Joanna Lumley: Absolutely Fabulous or Massively Misguided?

What Lumley said was spiteful, misguided and clumsy, but don't make the mistake of thinking that your right to wear, drink and say what you want will mean shit to a rapist. Because it won't.
Publish date:
January 29, 2013
rape, sexual assault, personal safety, Joanna Lumley

Oh, Joanna Lumley, why’d you have to go and do it? Why can’t you just be like Patsy Stone in real actual life, instead of being so staid, sober, and unbelievably self-righteous?

Anyway, that’s not the issue…not the issue I’m meant to be writing about at least. The issue I’m meant to be writing about is the ongoing debate over Lumley’s impromptu lecture on girls leaving themselves open to rape by getting too drunk and dressing like sluts, which she delivered at a recent M&S press launch (if you listen carefully you can just hear the M&S bosses trying to convince themselves that all publicity is indeed good publicity).

Prime quotes from Lumley’s lambasting include, ‘Don’t look like trash, don’t get drunk, don’t be sick down your front, don’t break your heels and stagger about in the wrong clothes at midnight. This is bad’, and ‘It’s not me being a snob about it. It’s not me being an old woman talking to young women; it’s just standard practice for how our species should behave. Don’t behave badly’.

This isn’t the first time La Lumley’s had an opinion (remember Ghurkha-gate?), so why are we all so shocked? Is it because we can’t separate the actress from the character, or is it because we find her views so utterly out of touch and just plain wrong?

We’ve all heard thoughts such as this on rape and the behaviour of young women before; but usually they’re being spouted by middle-aged male politicians, not a national treasure best known for her portrayal of a perpetually drunk, drug addicted, super-bitch fashion editor (the irony of which seems to be lost on her).

From where I’m standing there are a number of different issues in the pot here:

1. Lumley herself: why does she feel she has the right to speak out on this matter?

2. The idea that a victim of rape should shoulder the burden of blame.

3. The behaviour of women today: Is it really disgusting, or as has always been the case, it is just disgusting in the eyes of some people?

So, let’s try and unpick this mess. Firstly Lumley: Sadly, it’s getting harder and harder to deny the sad truth that she’s a pompous old luvvie, who should just stick to the acting and keep her opinions/ crusades to herself. Joanna, if you want to take up public office, do so, but please don’t preach to the rest of us whilst you’re being paid to advertise a charity initiative.

Having said that (and moving onto point 2.); as a young woman (or should that be recently young-ish woman) I am interested in the idea that my dress and behaviour send out certain signals. Every day (ok, well some days) I am thankful and proud to live in a modern, liberal country where I can more or less wear, drink and say what I like.

I am, however, constantly aware, especially if I’m drunk or scantily clad, of how others – people I don’t know, who could be lovely or could be loonies – perceive me.

I definitely feel less safe if I am alone and drunk/in a short skirt and heels, than I do when I am alone and sober/ wearing jeans and trainers. I’m aware that I’m less capable of defending myself if someone did (God forbid) attack me, and that I’m probably less aware of what’s going on around me after a few drinks.

Am I the only one who feels like this? Surely this is just common sense?

I 100% absolutely do not believe in victim blaming, I believe that a woman can never encourage or provoke a rape or attack. But I do think that we should all be aware of the reality; that a depraved rapist would see a lone, drunk, girl in a short skirt as an easy target, just as a burglar would see a big house with an open door as easy pickings.

Rape is understandably a very evocative issue; and as women, it is something we will always live in fear of. We shouldn’t let this fear cloud the issue though. We all have to take responsibility, on some level, for our own safety.

That doesn’t mean that women should stay at home and only wear shrouds – not only is this a totally ridiculous proposition, but we all know this is no protection against rape anyway, But let's not be so naive as to think that there isn’t anything we can do to protect ourselves.

We can take care of each other; not leave drunk friends alone, not get the night bus instead of a licensed taxi to save a fiver (although let’s be honest, it’s usually more like £25), and most fundamentally, not think that our right to wear, drink and say what we want means shit to a rapist, because it doesn’t.

They don’t care that our bodies are ours to do with as we wish. They don’t care that we work hard, and at the end of the week are entitled to drink a bottle of wine and then wander home singing along to the Spice Girls at the top of our voices if that’s what makes us happy.

They don’t care that we sweat our arses off at the gym three times a week, and that we’d like to show-off our toned thighs and trim waists in the hope of bagging a hot boy (and making all the other girls in the club jealous) on the weekend.

As for point 3 – whether or not we’re all going to hell in a hand basket, well it depends which day you catch me on. No, I don’t regularly go out in hot pants and puke in my knickers, and neither would I want to, but to pretend that this kind of behaviour hasn’t been going on since man first discovered the joys of drink, and to insinuate that it is inextricably linked with rape is simply ridiculous.

I think what Lumley said was spiteful, misguided and clumsy, but also think there’s an important issue here getting lost underneath all the outrage. What about you?

Find me tweeting opinions All. Day. Long. @MissSisiG.