Not an Odalisque

Women in the Cabinet? Women in the Closet? A Woman Just Like Me?

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Have you noticed how everyone in government looks the same? Have a scan through the pictures in this article. Now close your eyes and try to list the differences between Clegg and Cameron. They were born in the same year, they both went to rather good private schools and now, I suspect, buy their suits in the same shops. They have beautiful, white wives who bear children and wear reassuringly feminine uncomfortable-looking shoes.

It is hardly news that privileged people get to the top. If private schools and good suits didn’t lead to success, no one would bother paying for them. Our society isn’t fairly structured. We knew this. So as Clegg and Cameron surround themselves with people like them, a cabinet of 19 white men and four women, one of whom is the only non-white member, why are we suddenly making a fuss?

People are calling for positive discrimination, for quotas and for all-woman shortlists. Let’s imagine the men in power gave us everything we asked for: women flood in to take the top jobs. Who do you think we would get?

My initial fear is that we would get more of the same. Women like Theresa May, the Equality Minister with the homophobic voting record, or Jacqui Smith, lover of ID cards, 42 day detention and draconian “anti-terrorist” legislation. How about Harriet Harman, who proposed legislation to ensure that MP’s expenses wouldn’t be made public, presumably to hide the misdeeds of those, like Smith, who used the expenses system to defraud the public? I’m not going to write about Anne Widdecombe; I think it is enough just to mention her name.

The women who get to the top aren’t going to be the disenfranchised and powerless any more than the men are. They aren’t going to be any more intelligent, compassionate or honest than the men, either. The history of parliament shows that, despite their efforts, they are unlikely even to be better dressed. Yes, they will see things from a woman’s point of view, but the important question is surely which woman? We don’t all think alike.

I don’t trust these privileged, ambitious women. They aren’t like me. By that I don’t mean that they aren’t white, middle-class, privately educated and female—they probably are. I mean that they don’t think the way that I do, they don’t believe the things that I believe. Find me someone who shares my political beliefs and I will vote for him or her, because issues like civil liberties, welcoming immigrants and scrapping Trident are more important to me than the individual’s gender.

All this builds up to my biggest problem. Expecting that women, if elected, will act in the interests of women, is sexist. Do we restrict male politicians to acting on behalf of only half the country? If we did have a system in which each MP was only there to represent people like themselves, then we would merely have systematised the screwing of every minority. I voted for a candidate in a wheelchair, and he lost. Does the lack of wheelchair-using MPs in parliament indicate that we should stop legislating on disability issues and roll back the requirement for ramps?

Yes, the fact that there are more men called David in the cabinet than there are women is shocking. It is a terrible indictment of our society. I’m afraid that the solution is a long-term one, and it can’t be achieved with a quota or a bring-your-wife-to-work-day. We need to give all women the encouragement and fair treatment they deserve. We need to take women seriously. And we need to never, ever, publish another article on the colour of the Prime Minister’s wife’s shoes.

See also:

Labour leadership: Run, Harriet Harman, run!

Deeds, Not Words

A new kind of politics? With a top table looking like that?

Written by Not an Odalisque

May 17, 2010 at 6:23 pm

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