Making the most of their assets: Oxbridge tits-out girls

The following is a true story:

In 1999 I was studying for a masters at Cambridge and attended the hustings for our new college reps. One girl was there wearing a tiny, St Trinian’s-style gymslip, suspenders and high heels, with her hair in pigtails. She finally got up to speak, prefacing her talk by telling us that the way she was dressed “isn’t to make a statement. It’s because I’m off to the rugby team’s naughty schoolgirls’ dinner later”. That matter having been duly sorted, she launched into her main speech.

This girl was standing for College Women’s Officer. A week later she was elected to the post.

So how far have we moved on since then? Well, today’s Daily Mail features an interview with Madeline Grant, an Oxford student who stood for election as librarian of the Oxford Union and was disciplined for making a reference to her tits in her election manifesto (“I don’t hack, I just have a great rack”).

The Oxford Union is of course not the same as the Oxford Student Union; the latter’s where you go for free condoms and cheap stationary, while the former’s a posh debating society. I know all this because in addition to completing my masters and PhD at Cambridge, I did my BA at Oxford (which makes me sound both academically impressive and a total twat. In later years, I’ve drifted more and more towards proving the latter assumption to be the most accurate).*

Anyhow, from what I remember of the Oxford Union, it was not a place that had anything left to be called into disrepute. Dodgy guests, naked ambition, debates on apparently “debatable” issues such as whether being gay was acceptable and whether state school pupils deserved their places at university at all … It was, to be honest, a wood-panelled shit-hole. And it was largely male-dominated. Males with plummy, overbearing public-school accents, who thought they were everything and had the privilege and power to make you feel like nothing. I don’t know. Perhaps it’s changed by now? But I seriously doubt it. Apart from anything else, it’s plonked right in the middle of Oxford University, and that seems the same as ever (i.e. about the same as Cambridge, which, equality-wise, is shit).

The year I arrived in Oxford history professor Norman Stone was making waves by suggesting that the reason female students didn’t perform as well in finals was because tutors always go for the pretty, rather than serious, bespectacled, ones. Never having been considered a “pretty one” myself, I wasn’t quite sure how to take it, but suspected that overall, this was bad. At around the same time my partner was arriving as an undergrad in Cambridge, just in time to witness male students at Magdalene College commemorating the college’s decision to admit women students in 1988. They did so by carrying a coffin round the quad, with “academic standards” written on it. Basically, it was all a bit fucked up. Unless you were in one of the women-only colleges, you were an impostor. And if you were in one of the women-only colleges, you were obviously a lesbian, and being a lesbian was BAD. The common room in my college always included a copy of the Sunday Sport. If a woman so much as touched the TV remote it was a strident feminist act. Most of the men I knew were lovely, and the tutors were great, but the overall atmosphere was a mess.

I look at Madeline Grant and I’m not surprised she’s made the news. The press have always been obsessed with Oxbridge girls and their tits. In my day the big name in Oxbridge-tittage was Jocelyn Witchard, who jumped naked into the Cherwell on May Morning and appeared in all the tabloids. There was also some girl funding her Oxford degree with pole dancing, and that got her into the Mail, but I forget her name (maybe that wouldn’t be such big news today, but there was something weird about it – some claim she made that being a pole dancer had “cured” her anorexia – anyhow, the whole thing makes me a bit sad). I was never an Oxford tit-girl. I did, however, once get into the John Evelyn column of the Cherwell student newspaper as a result of snogging someone inappropriate when I was off my face on lager. The truly pathetic thing is, a bit of me still thinks of that as the one time I “made an impression” at Oxford. That was my big achievement: accepting a sub-z-list celebrity’s tongue in my mouth while wasted on Stella.

So in all, I’m not surprised, but am still pissed off, that someone like Madeline Grant has become the whipping girl (ooh, saucy –  felt obliged to get that in first) in an environment that needs to take a long, hard look at itself. God knows, voters probably were judging her on her tits; why the hell shouldn’t she be honest about the way things are and the way to get ahead? The only thing that disappoints me about her is the sheer weakness of her slogan: “I don’t hack, I just have a great rack”. I mean, yes, it rhymes, but where’s the pun? Where’s the library reference? You could have least got the word “stack” in there somewhere, and possibly added a suggestive reference to the Dewey System.

