Lez Miserable: How to survive a lesbian protest march

Social awkwardness, men being disgusting, "feelings", bad vagina puns - Eleanor Margolis talks you through what goes on when large groups of lesbians gather to make their voices heard.

Rallies, marches, protests: if you’re a lesbian, you’ve probably been to at least one. Either voluntarily, or you were dragged along - possibly by your least hygienic friend (the one who insists that tampons are tools of the patriarchy). Last weekend, I got my stomp on, willingly, at Dyke March London – an annual celebration of fanny jokes and lesbian visibility. Having lived in Brighton for three years, I’d say I know a thing or two about what goes on at these scruffy girl-fests. For the uninitiated though, here are seven things that you’ll see at any lesbian demo.

1. Social awkwardness

“Did I meet her at a party, or is she that girl my friend briefly went out with who always brought pistachios with her on their dates?” is the kind of question you’ll ask yourself every time you clock a familiar face. She’s probably neither. Maybe she’s that girl you follow on Twitter who mostly tweets pictures of her lunch (lesbians are obsessed with lunch). Either way, you need to remember quickly, before she comes frolicking up and asks you how your second cousin’s ailing goldfish is doing. The lesbian scene is minute. You will have to make eye-crossingly goofy conversation with someone you know (from somewhere. . .).

2. Arguing couples

Gay Pride in particular is known to put strain on relationships. The atmosphere is thick with humidity and Rihanna, and all the rainbows are starting to hurt your eyes. You’re all riled up about feminism and stuff, then you and your girlfriend run into her most recent ex. The one who broke her heart. The one she still mentions at every opportunity. Looks like we have ourselves a situation referred to on The Scene as Lesbian Drama. There’s an old Lesbianese saying that roughly translates as: “Should a couple of dykes survive their first Pride together, they’ll get married and have nineteen cats.”

3. Rain

It’s common knowledge that it’s rained on every gay parade since the beginning of time. I’m sure the weather is usually great on Lesbos. But I bet that if Sappho and her mates had decided to shake things up a bit and smash some amphorae in 600 BC, it would’ve chucked it down.

4. Inexplicable communism

So, you thought this march was about dyke visibility? Wrong. According to a small but vocal group of attendees, it’s about liberating the proletariat. “But what if I once ate macaroons with a Tory and I sometimes sit in Starbucks when I have twenty minutes to kill? Am I not allowed to march for lesbian equality?” Apparently not. Go home to your Le Creuset casserole dish, bourgeois scum.

5. Men being disgusting

They’ll gawp. They’ll take pictures on their phones that they’ll send to their mate Craig (all men have a mate called Craig, who’s a dick). They’ll wolf whistle, even though that went out of fashion in 1943 after Mickey “Slim” Maguire did it to some broad, she didn’t take it so good and she busted his head with a flatiron. Certain men will treat the march as a kind of poorly choreographed burlesque show that’s been put on for their personal, sweaty-crotched amusement. If you’re part of a lesbian parade, chances are you’ll end up safely deposited in the wank bank of a guy with a popped collar and a photographic memory.

6. Feelings

Army of queer girls + gender politics + catchy chants = “feelings”. All sorts of feelings. Love for the sisterhood, irritation towards the sisterhood, indifference to the sisterhood. Something to do with sisterhood. Maybe the community spirit is turning you into a great, blubbery, joy-oozing marshmallow and you want to hug everything that has a face. Maybe the girl you’ve been trying to get with is having a worryingly intense conversation about the latest Jeanette Winterson novel with someone who isn’t you, and you want to kick everyone in the shins.   

7. Bad vagina puns

There are two things that lesbians love more than anything else in the world. One is vaginas and the other is puns. On special occasions we combine the two. Public demonstrations are the perfect place for us to show off our genital punning skills. At the start of Dyke March, I was handed a placard that read, “Snatch the day”. Such was my appreciation of its cleverness that I hung onto it and it now has pride of place in, uhh, my parents’ living room. I like to think there’s an unwritten “the more tenuous the wordplay, the more kudos you get” rule, but I try not to get too in-vulva-d. 

Women taking part in last year's Gay Pride march in London. Photograph: Getty Images

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.