Sexy sells

My mate Steve is Editor of Diver magazine. Because he is a gentle man, with an old world understanding of professional courtesy, he always sends me the latest issue. I, for my part, always read his leaders, just in case I can find something to write a ‘Letter to the Editor’ about and win the Letter of the Month prize.
Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 08.52.40It used to be a chunky diver’s watch. These days it’s a rugged plastic box. I have no idea why a diver might want a rugged plastic box. Perhaps it is a convenient place to keep pet molluscs.

I use a pseudonym to try and catch Steve out vis-a-vis my identity though I have yet to succeed in the ruse. He knows my scribbling style and it’s generally obvious that I know nothing of the underwater world. Recently Steve accused me of masquerading as an overweight older woman because of a piece of correspondence which he received.

It came about because an advertiser had used an image of a pretty girl in a wetsuit to help market some diving gadget or other. Shrill voices raised in mock horror are guaranteed when ad agencies and their clients use pictures of young women to attract male readers. It’s an easy way to ‘be at one’ with the sisters without actually doing anything to help improve the lot of genuinely oppressed women around the world.

And so, inevitably, in the next edition, a woman called Jane Cobb wrote in with this:

Sexist and hypocritical
I read your editorial about sexism with a certain
amount of cynicism, but I gave you the benefit of the
doubt and took you at face value (Closing the Gender
Gap, First In, June).
Then I turned two pages and was confronted with
a full-page advert using a sexy woman who appears
to be naked to display a face-mask. That gives the lie
to your claimed understanding.
Sexism isn’t just calling the woman on the boat
the tea-maker, it’s also the overwhelming
presentation of women as eye candy who are there
for the pleasure of men. It’s the use of our bodies to
sell pieces of technical dive equipment without any
mention at all of the properties of that piece of
It’s treating us as whores whose primary
requirement is to be sexy and, oh yes, we might be
allowed to dive too provided we are young, slim
and pretty.
That throws up another piece of the sexism
pattern, since most women’s dive kit is not made in
large sizes, whereas men’s gear (which is usually far
too long for we cute little girlies) comes in a much
wider range of sizes.
If you, your magazine and your advertisers
genuinely regarded women as equals you would not
use our bodies in that way. The result is that every
woman who opens your magazine is presented with
evidence that diving is still highly sexist and that we
will be treated as inferior objects rather than
competent divers in our own right.


I rolled my eyes and thought no more about it. Political correctness is a cop out for idle and ill-educated brains in my opinion, and is no substitute for the processing of facts.

I was delighted to see balance restored in the latest edition of Diver by this letter:

…and a woman’s view
I was disappointed to read the silly letter from Jane
Cobb in your latest issue.
As an overweight and older lady diver (am I
allowed to say lady? Or does the sisterhood regard
that word as sexist these days?) I have no problems
with the facts that men prefer their females to be
younger and thinner. It’s normal and natural and
echoed by women who prefer younger fitter blokes
to older, fatter and, dare I say it, balder ones. That’s
a function of our DNA and evolutionary instincts.
What isn’t normal and natural is people wasting
their time on irrelevant non-issues such as this when
serious real-women real-world problems include
genital mutilation, oppression, rape, honour killings
and similar horrors.
Often these are normal practice in the very
countries where many of us go to dive.
Ad agencies research very carefully what works
and sells products. Guess what? Pictures of pretty
girls are very effective.

These views echo mine almost exactly so I was not surprised when Steve asked me if I was Bethany from Dorking.

There is no correct answer to that question, or at least none that avoids the double-entendres of the music hall and saucy postcards by Donald McGill from the same era. I am certain, though, that Bethany, whoever she is, is entirely incorrect about bald blokes, given the sparse keratin coverage on Steve’s head, an evolution which I share. Maybe she was merely being wistful.

Universal Great Aunt

Lunching recently with my friend Roger, our ‘smart chaps about town’ chat turned to our families, in the course of which Roger told me about his Great Aunt Win, 106 years old.

Great Aunt WinQ

Great Aunt Win clearly has a number of admirable qualities as this vignette illustrates. Taken to the Ritz to celebrate a birthday, she was resolute in her desire to appear as hale and hearty as any young pup of 70 or more. She refused a helping hand to climb the steps into the tea room and, unfortunately, took a small tumble. This irritated her.

She swiftly stood, brushed herself down and carried on regardless.

Regardless, that is, of the bruising that followed her gravity-led descent and the consequent discomfort. She did not call for either an ambulance or a lawyer.

Great Aunt Win arrived on planet Earth when Edward VII, the perpetual fornicator, was King Emperor.

He was a robust man, magnificently larger than life in many ways (his girth did for him in the end though). The cascade effect of his excesses, following the reign of the prudish and narcissistic Hausfrau who preceded him on the throne, was to bring an exciting mix of parties and passion to high society. Correct form amongst the smart set seems to have been a fusion of highly styled manners, pretentious affectations overlaid with an earthy vulgarity comprising saucy postcards and joyful, albeit discrete, romps beneath the sheets for all. The Edwardians would certainly take issue with the canard that sex was invented in the 1960s.

Bertie, as his family called him, was wont to visit Churchill’s Mother Jenny, most days, for ‘tea’. It is now believed that Edward’s afternoons were the source of the syphilis which eventually killed Winston’s beloved Papa, Randolph. The definitive biography, or at least the most readable in my view, about this splendid man is ‘Bertie’ by Jane Ridley.

Four years following Edward’s death, the Great War launched a new era when Great Aunt Win was five years old.

The war changed everything in a brutally swift evolution and the Edwardian age ended along with the lives of many of the lads whom Great Aunt Win would have known as she grew up as the older brothers, cousins and fathers of her contemporaries.

Great Aunt Win’s strength of character was forged by being born and growing up in a hard century. She is not governed by a misplaced sense of entitlement or assumed superiority. Her driver is self-discipline and consideration for others. You cannot imagine Great Aunt Win dropping litter or queue-jumping.

Her standards are wholly proper: she refuses to drink tea from a mug and only uses a delicate fine china cup. Complete with saucer. She is fiercely independent, enjoys the love and respect of her family and, reading between the lines of Roger’s fond description of her, may not be crossed or thwarted. If she is, there will be hell to pay.

Roger’s Great Aunt Win, one senses, would never knowingly offend; has exquisite manners and holds no truck with the tarnish that is political rectitude or correctness as it is incorrectly described.

My strong impression is that this fine lady makes decisions and judgments using criteria crafted through centuries of experience passed down through generations. I can imagine her cup being set down rather firmly to make her point or deliver a rebuke were she to spot a departure from the considerate good manners she both expects and practices.

I wish there was a Great Aunt Win in my life; don’t you wish there was one in yours?