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  Opinion   Oped  26 Jan 2019  What can gender equality mean in the world of Spice Girls?

What can gender equality mean in the world of Spice Girls?

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Jan 26, 2019, 2:02 am IST
Updated : Jan 26, 2019, 2:02 am IST

The phrase “gender equality” in today’s world means very many different things.

Theresa May
 Theresa May

“The price of the rice
Is the Marvel of the Chaaval
The rental on the lentil
The Kamaal of the Daal….”

From Keyti Ki Peyti by Bachchoo

Apart from the fact that one of them married the footballer David Beckham and another worked in some ineffectual United Nations quango, I know nothing about the Spice Girls. They smashed through the pop charts after I was long past obsessions with and allegiances to mediocre pop songs.

I do however remember one line from one of their songs. It was “What do I want, what do I really, really want?” I didn’t listen far enough to find out what it was they wanted. I may have, I thought at the time, been love. Or perhaps like Eartha Kitt, they each wanted an “old fashioned house with an old-fashioned millionaire”.

Four of the five recently went on tour but didn’t, according to news reports, invite the one who is married to Beckham to join them. I didn’t follow the tour and still don’t know what they sing, but I did come across reports that they were sponsoring Spice Girl T-shirts, some of which had their picture on them in animated poses and some of which simply had a slogan on the front saying

“#I wanna be a Spice Girl”.

The T shirts cost £20 of which £11-something will go to an organisation called Comic Relief and be used for the specific purpose of promoting gender equality in Britain. One of the Spice Girls (Is it sexist to call grown women “girls”? One never knows these days!) said the cause was important because “equality and the movement of people power have always been at the heart of the band.”

Now at last I realise what the Spice Girls “really really want”. Equality and the onward march of people power are what I’ve always fought for.

In a post on that great civilisational platform Instagram, the Spice persons added “This is all about supporting women and helping them be heard.”

They were heard, but perhaps not supported in the way our masalawallis intended, because the Bangladeshi women employed in the sweatshops where the T-shirts are made spoke out loud and clear.

They told the world media that they were paid 35 pence an hour, not quite a “living wage” in Bangladesh. They also said they worked under harsh and abusive conditions 16-hours-a-day, producing the Spice Girls’ T-shirts for their noble mission of spreading gender equality.

To be fair, the Spice people had no idea that that their T-shirts were being made by women who didn’t have any sort of equality in their, and our, wide world. They were appalled when the facts came to light and they publicly stated that they would make substantial moves to annihilate the ironic clash of their goal with the dire facts of the game.

They can’t affect working conditions in Bangladesh or anywhere else, but they can determine where their T-shirts are made. The world being what it is, when they are no longer made by people who are paid £5.60 for a 16-hour day (the minimum wage in London is £10.55 an hour!) the Spice persons’ T-shirts may be priced at £200 instead of £20.

Going by the economic laws of supply and demand, which I confess I am not totally familiar with, this would mean fewer T-shirts sold, except to a proliferation of non-entity celebrities. This would be a blow to the finances of gender equality in Britain.

There would be less money for ensuring that there is gender equality on the boards of capitalist companies, in the directorships of Hedge funds and for promoting women MPs in Parliament — though some, like Theresa May in these dire days of political chaos and disloyalty, are to be pitied for having got there.

The phrase “gender equality” in today’s world means very many different things. I don’t know if any males work in those sweatshops of Bangladesh or whether they get paid more than 35 pence an hour. Perhaps only women are employed in T-shirt industries while the men are breaking their backs and dying of tetanus working in the rust-ridden Bangladeshi ship-breaking yards where dead Western ships are sent to be turned into scrap metal. I bet, gentle reader. They get paid at least 37 pence for an hour of work.

Yes, “gender equality” is a fluid term. If Alice in Wonderland was one of the Spice persons, or the aforesaid masalawallis, to coin a non-nationalistic, equalising name for the pop group, she might have asked “The question is: Can you make one phrase mean so many different things?” To which Humpty-Dumpty would reply

“The question is: Who is to be master, that is all!”

Still on the question of gender equality, is it right that a prominent retail chain in Britain is selling packets of sweets called “Booty” and “Booby” with soft marshmallows in the shapes of women’s bottoms and women’s breasts? The “Booty” one, purporting to be shaped like a female bottom, is portrayed with a knicker covering the back cleavage. The slogan on the packet says “Squidge my Cheeks”.

The “Booby” marshmallows are portrayed on the packet encased in transparent bras with the nipples clearly evident. The slogan selling them is “A Cracking Pair”. It’s not known whether the very popular retailers selling these brands are aiming at the traditional marshmallow addicts, children below the age of 14, or whether they are aiming to expand their customer range to aged perverts and frustrates.

This speculation may be quite unfair. The “suggestive sweets” may be an attempt by the manufacturer to make more money by tapping into the sort of music-hall humour prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A sort of Folies Bergere brought to its lowest common and sugary denominator.

But is it sexist? And should the masalawallis be told?

Tags: spice girls, theresa may