What’s So Threatening About A Pink Van?

I have been following the “pink van debate” with interest and can’t help but add my two cents (or is that two pence?)

I think all the publicity and the debate over the colour is not a bad thing for Labour – it is getting people talking about what Labour are doing and getting them lots of free airtime.

On the issue of the colour itself I can see both sides of the argument: on the one hand, pink = Barbie and girlie girlie and culturally enforced notions of femininity. As someone who is eternally irritated by pink girls’ toys (like when they make perfectly normal toys pink to “appeal” to girls) I can see why pink is a bad colour. On the other hand Labour women’s use of hot pink could be seen as a reclamation of the colour for feminism (if they are even proclaiming this a feminist campaign, which I am not sure they are). People reclaim stuff from the oppressors all the time, why not the colour pink? Or it is just one of the One Nation colours and they really didn’t think it would be an issue. Oh, and some women, ironically or otherwise, really do like pink. So there’s that.

Whatever the deal with the pink van though, the point is that the colour isn’t, or shouldn’t, be the issue here. The issue is that female Labour politicians are driving around the country to talk to women and some people seem to take umbrage to this. The debate about the colour seems to be a clever way to try to demean and undermine what could actually be an important turning point in politics.

Politicians in the US have been dividing the electorate into its component parts for years now. The concept of “the female voter” is not a new one at least in the States. Perhaps that’s why I am not particular incensed or amazed by Labour’s approach. Travelling around to talk to voters is also common in the States – if politicians can’t or won’t connect to the people then why the hell should we vote for them?

More importantly, I think, is the issue of whether some people are threatened by Labour’s approach of sending female politicians to talk to women. What could be more dangerous, after all, than women talking to women? During the second wave of feminism, at least in the States (I know, I know, I will read up on British history here soon) one of the biggest agents of change was groups of women getting together and just talking – something called consciousness raising. Women talking about what united them as women. Women talking about what was wrong with and in society. Women talking about how to change things. Obviously, “women’s issues” are not necessarily the same across class or racial lines. These (mostly white, mostly middle-class) second wave feminists came under fire for not speaking to problems that affected poor or non-white women. But talking started a conversation and enabled an atmosphere in which other women could have their own conversations, and debates, and arguments.

So let’s talk about Labour’s women campaign. Let’s pick it apart and debate it. But for goodness sake don’t just debate the colour. How about talking about why some people are so threatened by the idea of women talking to women that they have to try to subvert it by labelling it patronising? I would argue that women DO have issues in common that they can and should talk about and that politicians should pay attention to. That is not to say that women’s and men’s interest is entirely different, but the public sphere is still predominantly male-dominated and I for one applaud Labour for trying to create spaces where women can talk, as women, and get involved in politics.

We don’t live in a society where women are equal to men, no matter how you define equality. Personally, I find the argument that there is no reason for women to talk as women, to women and for women in what is still a patriarchal, male-dominated and male-oriented society and culture much more patronising and damaging than Labour’s choice of van colour.