Let’s #voteCorbyn to improve women’s representation. Erm what?
Posted on August 18, 2015
Since Jeremy Corbyn threw his hat into the ring I’ve seen a number of people claiming with no sense of irony at all that ‘as feminists‘ they’re proud to be supporting him in his campaign to be the next leader of the Labour Party. Personally I haven’t decided who I’m voting for yet: as a socialist I may well end up voting for Corbyn myself, but I’m certainly under no illusion that that would be the feminist thing to do.
It’s not often I find myself agreeing with a Telegraph journalist, let alone former Labour Party official and ultra Blairite Dan Hodges, but much like a stopped clock it seems even Hodges manages to get it right sometimes. A few weeks ago for example I watched the following exchange unfold on Twitter, and while I didn’t join in, I did find myself cheering Hodges along from the sidelines:
I’ve storified the rest of the conversation here – Sometimes Dan Hodges Gets it Right..
Now obviously the irony of bigging up a man for basically mansplaining feminist politics to women isn’t lost on me, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet and give credit where it’s due. Plus, Dan Hodges is the only other writer I’ve seen so far picking up on this specific and quite frankly bizarre element of the #voteCorbyn campaign.
This is the element that argues that because Corbyn has produced a half decent gender equality document, and because he’s pledged that 50% of his shadow cabinet will be women, in order to ensure better representation in politics of and for women, women voters should vote for him.
That’s right, forget Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, the two women standing to be Labour leader; forget if you can the fact that those who have a vote in this contest have the historic opportunity to elect women to the positions of both leader and deputy leader of the Labour Party: rather than voting for women directly, vote instead for the man who promises to do what he can to promote more women.
As for Corbyn’s position on wider women’s issues, those beyond our political representation, Rahila Gupta rightly pointed out in her piece for Open Democracy – Jeremy Corbyn: Labour’s Gift to British Women? – there are some gaps in his Working with Women policy document, particularly concerning his views on prostitution and the impact of religious fundamentalism on women’s freedoms. Sadly, from the resounding silence myself and others have been met with when we’ve asked for some clarification on these issues from the Corbyn camp, it would appear these subjects have been left out of the paper deliberately rather than having been omitted in error.
Maybe it’s simply that Corbyn hasn’t decided yet where he stands on some things, or maybe he’s just confused – it’s reported for instance that he supports the decriminalisation of prostitution, and yet back in 2010 he signed an early day motion on trafficking and sexual exploitation that urged the then government to “take action to reduce the demand in the UK for trafficked women,” which sounds more like something a proponent of the Nordic model would be calling for, rather than someone who thinks the recent Amnesty decision is the way to go.
Talking of early day motions, here’s the text of another one Corbyn signed, this time in 2011, on foetal alcohol syndrome:
“That this House notes with concern research carried out at the Medical Research Council’s laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, which has concluded that alcohol damages DNA and can cause permanent genetic damage to unborn children; is aware that binge drinking by young women is widespread and that Britain also has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the developed world with such pregnancies often associated with alcohol consumption; believes therefore that many genetically damaged babies are being born in Britain each year, which is tragic for those children and for their families but also a growing problem for wider society; draws specific attention to comments made by Dr Ketan Patel who led the research that shows foetal alcohol syndrome leads to birth defects and learning difficulties; considers that mild exhortations to pregnant women to drink sensibly are wholly inadequate to address the problem; and calls on the Government to bring forward serious and effective measures to counter these behaviours as a matter of urgency and end this ongoing tragedy.”
That’s right, our new male feminist messiah once put his name to a motion calling on the goverment to do something about feckless young women drinking themselves pregnant and being too stupid to understand the impact of their behaviour on their unborn children. (Meanwhile we’ll try and ignore the other one he signed the same year “remembering the smiles” Jimmy Savile brought to children’s faces)
But that’s enough of that. I’m not the Daily Mail and I’m certainly not out to do a hatchet job on Corbyn – I actually think it would be amazing to see an old-school socialist leading the Labour Party. But neither am I prepared to join in with the almost cult-like adulation that now greets him wherever he goes. Because at the end of the day, while on the one hand Corbyn claims to support the increased representation of women in politics, and more importantly the increased representation of women in more senior positions within politics, on the other hand he’s a man standing against two women candidates. And aside from whatever other dodgy views he holds on women’s issues, that’s simply not feminism.