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Could debating naked really solve Britain's Brexit woes? | Politics

Category: Political Protests,Politics

Last March, the Cambridge academic Victoria Bateman walked into the annual conference of the Royal Economic Society in Brighton wearing “nothing but shoes, gloves, a necklace and – of course – a smile”. Smiling is a big thing in naked protest; that, and the idiosyncratic hair (a deep commitment to the overhead plait), bestows Bateman with an obscure seriousness of purpose. This is otherwise quite difficult to put across when you are not wearing any clothes.

Her point, originally, was that economics has failed to put women at the centre of any analysis. In fact, it has largely ignored them, leaving the discipline fatally myopic. This is the subject of her forthcoming book, The Sex Factor, which makes the original but obvious point that classic explanations of prosperity fail: markets are not enough to explain growth; neither are innovation or democracy. People prosper through freedom outside as well as inside the marketplace – the emancipation of women has a demonstrable, strikingly positive economic effect.

Bateman has been mischaracterised as a kind of next-gen Catherine Hakim (a sociologist at the London School of Economics who argued that sex is a material female advantage because men want it and women don’t). That’s wrong. Bateman’s point is not to monetise sex but to refocus the study of economics so that it includes the social spheres from which real economies draw so much energy. Anyway, that tension has been eclipsed, rather, by Bateman’s anti-Brexit nudity.

She confronted John Humphrys on the Today programme last week, with “Brexit Leaves Britain Naked” written on her chest; and challenged Tory Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg to a naked debate. And today she appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, making the same request to Richard Madeley (although she has now decided that it’s fine for Rees-Mogg to keep his clothes on).

This is a feminist issue, she tells me (by email), not just because Brexit will hit women disproportionately hard – less money for public services – but at a deeper level. “Brexit seems to be moving us in a very different direction socially: away from the road that leads towards a free, open and tolerant society, towards something much more unwelcoming, illiberal and nationalistic,” she writes. “That is not the kind of society that will be supportive of women’s freedom.”

Dr Bateman (far right) on Good Morning Britain.
Dr Bateman (far right) on Good Morning Britain. Photograph: Ken McKay/ITV/REX/Shutterstock

While she generally uses naked protest for specifically feminist issues – from burqa bans to lack of access to birth control to legislation that endangers sex workers – it has a foundation that could stretch to most progressive causes. “If we remove our clothes, we might better also see the way in which we are all equal human beings. We shouldn’t be putting up divisions between one another.” In this reading, clothes themselves are a divisive construct, like nationalism, the language of hate, building walls. It makes one wonder whether everyone just taking their clothes off could break the Brexit deadlock. It could hardly get any weirder.


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