Ladies’ Day: an excuse for the press to trot out Northern stereotypes?
It is a day when women from Merseyside are encouraged to dress in their finest clothes and enjoy a day at the races. It’s Ladies’ Day.
Yet the sophisticated image of the Grand National is far removed from the images in newspapers the following day of women falling over, or with underwear showing after being caught by gusts of wind.
It is something that Liverpool women academics, stylists and commentators are tired of, and the fight-back has begun.
Liverpool fashion student Hannah Ramsay who now lives in London says that people there regard her accent as something “hysterically funny”.
She wrote a paper on the North-South fashion divide as part of her degree course.
“I think the gap is closing between the North and the South in terms of fashion,” she says. “There are always going to be people who want to do Liverpool down and resort to stereotypes no matter what we do, there are people who want to rip it to shreds.”
She said she will not go to Ladies’ Day as she does not want to judge other people subconsciously.
“People in Liverpool do want to look good and not adhere to the norm,” she adds.
Gemma Ahearne, a sociology and criminology lecturer and PhD student, said the negative coverage is part of the “vilification of the working classes” who are “not regarded as being worthy of being at the races”.
She used Aintree as a case study when she examined how the media portrays women and she believes it targets women and defines them as “chavs” who are held up as “defective” and to be mocked.
She believes the media are “misogynistic and disapproving of women who are hyper-confident, and such coverage aims to regulate their behaviour”.
“The comments below the line on these articles are disgusting and you get a differentiation at Cheltenham and Ascot where the language and semantics talks of fashionable fillies.”
Jennina O’Neill, manager of the Met Quarter shopping district in Liverpool, believes it is disappointing that the press focus on the same stereotypes year after year.
“It’s important to celebrate individuality but the focus should be on style, it would be nice to see more stories showcasing some of the great looks at the races.”
Interestingly, she does not believe it has a major impact on the city as “every city has to deal with certain stereotypes”.
She agrees that women in Merseyside take pride in their appearance but thinks that there are lots of different looks in the city. “One thing we notice from our shoppers is the appetite for individuality.”
Andy Heath, the deputy managing director of Merseyrail, says they have seen a marked change in the behaviour of racegoers – for the better – over the last four or five years.
“There is a well-trodden stereotype of Ladies’ Day that people turn up in their finery and stagger out at the end of the day,” he says.
Merseyside Police Superintendent Paul Wilson says anti-social behaviour will be not tolerated and he asks people to treat the area with respect.
Flip-flops are handed out to those who get sore feet. Last year, there were just 16 arrests during the three-day festival – five on Ladies’ Day. None were women.
Merseyrail has introduced bylaws that prevent people who are extremely intoxicated from travelling. Music is played and coffee sold in pop-up stores to create a good atmosphere.
Over the three days, the rail company transports 100,000 people – half on Saturday and 30,000 on Ladies’ Day. Trains double in frequency to every seven minutes and 12,000 flip-flops are handed out. The flip-flop giveaway also prevents escalator accidents at Liverpool stations.
While not denying that people may indulge too much, Heath says that they are “a very small minority.” He adds: “You don’t get this sort of publicity at other events such as York or Ascot. It’s a very jaundiced and unfair reflection on women in Liverpool.”
Ladies’ Day at Aintree is on April 4, 2014
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