Hoo-has and passing frenzies

Why do books about female sexuality always end up with such terrifying covers?

So, here's the thing. Naomi Wolf has written a book about vaginas (or should that be vaginae, Latin nerds?) which comes out this autumn. It's sure to be much talked about, particularly as it promises to "radically reframe how we understand the vagina".

There's only one problem, and if your eye has already started to stray down this page, you'll know what it is. Books about female sexuality obviously can't put a picture of what they're about on the cover; there would be carnage at WH Smith's. So instead they rely on pictures of buds, flowers or figs, or suggestive ovals filled with stuff.

And oh look, here's the provisional Wolf cover on Amazon UK. Look, it's a lovely flower, unfurling:

But if you think that's twee, how about this? Erica Jong's book about sex, Sugar In My Bowl, is illustrated with a picture that makes me think of a poor woman going to the bathroom and three packets of Skittles falling out of her pants.

OK, so you want to avoid twee . . . Why not go for shudder-inducing instead? These ladies want you to read their lips. Their green, fuzzy, dew-dappled lips.

Now, this one might be my favourite. Who knew a pair of purses could make a person feel profoundly uncomfortable?

Then there's the frankly baffling. I don't think this a symbol of female genitalia, but by this point I'm just not sure.

If all this flower-and-fruit fiesta leaves you cold, why not go minimalist? Here's Vaginas: An Owner's Manual.

(Quick digression: why does Candice "Carrie Bradshaw" Bushnell think every woman needs an "owner's manual" for their vagina? Do they break down often? do the AA not cover them?)

Mm, appreciate the purity of the pink slit.

Then think to yourself: this looks like a paper cut. Ouch.

Even the French love a fig-based metaphor. This is global:

The long and short of it is that there is, apparently, no way to illustrate a book about hoo-has without coming across as either a tittering idiot, a speculum-wielding literalist or a wafty hippyish obfuscator.

And so on to my absolute favourite, which hits all the boxes: terrible punning title, big juicy fig (update: papaya?), and then adds in a little something magic.

A vague looming banana. Brilliant.



Here are a few submissions from readers. First, behold a new metaphorical fruit, the avocado:

More unfurling buds, via @SamCarelse

And to prove even album covers aren't immune, this from @questingvole

And to show that things are just as bad for boys when it comes to BAD FRUIT METAPHORS:

Do you think that's how Sadie's friends introduce her to strangers? "Have you met Sadie - she's a Penis Genius, you know!"

Finally, a suggestive book cover that is actually rather thoughtful and clever (Shock! Horror!), via @lcdabdoujaparov

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.