Deeds, not words
Posted on May 17, 2010
As I’m sure most of you are well aware by now, this General Election has been a complete and utter disaster as far as women’s political representation is concerned.
Don’t worry though, I’m not about to rehash all the arguments as to why and how that is, not when so many columnists and bloggers have already covered that ground. Just have a read of these excellent pieces if you want a bit more of the background to the issue:
Katharine Viner: A new kind of politics? With a top table looking like that?
Jenni Russell: The election’s biggest loser is us, ladies
Kira Cochrane: How can we get more women into top political jobs?
Centre for Women and Democracy: ‘Derisory’ increase in number of women MPs
Suffice to say I agree with all of them: I agree that the situation is dire; I agree that a two and half per cent increase in the number of women MPs this time around is derisory; I agree that having only four women in the Cabinet is a disgrace, and I agree that the way women have been either ignored or trivialised by the media and the various political parties throughout the campaign has been nothing short of shameful.
My big question now though is: what the fuck are we going to do about it?
And I mean that in all seriousness.
Because I’ve reached a point now where I really don’t think simply sounding off and complaining about all this is enough. And I don’t think “watching closely” to see when and where our political masters are going to shaft us next, as the Fawcett Society appears to be doing, is enough either.
I want to know how much longer we’re going to put up with this for.
Because I don’t know about you, but I’ve just about had it with listening calmly and politely to people (mainly men) as they pat us on the heads and tell us it doesn’t matter that there are so few women in Parliament. I’ve just about had it with holding it all together while being told that it’s the standard of our MPs that matters, not their gender, or their race, or their sexual orientation. I’ve just about had it with all of this shit, and I’ve especially had it with hearing about how it would be insulting to women if quotas or other positive action measures were brought in to increase the numbers, because you know, women should be getting there on merit not because of some PC gawn mad tokenism. Yeah right, as if all those privileged privately educated white boys didn’t have any extra help making it to the top, like the old-school tie and mummy and daddy’s connections. Pull the other one please, it’s got silver fucking spoons on it.
No, quotas aren’t insulting, but do you know what is?
Being made to feel like you’re invisible is insulting. Being made to feel like a second-class citizen, like a non-person. Being made to feel like you don’t count, that’s insulting.
And that’s precisely how many women up and down the UK feel today.
So, the question is, what are our next steps? Where do we go from here?
Well you won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve been giving this some thought over the past few days (in between bouts of yelling abuse at the telly and banging my forehead on my keyboard in a comfortingly rhythmic fashion). In fact I was sitting in a pub the other day waiting for some friends to arrive, and in a bid not to look to others like a desperate loser who’d been stood up, I got out my trusty notebook and did this kind of stream of consciousness thing about the whole issue. And here’s what I came up with:
1. Is it time for a UK women’s party?
I started out thinking this was one of the best ideas in the world, ever. But now I’ve looked into it a bit further I’m inclined to think that actually it’s a bit crap. Obviously I’ve taken the idea from the Swedish feminist party, Feminist Initiative, which although it hasn’t managed to win any seats yet, has seen a marked increase in support over the last few years.
My problem with the idea of a specifically feminist party though is that under our current electoral system (which looks like being around for a good few years yet, now that Clegg et al have sold out on PR) small emerging parties like this end up simply splitting the left vote even further, and thus they help the right get into power.
Also, and this may be somewhat controversial coming from me, what with me being a leftie feminist and all, my beef in this instance isn’t so much that we don’t have enough feminists in Parliament (although trust me, that is a massive issue, but it’s not what this post is about), it’s that we don’t have enough women in Parliament, and that’s women on all sides of the political divide.
The fact is that if we’re going to campaign to have more women in positions of power and influence (and that’s what I think we should be doing), then we’re going to have to accept that some of those women may well turn out to be our political opponents: we’re going to have to accept that some of them may well even represent views that we find abhorrent. So setting up a women’s party in that context just wouldn’t work, because we’d never be able to reach agreement on anything. Ever.
My other problem with a women-only party is that just as Feminist Initiative started out as a pressure group, I suspect that that’s how this one would be received, especially in the beginning. And personally I think we have enough of those. Plus, and let’s be frank here, women shouldn’t have to be a fucking pressure group. Because we’re not a minority. Our interests are not minority interests, or specialist niche interests, they’re the interests of all; and in particular they’re the interests of 51% of the population. And actually, I make 51% a majority.
2. Is it time to insist on more positive action measures, ie all-women shortlists?
In a word, yes.
3. How about a bit of direct action?
And this is where I have to be really careful about what I say….
Okay, my answer to this one is yes, absolutely. In fact this is my favoured choice.
We’ve had umpteen years of debates and meetings and task forces, and of going endlessly over and over the same old ground. We’ve even got organisations dedicated to trying to increase the numbers of women in politics.
But guess what? Despite all of this, we’re still no further forwards, we’re not making any progress. In fact, more and more it’s beginning to feel as if we’re actually going backwards.
So I think it’s time to stop playing nice. I think it’s time we stopped asking ever so politely for a couple of seats at the table. I think it’s time instead for us to start making demands.
Just like our fore-mothers did. Remember them?
4. Deeds, not words
Finally, I think it’s all very well for a bunch of us to be gobbing off on the Internet and elsewhere about the injustice of it all, but isn’t it time some of us put our money where our mouths are and actually stood for election ourselves, like the journalist Suzanne Moore did at this election? Or are we just a bunch of armchair warriors, happy to sit and snipe from the sidelines, but unwilling to actually put in the work necessary to help effect the change we want to see? (and yes, I include myself in this as well).
Deeds, not words, that was the motto of the WSPU. Personally, I think it was a great one.