This week, Harriet Harman has spear-headed a movement to get women to vote Labour. It involves taking a sixteen seat van around the country. I know, I don’t get it either.
Anyhow, the appearance of the van was criticised on Twitter and throughout the media for being somewhat sexist. This centred on the van’s colour, which was pink. Why not blue? Or better yet, Labour red, given that’s the point of the thing’s existence? Apparently making it this colour meant it bled into the background. Harman treated the criticism of the colour issue lightly, joking that she thought it was magenta.
However, it wasn’t the hue of the van that got me thinking it was all a bit sexist. Rather it was the whole concept of a “woman’s van” in the first place. Why do we need to single out women from the remaining 50% of the electorate? Women by and large, and polling demonstrates this, care about the exact same issues as men do. Women do not generally turnout in less numbers than men do (men were more represented in 2010 voting wise than women, but this was irregular – usually it’s the other way round). So why the need to single them out as if there was some sort of female democratic deficit? Yes, we live in too sexist a society still, but belittling women’s participation by dragging a magenta van across the country isn’t going to help improve things in this regard.
While we are discussing the van: what’s with the slogan? “Woman to woman”? It sounds like softcore porn. Again, the implication, which I can only imagine is unconscious, is that a woman’s approach to politics is somehow airy fairy and not terrifically serious. As if, you know, we need to bring it down to the level of the feeble female brain so that the poor fairer sex can grasp it all. I can just imagine the goings on in the “Woman to Woman” van now: discussions of Cosmo and nail parlours intertwined with various Labour figures subliminally relating the cost of living crisis back to these domestic, stereotypical concerns.
If you think I’m over-reacting here, this is what Harman had to say about the van (beyond remarking flippantly about its colour):
“We don’t want women to give up on politics,” she said. “If you look at the figures, the disaffection that there is with politics is even more pronounced among women.”
Really, Harriet? Upon what evidence do you base this idea that disaffection with politics is more pronounced amongst women? If Twitter is anything to go by, disaffection with politics seems more testosterone charged than almost anything on social media. Again, it feels like knee-jerk, unconscious sexism.
This being an election of course, the van was then offered up as proof that David Cameron doesn’t care about women voters. I know that Cameron cares about female voters, because if you don’t and you’re a politician you’re done for – again, the whole 50% of the population deal. But fair enough; Cameron is not launching a magenta van to go round the country with a slogan that conjures up images of lesbian pornography as proof that he does indeed care about women’s needs. He should get on that.