Good on Harriet Harman for showing up Cameron’s flakiness on feminism

This T-shirt isn’t a gimmick – it’s about raising awareness

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The Independent Online

"Why is Harriet Harman wearing a scruffy grey T-shirt?" one male journalist asked as Labour’s deputy leader took her seat next to Ed Miliband at Prime Minister’s Questions today. But it wasn’t just any old grey thing – it was the, “This is what a feminist looks like” Fawcett Society T-shirt, and Labour’s deputy leader was taunting David Cameron over his refusal to wear it.

Cameron apparently refused five times to put it on when asked to by Elle magazine. Leaping to his defence in the Daily Mail, his friend Sarah Vine said the PM would have been joining a passing bandwagon. Putting aside the obvious fact that feminism is hardly a bandwagon – which I am sure Vine knows – what is Cameron’s problem?

He was happy – rightly – to be pictured wearing a Help for Heroes wristband. The armed forces charity is not a bandwagon either. Miliband was foolish to refuse to wear the wristband, churlishly turning down The Sun’s request because of his stand against the Murdoch newspaper.

But when Elle asked the party leaders to don the Fawcett Society T-shirt for their Feminism issue, it was a perfect opportunity for these three men to prove they care about women. Miliband and Nick Clegg agreed, but Cameron said no.

The PM has previously claimed he is a feminist, and has repeatedly made great play of his attempts to make a third of his government ministers women. I know the PM is busy but a snap of him in the T-shirt would have taken a matter of minutes.

There are some who say that gestures like this one are just gimmicks – what you do in practice matters more. It is true that deeds are important, but slogan T-shirts (just like charity wristbands) are simple yet powerful ways of fighting and raising awareness for a cause. They do matter.

Harman, who has spent her life furthering the cause of women in politics, wore her T-shirt on the frontbench with all the wariness of, “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt”. But as she knows, feminism is a battle far from won – as Britain’s plummeting down the world gender equality table to 26 proves.

The only possible explanation for Cameron not to wear the T-shirt is that he thinks it is a gimmick and does not think feminism is a cause worth changing clothes for. He is not what a feminist looks like.