What's Wrong With Pink? How Responses To Angela Eagle's Branding Exposed Labour's Women Problem
The Debrief: In 116 years the Labour party has never been lead by a woman
Last night Angela Eagle withdrew her candidacy for leader of the Labour party. Eagle has been an MP for a long time, she is an experienced politician. Therein lies one of her problems - she was an MP at the time of the Iraq War and voted for it in Parliament.
The other issue was, undeniably, the fact that Angela Eagle is a woman, and a gay one at that. This may not be the sole reason that her shortlived bid for leadership was unsuccessful, but there's no denying that it was a factor. Unfortunately we still live in a time where it's remarkable that a person running for public office is a woman, we'll only know that we have true equality when this fact no longer takes centre stage.
Last week when Eagle launched her (brief) campaign the majority of the commentary focussed on the branding of her campaign. The fact that her posters were pink and she wore a pink jacket to deliver her campaign speech have inspired many a meme in the last twenty-four hours.
Wonder if the same people that did Harman's pink van behind the Angela Eagle logo. pic.twitter.com/jj1pex6QOT— Paul Macgregor (@SocketStudios) July 11, 2016
"It's sexist to say that Angela's campaign looks like a perfume advert..." No. It's just what it looks like. pic.twitter.com/yclnXAvlme— Sam Maher (@dottyteakettle) July 11, 2016
Reminders of Labour's 'Pink Bus'
Commentators have suggested that it looked like she was launching a perfume, a deodorant, a chat show or sanitary wear. Their coverage has been mocking and teasing. Eagle’s branding may not be to your taste but if pink immediately signifies any of the above to you, that’s a comment on your own associations with the colour and not her. I’ll be the first to admit that her logo, her handwriting superimposed on a pink and red union jack, isn't my style. That's more than a matter of personal preference though, it neither distracted me from what
nor the seriousness of the schism we see in the Labour party in its current form.
‘I’m not a Blairite, I’m not a Brownite and I’m not a Corbynista. I am my own woman – a strong Labour woman,’ she said. ‘I’m not here for a Labour party that just takes part. I’m here to win.’
What’s wrong with pink? Why does a woman wearing pink or accessorising with pink preclude her from being capable or powerful? Who decided that pink was a colour to be mocked? Why can’t pink be a powerful colour?
Pink hasn’t always been a ‘girl’s colour’ while blue is for boys. If we look back to 1918 this was written in a trade publication for Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department,
‘The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason it that pink, being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.’
This proves that definitions of masculinity and femininity as well as the colours and traits we associate with them are entirely socially constructed. As to the comparisons between Eagle’s campaign logo and a perfume advert – do sales of beauty products not make up a successful and viable commercial sphere which has continued to perform well in recent years? As for the suggestion that it somehow resembled a pack of sanitary pads and was therefore funny – is it now also ok to laugh at sanitary products? Are 'wingless maxi pads' and those who use them fair game?
What the criticism of Eagle really belies is thinly-veiled and ill-thought through misogyny at its most insidious. Criticise her for her policies (few of which were mentioned at her launch), criticise her based on her previous voting record (her stance on Iraq perhaps) but don’t fall back on tired and hackneyed tropes or lazy and belittling sexist swipes at her campaign poster’s resemblance to ‘feminine’ products as though that’s somehow a bad thing.
Eagle rounded up her pitch for Labour leadership by criticising Corbyn for inaction, she said: ‘a kinder politics must be a reality, not just a slogan.’ On the eve of launching her campaign, Eagle's constituency office was bricked in an act of unacceptable violence against her which, sadly, seems to represent the widespread contempt people hold for politicians at the moment but, in particular, a female one who dares to stick her head above the parapet and challenge the Cult of Corbyn.
Following her withdrawal, it won't be Eagle who challenges Corbyn for the leadership. It will be Owen Smith, a man who told Sky News 'I'm glad you think I'm normal. I am normal. I grew up in a normal household. I've got a wife and three children. My wife is a primary school teacher', in what has since been termed his 'Andrea Leadsom' moment. It's likely that Smith's comments were simply unthinking, as opposed to a deliberate attempt to draw attention to his opponent's sexual orientation and lack of children. However, here's the rub: in 116 years of Labour the party has yet to elect a female leader. If 'normal' is the best that left wing politics can aspire to than the supposed 'party of equality' can be expected to do no better than maintain the status quo.
This article was updated on July 20th 2016
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