The Art Of Protest: Has A Mum’s Rebel Knickers Awakened Dorset’s Feminist Resistance?

Creative feminist activism has been on the rise over the last few years.

Look no further than the Women’s March movement’s Sarah Sophie Flicker and more controversially Pussy Riot’s Maria Alykohia aka Masha.

But these are some of the more well-known ill-behaved women who have made history.

What of the lesser known regular women closer to home who stand up for women’s rights?

Introducing Lorna Rees, Dorset’s very own mum-of-two, who started a modern-day feminist revolt when she draped a pair of graffitied knickers outside MP Christopher Chope’s office last year.

Lorna was protesting against the Christchurch MP’s obstruction of the upskirting bill – a bill that is now law and Chope claims he blocked on a point of principle to give it greater scrutiny.

Her anarchistic act attracted broadcasters from ITV to BBC, amplifying the chorus of cross-party anti-Chope condemnation and sparking copycat bunting outside Chope’s Westminster office.

When the MP stalled another bill which sought to support victims of female genital mutilation earlier this year, Lorna once more deployed some defiant pants to his door.

Now, despite Chope’s vigorous claims he has been ‘assiduous’ in analysing the merits of the FGM law and blocked it so it could be properly interrogated, an online petition to oust him continues to gather steam and the MP faces deselection from his own party.

A surreal anarchist act that attracted admiration and anger

Lorna peruses the Pants of Protest book she made to remind her of the ‘surreal’ course of events that took place after she protested against MP Chope with a pair of gratified knickers

Sitting in her kitchen on a Winter’s day as grey clouds gather outside, Lorna is a pop of colour with her red lipstick, leopard tights and sparkling purple necklace with the words ‘Nevertheless She Persisted’.

“It’s been so surreal”, says Lorna, reflecting on the rolling course of events over the last year.

“I take huge pride and pay such attention to detail in my theatre work.

“Yet the thing that attracts the most attention is something I scribbled on quickly and strung up in anger.

“I just thought it would make a few people laugh.”

Coverage of Lorna’s protest as reported by the Sun

Tea in hand, she flicks through a large brown scrapbook named Pants of Protest on the table – it’s a memento of all the media her protest has attracted, including being invited to the Women’s March this year where she was commissioned to produce more subversive undergarments.

Angus MacKechnie, the Executive Director of Outdoor Arts UK, even selected Lorna’s undergarment act of dissent as one of the highlights of 2018.

But while she revels in the more positive attention her protest attracted, she says it came with some distressing online hate.

“I’ve had some horrible Twitter abuse”, she says.

One such Twitter message read: ‘I hope people throw rocks at you’.

Another tells her to treat herself to a ‘new ironing board’, which she could do ‘productive things with’, while another frightening message appears to make an indirect rape threat.

Faced with such comments, Lorna took comfort from her teacher husband Adam and their two boys Dylan, 13 and Rufus, 11, who have been a huge source of support, to the point they came to the Women’s March in London with her this year.

Lorna has had huge support from her husband Adam and their two boys Dylan, 13 and Rufus, 11. Credit: Lorna Rees

Even her father, a staunch Conservative and East London former barrow boy, is proud of her in his own way, she believes.

“My husband is definitely a feminist ally,” she says.

“The boys are really good at calling out sexism and unjust things that are done both to boys and girls.

“I think my husband and I feel that moral responsibility to bring them up aware of it and to always be kind.

“So I feel emboldened not to worry about the Twitter abuse.”

Small actions that make a big difference

Some of the new Pants of Protest Lorna was commissioned by the Women’s March to make.

Moving to Dorset when she was six, Lorna went to Stourfield Primary, Twynham and then St Peters School, where she studied A’ level politics, before going on to study at the same drama school as Dame Judy Dench – The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

While her upbringing may sound ordinary, she firmly believes in the extraordinary power of small actions to change the world.

“I’m just a normal mum, but it just shows how one little thing can make a huge impact.

“I’ve been so inspired by the women I’ve met along the way and I really believe that empowered women empower women.

“It just made me realise that we don’t have to do huge things to make a difference.”

That’s a sentiment backed up by fact according to TedX speaker Erica Chenoweth who argues it only takes 3.5 percent of a population to create a successful movement.

Women’s March founder Sarah Flicker says creating a successful movement that doesn’t mean physically showing up at a protest or rally, it involves “creating ways of thinking about things that might be different from how we thought of things before”.

“It means creating an opportunity to share a piece of music or visual art or a television show that not only depicts an underrepresented group, but also helps you think differently”, she told W Magazine.

In that way, the manner in which Lorna’s pants protest snowballed into a greater online campaign can be seen as an effective way of changing people’s ideas, and making us realise we can make a difference with the simplest of methods.

Can Dorset’s activist side be awakened?

Lorna was invited to produce some new
Pants of Protest for the Women’s March in London

After living in London for a few years, Lorna settled back in to Christchurch in 2006, which ‘couldn’t be more different’, she laughs.

“I think there’s a history of activism in Dorset that needs to be reawakened”, she says.

“There were the Tolpuddle Martyrs back in the day, but apart from that there’s not been much.”

The Tolpuddle Martyrs were six Dorset farm labourers convicted for swearing a secret oath to protect their income as part of a trade union, in a time of falling wages.

Sent to an Australian penal colony, their convictions and the nationwide protest that followed, helped change the face of employment rights for generations to come.

It was the courageous actions of these men that helped pave the way for the creation of trade unions and the protection of employee’s rights across the world.

“In Northern cities such as Liverpool there is more activism”, says Lorna.

“But there is a different attitude to protest here, perhaps because it’s more affluent. I’d love to see that change.”

