Do you ever go through phases when anything and everything you do appears to be accompanied by an inappropriate theme tune? I’m only asking because a) I’m going through such a phase right now and b) I’m self-obsessed enough to assume this is of interest to everyone else.
Take today, for instance. What with it being my Secret Day Off, I have been in and out of clothes shops, trying on dresses I don’t need and can’t afford (Caitlin Moran advises against this in How To Be A Woman, but … actually, I can’t think of a but. She’s probably right. But anyhow, Moran’s not the boss of me). I’ve just been in Warehouse – a store that now screams WAY TOO YOUNG FOR THE LIKES OF YOU!!! – and have been working my way through a pile of wholly inappropriate frocks for no other reason than they were in the sale. I’d just put on a ridiculous geometric print number and was doing that thing when you go out of the cubicle and pose in front of the bigger mirror, like that’s going to make any sodding difference to how ridiculous you look. And then it happened – they started playing One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful.
I’m not going to engage in another rant about the sheer illogicality of this song (although that still grates). What bothered me was that I was alone in the changing room so it was almost as though that song was being played especially for me. Hence it seriously felt like someone was taking the piss. It didn’t matter that there was no one else there; somehow, I felt I was being mocked. Indeed, I almost wanted to make an announcement to the empty room:
Look, I know I’m not beautiful but I don’t for one minute now think that me knowing I’m not beautiful actually means I’m beautiful. Not only would that not make any sense, but it would make me look like a deluded twat. So yeah, 1D. I’m not fooled. It’s like that time at school when Stuart Thingy pretended to ask me out for a bet. I wasn’t taken in then (much). And I’m not taken in now. So there.*
I didn’t literally make this announcement, though. I was looking mad enough due to the fact that I was wearing a geometric print on the wrong side of 35.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, I had an even worse inappropriate song episode yesterday. I was on another business trip (as I grandly like to call them), only this time I’d been traveling with a female colleague who’s very senior to me. Obviously I’d been very stressed, not about the meeting, but about the drive there and back in her car. I didn’t want to come across as a total idiot and my partner wasn’t helping me psych myself up for this by making various references to zombie road movies, Working Girl and Thelma and Louise. Someone at work had told me not to mention my children in case it sounded “mumsy”, while another colleague said it was probably best not to make jokes. By the time I got into the car I’d decided the whole thing was another job interview and I’m totally rubbish at those.
In actual fact, it all went fine. We did talk about our children, but not too much (although in these situations I presume it’s not my call to say what “too much” is). And we talked about work, and it wasn’t like a job interview. It was all okay, or at least it was until we were driving back. She’d turned the radio on and we were listening to the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2. The discussion was on the Anne Marie Morris “incident” in the House of Commons earlier this week. I’m not quite sure how to describe it, really. Morris stood up to speak and was surprisingly shouty, then everyone did that boorish cheering / booing stuff they always do, then Morris got even more shouty, and everyone else became even more boorish, and apparently the fact that Morris’s arm was in a sling made the whole thing totally hilarious … Then David Cameron called Morris “feisty” and the Daily Mail’s Quentin Letts pronounced her a battleaxe.** Hey, isn’t politics funny? And totally fucking sexist? Or is it?
The Vine Show was debating whether the “battleaxe” thing was sexist or not. Yes, it is. The End. But no, it can’t be the end when you’ve a show to run. So on the left we had Kate Smurthwaite patiently explaining why it was, and on the right we had Ann Widecombe denying the existence of sexism and helpfully explaining that MPs don’t act like boorish tossers all the time – only “once a week”. At one point Widecombe even told Smurthwaite to “get a life”. She’s such a national treasure, is Widecombe. Where would we be without her?
Throughout all of this I didn’t say anything to my colleague. You don’t talk sexism with colleagues. Especially not colleagues who are senior to you. It is not that I am ashamed of feminism or think it strange; I am just terrified of it sounding as though I use feminism to explain my own personal failings. I don’t want someone to think I view their seniority as a sign that they must have sucked up, Widecombe-style, to The Man. So I said nothing; I thought I’d respond if anything was said directly to me, but it wasn’t. And I don’t think this was a particularly bad or embarrassing thing; it was just how it was. I even thought “maybe I’ll blog about the issue later. But not before I’ve found some massively long-winded framing device – perhaps a discussion of pop songs? – to make it sound like I’m not discussing it at all”.
Anyhow, we were just about to pull into the office car park and I was thinking “I’ve managed this well. Discussed kids and the work-life balance without sounding mumsy. Negotiated the ‘shall we mention feminism?’ thing like a proper professional person. What could possibly go wrong?” And then of course the song starts. It’s only Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin singing Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves, the most in-your-face, crass, cringe-worthy celebration of feminism and sisterhood you could possibly get. And I see the two of us pulling into the car park, totally, like, doin’ it for ourselves, with not a man in sight, and I imagine us standing before the company to make a comin’ outta the kitchen statement, and I can’t help bursting into peals of incomprehensible laughter, totally ruining the whole persona I’d spent several hours constructing.
Well. At least my colleague had the good grace not to ask what was going on. That is one of the many, many reasons, totally unrelated to sexism, why she is in the senior position and I am not.
* I actually remember Stuart Thingy’s surname, but I’m not going to write it down. I’m still too ashamed.
** My four-year-old forces us to listen to his Horrid Henry CDs in the car and, although it pains me to admit this, Anne Marie Morris did sound a lot like Henry’s teacher Miss Battle-Axe, as played by Miranda Richardson. But that is just coincidence. For all I know, Quentin Letts sounds exactly like Mrs Oddbod.