Women in politics

I read a tragically funny tweet on the day that the new Cabinet was announced. “Why are there no women or black people in the Cabinet? Of course there are – who do you think’s cleaning the floor and making the tea?” Words to that effect anyway. And while it isn’t entirely true, we’ve hardly come on leaps and bounds this time round.

If you look at the make up of MPs and cabinet positions we’ve seen a tiny increase in representation. But that’s it. It’s tiny. And I was disappointed to hear Theresa May (the new Minister for Women and Equality) give a very unsatisfactory answer to the question: “do you think there should be more women in Parliament and in the cabinet?” on the PM programme on Radio 4. A straight “yes” would have done the trick. And I suspect – or at least hope – it would be her honest answer.  But instead she skirted around the issue (no pun intended) in the style of a true politician and I was left wondering if anything would ever really change.

I was pleased today when Diane Abbott announced that she was throwing her hat into the ring for the leadership of the Labour Party. Until then, we were once again asking: where are all the women? Kira Cochraine in the Guardian wrote a heartfelt plea to those who may be in the running. But then again, on second thoughts, would I? Would any woman in their right mind want to open themselves up to the torrents of abuse they have to deal with day in day out as our high profile women politicians do. Just look at what Harriet Harman has to endure.  Whatever you might think of her policies she has been treated with contempt for standing up and speaking up about what she believes in and that has taken the form of personal comments on her looks, her clothes, her sex life … . With one ‘respected’ commentator asking “well would you? Would you ‘do’ her?”.

Having been subjected to some of this treatment following Pinkstinks’ Early Learning Emergency campaign in December (and believe me it was nothing compared to what she has had to put up with), I don’t think I could ever be so brave and courageous as to do what she, Theresa May, Margaret Beckett, Lynne Featherstone, Caroline Spelman and their colleagues do. And Diane Abbott will no doubt now find her inbox full of vitriol and spite now that she’s in the limelight.

We all love to hate our politicians and often they deserve what they get. But what they do not deserve is to be treated like objects of ridicule because they are women and because they dare to speak out. When your shoes or the size of your arse are the only thing which people are interested in then it really is a sad day for all women. We NEED more women in Parliament. We need more minority ethnic MPs too. But I’m afraid to say that if I were one of the women mentioned in Kira’s article, I’d need more than a stiff drink to make me even consider saying yes. So I congratulate Diane Abbott for having the guts to do it. It shows real courage. I sincerely hope that she is not the only one.


Because they’re pink, and we’re girls, and it’s what we do…

Percy Pig Sweets - FOR CHILDREN

With apologies to thedailymash.co.uk


By Lucy Lawrence

Marks and Spencer is facing its toughest crisis since the recession after it emerged company bosses had been ‘locked’ in 1958 for 52 years.
Some of the firm’s top managers were dragged literally kicking and screaming into the 21st century yesterday before being wrestled into straight-jackets by burly paramedics and sedated with heavy tranquilisers.
Problems began when a customer wrote to the company to complain that its latest advertising campaign was ‘patronising drivel which insults me as a woman and everything I stand for’.
The ad, featuring a well-known television actor who probably can afford to shop at much more expensive shops than M&S, insinuates women in the year 2010 are simpering Stepford wives who have no place in the world except for the kitchen where they all gorge on vile pink sweets before getting the crackling just right for their Very Important husbands.
One paramedic who was at the scene said: “It was terrible to watch. As we rolled them out in their pin-striped suits and bowler hats they couldn’t stop staring at my female colleague and asking why she wasn’t at home looking after her children.”
Sue Bloggs, the complainer who started all the trouble said: “I received a letter back from one of the bosses who said that as I had the time to write to him to complain I was obviously not a traditional 1950s housewife. He went on to presume that with all this spare time on my hands I must be some sort of ‘well-upholstered’ film actress and would I like to meet him at the Dorchester one lunchtime?”
Emma Moore, a lifelong shopper from Lewisham, said: “I have been a shopper all my life but not at M&S. Because I find the clothes really old-fashioned and hideous. Because I find the food very expensive compared to other supermarkets and because my local branch isn’t really any good anyway. BUT MAINLY JUST BECAUSE I HATE THE BLOODY PATRONISING ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS WHICH HAVE NO RELEVANCE TO ME OR MY FAMILY.”


