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Why there's no arm in a little bit of intimacy with your man, Helen

By Jane Graham

Published 18/09/2015

Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren
Jeremy Corbyn
Michelle Gomez

Helen Mirren is angry again. She does have a bit of temper. A couple of years ago, she famously stormed offstage in the middle of a London play to tell the samba band joyfully carousing outside to "shut it". Dressed as the Queen, giving it the full Ray Winstone, she made an awesome spectacle and the quivering drummer boys did exactly what they were told. I wonder if her latest chastisement of men she disapproves of will be as successful at changing behaviour?

I kind of hope not, though I'd be nervous to admit that to Helen's face, as she also said recently that her one piece of advice to her younger self would be to say "f*** off" more often.

Helen's latest complaint is about men who put their arms round women.

"It annoys me when I see men with an arm slung around their girlfriend's shoulders," she said this week. "It's like ownership. When I see girls being leaned on, I want to say, 'Tell him to get his damned arm off your shoulder'."

Now, I rather like the feeling of having a man's arm around my shoulders. At 5ft 3ins, I usually fit rather snugly in there and as I'm irrationally irritated by even a light breeze, I'm always grateful to have a warm arm protecting my neck.

I also like the element of intimacy the gesture brings, as it automatically brings two heads together and implies a closeness, whether in friendship, or romance, that even holding hands can't quite muster.

I must stop enjoying this, though, according to Helen, because what's actually happening is that a man is trying to own me and I am colluding. (Helen also calls for an end to the word "sassy" to describe, um, sassy women, because it's "insulting". I have scoured my feminist tomes to get to the bottom of why sassy is an insult, but other than the fact that it's usually applied to women, and not to men, I can't figure this one out. Does that mean we should challenge "pretty", "Amazonian" and "female", too?)

Helen feels that women are "like toddlers in this modern world", still "trying to find their position in the age of sexual liberation, birth control, education and financial independence".

I imagine she doesn't see herself as a struggling, confused toddler though, as she has successfully negotiated the perils of the modern world and made a clear and correct judgment on which gestures and words are acceptable and which are not.

However, as a younger (than Helen Mirren) woman, I can't help feeling that being told off for enjoying a particular act of endearment, or certain vocabulary, is treating me rather like a toddler.

I had this crazy idea that feminism was about the emancipation of women, freeing us to choose how to lead our lives without judgment. Rather than being scuttled from one repressive bunch to another.

Whether it's a doddery old dinosaur telling me to wear a shorter skirt if I want to get ahead, or a frowny-faced babyboomer telling me it's politically incorrect to enjoy having a man's arm around me, I find I get quite uppity at being instructed on how I should live.

Being lectured by disapproving alpha women is not freedom. It just leaves most of us squirming to avoid the stern gaze of a different master. Or, in this case, mistress.

Of course, there are some men who never indulge in the oppressive act Helen Mirren hates. One chap told the BBC yesterday he never puts his arm around his wife, because "she's always two paces behind me".

Well, I guess you can't accuse him of patronising her.

Song and dance over anthem row

I was amused by the furore around Jeremy Corbyn's preference to stand respectfully without singing the national anthem at the Battle of Britain service this week.

Regardless of your views, it baffles me that any grown-up person should regard unquestioning deference to an unelected totem a crucial quality for political leadership.

Even more interesting is that the most vociferous cheerleaders for Great British democracy seem to feel British non-monarchists should be denied political representation in Westminster. Unless, that is, their representative fakes allegiance to the opposite view.

Not sure that fits most descriptions of free democracy. It does suit North Korea though, so different strokes ...

Look Who's back on small screen

After a sneak preview of the first episode of Doctor Who before it lands on BBC1 tomorrow, I have to tell serious Doctor fans out there - hang on to your hats.

This one really messes with some major aspects of the show's 50-year history.

But even if you know nothing about the old days, watch it just for the sizzling double act of Glaswegian duo Peter Capaldi and the edgy, eccentric Michelle Gomez.

Gomez's villainess Missy is a clever, cold-blooded, highly groomed combination of Rommel and an S&M dominatrix, who shifts from withering contempt to minxy flirtatious at the flutter of an eyelash. So, then, just the Doctor's type. The old devil.

Belfast Telegraph

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