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Angela Rayner and all women should be able to wear whatever the hell they want

ONE EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO SALES. NO ARCHIVING. NO ALTERING OR MANIPULATING. NO USE ON SOCIAL MEDIA UNLESS AGREED BY HOC PHOTOGRAPHY SERVICE. MANDATORY CREDIT: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor Handout photo issued by UK Parliament of Angela Rayner during the Privilege Motion relating to the Conduct of the Prime Minister debate. Boris Johnson will face a parliamentary investigation after MPs agreed to refer the PM over claims he misled Parliament about Downing Street parties during Covid lockdowns. Picture date: Thursday April 21, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Johnson. Photo credit should read: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Angela Rayner was accused of distracting Boris Johnson in the Commons (Picture: PA)

I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like to be Angela Rayner last Saturday.

She was warned that a story was going to hit the press the following day, in which senior Tories accused her of distracting the Prime Minister in the House of Commons with her legs. 

How awful it must have been to explain to her teenage sons that they were about to witness a litany of sexist and misogynistic claims about their mother – despite her being one of the most powerful and successful women in British politics.

I say despite, but this certainly isn’t the first time a female politician has been reduced to a pair of legs. 

In 2017, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and then-Prime Minister Theresa May met in Glasgow to discuss the referendum result; this political effort was reduced to a photo captioned ‘Never mind Brexit, who won Leg-sit’ after the two leaders wore skirts.

Women have long been pressured to conform to an impossible standard that lies somewhere between prudish and sexual. Fasten your top button and you’re matronly, undo one too many and you’re a harlot.

It’s baffling that school girls are still regularly chastised for the length of their skirts, the tightness of their trousers and the transparency of their blouses.

But from a young age, women are taught that their bodies are a distraction to the men around them.

It’s the belief that fed into that infamous Basic Instinct scene – the one Rayner’s outfit and positioning apparently emulated – where actress Sharon Stone played a character who uncrossed her legs and exposed her vulva during a cross-examination. 

In reality, the only thing exposed this weekend was the institutional sexism that runs deep through Westminster and beyond.

When I worked as a receptionist in the corporate sector, I was told by a superior that, although he couldn’t legally force me to wear a skirt to work, it was preferred – for the sake of the clients.

I was given a colour chart of ‘acceptable’ shades of lipstick I was required to wear, told that I must top up my makeup at regular intervals with a ‘natural’ lipstick, despite the fact that my lips were already lip-coloured. 

Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.
The Sharon Stone comparison had more questionable layers to it than may first appear (Picture: StudioCanal/Shutterstock)

I was once fired and sent home without pay for refusing to wear high heels to work the reception desk of an accountancy firm.

I went on to campaign for change in workplace discrimination against women, which resulted in a select committee inquiry and a parliamentary debate about outdated dress code policies. 

But no matter how inclusive or indiscriminate a dress code may be, women will still get judged for what they wear – if only in the minds of the misogynistic people they work with.

How could anonymous Tory sources think that a woman trying to sit comfortably at the despatch box is actually attempting to distract the Prime Minister? 

Because they probably can’t handle the fact that a working class, Northern woman has made it to the front bench of the shadow cabinet, and instead tried to soothe their souls and apparent jealousy with some misogynistic mental gymnastics.

The Sharon Stone comparison had more questionable layers to it than may first appear. 

Stone has since spoken out about that infamous scene from Basic Instinct and claims that she was tricked into taking off her underwear for the 1992 movie. 

She said she was told that her vulva would not be visible in the shot, but that she had to remove her underwear as it could be seen reflecting light. 

The first time she realised that her vulva was, in fact, in view of the camera was when she was invited to watch a preview of the film.

Stone went on to allow the shot to be used after allegedly being pressured by her director.

‘He vehemently denied that I had any choices at all. I was just an actress, just a woman; what choices could I have?,’ she wrote in her book, published last year.

‘But I did have choices. So I thought and thought and I chose to allow this scene in the film. Why? Because it was correct for the film and for the character; and because, after all, I did it.’

Stone was simply working on a set, but the men around her saw her as a sexual object to be manipulated in order to sell a movie. 

Thirty years on and the ‘sex sells’ narrative is being used in an attempt to discredit a female politician who’s doing her job.

Rayner fights tirelessly for the rights of working people across the country, as well as providing opposition to a Tory Government. I’m sure that the last thing she wanted to be talking about during a cost-of-living crisis was her legs.

But when a story this controversial hits the media cycle, it’s unlikely that the subject will be asked about anything else for at least a week – maybe longer. 

On Tuesday morning Rayner appeared on TV show Lorraine to discuss the story and she said decided to wear a trouser suit for her appearance in order to avoid being ‘judged’ for what she wore.

She told Lorraine Kelly: ‘I wanted to be defiant as well because I don’t think that women should be told how to dress, but I didn’t want to distract from the fact that, actually, it’s not about my legs.’

Once again, a woman has had her autonomy taken from her due to fear of judgement or being viewed as a ‘distraction’. 

I doubt many men have put in as much thought or faced the same fears regarding their sartorial choices for a daytime TV appearance or a day in the Commons. 

Even if men are criticised for their appearance – as our PM regularly is – rarely are they sexualised at the same time.

Perhaps it is time we switched the narrative and put the onus on men to get their minds out of the gutter and let women live their lives in peace.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk

Share your views in the comments below.

MORE : Angela Rayner blasts ‘perverted smear’ about ‘distracting PM by uncrossing legs’

MORE : Angela Rayner says she wore trousers for TV interview to not ‘distract’ anyone

MORE : Female MPs endure ‘rank misogyny’ in Parliament, says Keir Starmer









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