Tayside's male 'period dignity officer' is a parable for Scottish public life – Susan Dalgety
It’s been a rollercoaster week for ex-tobacco salesman, Jason Grant. On Monday he was “absolutely buzzing” about his new job as Tayside’s period dignity officer. Full of ideas about how he, as a man, was going to break down barriers and reduce the stigma around menstruation.
He even offered to raise awareness of the menopause. “A natural process for women,” he stated, but one that has “wider repercussions in the world of work and family.” “It’s time to normalise these topics,” he said, “and get real around the subject.”
Hours after the press release heralding Tayside’s courageous appointment was issued, things started to get very real indeed for Jason who, rather mysteriously on the first week of his new job, was on holiday.
Women took to social media to condemn his appointment. Tennis ace Martina Navratilova described it as “f****** ridiculous”. Judy Murray simply said “FFS”. Edinburgh MP Joanna Cherry said it would have been “entirely appropriate under the Equality Act for this job to have been advertised as for women only”.
By Thursday Jason had gone global. The Washington Post – the newspaper famous for breaking the Watergate scandal – covered the story, quoting SNP Westminster leader, Ian Blackford MP, who had told Sky News that it would have been “far better” if the job had gone to a woman.
The First Minister, not usually slow to climb aboard every passing feminist bandwagon, refused to comment. “It’s not a Scottish Government appointment, I don’t know the details of it. I think you would be better to ask the people who are responsible for the appointment,” she brusquely told LBC’s Scotland political editor.
The people responsible – Tayside’s period dignity working group, made up of representatives from Dundee and Angus College, Perth College, Angus Council and Dundee City Council – simply said Grant was “the strongest candidate for the job”.
Only time will tell if Grant, in his blood-red polo shirt, sunglasses and carefully-coiffed quiff, was the best choice for a job that focuses primarily on women and girls. But his appointment stands as a parable for Scottish public life today.
Governing has become a performance art, worthy of top billing at the Edinburgh International Festival. The star of the show is of course Nicola Sturgeon. A few years ago, she was a mediocre politician, hard-working and introverted, content to play a supporting role to the superstar that was Alex Salmond.
Then, in a dramatic makeover, she donned an expensive designer costume, slipped on some heels, and took to the international stage as a left-of-centre, feminist-to-her-fingertips stateswoman.
At home, she and her compliant cabinet started to spin a story of a liberal progressive Scotland. One where every baby is gifted a box full of goodies, medicines are free and now, thanks to a £6 million investment from the Scottish Government, so are tampons.
The reality is somewhat different. Drug deaths are the highest in Europe. Child poverty is endemic – with 8,635 children living in temporary accommodation. Earlier this week, housing charity Shelter Scotland revealed that four homeless families had been told they would have to be re-housed in England as there was nowhere for them to live in Scotland.
And in Tayside, Grant’s backyard, former Dundee MSP Jenny Marra revealed that women have to wait up to 20 weeks after an abnormal smear test for further tests. “The breast cancer service has all but collapsed,” she added, “with women (who can) travelling to Aberdeen for treatment.”
Even the much-heralded period poverty legalisation is regarded by many women campaigners as yet another empty political gesture, designed to grab headlines rather than tackle the root cause of the problem – poverty.
“How is period poverty different from just poverty?” asked @Glesga_keelie on Twitter. “No money to buy pads or tampons means no money to pay bills or buy food. But we know actually addressing poverty is much harder than being lauded for a world-first in giving out free fanny pads.”
Buoyed up by her fan boys and girls in civil society, grateful for the government patronage that keeps them in jobs and excited at the prospect of a selfie with their dear leader, Sturgeon believes she is unassailable.
She brushes off any criticism of her shallow policy platform with the same easy contempt she bats away difficult media questions. She knows she is the only star in town and that the people she needs to impress – Scots under 40 reared in the digital age, where everything is a performance – are more interested in the iconography of progress than the hard of work of delivery.
Rainbow flags trump redistributive tax rises any day. And leaving the UK will be as easy as changing your avatar on TikTok.
The unwitting Grant stands as a perfect symbol of Sturgeon’s reign. On the surface his appointment looks like a huge progressive moment, but it’s nothing more than an empty gesture, dressed up as radical.
Earlier this week, a true radical – physiotherapist and comedian Elaine Miller – said she was spat at on the street for daring to talk about women’s health issues in her Fringe show, Viva Your Vulva: The Hole Story.
Her crime? Not mentioning trans women in her script. But her show – awarded a five-star review by this newspaper – does talk bluntly about the biological wonders of vaginas and vulvas. Perhaps Jason should catch Elaine’s show before its run ends – think of it as research, bro’.
And if the First Minister can spare an hour out of her busy Festival diary, she might find it educational too. Effective government, like a woman’s vulva, is a lot more complex than it first appears.
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