Ask A Feminist is our regular column tackling issues on feminism, sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st century context. This week, Stylist contributor, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, is fed up with the pale, male and stale politicians that have thrown the country into turmoil following the EU Referendum, and makes a rallying cry for the women to take over.
Feminist Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett says:
Imagine, for a moment, that it was not a decades-long rivalry between two schoolboys, but between two schoolgirls that ended up causing a European political crisis. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? That, according to a joke from the journalist Martha Gill, should be the new glass-ceiling test.
Brexit is largely down to the work of ex-classmates Boris Johnson and David Cameron – both products of Eton – who have been squaring up to one another for what feels like months. Throw in some additional public schoolboys: Farage, Gove, and Osborne, and, along with Jeremy Corbyn, Alan Johnson and Alex Salmond, who were gunning for Remain, you’ve got yourselves a veritable sausage fest.
How long is going to take us to realise that our overly masculine, adversarial, chauvinist style of politics has been a factor in all this?
The country is in chaos. The broken promises of Brexit already lie before the nation; both parties are in disarray, and all the men involved are being completely useless. Because, you see, it was all just bravado and braggadocio before, and men are good at that. All they cared about was who, in the battle of Brexit, would be crowned the king, emerging victorious after all those endless hours’ worth of macho sparring.
Would it be Cameron and Osborne, whose austerity policies have seen women’s refuges close and austerity hit women the hardest? Or would it be serial philanderer Boris Johnson, who thinks women go to university to find husbands, in cahoots with Nigel Farage, who was against increased maternity pay? What a choice for the women of the nation to make.
It’s patently obvious that the consequences of Brexit (which need I remind you, is unlikely to mean great things for women’s rights, seeing as EU law was responsible for pushing the UK in a more progressive direction in terms of lawmaking) were barely thought through. Will it be women who have to come and clear up all the mess? That line from The History Boys comes to mind: “History is women following behind with the bucket.”
Theresa May kept her head down during the Remain campaign – hinting at her aspirations for Number 10. Certainly The Telegraph has deemed her a suitable candidate based on their own unique lady politician criteria – she is faithful to her husband, has no children to distract her, and she cooks, too! Whether, if successful, she will pull the ladder up behind her as Margaret Thatcher did remains to be seen. Her self-professed feminism has certainly not expressed itself in the form of solidarity with the detained women of Yarl’s Wood.
May’s potential power grab aside, it’s worth noting in a referendum debate dominated by greying men of a certain age, one of the few politicians who has come out deserving of any respect is Nicola Sturgeon.
While the men were in hiding, at Glastonbury, playing cricket in country houses, mounting shambolic coups or launching astonishingly rude attacks on the members of the European Parliament, Sturgeon pounced into sorting mode. She was like a machine (I’ve started calling her The Sturgeonator), tirelessly giving interview after interview on what must have been very little sleep, her sound bites firm, confident and assured. Whether or not you agree with her politics, its hard to deny her efficiency. This week, she met with Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, to discuss protecting Scotland’s place in Europe. She has been doing her job spectacularly well.
As in last year’s general election, it was the women who really shone in this campaign. Last year saw Natalie Bennett, Leanne Wood and Sturgeon impress the British public with their rhetoric (not to mention Mhairi Black, whose maiden speech went viral on the internet). This time, it was Sturgeon again who impressed, as well as fellow Scot Ruth Davidson. I hope we will see more of them in the coming weeks and months, as Britain attempts to deal with the chaos wrought by Cameron, Boris and Farage.
And what of Labour? There are many impressive women in the party (disclaimer – if the party still continues to exist as we know it by the time this goes to press), such as Gloria De Piero, Luciana Berger, Stella Creasy, Jess Phillips, Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy, Rosena Allin-Khan, Heidi Alexander, Maria and Angela Eagle, to name just a few. And yet, one of the many truths highlighted by the tragic murder of Jo Cox a mere two weeks ago is that we do not really see enough of them. Cox was a brilliant activist, a passionate campaigner for human (including women’s) rights, and a much-loved mum and wife, yet many of us only learned about her brilliant work after she was gone.
Though Jeremy Corbyn’s original shadow cabinet boasted more women than it did men, he was criticised last year for not giving more senior posts to women when he was elected as leader. Then, in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, we saw Angela Eagle give a moving post-resignation interview in which she revealed that she couldn’t even get a meeting with him.
Couple that with the nasty pre-referendum campaign by Corbyn supporters against BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, and it hardly gives an inclusive impression of the party. Though Corbyn’s policy-making would more than likely be beneficial to women voters, there is no doubt that they are also likely to find such implicit messages off-putting.
Men continue to outnumber women in Parliament to a depressing degree; there are at present 650 MPs, of which 191 are women. These women come from all sides of the political spectrum and most of them are seriously talented and hard-working, yet as well as having to tolerate the awful, jeering bully-boy atmosphere of PMQs, many of them face unacceptable abuse as they go about their jobs in the service of their constituents.
As the mood in the country sours, becoming more right wing, more authoritarian and, yes, more macho, we desperately need these women and more like them at the forefront of politics, and an end to the arrogant, pugnacious yah-boo way of doing things. Only then, when there are as many powerful women to aspire to as there are men, can the schoolgirls rise to the top. They may not get there in time to solve this male mess, but they could well end up preventing another.
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