If you’ve watched any TV in the last couple of weeks, you’ve probably seen the new advertisement for Tesco’s F&F clothing line, in which model Charlotte Wiggins checks out the new summer range while riding around in a shopping trolley, soundtracked by Lemonade Market’s Supermarket Woman. It’s kitsch, tongue-in-cheek and persuasive – I’m hoping to pick up the printed jumpsuit next time I pop out for milk. However, the advertisement has generated a little controversy after a newspaper revealed that Wiggins' line, “I only came in for ice cream,” has been dubbed. Wiggins, who is from Merseyside, originally recorded the words, but her take was replaced by a voice over from an actress who delivers the line in smouldering Received Pronunciation. According to the Daily Mail, one of Wiggins’ friends joked “Perhaps they didn’t feel that she was posh enough.”
It’s not unusual for an advertisement to feature separate models and actors. After all, the two skills required are very separate and in order to sell a product as widely as possible, it sometimes makes sense to work from a broad talent pool. However, the story made me think about how rare it is for us to hear voices like Wiggins’ on TV, especially in advertisements. It’s weird that broadcast media doesn’t really reflect the country that we live in, and that “fairly posh person who might be from London” is the default setting – when posh people from London only make up a small proportion of the women who might be watching. Weirder still is the gender divide. It’s as though men are allowed to be from anywhere, and we hear quite a few regional male voices urging us to buy conservatories, weed killer and fast broadband packages. But unless they’re playing a character, or they’re a household name, it’s rare to hear a range of women from different places in any given ad break.
It’s as if we’re only allowed to be visible as women if our voices imply a certain level of wealth, education and class. We all know that feminism has a privilege problem, and that it’s the women who have the most who are most likely to speak out and be listened to. When it comes to advertising, this is literally the case. It’s 2017, but we’re still clinging to outdated stereotypes about who women are based on the way they speak. There is no reason why a speech made by a woman from Surrey is any more likely to sell you a shirt than the same words spoken by a woman from Liverpool, yet that has been the status quo for decades. If we don’t hear any variety, it’s harder to challenge these stereotypes.
It’s as if we’re only allowed to be visible as women if our voices imply a certain level of wealth, education and class
In 2014, Pat Glass, the Labour MP for North West Durham said that she often heard women being mocked for their regional accents in the House of Commons. “Women MPs from Liverpool, from the North West, from Scotland, and from any other region regularly come in for a seemingly orchestrated barraging from the rich, arrogant, posh boys on the Tory back benches. The type of regional accent is immaterial, it is the fact that we are women and working class and we dare to be there.” There is no doubt that any woman who is in a position to speak in the House is hardworking and intelligent – arguably perhaps more so than any of the “rich, arrogant, posh boys” Glass refers to, owing to the workings of privilege. If these men had grown up hearing a wider variety of female voices, and knowing that the country was full of women who didn’t speak like their mums, would they be smarter and better at listening to women’s ideas?
Ultimately, the problem is one of representation. This is about diversity. It’s not necessarily about hearing from fewer “posh” women, but about including as many different female voices as possible, and giving women from everywhere a chance to demonstrate their intelligence and authority. I want to live in a world where every woman can start to speak and be confident that people will pay attention to what she says, not how she sounds. It’s a big dream, but we can get there if we start small – perhaps with a supermarket acknowledging that their customers need to hear from women in the North West as well as the South East.