A modern etiquette dilemma: what is the correct attire for criticising Page 3?

Sadly, more people could tell you about May’s taste in heels than her voting record on gay marriage

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The Independent Online

I am writing this column wearing a flowery dress, boots and make-up. Who cares? Absolutely no one, I imagine. In fact, it is probably a bit of a creepy thing to type. I already regret it. The point is, what one wears and what one thinks are two unrelated things. Or they should be.

This week, Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, outspoken scourge of payday loans and Twitter trolls among other modern evils, stood up in the House of Commons to ask the Prime Minister a question. She asked David Cameron “to confirm that the reason he does not support the No More Page 3 campaign is that, like his Hon Friend the Member for South Dorset [Richard Drax], he believes that at least Page 3 provides jobs for the girls”.

Whether you are for or against young women baring their breasts in a family newspaper for no good reason except that they have been doing it for years, this was a good point well made. Until the camera panned down to reveal Creasy’s bottom half. Is that a shiny blue skirt? Sit down, Stella. Everyone knows that a woman in Topshop A/W 2013 should be seen and not heard.

The Sun was the first point this out, when its political editor, Tom Newton Dunn, tweeted: “Boldly, @stellacreasy has just asked the PM to justify Page 3 – while wearing a bright blue PVC skirt in the Commons chamber.”

Boldly, Creasy leapt on this, which is amazing when you consider the fact that she was probably wearing big, wobbly, women’s high heels at the time. She asked Newton Dunn if he intended to be an “equal opportunities Gok Wan” for Prime Minister’s Questions and make a similar comment on David Cameron’s shiny blue tie. He did not.

Focusing on Creasy’s skirt, rather than what she said, is an unhelpfully sexist thing to do. It also makes no sense. If there is an unspoken dress code one should stick to when campaigning against Page 3, what might that be? Sackcloth and ashes could be a good bet but also rather draughty for wintertime. Creasy could have gone the full Femen and whipped off her top in solidarity with the “girls”, but that would probably trigger a fit of the vapours in the Speaker. When Caroline Lucas wore a No More Page Three slogan T-shirt during a debate on media sexism earlier this year, she was repeatedly heckled by the chair for flouting House of Commons “standards of dress”.

Those “standards of dress”, by the way, stipulate only that military insignia and uniforms must not be worn, and that it is customary for “gentlemen members to wear jackets and ties”. There are no notes about “lady members”. The House of Commons was not built for women. And yet there are 147 of them sitting on the green benches.

The Creasy spat is trivial, white noise that distracts attention from the real work of Parliament. It also highlights the problem of perception around female politicians. It is sadly the case that more people could tell you about Theresa May’s taste in heels than about her voting record on gay marriage. Women in power attract pettiness in a way that men do not. When the Prime Minister of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt was caught taking a selfie with Obama and Cameron at Nelson Mandela’s memorial this week, her male counterparts were rapped for poor protocol. She was painted as the vain and silly “flirty blonde” who had talked them into it.

It can be hard to remember amid the blather of PVC skirts, leopard print heels and pussy-bow blouses, but what a politician, or anyone else, wears to speak out comes pretty low down the scale of what matters. I have no idea what colour crinoline Emily Wilding Davison was wearing when she hurled herself under a horse at Epsom or, for that matter, the type of tie Martin Luther King wore to tell the world that he had a dream.

Good things come to those who wait

“I’m so glad I was old enough to play this part.” There is something you don’t hear too often but it’s what Lindsay Duncan, 62, said when she won the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress this week. The winning part was in Le Weekend, a bittersweet romcom in which she co-stars with Jim Broadbent as one half of a couple marking their 30th wedding anniversary in Paris.

This week, I interviewed another actress, Nancy Carroll, who won Olivier and Evening Standard theatre awards for her performance in Terence Rattigan’s After the Dance two years ago. She told me that she was dying to return to Rattigan and play the heroine of The Deep Blue Sea but worried, at 40, she might not be old enough yet.

“I’m a great believer in earning the right to things,” she said. “Having been on the planet a little bit longer, you have an emotional advantage.”

How refreshing to hear actresses embracing their maturity, rather than fearing it. Which is not to say that it isn’t a rational fear. All too often, turning 35 is the beginning of a dark age for actresses – too old to play Juliet, too young to be the next Dame Judi. There simply aren’t the roles for them, even as they are coming into their prime.

If Carroll and Duncan are celebrating getting older, and winning awards along the way, it is time that writers and directors found a way to celebrate it too – by providing them with far, far more parts to play.

Booker’s partial embrace

The Man Booker Prize has announced its new judges. As 2014 will be the first year to “recognise, celebrate and embrace” all authors writing in English, including Americans, the panel includes an actual American – Sarah Churchwell, Chicago-born professor at the University of East Anglia. Looking at the picture of the panel I was more struck by something else: four ageing men, just two women and every one of them white. So it’s quite a specific embrace, then.

Television’s Hardy tribute more obscure than Jude

Remember Broadchurch? Good, wasn’t it? But those of us who simply enjoyed the murder mystery, the Dorset setting and the excellent acting from Olivia Colman, David Tennant and co were, it turns out, being a bit thick.

Its writer Chris Chibnall has revealed that he intended his ITV crime drama as a homage to Thomas Hardy. Sadly, no one noticed that his detective, Alec Hardy, was working for Wessex Police and so on.

“It’s got a lot of slow tracking shots across landscape. They’re sort of the equivalent of the Hardy passages on landscape: what nature is thinking, what God is thinking,” said Chibnall.

That’s raised the bar a bit. I thought it was just good television. It brings to mind that adage about artists: you spend years before you are famous telling anyone who will listen what your art is about. Then you make it big and have to listen to other people telling you what your art is about. Chibnall has just thrown himself open to some very enthusiastic close reading of Broadchurch series two.