It is probably no wonder that the dress code for members of parliament really only applies to men; the limited rules that do exist about dress are set out in Erskine May, the official parliamentary rule book. It states that MPs should not wear military insignia or uniforms in the Commons and the custom is for gentlemen members to wear jackets and ties. It goes no further. However, there are of course dress conventions, one of which is not to make political statements through your clothing – apparently an MP is expected to use their voice for this.
Today, in a debate about sexism in the media, Caroline Lucas, the UK’s only Green Party MP, wore a t-shirt that pushed the Chair of the debate, Labour’s Jimmy Hood, to intervene and make a ruling about her attire. How ironic it was that he should comment on her clothing when she was making a point about naked women portrayed in the print media.
Tabloid newspapers, with their daily offering of “Page 3 girls”, scantily clad and always topless, diminish newsstands throughout the country. Indeed, Ms Lucas explained that they are on sale in eight establishments within the House of Commons itself.
The Editor of The Sun newspaper Dominic Mohan last year told the Leveson Inquiry into press standards “that Page 3, which usually features a topless woman. It is meant to represent youth and freshness” and is a “42-year-old British institution that celebrates natural beauty”. He denied that the newspaper is sexist.
Asking for the regulation of the press, Caroline Lucas disputed the Sun’s claim. However, regulation is one response that could be taken against this overt sexism; I wonder if not buying the newspapers concerned would have a greater impact, hitting the pockets of people like Rupert Murdoch and other similar media tycoons.
Listening to a preview of today’s debate on this morning’s radio, I was struck by one “glamour (nude) model” who agreed saying that naked images of women are not sexist, they are there to celebrate women’s bodies. She assured her interviewer that her work it is not part of the pornography industry. How can she be so naïve? For sure, it may be a substantially different from hard-core porn, but surely she must see it as being on the same continuum, albeit at another end.
Perhaps she fails to see that the scarcity of women in parliament or in the boardroom is also somewhere on the same spectrum?
The time has arrived when challenges like Caroline Lucas’ should be commonplace and must not just come from women? When this happens it may also become necessary for Erskine May to rewrite the rule book to include women in, rather than leave them out.