Not an Odalisque

Posts Tagged ‘politics

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

Votes From Women!

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It has been rather nice to hear recently that people are competing for my vote because I am a woman. It is rather worrying to realise that the government and opposition hadn’t noticed half of the population before now. Apparently women’s votes could make the difference in the next election. Well, that’s good to know.

What have the parties done to seduce women? The Liberals have announced a female porn director for one constituency, and she would certainly get my vote. If you can break into an industry as sexist as that one and then tailor your product to women, revolutionise the aesthetic and win awards, then politics shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Brown and Cameron aren’t being so radical. Both of them have rolled out their wives to bolster their public image. This is what Samantha Cameron had to say:

“I’d say one of the brilliant things about him is he loves cooking. But he, you know, he makes a terrible mess. He is not very good at clearing up as he goes along. He is not very good at picking up his clothes. He’s a terrible channel flicker. I have to be quite firm about him not fiddling with his phone and his BlackBerry too much, ‘cos it can be, you know, quite annoying.”

I rather liked Zoe Williams’ analysis of this:

“You look at David Cameron, someone tells you that he’s not very good at clearing up as he goes along, and that’s the most annoying thing about him.

“I mean, sure, I bet he doesn’t do a lot of washing up. If she’d said: “He has this insufferable sense of entitlement, which extends to a high-handed failure in all aspects of domesticity,” I would buy that more, even thought it would effectively mean the same thing.

“This, though, it doesn’t even sound that personal. It sounds like she’s flicked through Take-A-Break, put together a compendium of innocuous things women say about men, chosen the most innocuous and ta-da! Here he is, a three-dimensional human being, not-very-convincing-wart and all!”

I think she’s right, but I also think that Sam was tapping into a common contemporary conception of men. Now that women are expected to do the housekeeping, raise the children, have a successful career and look damn sexy, which is a lot to be getting on with, how do they accept that their partners aren’t doing all that? The common approach seems to be to claim that they don’t have the capacity. Poor men, they can’t multitask, they don’t know how to separate the delicates for the wash, they’re just like overgrown boys, really. I think that we can expect a bit more of blokes, but in the meantime we should be wary of what we are saying when we encourage this image. It gives the impression that women are the practical ones, while men have the elevated thoughts. They are making calls and talking about policy on their Blackberries, not thinking about mundanities. I honestly don’t care about Cameron’s laundry, but I think a nuanced understanding of gender would be a good thing in a Prime Minister.

Cameron and Brown are appealing to women through Mumsnet and Woman’s Hour. I don’t know about you, but I would rather listen to the Archers than to Woman’s Hour, and I’d rather spend fifteen minutes in an enclosed space with Ann Widdecombe than listen to the Archers. I do know several men who like it, though (Woman’s Hour, not Anne Widdecombe). Because I’m a dedicated blogger, I tried, just for you. I got to the point at which Brown was saying that he was more comfortable working with women than men before I had to turn it off. Why do men think that saying they’re more comfortable with women is ingratiating? It doesn’t make us think that you respect women, it makes us think that you need a mother, or an emotional labourer to smooth things over. Except in this case, as we know that you surround yourself with men, and have heard reports that you use women as “female window dressing.” Then we just think you’re a liar. Oh, and repeating the words “very, very professional,” every time you mention working with women gives the impression that you’re surprised women can do paid jobs. We can, or at least we could, if you’d sort out the economy.

My biggest problem with the appeal to women is that the range of women’s issues seems to be so small. From the Telegraph:

“Here’s another shopping list of women’s concerns. Protect public services where possible: more women than men work in them and use them. Focus on inequality. Help those, mostly women, who are currently providing free care worth £89 billion a year to the economy. Stop treating women offenders more harshly than men. Stop paying women workers less.”

All of that sounds good, but this is what I don’t understand: why do we expect women to care more about these things than men do? Do women all vote for the party which will be more lenient towards female criminals because they think they might want to rob a bank one day?

I strongly believe in many “women’s issues” including the need for more rape centres and rape justice, work on domestic violence, equal pay, and, screw it, more woman-focussed pornography. I care because the victims of rape, violence, discrimination and bad pornography are people, not because they are women. Because I care about people, I also care about human rights, surveillance, nuclear weapons, care for asylum seekers and the environment. I emphatically don’t care about the state of your kitchen, your taste in biscuits or fox-hunting.

Women aren’t a separate tribe. You want to know the one thing that would get my vote? Electoral reform, because it doesn’t matter who I choose, in my constituency the Tories always win. I’m pretty sure that there’s no way of spinning that as a “women’s issue”.

Written by Not an Odalisque

March 16, 2010 at 1:25 pm