by In Wales
Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 01:33:39 PM EST
Yes fine, a deliberately provocative title. But you know something? That's exactly what we do ('we' as in wider society). People are fond of saying "we've made a lot of progress", and some people even announce that the battle for gender equality has been won.
It's been won!
So who am I, and what is my role in society? Does my gender have any bearing on my likely outcomes in life? Certainly not, because we've won the battle for gender equality.
I can come and go as I please. I can wear what I like, and not fear violent reprisals. I can follow the career path of my choice knowing that I can get to the top on my own merit. I know that I can have children and share the childcare equally with my partner and not be penalised for taking time out of my career. I know that whatever job I do, I'll be paid the same as any man doing the same job or a job of equal value. I won't live in poverty either in my working life or as a pensioner due to social policies that privilege marriage and male breadwinners. I won't be stereotyped, or pigeonholed.
And above all, I will never be the target of degrading, offensive or irrelevant comments just because I'm a woman.
There was an excellent article in the Guardian recently, commenting on how a female Conservative MP candidate was being vilified amid calls to deselect her because it emerged that the shameless harlot
had had an affair
5 years previously with a male MP. The immoral bitch. Disgusting.
Good luck, Liz Truss | Tanya Gold | Comment is free | The Guardian
It shows us what happens when we have a political culture that trivialises women. In politics, the condition of femininity itself remains a story and a distraction; for this, Liz Truss now pays.
This is endemic in British politics and every time I see it, female fool that I am, I feel stupidly surprised. I wander about dazed as if I have beaten my own head with a spade, wondering, why do we do this? Why do we tolerate and even encourage the physical objectification of female politicians? Does anyone know or care about Truss's politics or what she has to offer? Has it oozed out into the popular consciousness yet? Will it ever? We know that she owns a gold satin jacket, and that she once slept with Mark Field MP. Gold. Jacket. Nice.
Do we do that to male politicians? Perhaps if they are especially extravagant, or we happen to find out they've been spending an extortionate amount of money to have shirts sent abroad for new collars to be put on at a cost of let's say 2 months income or more for some people. But on a day to day basis, do we discuss male politicians choice of shoes? Do we discuss their looks before their policies?
Admittedly, Gordon Brown gets plenty of comments about looking dour but this doesn't tend to take front stage to his policies or performance as a politician. Do we ever blame his poor performance on him being a man?
Do we objectify male politicians? Do we subject them to the same type of scrutiny as we give to female politicians?
There is no one enemy in this; it is a national sickness. This, from a (female) columnist in yesterday's Daily Telegraph: "She [Liz Truss] is OK-looking, if a bit dodgy in terms of dress sense." Well, thank you for that. Award yourself an over-reaching-insight-of-the-week gong; then explain to your daughters why politics is dangerous for women. "Naughty Tory Candidate," said the Sunday Times, as if possessed by the spirit of Readers' Wives.
It goes on, and on; it is Celine Dion. What do you remember about Theresa May, the shadow minister for women? Her philosophies? Her policies? No. It's her shoes, dummy. They were leopardskin! She wore them to conference seven years ago, and still I remember those damn shoes. I hate myself for that.
Or do you remember when Ann Widdecombe went on This Morning, to be surprised by the revelation that her haircut had been voted Tenth Worst in Britain? I don't care for Widdecombe, but she deserved better. We all did. But never mind; Fern surprised her with a 20-minute magic makeover, as consolation for the unelectable haircut. Ann looked surprised; I shouted at the TV.
Why the hell should politics be seen as a "man's world" as it frequently is? Knowing how to fight and not to compromise (to pull out a male/female stereotype) is not necessarily the best way of going about developing policy or Governing a country.
What are our elected representatives there to do? Govern, yes. But in whose interests? Theirs or the general public? Humour me if you would in my belief that politicians are there to serve their constituencies. To make people's lives better, in the interests of the many and not only of the few. Will that be achieved by our countries being governed by an overwhelming majority of a certain type of men from broadly similar backgrounds? How will they understand my life or how their policies could impact on my life, or yours, or the life of anyone else who hasn't come from their privileged background?
So how do we ensure that those who govern us have the insight to not go about ruining our life chances and outcomes in what is often a fairly selfish if not entirely deliberate manner?
Could it be through encouraging a greater diversity of people into politics? Could it be through having more women in politics? My belief, call me naive, is that we need a balance of men and women in our Parliaments. Harriet Harman (UK MP with the equalities portfolio) was absolutely right when she said that never again should we allow a Cabinet of only men to run the country.
And what was the big story concerning women during the last conference season? Pay inequality? Childcare? Rape conviction rates? Don't be ridiculous; this is Britain, 2009. It was Sarah Brown's dress. Then Sarah Brown's shoes. Then Samantha Cameron's dress. Then Samantha Cameron's shoes. Sorry, I cannot type the brand of Samantha Cameron's shoes. My hand is beating my head.
The greatest influx of women into parliament in British history - surely a moment for pride, or at least rational thought - was reduced to the headline "Blair's Babes". Was it worth it, this piece of agonised alliteration? Now the babes are going; bring on the "Cameron Cuties".
Why is it somehow ok to reduce female politicians to their looks? To throw gender stereotypes at them? To devalue their worth and role in making a contribution to society?
Who the hell would I be not to challenge that? Nobody can convince me that the battle for gender equality is won. We are sliding backwards, through complacency and through backlash from ignorance. It may not usually be acceptable to overtly and blatantly discriminate against women but the way that society is structured and the values that are attached to having women in certain roles creates invisible walls around us all and glass ceilings above our heads.
Unfortunately unless you have directly experienced discrimination or seen the impact on someone else it is hard to really grasp how it works. I can't point at these walls and show you. If you can't see them or understand them, I have to ask you trust me when I tell you they are there.
I have a place in this society, one that I will choose for myself. I will claim it.