I was not outraged by the audacity of the clothing chain Primark in selling padded bikini tops to girls aged seven this week. Frankly I was not even mildly surprised. Let’s face it, these pink and sparkly fake breasts were quite mild compared to some of the other vile tat that’s been sold to children as good, harmless fun. Pole dancing kits spring to mind.

Anyway, there was enough outrage coming from all sides to render any I might have drummed up, redundant.

Firstly, I want to stress that I did not, under any circumstances, consider it to be a ‘good thing’ for this product to be in shops. I am glad they have gone. It is a good move for Primark and it is a good move for parents who already have a hard enough job keeping daughters dressed appropriately for their age rather than their preferred future career.

It is not, however, a victory for The Sun newspaper which reported its own ‘outrage’ on Wednesday that these ‘paedo bikinis’ were on sale, encouraging paedophiles everywhere (to do what?). Hours later when, after caving in to all the negative publicity Primark pulled the offending items off its shelves and offered to donate any profits from their sales to charity, this was hailed by the newspaper as ‘The Sun wot won it’ or some other ‘amusing’ headline.

The rank hypocrisy of this tabloid beggars belief. Condemning ‘sexy’ products for the under-10s on one page, while encouraging teenage girls, not even a decade older, to ‘get them out for the lads’ on Page 3. This is a national newspaper that makes its money out of objectifying young women and turning them into sex objects. And yet it never questions that this ‘in yer face’, and on the breakfast table, socially acceptable sexuality might arouse the curiosity of, and a desire to emulate, in pre-pubescent girls.

The Sun makes money by pedalling soft porn and fantasy femininity and then attempts to take the moral high ground against another, equally cynical, business venture which is trying to hook these girls in younger and younger. Who gave The Sun’s editor the moral compass?

I reserve scorn too for the politicians – all of them. As expected, all three major political parties claimed to be outraged by these bikinis. But still, even in the 21st century, all of these politicians are so busy trying to be popular with Britain’s biggest selling tabloid, that they would never dare risk its wrath by condemning Page 3. None are willing to take a stand and demand soft porn mags like Nuts and Zoo be placed on the top shelf, nor are any prepared to admit that there just might be a connection between the images girls and women are exposed to in the media and the ever increasing numbers of breast augmentations et al. being carried out year on year in the UK. It used to be an insult to call somebody plastic. Now our girls aspire to it.

And finally there is the outrage coming from the Left. There seemed to be a backlash against parents for objecting to the sexualisation of children.

One blogger wrote: “The pubescent padded bra has been hijacked by the faux-feminist family values brigade as a symbol of moral decline. There is a distinct class element to this puritan agenda.” She continues by arguing that middle-class mums are ganging-up on Primark because working class mums shop there? Really? Wouldn’t middle class mums gang-up on Sainsbury’s if it were selling sexist clothes for children?  Oh, I did.

So, in a world where, judging by Channel 4 news’s vox pop on this issue, we are becoming immune to these things – most Primark shoppers hadn’t even registered this garment was on sale, let alone judged it inappropriate – in a world where nearly 9,000 British women a year have breast augmentation, in a world where children have internet access to porn before they’ve even reached puberty, in a world where 46% of girls aged 11 to 16 would consider cosmetic surgery and that girls start finding fault with their appearance as early as 10 or 11* and in a world where girls are not encouraged to play dressing-up like their mums but encouraged to play dressing up like highly-sexed pop stars, it’s my argument that we should stand back and take a look at where things are going and then imagine where we want them to be.

