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As shadow culture secretary, Tracy Brabin was attending a music event on Tuesday 4 February and was called, without warning, to the dispatch box to raise an urgent point of order about the briefing of journalists at Downing Street. As she leaned at the box to speak out, her slightly off-the-shoulder dress slipped a little and the internet went wild! The MP for Batley & Spen was bombarded by questions and insults of all kinds, including most of the misogynistic slurs imaginable.
Tracy appeared on BBC news explaining how the shocking backlash had inspired her to call out the trend of demeaning women for their appearance. In support of the stand she had taken, the dress sold out on ASOS and Tracy decided to list her own on Ebay, whilst the media began to report the incident as #shouldergate!Having been in Guides as a girl Tracy quoted the Girls Attitude Survey in her BBC News appearance and praised the work Girlguiding do for girls and young women, pledging to donate all proceeds of her dress auction to the charity.
On Thursday 13 February, as the dress auction was due to close, Tracy made a visit to the 1st Roberttown and Norristhorpe Guides in her constituency. After 180 bids, the dress – which had been £35 online – went for £20,200! Having announced this to the Guides, Tracy told the #shouldergate tale exclaiming that all the pressure and judgment women are expected to accept ‘is just wrong!’ and that she was so pleased to be able to help Girlguiding bring forward young women as leaders. The Guides then asked questions about standing up to bullies, developing confidence and, of course, how Tracy had managed to break her ankle -a bag strap! Tracy talked about how representing others can help with confidence, ‘it does give you a bit of fire in your belly’ and that the best gift Girlguiding can give young people is courage. Describing the statue of suffragette Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square – the only woman of the 12 statues (!) – Tracy quoted her banner ‘Courage calls to courage everywhere’ asking the Guides to look to Greta Thunberg and others too for inspiration, ‘because it only needs one person to call others to be brave and you’ve got a movement’.
The Guides carried on their evening with a poignant craft, sticking words and symbols which they felt represented them onto paper dresses. This eventually formed a large collage titled ‘I am defined by who I am not by what I wear’. A few Guides answered questions for local press and talked about the space Guiding offered them to be brave and how important it is to have role models like Tracy ‘because she’s had the confidence to stand up for all women’. As the evening drew to a close the Guides awarded their MP a ‘Speaking Out’ badge for her courageous advocacy.
Thank you to the leaders and Guides of 1st Roberttown and Norristhorpe for a lovely evening and to Tracy, for speaking out against everyday sexism and encouraging young women to be leaders!