In the annual British news cycle, nothing is more certain than galleries of “badly dressed” women at the Aintree races.
Sunrise, sunset. Time is a flat circle. Year in, year out, they’re there. But no more! John Baker, the managing director at Aintree, has decided to call time on the photographers who are on a mission to humiliate racegoers. He told the Liverpool Echo: “We have talked about trying to monitor those photographers, so if we see any element clearly looking for a negative shot and we can identify that, we will take their accreditation off them and we’ll kick them off the site.”
I can’t think of another sporting or public event where photographers specifically turn up to humiliate female spectators, or specifically turn up to take photos of tipsy women wearing heels. It is a genre of its own.
In our era of kneejerk bleating about censorship, this will ruffle a few feathers. Why shouldn’t accredited photographers be allowed to photograph and sell photos of whatever the hell they want? Well, because asking photographers not to make women feel exposed, intimidated and unsafe at an event they’ve paid good money to attend doesn’t seem too unreasonable to me. One might wonder why any woman would attend Aintree in the first place, in the knowledge that if her dress is deemed “too tight” or her fascinator “too trashy” or her fake tan “too deep”, she’ll be splashed all over Mail Online. Baker’s desire to highlight the positive of Aintree is, of course, not purely selfless – I wouldn’t be surprised if women stopped coming to Ladies’ Day because of this harassment – but the overall effect is positive.
This is a major victory for women. Being photographed, publicised and humiliated in the mainstream media is barely something that famous women should have to put up with, let alone non-celebrities. There’s something additionally and especially cruel about the Aintree genre of photographic shaming: these aren’t women who look bad because they’ve been caught, bleary-eyed and hungover, without makeup, hair like a bird’s nest, taking out the rubbish. They’ve made an effort, and whether they end up looking like Kim Kardashian or Beyoncé in the end is irrelevant. At the moment they left the house, I would guess that they felt good about themselves, and that’s a precious and rare moment for many when the media is so often complicit in creating a bleak self-image. Behaviour that robs women of a chance to hold on to that elusive good feeling should be snuffed out at the earliest opportunity.
In this kind of coverage of Aintree, more than at any other racing event, there is an overwhelmingly classist element. The implication is that you can tell these women are working class, or at best “new money”, and that’s what makes them especially deserving of derision. That’s not to mention the patronising and, again, classist view that London and its media often takes of anywhere else: Aintree’s Ladies’ Day is mainly attended by Liverpudlians, rather than demure home counties ladies who lunch.
While it clearly won’t solve cultural classism and misogyny, it is a relief to know that somewhere in the British sporting world, respect for female attendees is a priority.