Girls don’t want padded bikinis so they’re not teased by the boys at school – for heaven’s sake, they’re hardly going to be wearing them under their polo shirts. They want these bikinis so they look like Hannah Montana, Cheryl Cole and Jordan. Three decent role models? I leave that up to you.

But when I go on holiday with my four-year-old son this summer, the last thing I want is for him to experience a beach  awash with seven-year-old girls playing at being teenagers in push-up bikinis. Girls will always be girls – but they don’t always have to be sex objects.

* A study by the Girl Guides

Four Women in Space

Pinkstinks recently had great success in persuading Sainsbury’s to stop the gender stereotyping of its dressing-up clothes. We’re really proud of this and while I was putting together our next newsletter I was brooding on why something seemingly so trivial is really so important.

Did you know that there are four women in space right now? More women simultaneously than ever before. I find this so exciting. When Emma and I were kids we met Valentina Tereshkova, the first ever woman in space. We were 12 years old at the time and I remember shaking her hand and her telling us (through an interpreter) that we had nice names! It really stuck with me. She became real and her achievement all the more impressive as she stood there before us – a seemingly normal woman who had achieved unimaginable things.

As we now live in a world where four women are ‘up there’ at one time, in a world where women have commanded space shuttles, where they fly with the Red Arrows, where they win Oscars for directing movies, where they save lives in hospitals every day, how similarly unimaginable does it seem that we live in a world where doctors’ dressing-up clothes can still be labelled only for boys? And for that matter, why can’t boys be nurses? As someone who had a male midwife present at the birth of her first child, I can vouch for the second-to-none care I received from a man in what is almost exclusively thought of as a woman’s role.

So, trivial to some but not to us. Let’s open up the possibilities of all things to all children and not pigeon-hole them from the moment they’re born. Let’s encourage them to make believe that they can be anything they want to be. Let’s certainly not let big business tell them what they can and can’t be.

Someone who works ‘on the front line’, as they themselves put it, in a large toy store in the US emailed me recently. He said it so succinctly: “I just wish it wasn’t such a battle to provide kids with opportunities.”

St Tropez, Kelly Osbourne, self-esteem & the Prince’s Trust

I was sitting in the dentist’s this morning with a wide range of ‘women’s’ reading material in front of me and a quick flick through the latest copy of Heat magazine revealed to me that Kelly Osbourne is the new ‘Self-esteem ambassador’ for St Tropez tanning products. What is that sound that happens when a needle scratches across a record? Well imagine it please, as that’s what I felt!

This is wrong on so many levels. Let me spell them out in case it’s not blindingly obvious: that this is a marketing con of the highest and most damaging order.

Firstly, Kelly Osbourne is almost unrecognisable. Apart from being clearly airbrushed to within an inch of her life, in the accompanying promotional photo, with the word ‘self-esteem’ ironically written across her top half, she has also lost about half her body weight.

Secondly, St Tropez makes products which feed on our insecurities and low self-esteem, in order to a) get us buying them in the first place, and b) to become addicted to buying them. This then goes on to secure their giant profits that they make every year.

Thirdly, if you spend £45 on tanning products they will generously give 10 quid to The Prince’s Trust, with whom they are partnering on this self-esteem building mission! I don’t even know where to begin on this, but clearly partnering with a respected organisation, somehow gives them credibility, and takes our attention away from the fact that it’s low self-esteem that makes them profit. Big organisations such as The Prince’s Trust who do such amazing work really need to choose their sponsors more carefully.

Kelly is quoted on the St Tropez website:

“‘Dancing with the Stars’ and having my first ever St Tropez spray tan was a huge confidence booster for me – it helped me to get fit and allowed me to look and feel beautiful from the outside, in. Moreover it also helped me to see that I can achieve anything if I put my mind to it, which was a huge accomplishment for me – I’ve never really been able to finish something I’ve started, and to do so feels amazing.” Finish the reality show or finish the tanning I wonder?

