Frances Barber could have been wearing a rhinestone thong. You still don't have the right to judge her

Frances Barber was allegedly called 'disgusting' by her Uber driver
Frances Barber was allegedly called 'disgusting' by her Uber driver Credit: David M. Benett/Getty

Sunday night should have been an enjoyable one for acclaimed actor Frances Barber. She spent the evening mixing with the great and good of the British acting scene at the Evening Standard’s theatre awards. Unfortunately her evening was ruined when she booked an Uber taxi to take her home.

Barber, who stars in the legal drama Silk, commented to her driver that it was a cold night - presumably the kind of polite comment you’d never expect to cause offence. The actress reports that rather than agreeing that yes, it was chilly, her driver responded, “Well, if you weren’t so disgustingly dressed…”

Horrified, Barber got out of the taxi and subsequently tweeted:

By the by, the reports on the incident have included photographs of Barber and have reflected on the fact that the dress she was wearing was floor length, long sleeved and high necked. It has been commented that she was hardly going to be mistaken for an extra in Cabaret.

Why does any journalist feel the need to comment on what Barber was wearing? Regardless of her outfit, whether it was a rhinestone thong or a full-length evening gown, she had the right to expect a safe lift home without any judgment.

Frances Barber pictured at The London Evening Standard Theatre Awards Credit: David M. Benett/Getty Images

Barber alleged that her driver was an observant of sharia law. I have no idea whether this is true. Sadly, regardless of religious practices it’s not uncommon for women to find that their clothes aggression from strangers.

One horrific illustration of this was yesterday’s report that 22-year-old Eleanor Jones had been left with a fractured eye socket after being attacked on the street, by a man who “didn’t like her outfit.” 

I once got stuck in a traffic jam on the way back from Heathrow airport, during which my taxi driver and I fell to talking about religion. Having been to an isolated Catholic boarding school, I hadn’t ever found myself talking to someone who was a practising Muslim. My driver hadn’t ever sat down with a Catholic. We enjoyed an amiable chat about the consistencies between our religions (turns out they ban a lot of the same things.)

"As he put the question to me, I found myself pulling my cardigan up over my chest.".

In the course of our conversation, he asked me how it was that I didn’t feel unsafe when I walked around alone in a summer dress. As he put the question to me, I found myself pulling my cardigan up over my chest. He explained that he believed men were not always reliable when it came to resisting temptation and that he felt safer for his wife, and his daughters, when they were fully covered. 

My driver was nothing like Frances Barber’s, yet the experience left a bitter taste in my mouth. I had listened to a man tell me that his wife and daughters should dress a certain way in order to avoid 'tempting men' and I hadn’t said anything about it.

I claimed it was because I didn’t want to offend him, but in reality I wanted to avoid confrontation on the issue - and I've done the same over and over again. 

Frances Barber pictured with Sir Ian McKellen at The London Evening Standard Theatre Awards after party Credit: David M. Benett/Getty Images

The first time a man shouted “nice tits” at me on the street, I was 13. In the 11 years since then I’ve heard “I want to f*** you”; “you’re not all that”; “slut” and “nice arse” more times than I can count. And I’ve done absolutely nothing about it. I’ve never reported anyone for it. I’ve never even shouted back. Every single time it’s happened I’ve shrunk away feeling scared and just accepting that it’s a way of life.

Walking down the street is not an invitation for comment from men. Every single woman has the right to go about her day, dressed as she sees fit, without being harassed - and trust me when I say that this is harassment. It makes women feel scared, offended and unsafe. 

"I’m inspired by Frances Barber for not sitting in the back of her Uber, fuming in stunned silence".

There is no excuse to contravene the right to feel safe. Your religion is not an excuse. The time of night is not an excuse. Her dress is not an excuse. “Just trying to give a compliment” is not an excuse.

I’m inspired by Frances Barber for not sitting in the back of her Uber, fuming in stunned silence, but for calling the issue out publicly. I’ve been putting up with similar comments for more than a decade, and you know what? I’m done.

From now on I’m going to try to take a leaf out of her book and regardless of where I am or what I’m wearing, I will not stand for anyone shouting anything at me anymore.