Female models, responsible for draping themselves over new cars and appearing in their underwear in advertisements to promote this year’s British International Motor Show in Birmingham, would describe as ‘out-of-date’ and ‘pathetic’ the government’s stereotyping of women into becoming politicians. It follows the case of Miss Estelle Morris who was browbeaten into becoming secretary of state for education when she would obviously have been happier reclining across the bonnet of the new Mini.
Nonetheless, ‘out-of-date’ and ‘pathetic’ was how Mrs Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, in an interview, described those girls. She called for more women engineers in the car industry. But the models would take the view that Mrs Hewitt’s attitudes go back to Miss Germaine Greer, and early 1970s feminism. Women have moved on since then. They want to spend a few years having a good time with Latin American polo players, Old Etonian wine merchants, and the occasional plebeian Formula One driver. Then they intend to settle down in their early twenties and have babies with a rich, idle, preferably titled landowner – instead of becoming design engineers in Coventry, as their mothers would have done before them.
Mrs Hewitt thinks all that is unnatural. Perhaps it is – compared with the restricting way in which she was brought up in the 1960s. In those days a girl was supposed to aspire to a degree in environmental studies at a plate-glass university, leaving her books only to participate in sit-ins to prevent Thatcherite historians from lecturing on the Soviet Union’s responsibility for the Cold War. There were few other opportunities open to women.