Is it me, or does this statement take us all for fools? It seems to me that the big message here is to get yourself on a reality show, and then get a fake tan, and Bob’s your uncle, everything will be just fine. It’s so misleading, it’s so unrealistic, it is so loaded with messaging and suggestion and it’s targeting young people, in particular women: the very young people that it alleges to be helping.

Please, let us know what you think of it and let’s stop this nonsense in its tracks and challenge it. Self-esteem doesn’t come from tanning, it comes from what is inside. Our confidence to be exactly who we are, no matter how thin or fat or black or white or old or young. It does not come from modelling ourselves on, and striving for, a fantasy femininity which is sold to us through mass marketing and tabloid news stories which reach us unimaginable numbers and in a totally ubiquitous way. But when tackling issues of low self-esteem is sponsored by those that profit from its very existence, then we need to stand up and say that we are not fooled, that we do object to it and that we will fight it.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT? By freelance journalist Saba Salman

Until last week, I was unaware that gender apartheid had extended to processed meat. Until last week, I’d never even heard of Fairy Hearts – “delicious slices of cooked sausage made from reformed turkey and pork” – but now it seems that even my supermarket deli aisle is not immune from pinkification.

My four-year-old daughter spotted the packet, positioned at perfect eye level from the trolley’s toddler seat. When I asked why she wanted it, her eyes twinkled at the wand-toting, bug-eyed meat-fairy on the label and she announced: “Because it’s pretty”.

Her words support the recent comments of Sue Palmer, education writer and broadcaster and author of Toxic Childhood, who warned: “What bothers me about the pink plague infecting three to eight-year-old girls is that they aren’t old enough to make rational choices.” What also bothers me is the fact that, of all the pernicious marketing evils you expect to fend off as a parent, sliced ham is not one of them. I know that a trip to a toy shop or clothes store might result in us being segregated to the pink corner, but I don’t envisage this happening while shopping for a sandwich filler.

Food marketing to children is nothing new, supermarket shelves heave with branded and television character foods. But the pinkification of ham is utterly ridiculous – not least because the meat is pink anyway (I imagine this ironic little gem wasn’t on the minutes of the board meeting at Fairy Heart HQ).

Ed Mayo of Co-operatives UK, former head of the National Consumer Council and co-author of Consumer Kids: How Big Business Is Grooming Our Children for Profit, recently has said: “Today’s marketing assigns simple and very separate roles to boys and girls, and whips up peer pressure to police the difference.”  Just picture the packed lunch scene as one child proudly reveals the Fairy Hearts bursting out of her roll, while her embarrassed and envious dining companion has to make do with plain old cheese and pickle.

The flip side of the debate is that novelty foods can encourage fussy children to eat. Given the choice between your child not eating or going against both your ethical instincts and your taste buds by offering a branded product, many a desperate parent would grab at the Fairy Hearts. But read the ingredients and you realize this is something of a Hobson’s Choice – the meat is 31% turkey, 28% pork with the remaining 41% consisting of water, potato starch, pork fat, salt, pea protein, carrot fibre, pea fibre, pea starch, potassium chloride, vegetable extract, stabiliser spices, anti-oxidant, yeast extract, preservative.

It is almost three years ago that television regulator Ofcom clamped down on the television advertising of junk food to children. At the time, 80% of food advertising spend within children’s airtime was on food high in fat, salt and sugar, like sweets, soft drinks, crisps, snacks, fast food and sugary breakfast cereals.

The UK now has the highest rate of obesity in Europe and one in three children is overweight or obese. Obesity in children under 11 has risen by over 40% in ten years.  Should this trend continue, half of children will be obese or overweight by 2020. It is well documented that junk food deprives children of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids and children with such diets tend to perform worse at school, lack concentration and are more aggressive.

So the heart-shaped ham is just a wolf in fairy’s clothing. Taken to the extreme, the pinkification of food products risks creating a generation of pink-loving, princessy, angry, obese under-achievers. But at least they’ll eat their tea.