Well, what do I know? The “librarian” position at the Oxford Union probably has nothing to do with being an actual librarian. And this whole incident seems to have left me in the position of actually agreeing with the Daily Mail. Christ. Well, that seems a waste of a good education.

* I’m actually a life member of the Oxford Union. I joined because they often invite famous people to give talks and said famous people tend to be terribly impressed and say yes. Hence during my time at Oxford I saw Ian Hislop, Vanessa Mae, Leslie Nielsen, Billy Joel, Douglas Adams and, um, OJ Simpson (um, yeah, well. Everyone was doing it. It didn’t seem that bad at the time). I also think I might have seen Michael Jackson, but I’m not sure. I might possibly have dreamt that one. It was a confusing time.

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Tits in Pop

(NB Title of this post is to be read out, even if just in your head, in the booming style of the Muppet Show’s Pigs in Space.)

Last week I had lunch with a friend and her 4-week-old baby. It was all going swimmingly. Nice gastropub, goat’s cheese salad on table, ultra-cute babe on tit – what could possibly go wrong? And then it happened. Wafting over from the loudspeakers behind the bar came one of the worst pop songs known to man, but especially to woman. Oh yes, it was bad. Reader, it was none other than The J. Geils Band with the objectification-fest that is My Angel is the Centrefold.

Now I happen to know this song rather well, since it appears on a cassette of no. 1s from 1982, which I bought from Woolworths in 1998 (Jesus, I am old enough to have double-layered nostalgia trips). In my defence, I only chose said cassette because another of the songs on it is an absolute classic, at least for anyone who adores hilariously serious, tremendously overblown lyrical extravaganzas (hint: I do). That song is of course Africa by Toto. In case you have somehow missed out on its glories, here is the best bit, i.e. the second verse:

The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what’s right
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti

Isn’t that just fantastic? It’s not just the sheer incomprehensibility of the dogs and their desire for “solitary company” – that last line is a work of pure genius. I have in fact tried to get it into common parlance:

MY BOSS: Are you sure we’re going to make those margins on a project like this?

ME: Yes, of course. Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.

Alas, it hasn’t worked so far. But that’s probably because we did not in fact make those margins after all. I’ll try it with another project.

Anyhow, back to J. Geils and his band. Theirs is a tale, not of wild dogs and mountains that look like cameras, but of having dated a wicked woman who dares to switch sides between the virgins and the whores. The first verse sets the scene:

Does she walk, does she talk, does she come complete
My home-brew, home-room angel, just pulled me to my feet
She was pure like snowflakes, no one could ever stain
The memory of my angel could never cause me pain
The years go by I’m looking through a girly magazine
And there’s my homegrown angel on the pages in between.

SLAG! SLAG! Where are your homegrown snowflakes now, bitch? I mean, what were you thinking? Years ago, sometime in the late seventies, you let this poor man cop a feel and now you’re acting as though your body’s your own, to do with as you please? Don’t you see the effect this is having on his peace of mind? Just listen to the chorus:

My blood runs cold, my memory has just been sold
My angel is the centrefold.

Now see what you’ve done! This poor man’s in shock, so much shock that he can’t even take the opportunity to form a decent pun (something along the lines of “mammaries have just been sold”. Well, that’s what I’d have done).  Anyhow, be thankful that by the final verse he’s pulled himself together a little, at least far enough to see a future in which he buys the magazine nonetheless and still deigns to shag you, albeit in a nice, personal, totally non-sleazy hotel-room context:

It’s OK, I understand, this ain’t no never never land
I hope that when this issue’s gone I see you when your clothes are on
Take your car, yes we will, we’ll take your car and drive
Take it to a hotel room and take ‘em off in private
A part of me has just been ripped, angels from my mind are stripped
Oh no I can’t hide it, oh yes I guess I gotta buy it

At this point words (nearly) fail me. Ladies of OBJECT, I am not normally one for censorship, but please can you get them to do something about this fucking awful song being played in public places, particularly places in which women are getting their own baps out and four-week-old girl babies are trying to have a feed in peace without their entire future as virgin-whore being laid out before them? THIS NEEDS TO STOP NOW. If we only ban one song from 1982, please let it be this (I really mean this. You’re getting a free pass, Renee and Renate).

