My journey from girlhood to womanhood can be traced through magazine subscriptions- first Horse & Pony, then Just Seventeen before the New Statesman in my teens, then Vogue and most recently Grazia.
It occurred to me the other day I’ve subscribed to Vogue longer than I’ve been a member of any political party – in this case the Lib Dems – which a cynics may argue shows my commitment to fashion goes deeper than my commitment to politics.
But actually, I think it may reveal something else: we are more complicated than the easy labels people attach to us: ‘Fashionista’ ‘Stay at Home Mum’ ‘Career woman’ – and more than sum total of the magazines we read.
It was something that Grazia writer Polly Vernon said at the ‘Feminism then, now and tomorrow’ event part of #Grazia10 I attended last week that really hit home:
‘’Liking football is seen as a serious, important pursuit for men. A woman who likes fashion is seen as a little bit stupid”
I love the mix of fashion and politics in Grazia: being a fan of Leopard print and equal pay is not and should not be seen as mutually exclusive!
But women’s magazines, despite their big readerships continue to be largely ignored by the mainstream media – unless that is a celebrity says something controversial, debuts a new hairstyle or is seen to reveal too much flesh.
Similarly, political parties ignore women’s magazines and their readers until there’s an election on. Then they want to get in women’s faces at every opportunity.
Sitting in the hairdressers last Saturday Ed Miliband popped up in my Twitter feed via @Red_Daily Miliband waxing lyrical to Red readers about increasing access to childcare and why women should vote for him.
I asked a question at the Grazia event about whether or not the idea of ‘the Women’s vote’ was a useful one these days – partly because I and a lot of my friends feel profoundly patronised by stunts like Labour’s ‘Pink Bus’ and also as a single, childless woman I’m turned off by the relentless focus on childcare and the NHS – as if these are the only things that women care about.
The responses from the panel were revealing. Laura Bates of Everyday Sexism, from the same generation as me said that instinctively she would have rejected the idea of a women’s vote in favour of a greater focus on bringing women’s quality of life and rights to an equal level with men, as individuals.
Anita Anand, however was supportive of the idea – pointing out the huge power of the ‘grey’ pension vote to influence political parties and their policies. A few years ago politicians and the media ignored MumsNet now they listen to them precisely because they have so many readers and with them so much influence.
Like Laura, I was brought up believing that the great Feminist battles had largely been won. I studied Feminist Theory as part of my degree course but saw it as a Historical Thing and dare I say something outdated and unfashionable.
It wasn’t until later in my twenties that I became aware – partly through reading women’s magazines and books by Caitlin Moran and Hadley Freeman about women’s struggles for equality in our culture but also in pay and representation. And the more I read the angrier I got.
Thankfully there is now without doubt more publicity around feminist campaigns such as No More Page Three in the mainstream media than ever before.
But still, it seems to me the (mostly male) politicians in Westminster aren’t listening.
Political parties, including mine, have been behind the curve on these issues which have been led largely by ordinary women online and in the media.
I’m pleased to see Lib Dems campaigning for equal pay and shared parental leave and all the main parties now backing the need for affordable childcare. But it’s not enough and women should expect more.
These issues are still firmly parked and often forgotten about under the banner ‘women’s issues’.
And because women are not well represented in our Parliament and on boards in companies these issues will not feature as prominently as they should this election given we are 50% of the total population – there are over 32 million of us!
But not only that: progress is undermined by the treatment of women MPs and activists by political parties and the media. If they are going to talk the talk they have to also walk the walk and treat women with respect.
After the event I tweeted:
‘Imagine if @Grazia_Live readers mobilised behind a political party.
Grazia’s equal pay campaign is a great start. Grazia readers should rally more regularly on more political issues, more often, but why not include Vogue, Red, Cosmopolitan and Glamour readers too? This would make young women’s voices far harder for politicians to ignore – particularly between elections.
A recent poll for Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour found a third of women surveyed unsure who they were going to vote for. This is a huge opportunity for political parties but we should not wait for them to come to us Grazia readers should take the initiative and lead the debate.
Politics is a numbers game. By working together Grazia readers can help make women’s voices count.
UPDATE: Grazia is reporting tonight that new equal pay laws will be brought in by the government following its successful campaign.
*I originally intended to get this published in a magazine but I decided to self-publish instead.