Equality: The Mothercare Trousers Conundrum

When I’ve been pregnant, I’ve always found it hard to get clothes that fit. It’s not that I’m oddly unaware of the existence of maternity garments – I’ve seen enough “Baby on board” slogans to last several lifetimes – it’s that I’m much shorter than the average person. And when short people get pregnant it’s just too weird. How can you possibly be two “abnormal” things at once? Isn’t that just taking the piss?

It would appear so, not just in relation to pregnancy wear. And whereas with that I can understand the reasoning – the short and pregnant form too small a market so you might as well just leave them to adjust their own over-bump trousers – when it comes to equality ideals, I don’t get it at all. It seems to be decreed – by people who are usually only one “weird thing” at most – that everyone else is only permitted to have one “issue”. Anything more would just be greedy.

Following a recent report into the marginalisation of women in the media, the Guardian features a letter questioning “how important this is compared to other aspects of cultural bias in the media”:

I am more worried about the fact that Oxbridge graduates, along with other middle-class graduates, massively dominate the media, leaving ordinary workers and families largely unconsidered and certainly ill-represented, if not completely marginalised as in much of the press.


Women have some voice and presence in all areas of the media, the lives of the poor are grossly underreported.

Ban sexism and Page 3 girls, and demand better representation of women in the press by all means, but don’t forget the bulk of the population.

All of this sounds rather strange to me. It’s as though the writer thinks all women are Oxbridge graduates whereas “the poor” form another group with no overlap at all. Is that the case? I mean, I wouldn’t know – I am a woman and an Oxbridge graduate, but up till now I was pretty confident that I didn’t represent the whole of womankind (and not just because I’m shorter than most).

The writer – a man, who may or may not be working class himself – does not appear able to engage with the fact that by “women” we don’t simply mean middle-class, privileged women. There may be several reasons for this. Partly it’s that those promoting the interests of women do often assume that all women are like them, with the same opportunities and priorities. But I don’t think that’s the whole story. It’s also a failure of imagination on the part of others and an unwillingness to share space. It’s easier to hive off another person’s claim to equality – “you can class yourself as this or this, but not both” – because it means they’re less likely to encroach on your turf and make the same claims as you (and if they’re suffering the same injustices you are and have other claims to make, well, it’s like they’ve got double claims! That doesn’t seem fair! But actually, it is). A lot of this comes down to lazy wording. Perhaps the question that was meant to be asked is why do we only push for the representation of a certain type of woman in the media. Even so, lazy wording frequently exposes more than we’d like.

Middle-class women might have “some voice and presence in all areas of the media” (although giving the ongoing imbalance, they may yet resent being told to pipe down and let someone else have a turn). Working-class women don’t. And while it’s convenient to dispense with the “woman” part of their identity in order to make claims on behalf of “the bulk of the population”, it’s not fair. It completely dismisses the very specific challenges these women face, and in reducing the criteria by which you measure what constitutes a woman in the media, you create the impression that all women are, in essence, like me (apart from the height thing). If women are then such a tiny group, why on earth would you expect equal representation at all?

Letters, and thinking, like this annoy me, even more than shortening Mothercare trousers does. I mean, just how hard is it to understand that identities overlap? And, more importantly, if we care about equality of representation and opportunity, why is it still so difficult to share?

PS Note that I didn’t use the verb “to mansplain” here. But I was sorely tempted. And in having mentioned it here, I’ve probably ruined it all anyhow…


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