Of course, let’s not pretend that pop songs about slags getting their tits out ended in the early eighties. In the nineties we had The Beautiful South with the utterly dire 36D. The Beautiful South are all serious and political, and have names like Dave and Paul, so it’s not quite what you get from The J. Geils Band. Oh no, with The South we have, in embryonic form, the ponderously “thoughtful” sleaze that finally came to full fruition in 2012 with the Good Men Project. But wait, I’m getting way ahead of myself here (and also a tad obsessed with the Good Men tit thing). Let’s first take a look at the opening verse of 36D:

Close your legs, open your mind
Leave those compliments well behind
Dig a little deeper into yourself
And you may find

Now this isn’t a typo – they don’t actually say what “you may find”. But anyhow, close your legs, ladies, and have a bit of a ponder. After all, you’re in polite company.

Come over here just sit right down
Needn’t comb your hair, needn’t pout or frown
I hear you’ve turned our young men

Into dribbling clowns

Right. Now, is it just me, or is this all getting JUST A TAD PATRONIZING? No, I WILL NOT come and sit next to you, Dave Rotheray. I’m busy with my straighteners. Look, I know you’re just concerned (The men who run the business that you sell, they screw you too). And I know you find my availability somewhat disconcerting (you’re Steven’s, you’re Andy’s, you’re Ian’s, your Paul’s ). But I do not need any of this “poor little slag-whore” business, particularly given the chorus you’ve then come up with:

36 D, so what, D, so what

Is that all that you’ve got?

What’s all that about? 36D may not seem massive to you, mate, but Bravissimo do bras in that size, and that shop’s exclusively for “women who love their curves”.

The fact is, so often people claim that pop music’s too sexualised, but I think we need to remember that there’s a rich vein of pop music by men freaked out by women getting their tits out, particularly if said women are getting paid for it. Not long after The Beautiful South we get Babybird with “You’re gorgeous”:

You said I wasn’t cheap
You gave me £20
You promised to put me in a magazine

On every table in every lounge

I have to say, I’ve done far worse for less. Cleaning tables at Tebay Services, for instance (£1.60 an hour! Even in 1989 it was shit! If I’d had tits back then, I’d have been straight to the walk-in freezer to rub some ice-cubes on them in the hope that someone, anyone, would snap me till it hurts).

I was about to claim that we should leave tit-songs to women only. Milkshake by Kellis is a tit-song, for instance. It’s hard to identify this in the lyrics, but you just know it is. It’s not “milkshake” bringing all the boys to the yard; it’s tits (but let’s not confuse this; I don’t think these are breastmilk milkshakes, although actually, I suppose they could be). On the strength of Milkshake, I was on the verge of saying that women are the masters of the tit-song, on account of having tits. But then I remembered Fergie and My Humps (my humps, my humps, my lovely lady-lumps). No. Let’s not go there. Let’s stay well away.

So where do we go from here, in what has become an interminably long post on a subject I wasn’t even aware I cared so much about? Well, here’s my proposal: moob songs. Lots of songs in which women tell men that yes, they love them, but for their minds, and they should really put those moobs away. Especially with summer coming. It’s not what we want on a hot summer’s day, ice-cream dripping and moobs-a-dangling. And so, to the tune of 36D:

Come over here, just sit right down
Forget the comb-over, needn’t pout or frown
I’ve found you a nice T-Shirt
Would you prefer it in brown?
[chorus]
I’ve got the receipt, so what, receipt, so what
Shall we go back to the shop?
etc. etc.

Well, look, it’s a start. I didn’t say I was a lyrical genius. But I’ll come up with something even more catchy, believe me, I will. Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.