Lack of women in Parliament? Who cares?

Women in politics is a hot topic these days. Labour made waves recently by pointing out the lack of women on the government front bench at PMQs when Theresa May was away, and the situation has since been described as an ‘own goal’ by Anne McIntosh, the recently de-selected MP for Thirsk and Malton.

We hear all the time that Parliament needs to better reflect the make-up of the population. But I just have one simple question.  Why?  And I’ve yet to hear a convincing answer.

If I go to my MP for help with benefits, housing, planning or business issues, will I be better or more ably represented by a woman?  Even if I was struggling with the cost of childcare, or I had been unlawfully dismissed when I had taken maternity leave, could a man not understand my concerns, sympathise with me and, most importantly, stand up for me in Parliament?  Claiming that you need a female MP to do any of those things for you is like being diagnosed with cancer and saying that you’ll only be treated by a doctor with Leukaemia.

To be sure, debates and legislation will be shaped in different ways by female MPs, but do we need 331 of them to ensure that this happens?  Are not the women who make their way into the Commons more than capable of making sure that their voices are heard and women’s experiences are shared?  I don’t think anyone can claim that MPs like Diane Abbott, Stella Creasy, Tracey Crouch or Nadine Dorries have trouble getting their message across.

I am at a loss to explain why leaders of all parties insist upon tying themselves into knots about a lack of female faces on the green benches.  We are supposed to pride ourselves upon living in a meritocracy.  The most capable person should get the job: we should be altogether blind to gender in selection for both backbench MPs and ministerial roles.

I cannot think of a worse ‘solution’ to this non-existent problem than Labour’s policy of all-women shortlists.  It is the ultimate patronisation, suggesting that we’re not capable of competing against the big, bad, boys.  We wouldn’t stand a chance of winning when men are in the running too; better to enter us into a different race altogether.

Other attempts to ‘fix’ our ‘broken’ system include the setting up of a special committee to find out why women are under-represented in Parliament, the holding of an International Conference on Gender and Politics to share best practice, and countless other suggestions, such as reforming PMQs so as not to offend women’s delicate sensibilities or changing the sitting hours to make them more family-friendly.

But do we really need to encourage more women to stand as MPs, or help them to ‘fit in’ once they have won an election?  Or do we just accept that some women don’t want to work in that environment and be sure to treasure the ones who do?

Because let’s not forget, it was an all-male Parliament that gave women the right to vote and stand as MPs.  And it’s been Parliaments made up of mostly men that (alongside many other measures) passed The Law of Property Act, allowing husbands and wives to inherit property equally, introduced legal reforms to give women equal pay, made grounds for divorce the same for women and men and introduced statutory maternity provision.  So hey, they can’t be all bad.  Three cheers for our strong men, I say.  Let’s not trample over them in our rush to fill a quota.

 

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7 thoughts on “Lack of women in Parliament? Who cares?

  1. I agree that men can just as easily relate to issues women face, after all isn’t that what empathy means? My personal issue is that we have to have all female line ups in the first place. Most constituencies will have at least one female candidate in the mix come the next election, whether they be for labour, conservative, etc. How many will get elected? I too believe in a meritocracy but I find it insulting to think that the lack of women in parliament is simply due to them not making the cut. Many women want to go into politics, but for some reason this never seems to be represented in the Commons. I don’t think it helps that many avenues into politics, such as an Eton education, are off limits to women but there is probably a more complicated, in-depth psyche at work here. I know politics isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and many wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole but these issues will continue to be raised until society itself becomes gender blind, not simply the politicians who represent it.

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    • Hi Leanne, thanks for reading!

      You’re right to say that there are lots of women who want to stand as MPs. There are also many who do end up getting elected.

      As long as the opportunity to run is there, I think we should be relaxed about overall numbers.

      Replacing one perceived prejudice with another real prejudice is not the answer.

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  2. Come off it Abi. “Because let’s not forget, it was an all-male Parliament that gave women the right to vote and stand as MPs.” Oh, bravo guys, you did the only decent thing you could have done. Have another brandy. How’s the gout, old boy?