A celebration of Dorset’s less well-known women this International Women’s Day

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2019 artist Lorna Rees is giving an informal guided tour of the Herstories Poole textile installation

To celebrate International Women’s Day Lorna is giving an informal guided tour of the Herstories Poole textile installation at Poole Museum.

“It’s a feminist celebration of the lives of some of the local women who lived in Poole who we often only know about from the notes in the margins of other texts” Lorna says.

“Women’s histories were often not written down, they were only referred to in passing sometimes with no name –  or purely in relation to men – as a wife, sister and so on.”

Based on the archival research of Charlie Lord and showcasing work from Bournemouth and Poole College students, the textiles reveal ‘fascinating tales from female ship-owners to habitual drunkards’.

You can join Lorna to find out more of some of the lesser known women of Poole by booking a ticket here and you can follow her as she does a Twitter takeover for the museumhere.

A sample of the female artistic provokateurs on the national scene

So who else are the muckrackers, the agitators and the fearless ones willing to stand up for women’s rights and justice the world over through the medium of art?

For a start, there’s London-based artist Zoe Buckman, whose controversial 2015 Girl Found Bound exhibition commented on the sexist use of rape in films.

Since her follow up exhibition Every Curve, a series of beautiful vintage lingerie embroidered with misogynistic rap lyrics, the artist has crossed over into the mainstream as a bonafide political artist, Women’s March member and celebrity in her own right, dedicated to activist art.

Artists like Stacy Leigh and Petra Collins regularly call out slut-shaming in their work, with Collins creating a stir in 2015 when an image of her unwaxed bikini line was removed from Instagram for violation of community standards.

Since then her hashtag #freethenipple has acted as a campaign for women’s rights on Instagram.

Meanwhile Leigh uses real-life sex dolls to subvert male standards of sexual desire.

Collin’s hashtag #freethenipple has acted as a campaign for women’s rights on Instagram.

In Birmingham an exhibition titled Women Power of Protest features work from three of the city’s artists – Susan Richardson, Nuala Clooney and Farwa Moledina – who catalogue the evolving position of women in the city.

Moledina’s piece Not Your Fantasy is a large curtain adorned with a woman concealing herself behind a piece of fabric.

In a society where “empowerment” is often associated with nudity and the freedom to bare all, Moledina places power in the subject’s decision to remove herself from the male gaze, refusing to be a “fantasy”.

Feminist writer Virginia Woolf once said “For most of history, anonymous was a woman”.

It turns out that still holds some truth today – female artists are paid 80% less than men and make up just 30% of the Tate’s collection.

Women Power Protest is undeniably then, an important exhibition. It ends March 31, so hop to it.

A brief history of Chope the ‘scapegoat’ and target of cross-party consternation

MP Christopher Chope has served Christchurch for 32 years and claims he acted on a point of ‘principle’ to give the bills greater scrutiny.

Leading Brexiteer Sir Christopher, 71, who has represented Christchurch since 1997, sparked widespread condemnation after he shouted “object” to the Voyeruism Bill, more commonly known as the Upskirting bill, in June 2018.

Gina Martin led a year-long campaign for the bill after police declined to prosecute a man accused of taking photos up her skirt without permission at a London music festival in 2017.

It was finally made law in January of this year punishable by a two-year prison sentence.

Despite warnings from politicians across the party divide, Chope went on to attract further ire when he obstructed the FGM bill in the same manner in February.

The bill would have allowed the courts to make interim care orders under the Children Act in cases where children are believed to be at risk of FGM and had already cleared through the House of Lords.

On both occasions Chope said he blocked the Private Members’ Bills as they came to the House of Commons for their second readings on a point of ‘principle’ to give them ‘greater scrutiny’.

He said: “My objections are to Bills being given a second reading on the nod, without any opportunity for members to express an opinion.

‘Even Government Bills, which are based on manifesto commitments are subject to second reading debates of up to one day in duration.

“The short point is, that all Bills should be scrutinised and my objection to them going through on the nod is not based on their relative merits, but upon that principle.

Asked whether he had compassion or sympathy for women’s rights, MP Chope said: “Not only am I sympathetic to the upskirting legislation, but indeed I supported the Voyeurism No. 2 Bill in Parliament.”

Speaking to the Bournemouth Echo he said was “a bit sore about being scapegoated over this”: “The Government has been hijacking time that is rightfully that of backbenchers. This is about who controls the House of Commons on Fridays and that’s where I am coming from”.

Chope was backed by Dr Brenda Kelly who said there are already powers in law to protect children at risk of FGM and that the Conservative MP’s objection to a private member’s bill was ‘reasonable’

But Senior Tories lined up to express their disgust over Chope’s behaviour.

Labour’s Dawn Butler labelled him a ‘dinosaur’ while Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP who co-sponsored the FGM bill called Chope’s decision “appalling” and in the hours before the FGM vote, he tweeted: “His argument is that he simply wants Bills properly debated.

“But it is a pretence. If today’s Bill goes through, we will have Committee Stage, Report Stage and Third Reading – all of which involve scrutiny and debate.

“If it is blocked, there is no debate. Please note that once again he did not object to those [bills] put forward by his friends.”

Nimco Ali, the co-founder of the anti-FGM charity Daughters of Eve called Chope a ‘disgrace’ on Twitter.

Despite this criticism Chope continues to rebuff any accusations against him as based on “false premise”.

He could now be facing deselection after local Conservatives triggered his reselection at an emergency meeting.

Published by Julia Bullas

Hi, I'm Julia: a journalist, writer, content strategist and campaigner. Get in touch to see how I can help you. Julia

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