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.

 

UPDATE

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.

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.