Are "Must-Haves" a "Must Want?"

This is a guest blog - with thanks to the writer.

Marks and Spencer, the iconic British department store which was once an advocate of the big ‘granny’ pant, has shown insensitivity and fallen victim to modern day sexualisation of women.

Its Christmas ‘Must Haves’ window display in its Nottingham store features men dressed in suits and ‘dressed to impress’, whilst the female mannequins are near-naked in sexy lingerie.

Whilst this is demeaning of women in the way that it has been displayed, it’s actually far more than just about the window display. It highlights far wider and more serious issues that the UK government are failing to address, such as the sexual violence towards women in our culture and the pressures that they’re faced with to be sexy and enticing to men. It’s almost a lose, lose, situation, because as a woman, if you adhere to the pressures then you’re then faced with often unwanted ogling from men and then blamed if that unwanted attention is taken too far!

I was a victim of this. In 2012/13 I was sexually harassed at work. When I finally plucked up the courage to raise a grievance against my more senior male perpetrator, I was accused of ‘wanting the attention’ and told that I would be portrayed as a ‘slut’ in the media if I went to the papers. Instead of the support I expected to receive, I was faced with condemnation.

Another distressing example of how a woman’s behaviour or dress sense has been used against her, is the recent rape case in Ireland, where the victim was judged on her choice of underwear and told that this was an indication of her consent. So if I purchased M&S’ ‘sexy’ underwear, does that mean that I’m opening myself up to being sexually assaulted?

The question is, if British retailers are allowing/ advocating this kind of behaviour, then what hope is there for women’s rights? Change needs to happen according to the UN report, governments need to challenge sexism in the environment. Britain has made little progress in tackling the inequality between the sexes in the last decade, and falls behind Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and France in the EU’s Gender Equality table.

Why are men not being judged on the way they dress or the way they act? One hundred years since the suffragette movement, and one-year post #metoo, women are still being portrayed in a less dignified and equal way. What happened to girl power?

And really, is this not the first indication of M&S’ bias towards men?  The chain admitted that female staff are paid roughly 12.3 per cent less than its male staff, even though women make up the majority, with more than 61,340 females employed compared to 23,869 males.

We need change now, because #TimesUp!