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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Harriet Harman: “Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party urged women to unite across the divided party.

The day-long women's conference is usually the friendliest place at Labour party conference. Not only does it have a creche and a very clear emphasis on accessibility, but everybody who attends starts from a place of fundamental agreement before the sessions have even begun. For that reason, it's often ignored by political hacks in search of a juicy splits story (especially since it takes place on Saturday, before the "real" conference action really gets underway). But with the party divided and the abuse of women on and off social media a big concern, there was a lot to say.

This year, kick off was delayed because of the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the leadership election. The cheer for the renewed leader in the packed women's conference hall was far bigger than that in the main hall, although not everybody was clapping. After a sombre tribute to the murdered Labour MP and former chair of the Labour Women's Network Jo Cox, Harriet Harman took to the stage.

As a long-time campaigner for women's rights, veteran MP and former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harman is always popular with women's conference - even if her position on the current leadership and her status as a former Blairite minister places her out of sync with some of the audience. Rather than merely introducing the first speaker as the agenda suggested, Harman took the opportunity to make a coded dig at Corbyn by doing a little opposition of her own.

"Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister," she declared, going on to describe the way that May, as shadow spokesperson for women and equalities under William Hague, had been a "drag anchor" on Harman's own efforts to enact pro-women reforms while Labour were in government. The Thatcher comparison for May is ubiquitous already, but Harman made it specific, saying that like Thatcher, Theresa May is a woman prime minister who is no friend to women.

Harman then turned her attention to internal Labour party affairs, reassuring the assembled women that a divided party didn't have to mean that no advances could be made. She gestured towards the turmoil in Labour in the 1980s, saying that "no matter what positions women were taking elsewhere in the party, we worked together for progress". Her intervention chimes with the recent moves by high profile former frontbenchers like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper to seek select committee positions, and Andy Burnham's campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Harman's message to women's conference was clear: the time for opposition to Corbyn is over now - we have to live with this leadership, but we can't let the equalities legacy of the Blair years be subsumed in the meantime. She ended by saying that "we have many leaders in the Labour party," pointing to Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's PLP, and Angela Rayner, shadow minister for education, women and equalities. Like Burnham, Cooper et al, Harman has clearly decided that Corbyn can't be unseated, so ways must be found to work around him.

Rayner followed Harman onto the stage. As one of Corbyn's shadow ministerial team, Rayner is far from in agreement with Harman on everything, and rather than speak about any specific policy aims, she addressed women's conference on the subject of her personal journey to the front bench. She described how her mother was "born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children" and "never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, because hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm". She went on to say "mum won't mind me saying this - to this day she cannot read and write". Her mother was in the audience, attending her first Labour conference.

As a former care worker who became a mother herself when she was just 16, Rayner is a rarity at the top of Labour politics. She told the Guardian in 2012 that she is used to being underestimated because of her youth, her gender and her northern accent: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time. I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

The mass shadow cabinet resignations in June propelled Rayner to the top sooner than an MP only elected in 2015 might have expected, and she has yet to really prove her mettle on the grind of parliamentary opposition and policy detail. But if Labour is ever to win back the seats in the north where Ukip and Brexit are now strong, it's the likes of Rayner that will do it. As Harriet Harman herself shows, the women and equalities brief is a good place to start - for even in turbulent, divided times for Labour, women's conference is still a place where people can find common ground.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.