YourBarristerBoyfriend’s original list is well-written, hilarious and has pictures of good-looking shirtless barristers. Naturally, I blew my monthly broadband limit on it immediately and have been denied internet privileges at home ever since. So why does the female top 21 list, published yesterday, leave such a sour taste? Is it just because I’m a humourless feminist and a shameless hypocrite?
As I stare at the gently smouldering remains of my ill-assorted bra collection, I can’t deny the first but I’m not so sure about the second. One of the early lessons fresh-faced law students learn is the art of distinguishing one case from another. Something which looks like an exact parallel may turn out, on closer inspection, to be quite different. And I think that’s the problem here.
‘Woman as sexual object’ has been a dominant cultural narrative for thousands of years. It’s so omnipresent we don’t even notice it, but examples are hardly tough to find. All over the country, students are celebrating their A-Level results but, from the pictures in the newspapers, you’d never know that anyone other than “pretty girls jumping in vests” had passed. When Twitter trolls want to express their outrage at someone simultaneously having XX chromosomes and an opinion, it’s their fuckability they focus in on. And it’s not just teenage illiterates with delusions of adequacy who seem to prefer women silent and decorative — fewer than 30% of the speaking roles in 2012’s 100 top films belonged to women, and those who got to speak on screen were four times more likely than male characters to be half-naked.
So the message from the mass media is that a woman’s sex appeal is simultaneously her most important attribute and her most vulnerable spot. That dynamic just doesn’t exist in the same way for men. That’s why YourBarristerBoyfriend was so funny — it subverted expectations. Ranking women in order of attractiveness doesn’t subvert or satirise anything — it reinforces the most reactionary of ideas; that a woman’s abilities and accomplishments just serve to make her more highly-qualified arm candy.
The list won’t bring the legal profession to a halt (although the surge in website traffic might jam up some chambers and law firm servers for a day or so). And I don’t claim to speak for the women featured on it — as their CVs show, they’re more than capable of speaking for themselves. But while the Supreme Court boasts only one female judge; while women make up only 9.4% of equity partners in top 100 law firms and 17% of this year’s QCs, the legal establishment doesn’t need another way of marginalising women, however light-hearted — it’s doing fine on its own.
As a diversion for a desk-bound lunchtime, the list is compulsive; as a self-proclaimed blow for gender equality, it misses the mark.
WaitroseLaw is a lawyer with luscious organic selection, impeccable ethics and dinner party skills. She is not affiliated with or authorised by Waitrose.