Belfast Telegraph

Save us from cheap and cheerless brand of feminism, Emmeline Pankhurst

By Lindy McDowell

Dear Mrs Pankhurst, I wanted to drop you a line to bring you up to speed with how that women's rights project of yours was getting along. Good news! Just this week, in fact, a major stride forward. Two of our political leaders, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition no less, were featured in a women's magazine, photographed in T-shirts with slogans promoting gender equality.

There are a number of things in that last sentence I know you will wish me to enlarge upon.

No, Emmeline, before you ask, neither of the two political leaders in question is a woman. Sadly, we've only ever had one female prime minister since the days when you were rattling the railings at Westminster.

And, yes, I expect you may not feel it much progress that we still have magazines aimed solely at the female market. But honestly my dear, you should see the inspirational articles they come up with these days. How to empower yourself with the right eyeliner and a good light-reflecting foundation. That sort of thing.

A T-shirt? It's not unlike a man's vest as you would have known it. Apparently, these T-shirts have been made in Mauritius by migrant workers paid roughly the same as mill-workers back in your Victorian times.

They sell for - pass the smelling salts, Emmeline - £45. A fortune in your day, true. But even in the 21st century, the sort of price tag many of us would still deem extortionate for a simple cotton garment with a bit of scribble on it.

Which brings us to the slogan. 'This is what a feminist looks like', it says. Apparently, the idea behind this campaign is to break down a stereotype that people are said to hold that feminists tend to be hard-faced, hefty old trouts. A description that might even fit yourself, Mrs P.

I'm not sure why we are supposed to think that feminists looking like Messrs Miliband and Clegg is an improvement, but there you have it. T-shirts aside, the battle for gender equality continues to, er, progress.

Maternity leave from work, for example, is now generous and well-paid. So generous and well-paid, indeed, that many small firms faced with the choice between a male and female candidate of equal ability will automatically plump for the male.

Some larger companies are even encouraging young female workers to have their eggs frozen. (It would take too long to explain, Emmeline.)

And "empowering" is the word du jour. Just about everything, we are told, is now empowering for women. It is empowering to take your clothes off for lads' mags, to put your toddler daughter in beauty pageants, to have a boob job (surgical enhancement of the embonpoint, Emmeline), to bake cupcakes, wear heels, lose weight, embrace your curves, de-clutter the back bedroom and Tweet those emails you discovered your ex had been sending to the woman two doors down.

There is no commercial product known to man, or indeed woman, that cannot now be sold as "empowering". Everything from low-fat yogurt to online bingo, from detergents that kill germs even at low temperatures to skin creams that reverse the visible signs of ageing.

Because today, Emmeline, we're worth it. Even if we're not always on the same salary scale as the boys.

We have come some way since the days when you were padlocked to the railings. These days we're just chained to gimmicky phraseology and the cheap self-promotional stunts of commercial enterprise and vote-chasing politicians.

Whether you would consider this progress, who knows?

But as it almost said on those T-shirts, Mrs Pankhurst, this is what feminism looks like in the 21st century.

Time we recruited a new government

Aside from the amount of money - an estimated £12m - already spent/wasted on it, the most shocking aspect of the abandonment of plans for a training college at Desertcreat for the police, fire and prison service is the message that this horlicks sends to those who should matter most: members of the police, fire and prison service.

We regularly ask these people to put their lives on the line for the rest of us. Apparently, however, Stormont doesn't value their contribution enough to ensure that new recruits have proper training facilities.

Yet another fine mess from our Laurel and Hardy coalition. Another week, another Stormont shambles.

World Bank vision is so short-sighted

The charity Vision for a Nation is aiming to supply around a million people in Rwanda with glasses which could transform their futures. The cheap specs have clever double lenses that can be adjusted by the wearer to suit their needs.

They cost only £1 a time and have been compared to the wind-up radio as an ingenious aid that will help millions.

The scheme is backed by a British entrepreneur. Inexplicably, the World Bank declined to back the project because it was unconvinced of the link between improved sight and economic gain. There's lack of vision for you. True, the glasses themselves don't look great. But no worse than Google Glass. And surely a much, much greater boon for the world.

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