothing new to English culture, and indeed, I think it qualifies as great English tradition by now.

    The only thing that is new is that nowadays they blame it on "feminism". Which just goes to show how unaware they are of the history of our great nation.

  13. Poor girl, you dont have an email address for her work do you?

  14. I'm reminded of English Journeys and it's descriptions of pub going girls in 1930s Nottingham... Letts is just an old man, dreaming of an idealised past he barely remembers, and he was too boring to enjoy anyway.

    And WTF was the bit about Prince Harry, he's a landed aristocrat. When have they ever ever been sober academic people? EVER? Seriously!

    Anon of Isn't Searched

  15. As the mighty Cordelia Chase said: "Oh 'shame' - like that's something to be proud of."

    Word, frankly.

  16. Sun and Mail are newspapers, which are shit. Why do you care about their piss? Aside, Letts does make an interesting point, that clack clack and the rest of that description is familiar to straight/bi guys. You hear and see it every weekend.

    As for owning your own sexual desire, this has always been a major chip on society's shoulder. Ask any 80 year old homosexual. And society has been judging men for a while now. At least from my male perspective. So why can't men judge women?

    Bob Jones

  17. Hmm. This one leaves me conflicted. I find loud rude crude drunk people personally irritating. And yet I have zero prejudice against sexuality, drink, or merriment.

    I think two things annoy me. First, the crude/rude thing. You can choose what inhibitions to hang onto when drunk. Letting aesthetics and consideration slip is a choice, and I don't approve of it. Second, the sexuality isn't honest - it isn't personal desire, it's still the same sexist game writ large. The women are signalling "I look up for it". The men are signalling "I'm so alpha". Blech.

    In fact all "drunk culture" is dishonest. What would people make of the person who was horny, and decided to masturbate, or the person who was sad, and decided to wail and cry? "Loser" might be the nicest epithet. Drink is only supposed to release a very bounded set of inhibitions.

  18. You seem to recoil from your conclusion, there is the faintest whiff of burning, or at least definitely should-not-read, book there. What exactly are you advocating people do with this? What is the critique FOR, other than your having fun writing the post get facebook fans

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