Harriet Walker: Some things just can't be prettified

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The Independent Online

There's a certain sort of urban iconography that comes out in summer. We create our own code of romance and idyll to persuade ourselves that working and sweating in our multitudes, living on top of each other and breathing in a heady fermentation of car fumes and wee is what warm, sunny weather is made for.

But how I rue the enforcing of this in new and ridiculous ways designed to pander to the perceived weaknesses of the latter-day "girly girl". It's one thing to wear a pretty floral pinafore because the sun has come out, quite another to waft around the town centre in a tropical print maxidress, collecting flotsam, jetsam, dreck and dog shit on your trailing hem.

The maxidress was invented for Wags, those paragons of 21st-century femininity; for women who are roundly mocked, not women with stuff to get done. (If you must go full-length, go black and narrow, not wafty and village idiot.)

But it's part of a wider trend of rose-tinting and romanticising, and it doesn't do women any favours, this faux naïveté. The streets right now are full of denim-clad damsels wearing flower garlands in their hair. Who ever chaired a board or addressed Parliament wearing a flower garland? Is there any more effective way of leaving one's dignity and gravitas on an 18th-century haywain? They're not cute or pretty; on anyone over 12, they're an embarrassment to all the other women who are trying to be taken seriously.

Ditto the latest wheeze from Always, purveyors of euphemistically titled "feminine hygiene products" and, as such, supposedly a girl's best friend. You'd think they'd have our best interests at heart. "How can we make a product that means women can get on with haemorrhaging while still doing five other things at once?" I imagine the creative team wondering.

But no, they're in on it too, trying to make us all look like giggling idiots – this month sees the launch of a new product, a sanitary towel printed with flowers. "Protection made beautiful", simpers the tagline. Do you think Genghis Khan or Nelson ever worried whether their tourniquets were pretty enough?

There is no pharmaceutical need, no absorbent urgency to paint our gussets with flowers. But companies think they need to look nicer – for we are women and heaven forbid we become too functional. We are corn-dollies, to be draped with ornaments and blooms, expected to shell out ever more VAT-bulked-out cash to keep ourselves looking great but wholly impractical.

It's more than 40 years since Germaine Greer exhorted women to taste their own menstrual blood (I'm not asking you to do that, though you can if you want: it won't kill you), and look how far we've come. Don't we have bigger battles to fight? And don't we have other things to waste natural resources on than painted pantyliners?

I imagine, back in the day of rags shoved between thighs, medieval women weren't desperate for more glamorous sanitarywear, but rather for some way out of social subjugation and sexual servitude. And here we are, dolling ourselves up like so many neo-nymphs to go gambolling on pavements and dance on the dreams of our forebears. Nymphs exist to be ravished or lose their voices; no one ever gave a nymph the vote or a high-powered job.

Why a tank is the cyclist's new best friend

I wonder if there's a job going in the mayor of Vilnius's office; he seems like my kind of guy. The Lithuanian bürgermeister this week crushed a car with a tank, to send an important message to drivers who park anti-socially.

"I've had enough of these drivers parking their luxury cars on bike lanes and pedestrian crossings," he declared on his Facebook page. "This tank is a good tool to solve the problem of parking in the wrong place." It's interesting to hear 65 tonnes referred to nonchalantly as a "tool". Cyclists in London may want to start saving for one now, given the allocation of bike lanes as "fast tracks" for the cars of high-profile visitors during the Olympics.

Modern humans and the lost art of acting natural

Another day, another animal video comes to light – this time, of a snake winding around the windscreen of a speeding car in Tennessee. Instead of, as many of us might, shrieking, swearing and screeching to a halt, the husband and wife inside the vehicle filmed the incident and giggled.

It's one more to add to the viral chart of sneezing pandas, dreaming kittens and narcoleptic dogs that we're addicted to watching on YouTube. The fact that couple were moved to film the episode, rather than screaming and getting the snake off their car is proof of why we love clips of animals doing crazy things: they're the only instances of instinctive and unmannered behaviour left in a world where your personality is only as interesting as your latest download.

We might think we're still human, but we're only really going through the motions, so we can upload proof of our existence to Twitter and Facebook. Unless, of course, I'm totally wrong and the snake also went home to change its status to, "Holy crap, man! I've had one hell of a day!".