Claire Black: The pink bus on road to equality

Deputy Labour leader, Harriet Harman, stands next a pink van launched during a Labour campaign aimed at women voters. Picture: Getty

Deputy Labour leader, Harriet Harman, stands next a pink van launched during a Labour campaign aimed at women voters. Picture: Getty

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IT’S always interesting when you expect to feel one way and then it turns out you feel quite differently. That was my experience upon seeing Harriet Harman’s pink van.

That’s what colour it is, right? Pink. No need to refer to the Pantone palette. It’s not magenta, or cerise, the van is pink. And what a stink it caused. “Patronising!” squealed commentators, many of whom aren’t usually known for their acute sensitivity to how women are treated by politicians. “Too little, too late,” said the more credible, measured (women) commentators.

Well maybe, although I confess I couldn’t summon up anything much more than an eyeroll. Women and pink, yeah yeah, very good. What seems much more interesting is that the van has provoked puce faces as opposed to the fact that 9.1 million women didn’t vote in the last general election. Or the fact that women’s issues – child care, the treatment of carers, low paid work – are still sidelined and subjugated.

Yikes, “women’s issues”. What is this, 1992? But who are we kidding if we pretend there are no matters that disproportionately affect women? Who are we kidding if we don’t acknowledge that women are failed politically both in terms of policy and representation by all of the major parties? Even in this country, where we can rightly enjoy the success and symbolism of a woman first minister and a gender-balanced cabinet (one of only three in the world), women don’t enjoy equal representation in Holyrood. The pinkification of girls and women gets right up my nose but it’s nothing on the fact that millions of women are disenfranchised, locked out of the political debate, ignored by the people who should be serving their needs.

“You went to an Asda in a pink van to speak to women,” spat one news anchor at Harriet Harman, the UK’s longest-serving female MP with an unimpeachable record of supporting women’s rights as well as the person behind the van. I don’t know when the last time Krishnan Guru-Murthy visited a supermarket in the middle of the day was but I can guarantee if he did he’d find more women than men, both shopping and working.

In fact, Harman pointed out that 60 per cent of the workforce of the shop she chose for her inaugural van trip, including the manager, are women. We could all indulge in the fantasy that Harman could’ve parked her van in the heart of any city and all of the women hedge funders, architects, lawyers and the like could’ve gathered round for a chat. But you are kidding yourself if you think that’s where most women are likely to be found, especially those women whose voices aren’t being heard in politics. And I know that’s uncomfortable, too right it is, just like the fact that women do the vast majority of domestic labour and caring.

The fact that there shouldn’t be women’s issues – that everyone should care about affordable child care, or domestic abuse or equal pay – doesn’t change the fact that at present those issues primarily affect women. Politicians do need to reach out to women. Frankly, they need to reach out to everyone, but I can’t find it in me to feel outraged about an attempt to listen to women or to hear what they’re saying, no matter what colour it’s painted.

Needled by TV sewing bee

I hate the thought that I’m suggestible, so I would just like to state for the record that I bought a sewing machine – my first sewing machine – without having seen a single episode of the new series of The Great British Sewing Bee. Yes, I did watch every minute of the last series. Yes, I may have seen a trailer for this year’s offering. But it’s not like I swooned over Patrick Grant’s moustache or Claudia Winkelman’s fringe and without a bobbin’s hesitation took myself straight to the haberdashery like some kind of impressionable fool with no idea what an overlocker is. No, no. I assure you I bought my machine before any of this year’s line-up even put tailor’s chalk to fabric.

Unfortunately I then made the mistake of watching last week’s episode for inspiration and now I have been paralysed with performance anxiety. Do you see how easy they make it look? Even the rubbish ones look intimidatingly good when you don’t know how to get the thread in the right place. My plan was to start with napkins but now anything less than a 3D children’s fancy dress costume with copious rouching, structural use of wadding and an invisible zip is going to feel like a right let-down.

Too ready to name drop

Sorry to go on, but I couldn’t help but notice last week that many news outlets refer to the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon as Nicola. Just Nicola. Now, this could be an indication that she has reached such heady levels of fame, only one name is required. Kanye. Kim. Nicola. Or it could be that she’s liked more than most so we want to feel familiar with her. But I can’t think of a male equivalent. Yes, Boris Johnson is often referred to by his first name, but not by the BBC. I’m not particularly deferential, nor a stickler for formality, but I reckon when you’re the First Minister of Scotland, you deserve a bit more respect. «

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