Sir Christopher Chope has returned to work this Monday to a newly decorated constituency office. A local constituent, Lorna Rees, has created a string of 'knicker bunting' across the office door in Christchurch, Dorset.
This demonstration comes after Chope objected to the Voyeurism (Offences) Private Members bill on Friday June 15. The bill proposed a new law to make upskirting, the practice of taking unauthorised photographs under a person's skirt, a criminal offence. As it was read in the Commons on Friday, many MPs expected the bill to pass with little issue. However, Chope's single objection has stopped progress in its tracks.
The objection, Chope explained, was on the basis of a longstanding objection to backbench private members' bills. He has since stated that he has fought private members bills for the majority of his time as an MP, as it 'goes to the very heart of the power balance between government and parliament'. Chope suggests that he did not oppose the bill in principle and that he has been scapegoated and defamed since the incident on Friday.
Lorna Rees, the constituent who has staged this protest, wrote a message on the underwear which reads: 'No one should be able to photo my pants unless I want them to.' She has also stated on Twitter that she feels that Chope does not represent the best interests of the people, using parliamentary procedure as a defensive tool.
Many female parliamentarians have also taken to twitter to express their anger and frustration. This includes a message from the prime minster, Theresa May. She has said, 'I am disappointed the Bill didn't make progress in the Commons today, and I want to see these measures pass through Parliament – with Government support – soon.' May has however since faced questioning from the BBC's Andrew Marr, who asked on Sunday why she had decided to present Chope for a knighthood only six months ago. After an awkward few moments, May reiterated her dedication to action on the issue, sidestepping the question.
Upskirting has been a criminal offence in Scotland since 2009. MP Wera Hobhouse, the proposer of this bill, suggested on BBC Breakfast that it was supported in Scotland because of the skirt-like nature of men's kilts. Trisha Greenhalgh, professor at the University of Oxford has also tweeted the following exchange with her spouse,
Spouse: Apparently Scotland passed a law banning upskirting 9 years ago.
Me: Yeah, men wear skirts in Scotland.
Spouse: Apparently Scotland passed a law banning upskirting 9 years ago.— Trisha Greenhalgh #FBPE (@trishgreenhalgh) June 15, 2018
Me: Yeah, men wear skirts in Scotland.
While this may or may not be the reason, it is difficult to ignore the glaring discrimination – the culture is different, the issue is more prominent and change has been made. While Chope may not oppose the content of the bill, his actions send a message to victims and the women of England and Wales: Equality is still a long way off.
But women are sending their own message back. The knickers adorning Chope's Christchurch office, and now his parliamentary one, are a direct affront to what his objection represents. Not only are they a physical barrier to his door (and, one would imagine, a deterrent to visitors), they block the acceptability of his behaviour.
This weekend, unrelatedly, the hashtag #immodestwomen was trending across a range of online platforms. Historian Dr Fern Riddell began the Twitter storm in response to her prefix often being changed from Dr to Mrs or Ms. A range of academics and others have joined her. They say that they are encouraging young women to be immodest in order to be heard and giving an equal hearing to others in their field.
Hanging your underwear in the House of Commons may indeed be deemed immodest. Wearing a (short) skirt may also draw the same opinion. However, this does not make taking unsolicited photographs acceptable behaviour. While Chope suggests that his objection may in fact bring the issue into legislation sooner, his actions only encourage more retaliation. So, here's to the immodest women. If hanging your knickers outside your MP's front door will draw embarrassment then so be it. The shame is not ours.
Nina Mattiello Azadeh studied music and philosophy and was a Faith in Politics media intern in 2016. She has a keen interest in interfaith relations, social action and is a classical ballet dancer. Follow her on Twitter @Ninamataz