All this fuss over a pink bus

This week, Labour unveiled their plans to talk to women and encourage them to vote at the next general election in May. This came in the form of a pink van which would travel around Britain and allow MPs or prospective candidates to speak to women about their concerns regarding politics and politicians with the aim of getting the women to vote in the election by listening to them.

Labour's controversial pink van

Labour’s controversial pink van

However, since it has been unveiled it has been debated, ridiculed, questioned and torn apart by not only the press and Twitter users (as would be expected) but also television news and chat shows.

Some of this debate has concerned the political aims of the van. It is meant to target women as they either do not vote or if they do, to generalise, women decide at the last minute which party to vote for. Labour hope that by listening and speaking to non-voters and undecided voters now that they will secure a vote in the next election and get more women interested in politics.

So some papers and critics have questioned whether Labour are actually listening to voters but the majority have lambasted the use of the colour pink in the campaign targeted specifically at women. This has taken away from the political aims of the campaign and the van’s colour has become the focus point. On one hand, this is a shame as women may shun the opportunity to engage in politics over a trivial matter such as the colour of a van BUT alternatively all the fuss on the colour in the media could act as promotion for women to seek out the van or to look up Labour’s policies because of its prominent position in the news.

Let’s get to the colour that is causing all this commotion…PINK. It’s strange how colours garner so many connotations. Those anti-Labour’s pink van claim that pink is insulting and patronising for a campaign that targets women. This is because we associate pink with girls and blue with boys. It has become sort of stereotypical to associate the colours with the genders. This is particularly visible for all clothes, toys and merchandise for young children. As we get older, it is less visible but the colours are still used in marketing ploys. For example, cancer charities use the colours to target different genders such as blue being prominent in prostate charities and pink for breast cancer charities. The race for life encourages women (men aren’t allowed to compete) to be dressed in pink yet this is not criticised.

However, as I learnt in many of my lectures in university, gender is a cultural construct. The sex of a person is biological depending on their genitalia but gender is not fixed. As gender neutrality is becoming more recognisable in today’s world, it can be argued that colours should not be assigned to genders. Boys and girls (and later men and women) are supposedly not restricted in what they can do, like and in this case, what colours they are meant to love. Therefore, pink van critics argue that it is patronising for Labour to target women with the colour  because of the traditional connotations of pink like love, care, roses, flowers, passion and femininity.

BUT if we are in a gender neutral world, should it be so offensive for women to be targeted by the colour pink? One thing I noticed this week was how news presenters and journalists asked women and especially the female Labour MPs whether the pink offends them as feminists as if the two cannot co-exist. I find this an absurd question. Pink, as noted above, can be argued as patronising because of the stereotypical connotations. However, if we are in a gender-neutral and postfeminist society, the use of the colour pink shouldn’t matter and shouldn’t offend. I think it is complete nonsense to assume that feminists shouldn’t like pink because they are feminists. Feminism is about equality not about colours. Personally, as a feminist the colour pink does not offend or patronise me.

Labour argue  (and Harriet Harman who signed off on it) that they chose the colour as it was eye-catching. As for the shade of pink, they claim it is a version of pink like magenta or cerise. Indeed it is a dark shade of pink. In Labour’s defence, the dark pink is representative of their party’s brand which uses the colour red. It would be more controversial if the Conservatives whose brand is blue used pink or purple to target women as it would be a stark difference to their branding. For me, it would be more of an issue if the van was a bright pink like a Barbie logo or a light, baby pink as it would truly represent the girly connotations of the colour.

I don’t think there is a right or wrong way of interpreting the van. It is all down to perspective. Unfortunately for Labour, colours still have too many old-fashioned connotations attached to them and in politics everything is scrutinised.

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