KAREN DANCZUK, a Rochdale councillor, was recently taken to task
by the journalist Janet Street-Porter and the pop star Jamelia for
posting revealing selfies on social media.
The selfies did not amount to much: a high-angled camera, taking
in sparkly eyes and prominent cleavage. But it was enough to
provoke the former head of BBC "Yoof" programmes to accuse Mrs
Danczuk of letting down the teenage girls of Rochdale by an
inappropriate display of what the red-tops would call her "assets".
This, she said, was particularly damaging, given the grooming and
recent abuse scandals in the town.
There is a serious issue behind this bit of media froth. It is
an extraordinary paradox that, at a time when girls have more
opportunities than ever to develop their gifts, they are
simultaneously pressured to conform to gender stereotypes that
earlier generations would have considered cheap and degrading.
I think it begins with the imposition of pink as a girlie
preference and requirement; progresses to the marketing of vaguely
suggestive lingerie to the pre-pubescent; and culminates in the
horrific exposure to porn which has teenagers of both sexes
acquiring wildly unrealistic sexual expectations of themselves and
When accused on TV of letting down the younger generation, Mrs
Danczuk's response was to insist, reasonably enough, that it was
not fair to blame her for recent abuse scandals. All she wanted was
to encourage girls to take pride in their appearance. She then went
on to claim that her best assets were not, in fact, her frontage,
but her eyes.
Looking at her eyes in the selfies, you can see what she means.
They are friendly, warm, a bit cheeky. But this can make her
defence seem disingenuous. Many would see an invitation here, an
appeal to the beholder that plays into the expectations of our
Contrast this with the nude painting of Victoria Bateman, a
Cambridge economics fellow, commissioned by her. It was displayed
earlier this year at the Mall Gallery in London. She stands against
a wall, looking coolly at the viewer. She is neither passive nor
provocative. The eyes do not plead or invite.
This is not "a nude" so much as a naked female person, who is
simply her own person, not someone else's. There is no invitation,
no challenge, no teasing ambiguity. The subject's erotic life is
strictly her own business. The result is a startling portrait,
honest, but curiously chaste, more so in its nakedness than the
provocative body either exposed by a selfie or hidden beneath a
The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church,