Labour’s latest rouse, the little pink van has caused quite a stir. It’s like a scene from The Thick of It, and Harriet Harman is experiencing the unfortunate reality of Nicola Murray’s life. Woman to Woman is a campaign primarily concerned with outreach and engaging with female voters to ensure their voices are reflected. Some of the most intelligent women in the country are touring in a van to discuss what political issues really matter to women. In attempt to drum up support, they are recognising that women care about different issues, the same issues as men, but highlighting and attending to the fact that women care about issues at all. So is the colour of the van important?
When discussing this with a friend, he asked me that surely I should more concerned with discussing why I do not receive equal pay to my male counterparts, than the colour of the van facilitating the conversation? Well what a silly, overly emotional woman I am to think that the colour of the van was important at all. It’s reminiscent of the time I overreacted to BIC creating a pink pen. Both incidents are primary examples of the inherent gender stereotyping of young girls and boys, an issue at the root of the problem itself, holding up the very structures which determine my lower rate of pay. If Labour cannot recognise why this colour is problematic, then they are already misunderstanding issues that are important to me.
Toys, dolls, kitchen and makeup sets are available for young girls to play with (though of course we should be grateful that they created pink Lego, praise the Lord, because my feeble feminine hands couldn’t even understand how to pick up let alone use standard Lego like a man can). Young girls are told that this colour is for them, and it is implied that other colours, other activities, toys and products that don’t correspond with this are not. This approach to marketing is colossally harmful for the successful development of a child, and their own self-identification. From toys to other products, women are painted as a homogenous group implying they are all of the same essentialised nature, and share the same interests, issues and concerns.
The ‘Let toys be toys’ campaign against gender specific marketing is supported by many Labour MP’s. It is a prominent issue. So how is it possible that we are presented with a crudely coloured van for women’s talk?
The most important question to ask of this campaign is whether this really is an opportunity for women to use our political system, our representatives and the election as part of women’s empowerment. The answer to this is dependent on whether Labour or any other parties are really listening. Is this a weak attempt from Labour to frantically gain support for an election that is becoming increasingly shadowy? It is very coincidental that months before Britain’s General Election a party is suddenly interested in hearing about what keeps Maureen from Stevenage awake at night.
It has been recorded that 35% of women still remain undecided on who they intend to vote for in the upcoming election, making them an obvious group to target campaigns at. The problem with this, is that manifestos are already written with complete disregard for the homogenous voice of ‘women’.
It seems that many people are struggling to take the campaign seriously. When reading about it on the tube I overheard a joke – ‘Oh it’s a tampon delivery service’. That’s funny, it really is. What is funnier is that 9.1 million women did not vote in the last general election. Perhaps this is because issues which impact women’s lives such as childcare, family care, equal pay, and a plethora of others were simply not addressed. It has been accepted that politics is a male dominated sphere, but is this about to change? Policies need to correspond with women, as well as men, but more importantly policies need to correspond with reality.