Why Tracy Brabin MP is the ultimate Respect Maker

Advocate and future girl Pippa praises the actions of Tracy Brabin MP following #Shouldergate

Pippa, Advocate
21 February 2020

Advocate and future girl Pippa shares her reaction to Tracy Brabin MP’s recent #Shouldergate media furore and praises the way the MP turned clothes-shaming into campaigning.

We all know what it’s like: you put on an outfit that you L-O-V-E – it’s your favourite colour, it features your favourite animal, it was 70% off in the sale, you feel great in it! – but then somebody makes a negative comment.

You feel undermined. And now, every time you see it in your wardrobe, you think: ‘Not today’. You’ve been clothes-shamed, and the feeling sticks with you.

Why is it like this? Why is it that one person telling us the stripes on our trousers ‘hurt their eyes’ can make us relegate a once-loved item of clothing to the back of the wardrobe? And why doesn’t this happen to men?

Shining the spotlight on sexism

On Monday 3 February, we witnessed wide-scale, sexist clothes-shaming. Tracy Brabin, the MP for Batley and Spen, spoke to the Commons about the barring of certain journalists from No 10 briefings – but, instead of focusing on her words, people took to Twitter to abuse her for wearing a black dress that exposed one of her shoulders.

In the Girls’ Attitudes Survey, 75% of girls told Girlguiding that they think women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability – and, as Tracy Brabin’s #Shouldergate proved, they are right.

This sends a negative message to girls like us – and has consequences. In the same survey, 41% of girls and young women claimed to have been put off leadership positions because there is too much focus on what they look like rather than what they do. And half of all respondents believed this to be an issue affecting women only; they did not associate this kind of negative press with male leaders.

We are disempowering girls and young women across all aspects of life. We are putting the next generation off a million different things – from becoming MPs or leaders of their professions to pursuing the jobs they want and standing up in front of their peers. Despite recognition of the issue, it has been sad to see nothing being done about it.

Until now.

What Tracy did next

Reading the first articles sharing the ‘scandalous’ dress Tracy wore to Parliament and seeing how she was described – ‘tart’, ‘hungover’, ‘about to breastfeed’ – may have made many people roll their eyes, sigh and possibly mention it to a friend or family member. But Tracy Brabin did something incredible with these comments.

She took some very negative press, misogynistic accusations and derogatory language, turned the issue on its head and sent an amazing message to people everywhere: we will not stand for this any longer.

As well as shouting out to girls and young women that it is not okay for people to ostracise us based on our appearance, we have all seen the scale of support for Tracy and her tackling of everyday sexism. Since Tracy listed her dress on eBay and announced all proceeds would be going to Girlguiding, the dress previously labelled a ‘disco outfit’ and ‘inappropriate’ has been transformed into an icon.

Following the bidding on eBay became a common interest amongst myself and my friends. We were excited and in disbelief – not only that Tracy had done something so outrageously fantastic, but also at the number of people rallying around her.

During the week following the initial abuse, people were buying the dress from ASOS, bidding on the auction (it finally went for a whopping £20,200!), posting selfies with their shoulders out and mocking the policing behind #shouldergate. Seeing all this has made me feel so optimistic and excited at the prospect of a less harsh and image-obsessed future. Put the ridicule on the haters and trolls!

Become a Respect Maker too

This union of people backing Tracy has been empowering. And it’s even more amazing that the money raised is going to Girlguiding.

Through the Respect Makers topic of their Future Girl initiative, and with badges for Brownies and Guides such as Speaking out, Campaigning and My rights, Girlguiding is helping girls stand up for what they believe in, overcome barriers and be their best selves.

I hope the buzz created this month lasts long enough for us to see real change where we can empower and support one another despite our differences. How very 2020 would that trend be?

Thank you, Tracy – for standing up on behalf of women everywhere, for working towards putting an end to everyday sexism, and for supporting Girlguiding and their young members to follow in your footsteps.

Learn more about Respect Makers

We want to see a respectful world where there’s no sexual harassment and no unhealthy or abusive relationships.

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