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Pants off to impropriety


9:44 pm - November 10th 2009

by Laurie Penny    


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I’d like 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.

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.”

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, 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, today’s 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 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 choose to work and have children, shamed if we don’t, shamed if we’re old, shamed if we’re young.

It seems the only choice that women can legitimately make is the choice to shut up, slim down and strip off for money.

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.

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About the author
Laurie Penny is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a journalist, blogger and feminist activist. She is Features Assistant at the Morning Star, and blogs at Penny Red and for Red Pepper magazine.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Equality ,Feminism ,Media ,Sex equality

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Reader comments


Somebody has to say it. Despite her protestations, those knickers definitely look like hers from the picture. By the way, have you asked her whether she wants to be lionised as a feminist hero?

Have you been through her knickers drawer Praguetory?

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.

Perhaps you might not agree with the sentiment he is expressing, Laurie, but you have to admit the writing style has a certain quality and observational truth.

A little more controlled and rhythmical, perhaps, than a savage rut of bleary, boozy, bottle-brandishing dick-frenzy

Nevertheless I was with you all the way in your argument.

It is not edifying to see hacks try to pander to the prejudice that other people, particularly young people, should not be allowed to enjoy themselves by taking drugs, binge drinking and borrowing bits of each others bodies for pleasurable purposes.

So, for once, I was with you all the way up until your “shame” paragraph when, as usual, you lost it in that characteristic feminist rage with which we are familiar.

It seems the only choice that women can legitimately make is the choice to shut up, slim down and strip off for money.It seems the only choice that women can legitimately make is the choice to shut up, slim down and strip off for money.

In the cold light of day, a trifle over the top perhaps?

And anyway, I would have thought that feminists would have been in favour of the rights of lapdancers to make a living.

Did we not start off from the premise that girls were allowed to take their knickers off if they wanted to?

@3 – “Perhaps you might not agree with the sentiment he is expressing, Laurie, but you have to admit the writing style has a certain quality and observational truth.

A little more controlled and rhythmical, perhaps, than…”

Actually, I thought Laurie’s choice of words far more apt.

The writing style and observations of Quentin Letts are sneering, misogynistic, jingoistic old toss, yet laced with a tinge of voyeurism that is his (not so) secret shame.

I expect a large percentage of individuals who describe the language used as having “a certain quality” are also those who deride the linguistic ‘liberties’ taken by (predominantly non-white) musicians – and others – in their work.

Language is ideology; the medium is the message, etc.

So – Letts’ message is somehow more palatable because he (presumably) received some form of classical education and is capable of constructing a coherent sentence?

Bollox to that. 😛

Despite her protestations, those knickers definitely look like hers from the picture.

How can you possibly know that Praguetory?

Pricktory is an expert on everything and a thoroughly superior being that we scum should defer to. Don’t you know anything?

7. douglas clark

It is a slightly funny snapshot, isn’t it?

Does it justify heralding the end of civilisation as we know it?

No.

Does it justify some po faced manager suspending from her work?

Absolutely Not.

The Sun is a comic. It is a nasty comic and people should stop pretending it is anything else.

I like the theme of “bollocks to shame” that’s developing in your writing, Laurie. I think when you come to write your book, that might make for a good central thesis.

9. the a&e charge nurse

A moderate amount of alcohol (in a fit young adult) is unlikely to significantly effect the bio-availability of an antibiotic, although metronidazole will make you feel very sick (when taken with booze).

I suspect the parents who take umbrage at the young ladette are the same cohort who are against sex education for children, or at least I presume that is the school’s primary motivation for their Stasi like approach to this innocuous piece of street theatre?

For once I agree with Laurie. I’m sick and tired of the moral outrage directed at people who are doing sod-all harm to anyone else.

Photographers trawling the streets at night snapping salacious pictures of people having a bit of fun are far worse than the paying customers of lapdance clubs.

“So – Letts’ message is somehow more palatable because he (presumably) received some form of classical education and is capable of constructing a coherent sentence?”