Wow – what a month!

It’s hard to know where to begin really. After a year and a half of thinking, developing and working on our ideas, last December Pinkstinks decided to trial run a ‘campaign-within-a-campaign’ to see whether there was an appetite for the issues we raise. The ‘Early Learning Emergency’ was born. Four weeks later we have had coverage in more than 40 countries around the world and spoken on national TV and radio as well as in print interviews. We’ve had 50,000 hits on the website, thousands of emails from around the globe, we have nearly 10,000 members on Facebook and 1,400 followers on Twitter. In short, it has been amazing.

It’s been a very steep learning curve but ultimately a really positive journey. Yes there’s been criticism, when you challenge something so ubiquitous and normalised there is bound to be. But on a positive note, we’ve had support from some great writers and commentators on the ‘childhood experience’, including Ed Mayo (Consumer Kids – How big business is grooming our children for profit) and Sue Palmer (Toxic Childhood), as well as most importantly, the support from all of you.

What this campaign has made crystal clear is the enormous need to discuss these issues. Every day we read more on related subjects and issues. This week is no exception, with a piece in the Guardian ‘Backlash over plan to extend TV advertising’ with ministers, teachers and medical groups attacking new proposals to allow product placement on our TV screens. John Bangs from the NUT is quoted as saying: “It’s very sad that having previously resisted product placement the government has now done a U-turn. There are enough commercial pressures on children and young people without TV adding to that.”

And a couple of weeks ago, just after the launch of the ‘Early Learning Emergency’, we learned that companies now spend an astonishing £100bn on advertising to children compared to £14bn a decade ago. That’s nearly £10bn more every single year. This shocking figure, I hasten to add, is NOT a worldwide one, this is in the UK alone. If you doubt the power of advertising, and assume your children make all their own choices, then think again. The money wouldn’t be spent if advertising didn’t work.

So where does Pinkstinks fit into all this? Well put simply, we want to question these influences. We are not scientists, we can’t give hard figures and facts. But what we can do is to talk with parents, grandparents, concerned citizens and of course children, about the messages that are being perpetuated and peddled and the stereotypes that are being reinforced and strengthened. Beauty tables for three year olds, pink globes, high heels for babies and perfume for toddlers? Where will it end? And what are our children learning from these products and their messages? We can also talk to our children, read up on the issues and put pressure on the retailers and manufacturers. We know that there is concern, we’ve heard from so many of you, so we must put it into action.

We have always wanted to offer girls an alternative to all this ‘princess-sparkle- make-up-body-image-pop-star-fantasy-world’ and we will be working hard on our cooltobe.me project in the coming year. This will be our site for children, where they can access content about ‘real role models’ – women who have achieved great things, small triumphs and new discoveries, sporting heroes or the dinner lady next door. All these women will look different, have different notions of fulfilment and be diverse in all ways, except one – that they can inspire and enthuse our children. Our first film is almost ready, featuring Isa Guha from the triumphant World Cup-winning England Women’s cricket team, and using money raised this Christmas we will be soon be making the next one.

So, I suppose Pinkstinks is about standing up for what we believe in, collaborating as much as we can with others, getting practical in making and publicising the solutions and of course, convincing the haters we are right! Our role models will be held up for girls and boys to celebrate and learn from – after all, boys are just as much in need of these role models as girls. When my sons watch the England women’s team play football on TV, they haven’t yet learned the derision and disparagement so commonly aimed at our female sports stars. Pinkstinks wants a world where they will never learn it – a world where their achievements are seen as equal to that of the men. And where boys and men will respect them for it.

This next month or two will be important for us. We know we have to clarify some of our messaging and capitalise on and harness the support you have given us and which we are so grateful for. And we will be asking for all your help again soon. By the end of January we will have come up with some easy ways for you all to spread the word and take action. Watch this space.

It’s going to be a great year.