It’s a strange beast, progress. Like sitting on a train in a tunnel, unsure whether you’re moving or not, it can be hard to get one’s bearings. Sometimes, you might even be going backwards and not realise it.
The quest for women’s rights is a bit like sitting on that train, and quite frankly, it’s not so much of a suped up supervoyager (when nature calls, these high-tech, high-speed Virgin trains now genuinely have toilet robots which tell you ‘hilarious’ jokes about what you can and can’t flush), than it is like something from Arriva Trains Wales. It’s filthy, it crawls along at a snail’s pace, and it only ever takes you as far as fucking Crewe.
We’ll stop with the engine analogies lest someone mistake us for enthusiasts, but there is a point there. The assumption that we’re always moving forwards, slowly throwing off shackle after shackle of patriarchal norm, isn’t actually the case. We’re not saying that things are so bleak that we’re all at risk of becoming 1950s housewives, poised to re-don our pinnies, set our hair, and get cracking on the pavlova - not quite. To our grandmothers, progress looks like the Great British Bake Off (men! In jumpers! Making giant pouffy meringues! And loving it), but if things could, you know, jog on a bit, then that would be ace.
Thing that happened: An Indian American Woman won Miss America
But that’s progress, right? Well, ish. Say what you want about Miss America (OK, we will: it’s an outdated, steaming shit of an event which has women flouncing up and down in bikinis like tap-dancing barnyard animals and pretending that they’ve ‘always had a passion for world peace’), but this is a triumph for diversity, and the fact that an Indian medical student won the crown represents the melting pot that is the United States of America. Hey, maybe it even shows the American Dream in action. Right?
Well. As the comedian George Carlin quoth, it’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it. And there seem to be a hell of a lot of sleepy racists out there. Some feminists were this week confused as to what they should be more angry about: the fact that Miss America exists in the first place, or the deluge of racist abuse that aspiring doctor Nina Davuluri received on winning (clue: both are rubbish). Questions as to whether Davuluri was ‘American enough’ to be Miss America of course completely ignored the fact that everyone in that mass of a country was an immigrant once, bar of course Native Americans (FYI, the first Native American winner was in 1926. They didn’t even let black women compete until 1970.)
Thing that happened: Playboy published a party guide that was all about consent
But that’s progress, right? It would have been incredible had it been real, but it was the work of a group of anti-rape culture college hackers (the same guys were responsible for tricking everyone into believing that Victoria’s Secret had brought out a line of anti-rape ‘panties’ in 2012). Labelled the ‘Playboy 2013 Top Ten Party Commandments’, the document poses as a student’s guide to good sex which, ‘Playboy’ says, involves ‘asking first’. Hugh Hefner even declared himself a feminist in a mock question-and-answer session.
Unfortunately, Playboy still exists, and it’s busy concentrating on things other than sexual consent. Things like announcing that Kate Moss is to model nude for its cover to celebrating its fortieth birthday, hosting parties for disappointing Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman (we thought better of you, we really did), and invading Gymboxes around the country with its ‘Playboy Bunny Bootcamp’ and new form of BMI (‘Bunny Measurement Index’ – vom). Apparently, the Playboy brand is still set to be a part of our consciousness for a very, very long time. What the hell, 2013?
Thing that happened: France has moved to ban child beauty pageants
But that’s progress, right? As probably the best response ever to a row with Vogue magazine which saw the fashion rag dress up a bunch of ten year olds in tight clothes and heavy make-up, the French Parliament voted ‘non’ to creepily dressing kids up like their own Barbie dolls. The bill protects the under-16s from not only appearing in the pages of Vogue with peacock feather eyelashes, but also from being marketed child-size products from the sexy adult world, such as padded bras and high heeled shoes.
Unfortunately, as you can probably deduce from the whole Miss America charade, beauty pageants for ‘adults’ (let’s face it, teenagers) still abound everywhere. And anyone who’s sat down to a relaxing session of ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ knows that the government in the US and UK haven’t been quite as enlightened as France.
Thing that happened: Theresa May was appointed to David Cameron’s cabinet as Home Secretary, one of only four women to hold one of the Great Offices of State. The cabinet boasts three other formidable females, and has benefited in the last few years from the voices of enthusiastic female MPs such as Louise Mensch.
But that’s progress, right? As an organisation that has never been particularly friendly to women yet brought us the first female Prime Minister, feminism’s relationship with the Tory party has always been ambivalent. And while enough Conservative supporters have brought up the four women in the cabinet with us as proof that the historically misogynistic state of Tory Towers is ‘improving’, it’s, well, four women. Four women who aren’t exactly flying the flag for women’s rights. As @Sophia_Phan pointed out on Twitter recently, even Voldemort had more women in his cabinet. We’re not outright saying that therefore David Cameron should get a tattoo saying ‘Worse than Voldemort’ across his neck, but in the event that he did come to this fully autonomous position, we’d be fully supportive.
On the bright side, Mumsnet’s survey into the political affiliations of women shows us deserting the Tories in our droves. Most of us would rather vote Labour, whose shadow cabinet is a lot more female-friendly (and has therefore been given the affectionate term ‘Millie’s Fillies’ by the Daily Mail.) Cameron take note: we can and will vote with our feet.