As a language snob my answer to that would be yes :p.

Yet another fine piece Laurie, they always seem to act as wonderful honey traps to twats like Pratory.

13. Donut Hinge Party

I’m not sure why this is supposed to be news; t’was ever thus for the poor, as documented in such historical tracts as the caricatures of Hogarth and Rita Sue and Bob Too.

The difference now seems to be that middle class girls are having a crack as well, which is beyond the pale for the DM, who essentially seem to be lamenting the lack of parenting skills of their peers; unless they think that illegal immigrants sneak in in the night and inject nice middle class girls with illegal substances that drop their morals.

Laurie,

“Never mind that she wasn’t exposing any naughty bits”

Are you sure you are correct?

As a matter of accuracy, I hope you understand, I had to examine the photo in closer detail (pressed apple + a few times) and am not so sure her ‘bits’ are not visible from the ‘public domain’. It’s a bit blurry but that might be because ……

@11 – “As a language snob my answer to that would be yes…”

Tory by default.
‘Grats!

Why is anyone bothering criticising Mr Letts, who clearly is an idiot? If he wants to call people slappers, that’s his outlook – my suggestion would be to encourage women who want to have an enjoyable and equal life to slap him on sight, just to confirm his prejudices.

What is slightly concerning is Ms Penny trying to make this a feminist issue. I think the key issue is that a manager can suspend you for acting in a silly fashion outside of work, to no detriment of your work efforts, regardless of gender. This seems to imply corporationalism (probably sic), where your employer controls you outside of work as well, not a liberal democracy, where we make our own decisions and are not subject to the arbitary whims of others. Making this a feminist issue undermines the key issue, which is why should a manager be able to suspend anyone due to a newspaper report of their off-duty activities?

17. douglas clark

Watchman @ 16,

I agree that there is that wider issue…

Douglas Clark re: Comment 17,

I think I caught sight of a wide issue back in comment 14.

“Making this a feminist issue undermines the key issue, which is why should a manager be able to suspend anyone due to a newspaper report of their off-duty activities?”

Because their behaviour undermines their authority, sets a bad example to the children they teach, displeases the parents etc? Solicitors are expected to abide by certain codes of conduct even when not at work (that doesn’t stop them going out and getting trashed but if their behaviour brings the profession into disrepute they can be struck off).

Richard: That would for a start require us to accept both that the behaviour was “bad”, and that we appreciate public sector lower managment deciding and enforcing what “bad” is. I think its safe to say the majority here doesn’t. Indeed in the cases of solicitors it is largely, to my awareness, used in the case of people who are actually unsuitable to be one, rather than who just do something that might be seen as embarasing.

Oh, and it is possible to drink on many anti-biotics- it may stop the drugs working, but feeling ill is by no means a certainty. It might have been better not to include that- it implies that sobreity was necessary in some way to a defence, when clearly its not.

@ Praguetory

It’s perfectly clear that they are not her knickers – NO twenty year old would wear big pants like that! Ever!

Strange as it may seem to you, having enjoyed Billy Elliott with my 12yr old niece, I don’t want to come out of the theatre to sights such as this.

Is that too much to ask? That people enjoy themselves in a more civilised way?

Or is this woman’s “enjoyment” top priority?

@22

Strange as it may seem to you, having enjoyed a good night out with friends, I don’t want to have to come out of a pub to the sight of children (shouldn’t they be in bed!?) and prudish, judgemental people.

Is that too much to ask? That people conform to my idea of a good time and behave just like me?

Or is your “enjoyment” top priority?

24. douglas clark

cjcjc @ 22,

For fucks sake, what sort of sceaming idiot are you? Your niece would have to have an almost Victorian sensibility to have seen that as other than clownish. I expect your niece would go ‘whatever’.

It says more about you than anyone else.

There really is no way to win – even as a stripper, the job of shaming you then passes to the local press. The Solihull News is campaigning to get a local lapdancing club stopped, saying it’s effectively the same as a brothel.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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