Women need mouthy Hilary Mantel not flawless Kate Middleton


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The Independent Online

You've got to love the cover of the new Chinese Harper's Bazaar magazine, which has done more to expose the airbrusher's art than many years of "real beauty" campaigns could. It shows a photograph of Sarah Jessica Parker, only it's more of a drawing than a photograph, painted with Photoshop by someone who clearly needed a bit of a screen break. Poor Ms Parker has been given crazy, turquoise, alien eyes, and cheekbones you could slice ham on. If supermodel perfection isn't good enough for these people, why don't they draw a cartoon?

It's been a bit of a week for the airbrushing of women, all told. It started with Nadine Dorries papering over 100 years of feminist history by claiming to be equivalent to a persecuted Suffragette, all because people want to know how she spends her expenses.

Then we saw the clumsy retouching of the words of a brilliant writer, when commentators took a nuanced speech by Hilary Mantel about royal consorts and Tippexed out all the shades of grey. Thus, an excoriating depiction of how the latest royal Madonna-figure is served up to us by the media, "the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss-varnished", became, in effect, "Jealous bitch slams Kate Middleton!"

Until then, the airbrushing of women had been largely done by other women, but at least Harriet Harman is attempting to shine a light on the sisters (or the lack thereof on the telly) with an audit, as we report today. Perhaps she will join my personal campaign to get Judith Hann and Maggie Philbin back on our screens.

We might, however, not have any future Hanns and Philbins if Lego gets its way. The company has decided that girls can't play with dumper trucks and Millennium Falcons, so they've created special pink bricks for girls, to make beauty parlours and ponies instead. It may be patronising and offensive, but it's made Lego millions of quid, so that's good news.

If there's anyone who could do anything about the rude shutting-up of half the population, you'd think it would be the Prime Minister, but David Cameron pitched in last week in all the wrong ways. He castigated Mantel for her words, which he obviously hadn't read, and insisted that perfect, blank-canvas Kate – not gobby Hilary – is the model to which we should all aspire. At the same time, he said he's right behind women, because his wife nags him over there not being enough of them in the Cabinet, and really that is a terrible thing. If only he could do something about it, you might think, but to be fair he is only in charge of the entire country.

Samantha, dear, please go on at him a bit more about finding some decent women who can read, write and speak up for themselves. Perhaps Judith Hann might be available.