Tracy Brabin, the excellent MP was accused of confusing messages when communicating in the House of Commons this week. The reason was, shock horror, that despite being very eloquent, she was wearing a dress that exposed part of her shoulder. The response was a barrage of abuse on social media; social commentators like Piers Morgan lashing out at her; and plenty of debate on social media platforms that I am active on. Here is Brabin’s response.
Quite frankly, I was appalled at the vitriol directed at Brabin and the important message she was delivering was lost. In case you missed the message, she was expressing her opposition to the media being controlled by Number 10 instead of being able to report unbiased and uncensored news. This was an important speech by any stretch of the imagination, yet it was lost within the noise of ‘shoulder gate’: criticism of what she was wearing.
I was particularly surprised at the number of women who were derogatory about her clothing, and there were plenty of vile comments (from both men and women), to which Tracy Brabin responded in a charming, professional way. See her response. It is clear that women still have to work harder than men at being heard, and there is still an unwritten rule that many people feel they have the right to openly be vicious about another human being.
But before I respond, I should mention some background to what Ms Brabin’s was wearing and also the culture in the House of Commons. There is a dress code in the House of Commons, but it is only for men. Unbelievably in 2020, women’s dress is not acknowledged or mentioned within these rules. In the case of Brabin, she wasn’t expecting to speak in the House of Commons, and was attending a music event where a less formal attire was appropriate. She also has a broken ankle and was trying to balance on one foot whilst delivering her speech; she wasn’t able to adjust the neckline of her shoulder. The angle of the photograph makes the dress look slightly more provocative than it was; there was a little bit of flesh showing; no one died. But in this world where women are shouted down for minor misdemeanours, this was criminal.
So why did Tracy Brabin’s message get lost? As a woman she has to work that much harder to make her message across, even in this age, and with someone as skilled as Tracy. We all have to be aware that in order that a message really engages an audience – whether that is one person or a group of people, the actual content (what you are saying), the tone of your voice and your non-verbal communication, including body language, gestures, facial expressions AND what you wear, need to be aligned. If you distract the listener or audience with something, such as weak body language when you are speaking about something strong, or indeed you are wearing something distracting like jangling bracelets or a slight flash of a shoulder, they will be confused by the message. So ladies, I hate to say this but if you have a tendency to wear low cut blouses or dresses, or very short dresses, it is likely you will distract your listeners. IN the same way, men showing their tummy because their shirts aren’t properly buttoned up, will do the same thing. It is a fact and it can impact your credibility and ability to really engage in a positive way. We have to ensure everything matches so nothing distracts the listener.
And what could she have done to prevent her shoulder ‘distracting’ the message? Having a jacket, cardigan or even a pashmina to cover her shoulder (shock horror) would have provided cover. It would also have made her feel more comfortable and less distracted by a neckline sliding! One or two commentators have suggested that having a jacket in the office for business women is a useful thing, since it can make you look slightly more professional when you are in an important meeting and NOT distract your audience.
And as for Tracy Brabin, she is a classy lady. She is now auctioning said ‘off the shoulder dress’ on Ebay to raise funds for the Girl Guide Association. Read here. This is a fantastic organisation (I am a former Queen’s Guide); which does great work giving young girls confidence in themselves.