Imagine being in a work appraisal and, discussing your potential for promotion, a colleague says this about you. "She says she can't understand why she's not been given a job, and neither can I. This woman is intelligent, she's successful in her own right, she's strong-willed, she's determined and dogged". So far, so good. "She's sexy, she has everything." Hang on. That can't be right, can it? And yet, that is exactly what Tom Watson, Labour MP said about his fellow MP and Murdoch interrogator on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Louise Mensch this week. He was not in a work appraisal as such; in fact, he was speaking in the rather more public forum of the London radio station LBC, but still – since when was it appropriate for male politicians to call their female counterparts "sexy"?
Watson might defend himself by pointing out that Mensch has occasionally displayed a somewhat muddle-headed attitude towards the importance of image in politics. A spread in GQ this month features the Conservative MP for Corby posing in a leather skirt and "Thatcher-style" pussy-bow blouse, while in a broadsheet interview a few months ago all talk of policy was washed away in a froth of facelift chat. Ill-judged they might be, but these odd media appearances should hardly be taken as a come-on for out-and-out sexist remarks.
The word reared its ugly head again this week, this time in relation to Margaret Thatcher. Speaking about the wardrobe of Britain's first female Prime Minister – for what else, really, is there to talk about? – the designer for The Iron Lady, Jane Law, opined: "Once she got the hang of it [fashion], there was no stopping her. Then people decided she was sexy, and she became rather attractive."
Now, take another piece of image assessment, also published this week – an open letter to Ed Miliband, by his one-time adviser and Labour peer, Maurice Glasman, in the New Statesman. "He is going to have to be both insurgent and establishment, conservative and radical, democratic and competent, patriotic and internationalist". Not sexy? And what about pussy-bow blouses? Should Ed wear more of them, perhaps?
Of course, there are no such trivialities in the article. And that is because it would be absurd to talk about politicians, the men and women who run the country, in terms of their sexiness, wouldn't it? In most workplaces, in fact, that kind of talk would get you sacked on the spot. How long before the chauvinistic corridors of power catch up?
* Sherlock horror! For most of the audience, the first in the new series of Sherlock last weekend was beyond reproach – slick, cerebral and enormously enjoyable. Nevertheless, some 102 people out of the 9.5 million who watched the detective yarn have seen fit to complain about the fact that Irene Adler (played by Lara Pulver) was naked – but for a pair of diamond earrings and red lipstick – in her first scene with Sherlock Holmes.
Worse still, the scenes featuring the nude, whip-wielding dominatrix appeared on screen a full half-hour before the watershed. Never mind that Pulver went through all manner of contortions to cover any risqué bits – would a truly brazen femme fatale cross her arms and legs so delicately? – it was enough to give some the vapours.
Several family newspapers stirred the pot with censorious articles, which of course could be read by anyone, at any time of the day, and which all helpfully featured screengrabs of the nude scenes in question.
It proves, surely, that the idea of a 9pm watershed is rather retro, not to say redundant in the age of the internet and iPlayer. Besides, Holmes had his own nude scene a good five minutes before Adler sashayed onto the screen, when his bedsheet fell down at Buckingham Palace – but no-one seems to have got too hot under the collar about that.
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