Come on girls! Let’s get around the kitchen table for a chat about the kitchen table. Hmmm. Rachel Extance is struggling to get on board with Harriet’s pink bus.
In 1915 Suffragettes marched through London calling on the Government to mobilise the female workforce on condition of equal pay for equal work. One banner read: ‘Mobilize Brains and Energy of Women!’
One hundred years on, the women’s rights movement is being represented by a pink (sorry, magenta, or is it cerise?) minibus with ‘Woman To Woman’ emblazoned on the side. It looks more like a tampon advert with an 80s power ballad soundtrack than a call to political action.
And while Harriet Harman may not have meant it to be patronising, it damn well feels like it. As my friend Helen said, ‘they might as well have put a picture of shoes and chocolate on the side and be done with it’.
‘Woman to Woman’?? Let’s gather round with a glass of Chardonnay and have a cosy chat about women’s issues, just us girls.
I can’t disagree with the reasoning behind the campaign: “Women still lead lives which are very different to men. More likely to be low paid, less likely to be in the boardroom. More likely to be taking responsibility for children and older relatives, less likely to be getting a promotion at work.”
Women’s rights have come a long way since the Suffragette movement marched through the streets, carried out direct action and faced torture through force-feeding in prison to get women the vote. When my grandmother was born, the idea of a woman becoming an MP or a QC, like Ms Harman, was incredible.
And yet, women are still paid less than men; are likely to have lower pensions than men; are less likely to work in science, technology, engineering or maths; and companies think there is a market for products like women’s earplugs and Bic for Her pens – both of course pink because how else would we know they had been designed, inexplicably, especially for us?
The political choices faced by women should not be only discussed among women.
Childcare arrangements, antenatal care, equal pay, pensions, social care, taxation, the price of petrol, housing, education, an ageing population, food banks, homelessness, cancer care, dementia, business rates, interest rates, crime, Europe, Scottish independence, bin collections, arts funding, potholes, rail fares, unemployment: all these issues and more directly affect different groups of women – and men.
In 2010, 9.1 million women didn’t vote but neither did 8 million men (why isn’t there a blue bus going around the country talking to blokes about that?).
Voter turnout for the General Election was just 65.1% compared to 83.9% in 1950. The discussion should not be about why women are not voting, but why politics isn’t working for ordinary people.
It looks more like a tampon advert with an 80s power ballad soundtrack than a call to political action.
Most people’s image of politics is: a) it’s dull; b) it doesn’t affect them; c) the braying, bullying shouting match that is Prime Minister’s Questions.
We’re having the same discussions about Europe, arts funding and transport we’ve been talking about for at least 40 years. I shouldn’t listen to the Today programme and be able to apply a Yes Minister sketch to the political issue of the day. There is one for women’s rights of course, Equal Opportunities, in which Jim Hacker attempts (and fails) to promote more women in the civil service after being asked what he has actually achieved in an interview for a school magazine.
And there’s the rub: in asking us to vote for them, politicians need to show us what they’ve actually done. We don’t need hot air, Punch and Judy politics, the quick quip at the dispatch box. Being photographed in a pub with a pint in your hand does not make you an ordinary Joe.
We don’t want gimmicks or league tables or attempts to put things in boxes which really don’t fit in them like academic research, education and immigration.
What we want are clear plans for tackling poverty, helping the NHS, helping people get into work by giving them useful training and opportunities which suit their needs, allowing teachers to inspire children instead of being stressed to breaking point with tests, targets and inspections.
It would be brilliant if you could get trains and buses to run on time but as Jim Hacker will tell you, an integrated transport policy is a political minefield.
Rachel Extance is a journalist and mother-of-two. Her main concern these days is making sure she doesn't walk out the house with yoghurt down her top.