Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: Bra-vo M&S for defending your unisex fitting rooms from Twitter Hatchet attack

Fionola Meredith says it wouldn't bother her one bit if there was a man in a cubicle next to her's trying on lingerie

M&S says it strives to be inclusive and lets customers decide what fitting rooms to use
M&S says it strives to be inclusive and lets customers decide what fitting rooms to use
Fionola Meredith

By Fionola Meredith

If there's one job I truly hate, it's buying a new bra. I'll soldier on for ages with old bras that are fraying at the seams or ones where the hooks have gone all wonky, just so I can avoid the aching tedium of getting a new one.

From among my female acquaintance I know I'm not alone in this. It's not simply a case of popping in to a shop and grabbing one in your size.

No, you have to try on quantities of the blasted things in order to find one that works just right.

It's a lengthy, frustrating experience that leaves you sweaty, cursing and seething with impotent rage. Finally, you locate one that achieves an acceptable level of fit, appearance and elevation. Sobbing with relief, you stumble to the cash register and pay. Done, thank God - until next time.

I exaggerate of course, but only slightly.

Yet this week I was surprised to learn that there is at least one person who really loves the whole palaver of trying on bras. Remarkable, right?

But here's the clincher - he's a man. I don't know his name, but he's made a feminist campaigner called Jean Hatchet very angry indeed.

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Hatchet initially claimed that a friend of hers took her teenage daughter to Marks & Spencer for a bra fitting and saw a man in the changing rooms trying on women's underwear.

"Made my blood boil but I can't say anything or I'll be a hater," Hatchet said on social media. "No one would even dream of putting a female child's right to a safe space above a man's to get kinky with women's underwear."

Subsequently Hatchet clarified her statement. What had actually happened, she said, was that her friend and her daughter "had to queue up with a man clutching a load of bras".

The campaigner went on to allege that the mother and daughter overheard the man in question discussing bra fittings, presumably with the nice lady with the tape measure you often find in Marks & Spencer changing rooms. "How is this OK?" Hatchet demanded.

Hatchet, my honey, of course it's OK. No need whatsoever to get your knickers, or indeed bra straps, in a twist - and there's nothing more painful than that, I know.

Marks & Spencer has long been my go-to place for bras and I can tell you categorically that their changing rooms are like impregnable fortresses.

Solid walls, lockable doors. Formidable attendant at the desk, presiding over the whole procedure. Nowhere for anyone to peep or pry even should they wish to - and why assume they would?

That teenage girl was perfectly safe. If she and her mother want to get all morally sniffy and judgmental about a man wanting to try on bras - or "get kinky with women's underwear", as Jean unkindly put it - well then that's on them.

Personally, if it was me and my kid I'd see it as what the Americans earnestly call a "teachable moment": the opportunity to show her that people come in all kinds of colourful varieties, some of them quite surprising, and what's wrong with that?

Now, normally what happens when a Twitter storm kicks up over situations like this, the company in question collapses in the face of all the shrieking outrage, backtracks wildly and then issues some kind of simpering, craven apology.

But good old M&S have instead chosen stoutly to defend their enlightened policy. God bless them and their sensible pants.

The company said in a statement: "As a business we strive to be inclusive and therefore we allow customers the choice of which fitting room they feel comfortable to use, in respect of how they identify themselves."

There are plenty of other retailers doing exactly the same thing, and no doubt more will follow.

In order to ensure maximum privacy and comfort for everyone they should follow the M&S example and have lockable cubicles rather than flimsy curtains.

Quite clearly there are much more serious and difficult questions, such as the placement of trans people in prisons and women's refuges. But this is one wildly overblown and overhyped issue that is easily sorted.

Next time I'm in the M&S changing rooms wrestling with recalcitrant bras, it wouldn't bother me a bit if there was a bloke in the cubicle next door doing the same thing.

In fact, in a spirit of friendly solidarity, I could even knock on the wall and ask him for some tips on how to make it a pleasure, rather than a boring chore. Maybe there's something I'm missing?

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