As the launch of this site coincides with International Women’s Day I thought it might be an interesting place to start to dispel a malignant stereotype that has for far too long kept so many women off the political stage – the niggling thought that politics ‘just isn’t for them’.
The idea of politics being much more of a ‘man’s world’ is a misconception at the very heart of explaining why, quite frankly, there just haven’t been and still aren’t enough women involved in British politics.
My story isn’t perhaps the usual one. I was selected as the Labour PPC for Skipton and Ripon just a few months after my 19th birthday, in turn becoming the second youngest prospective parliamentary candidate in major party history. Since the change in legislation allowing anyone from the age of 18 to stand, there are now three of us running under 21. And guess what, we’re all young women.
The confrontational nature of the House of Commons has had many a man quaking in his breeches over the centuries and, in all honesty, it sometimes really isn’t the most appealing of places to work. You see the petty squabbling, name calling and point scoring undermining the important, perhaps life shaping issues in hand, and think that not only would you like to bang their child-like heads together, but that your time is better spent elsewhere.
But that’s just letting them win. If women, who have at times found it harder to break their way into traditionally male led domains, have learned anything over the years, it’s that change from inside really is the only way forward. And so we’ve got to get in there and do it ourselves. It was only after the 1997 general election saw droves of first time female Labour MPs sitting on the green benches that things finally began to change. With more practical debating and voting hours now in place and childcare provisions being improved, our Labour women have been fighting for us from within. And that’s just in Parliament itself.
These women have also fought for the minimum wage, increased maternity leave and the introduction of paternity leave, so that family responsibilities can be divided more fairly. And although we’ve still got a long way to go before we have truly equal pay in our society, leaps and bounds have been made in the right direction. Strong female leadership from those including Harriet Harman, Hazel Blears, Jacqui Smith and Yvette Cooper, has been at the very heart of this. They’ve shown that our Labour women are fighting for all women, and, to borrow from Sorkin’s West Wing, how about we go and get their backs?
It still is, if we’re honest, largely women who have to make that tough decision about how to juggle a career and family, and if I’d been paid every time I’ve had the line ‘oh so you’re one of those modern women who want it all are you?’ thrown at my, apparently ridiculous, suggestion that I would quite like both a career and a family, then Sir Fred wouldn’t have a patch on me. But is that going to stop me trying? Not for one second.
Feeling uneasy about entering the political world because we don’t like the way some men talk either to or about us is, in fact, more of a reason to get stuck in than walk away. If we let certain people, including many a right wing blogger, carry on in this way then, actually, the buck stops with us too. So what if Jacqui Smith wants to wear a top that isn’t a plain turtleneck, or the wife of a cabinet minister, who has never herself courted public opinion, wears a coat with a flower on it? Too often the debate is reduced to pointless, insulting comments from those who have, clearly, just run out of valid arguments. And more fool them.
So let’s stick with it and carry on raising the standard of debate in our representative chamber. Because not only are we strong, but we also have a lot to give. And as it says on the back of every single one of our Labour membership cards, it is, in the end, through ‘‘the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone’’.
Politics is very much a woman’s place, if she chooses it to be. If not, then that’s fine, but we should never be held back for fear of misogyny, prejudice or because we think ‘it just isn’t for us’.
Hopefully we can use this blogsite as somewhere to discuss any issues like these that we, as progressive women, do sometimes come up against, and create a useful network of ideas and support for each other.
Here’s to International Women’s Day.