So, as has been discussed before on these very pages, I am a feminist. I’m also quite interested in politics, and I write romantic comedies for a living. This means that, according the the memo that is sent out to bloggers each week by the nice people who run the Internet*, this week I am required to have opinions about both Harriet Harman’s Pink Lady Bus and Fifty Shades of Grey. This is a bit of a bind, because quite enough opinions have been expressed already about both these things, but the people who run the Internet are very clear in their expectations, so I’ll do the best I can.
Let’s start with Fifty Shades of Grey. Is it erotic? Is it glamourising abuse? Does it misrepresent BDSM? I have no idea. I haven’t read it. I haven’t seen the movie either. I have, however, had this conversation lots of times:
Random person: ‘So what do you write?’
Me: ‘Romance novels mainly.’
RP: ‘Like Fifty Shades of Grey?’
Me: ‘Not really… Mine are a bit more down to earth.’
RP: ‘Oh. You should write something like Fifty Shades of Grey. Then you’d be rich.’
More recently I’ve had this conversation a few times too:
Random person**: ‘What do you think of this Fifty Shades of Grey?’
Me: ‘I don’t know. I haven’t read it.’
RP: ‘Why not?’
Me: ‘It’s just didn’t really fancy it.’
RP: ‘Well that’s not fair. You shouldn’t decide you don’t like something until you’ve tried it.’
Me: ‘But… I said I didn’t know… I… er…. but….’
In the first conversation, Random Person is just doing the current variation on the conversation had by writers across the world throughout time. Ten years ago we were all being told we should write something about a wizard school. I have no doubt that writers who were contemporaries of St Paul were regularly told that they should ‘write some like letters to churches and that.’
In the second conversation though, Random Person, is being properly stupid. Of course it’s fine to just not fancy reading something. There are things in life about which it is appropriate to feel guilty about not caring more. It is entirely right and proper to have a pang of guilt when you drop your eyes to the floor and hurry past a Big Issue seller or a charity collection jar. The feelings of inadequacy when you donate £10 to a DEC appeal are appropriate feelings of inadequacy. Not reading a book, or seeing a movie, because you just don’t really want to is fine. So there you go – Fifty Shades of Grey – haven’t read it, haven’t seen it, have suspicion that neither liking nor disliking it makes you an intrinsically better person.
So, onto the Labour Party’s Lovely Pink Lady Bus. The essentials of this story are that Harriet Harman and other high up female Labour MPs are trying to engage directly with female voters by touring the country in a minibus with ‘Woman to Woman’ written on the side. This has caused lots of people to send slightly miffed sounding tweets about how this is patronising to women, and caused lots of Labour people to give interviews where they describe the bus as cerise or magenta or created by a fairy godmother from a pumpkin – really anything so long as it’s not pink.
My gut reaction is to agree with the miffed tweeters. Yup, having a special Lady Bus where I can discuss my special Lady Concerns with special Lady MPs is deeply patronising. Generally this sort of segregation into ‘Lady Concerns’ and ‘Manly Concerns’ is patronising to both genders. Lots of women care about stuff outside their front door, and plenty of men care about what goes on inside.
But, as with Fifty Shades of Grey, I’m not really the target audience for Harriet’s lovely magenta bus. I’m already going to vote, and I’m a politics nerd so there’s a high chance that I’m already fairly decided on who I’m going to vote for. The target is women who aren’t fully decided, or more particularly, women who might not vote at all. In 2010 the turnout amongst women was slightly lower than amongst men, but women were slightly more likely then men to vote Labour rather than Conservative. Against that background it’s pretty obvious that engaging female potential voters is going to be important for Labour’s chances in May. If you look at the demographics by social class as well as gender, we see that DE (semi-skilled, unskilled or non-working) women are the group most likely to vote Labour but least likely to vote. Those are the women that Labour need to reach. So I’m torn on the issue of the Cerise Lady Bus. Part of me really hopes it doesn’t work, because it is hugely condescending, but part of me hopes it does work, because the women that Labour should be trying to focus on are a part of our society whose voices aren’t frequently heard.
So there you go – two issues on which I’m required to have an opinon and I sort of failed at both. Apologies.
*They’re lovely. A married couple called Duncan and Shirley. They have a bungalow near St Albans.
** Makes mental note: I really ought to learn my friends’ names.