    Anyway, more seriously, I think more should be done to get women into parliament because the attitude of too many male politicians is that women are an oddity which leads to all sorts of awful attitudes and behaviour. If we’re dealing in pure meritocracy and getting people who still think it’s ok to take bets on what women are going to be wearing into the chamber, commenting on enjoying the view from across the chamber when a woman rummages in her handbag or ending up with people like Mike Hancock and Chris Rennard knocking about Westminster then surely we’re dealing in at least some of the wrong types of merit? (These are all stories I’ve taken from MPs, I’ve not made these up)

    If I were a woman, I wouldn’t be too keen to go to any of these people with a problem. Now, of course I’m not saying ALL the men in the house are leering perverts who couldn’t possibly understand these issues or anything like that (look at Brooks Newmark, for example) but it wouldn’t fill me with hope that I’m being taken particularly seriously. I also wouldn’t be too keen to stand for election.

    Odd’uns and dinosaurs that cause these type of problems need to get used to women being around and realise that they aren’t an oddity and that going about assuming every woman they meet is a tea lady or a researcher or is going to be totally fine with one taking bets on their outfits isn’t really the way to go.

    So all-female shortlists aren’t taking you out of the race against the big, bad boys because they think you couldn’t win the race, it’s about changing the make-up of Parliament for the better and allowing it to edge, glacially, so glacially, towards a parliament that is gender blind, because everyone is totally au fait with dealing with members of the opposite sex in respectful and easy manner and everyone at home is used to seeing a significant proportion of MPs being female and doing a perfectly good job at it. Is there a better way of doing it?

    Let’s say you become an MP one day Abi, and some leering weirdo rubs himself up against you during a particularly crowded session in the House. We both know you’d know seven shades of shite of him on. the. SPOT. Now there is that argument that Parliament is cut-throat, if you can’t stand the heat etc. and of course, if you’re a bit of a wet weekend, parliament probably isn’t for you. It’s rough and tumble and tense and stressful, but that isn’t the same as having behaviour levelled at you purely because of your gender. Stella Creasy (known hardnut) once asked why women should have to adapt to sexual harassment, and (obviously) she’s right.

    I think more women would help a move toward gender blindness and would help change the attitudes of the aforementioned dinosaurs. Then, hopefully, we can start dealing in meritocracy.

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    • Hahaha Healy you old cynic. Those male MPs did ‘the only decent thing they could have done’ did they? Would you say that about the abolition of the slave trade too? It is just possible that they actually looked at the facts and made a reasoned decision in accordance with their conscience and principles you know. Stranger things have happened!

      As for your comments about male attitudes – I’m not for one minute condoning the kind of things the dinosaurs (yes, they do exist) say and do. Nothing I’ve written implies that we should ignore sexual harassment. But if you think that all-women shortlists are really going to get those men to change their way of thinking, you’re dead wrong. If anything, it’s going to increase resentment because they will think that women haven’t earned their place. It’s totally counter-productive.

      You’re right to say that men do need to get used to the idea that women are around, but guess what?! They already are! What we need are strong ladies to stand who will be respected by their male colleagues and we already have those in spades.

      P.S. As a woman, I’d feel totally comfortable going to a male MP. It’s not like having a cervical smear!

      P.P.S. Thanks for reading :o)

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  3. The argument for female MPs depends in whether you believe sexual discrimination takes place in party decisions to field candidates as well as if there is a bias towards male candidates in the eyes of the public. If there is, then femenists would have a case for their argument as the vast majority of MPs are male and so if this is caused by sexual discrimination then something needs to change whereas if it is as you say, merely because women do not want to enter politics then it should be left alone. However, some would challenge this by saying there must be a reason other than women simply not wanting to enter politics.

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  4. The very fact that an initiative is supported by Miliband automatically discredits it.

    The primary way for women to rise through the ranks is to adopt what are regarded as masculine traits (which isn’t necessarily a good thing) and Thatcher smashed through any perceived glass ceiling by being assertive, opinionated, driven, aggressive and above all by showing she was a leader with principles who demanded respect.

    Since Thatcher we haven’t had anyone, male or female, who has shown such leadership (not even Blair), yet she did demonstrate comprehensively that such characteristics will allow an individual to crash through any perceived glass ceiling and rise to the top irrespective of gender.

    P.S. As a guy, I’d feel totally comfortable going to a female MP. It’s not like having your prostate felt..

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