Last week Harriet Harman, a politics graduate from the University of York, began her ‘Woman-to-woman Campaign’. Her aim is to increase the number of female voters after the appalling turnout in 2010 – when 9.1 million women decided not to vote – and her means of doing this appears to be a pink bus.
I hasten to add that I have no problem with the colour pink per se: if that’s your favourite colour then I have no objection to any future purchases of pink vehicles of your choice.
The problem here runs deeper than that: it is to do with the message that Mrs Harman has attached to her pink bus and what she hopes to achieve with it. It is no mistake that pink has been chosen as the favoured colour. Mrs Harman signed it off well in advance of her tour, despite later trying to diffuse widespread criticism of it by describing the bus as ‘magenta’ or a ‘one nation colour’. Essentially we are to understand that the bus is everything but pink. Mrs Harman has gone out of her way not to have the bus in the standard red Labour colour, or even standard bus colours and deliberately chosen pink instead. Why not, for example, the green and purple of the suffragette movement, considering that the suffragette campaign has still not been fully realised, and that a purpose of the tour is to address elements of inequality for women?
The aim of this tour is to communicate directly with women on Labour’s ‘first dedicated women’s campaign’ and what better way to attract female voters than by a pink bus? Clearly this is what those 9.1 million women who abstained from voting in 2010 have been waiting for. Indeed, what better way to invite women to discuss issues such as pay transparency, pay gaps and domestic violence than a pink bus? I am being facetious, of course, but there is a serious issue at heart here which needs to be addressed: if Labour truly wants to prove ‘how a Labour government can and will deliver’ to women across the country, they need a little more than a pink bus to do so.
The bus itself has been compared to a ‘Barbie bus’ by Nick Clegg, and the likeness is indeed a startling one. The very origin of the idea of ‘pink for girls’ and ‘blue for boys’ stems from a need to divide children from birth by their gender and establish a firm difference from the start according to Paoletti’s ‘Pink and blue: telling the boys from the girls in America’. Then these little girls and boys are given their gender appropriate colour-coded toys.
A quick search online of ‘toys for girls’ reveals a vast array of pink fluffy bears, pink toy kitchen utensils, pink irons, and young girls dressed in pink princess dresses playing with pink castles. The message is clear: pink is for girls, and one can infer from this assortment of household goods, so is your career as a future housewife. This is why in 2015 it is offensive and patronising for Harriet Harman to drive around in a pink minibus and declare that she is there to address serious issues for women. The idea that through her use of a pink bus she will connect with female voters is patronising and demeaning for women. Yes, the campaign is not about the pink bus, but it is at least partly through the bus that Mrs Harman hopes to attract the attention of women and highlight the campaign.