I think we can all agree that 2016 has been an eventful year, and it’s far from over. We have seen the UK vote to leave the European Union, thirty-six years after we joined. We have seen one Prime Minister resign to be swiftly replaced by another, and the re-election of one of the Labour Party’s most controversial leaders after a vote of no confidence.
Amongst this though, we have had a breakthrough. Women are dominating politics in such a way unseen for decades. We have highly influential women leading countries and parties worldwide and, whilst this shouldn’t be so incredulous, it is major step forward in the way women are viewed and represented globally. Yet, are things improving for women? Are women feeling more equal as a result of strong female leadership? Are the social aspects of a women’s life improving? Are less women getting sexually harassed on the streets because we have a female Prime Minister? I think the majority of women would answer “no” to the above.
In general, Theresa May is yet to be considered as a feminist icon, but I hope she gets the opportunity to change the way women are perceived and treated. Women and young girls need to be able to have confidence in the leadership to make further progress for gender equality.
We can look at the likes of Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the largest party in Scotland and the leading figure in Scottish nationalism, who has taken a stand against the sexism that dominates how society perceives women. She has often spoken out against media outlets who prefer to discuss her choice of makeup or clothing rather than her policies. The Daily Mail was quoted as saying “Nicola Sturgeon is living proof women become sexier with age, income and office”. If the media made the same comment about a male counterpart they would be criticised for being inappropriate, yet it seems quite normal to comment on a women in this way. It casts doubt on those who are usually optimistic about the shifting representation of women in politics.
Theresa May has received the same treatment since she became Home Secretary. The media can’t help but make comments about what Mrs May chose to wear that day, or comment on the ridiculousness of her having breasts, which seemed to come as a shock to those who reported on it during one of the most important days of the parliamentary timetable; the Budget. So, rather than the media report on George Osborne’s annual budget, they regarded a women’s breasts the most important news topic of the day this emphasises, again, the fact that women are not being taken seriously in politics.
“The home secretary chose to don a smart red dress suit and spiral necklace – with an impressive helping of cleavage – for today’s Budget announcement,” announced The Express, whilst The Sun labelled their article “Busty Budget”. It is utterly exasperating that we appear to take one step forward and two steps back in gender equality. We have female leaders who are in positions of such influence and power, and yet they are not being judged based on their ability to lead, they are being judged on how well they can pull off a certain outfit or how their makeup looks.
Another issue facing women in politics is the fertility issue. Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon have both faced attacks about their lack of children and the seemingly bizarre phenomenon that is childless women. The fact that both Theresa May and Ms Sturgeon had to come forward and describe the traumatic reasons surrounding why they do not have children shows how backwards and shameful the media seem to be. A women who is unable to have children is not some social pariah that the media can mock, and a leader of a country should not have to explain herself in that way to the world. You would not see any male politician be slaughtered in that way for not having children, and if he was, the focus would probably be on his partner and her inability to conceive.
Yet, if a female leader does have children, then that causes a whole different attack. Questions over their ability to be a mother come into play, and they are criticised for not staying at home with their offspring, as if they are in the wrong for daring to have a career. The media attacked Margaret Thatcher for ‘abandoning’ her children, yet failed to recognise she had a husband who was perfectly capable of looking after them. When did David Cameron ever face this sort of criticism? He had a wife did he not? The fact that people see women as mothers before anything else is one of the many reasons women cannot progress in the world. They are mothers and wives first, employees, leaders, etc. later.
I find it laughable that in 2016, we still have this archaic view of women in politics. You don’t have to look far to find the countless sexist comments people have made about female leaders over the last few decades. Thatcher was described as being, “the only man in the Conservative Party”, as if a women cannot possibly be tough and hard, and those characteristics only exist for men to inhabit. The media seem to feel threatened by a strong female leader, thus criticising them for being ‘manly’ and ‘too domineering’, yet the same behaviour from a male leader is ‘strong’, ‘powerful’ and not to be criticised.
Alas my rant is over, but I do believe that we have serious issues that need to be addressed before women can say they are treated completely equally in politics. We have progressed, but not far enough. I hope the leaders of today can take strides to improve the politics of tomorrow and encourage more women to step forward and get involved in politics, because women are just as important as men. It is a wonderful time for women in politics at the moment, and I am genuinely excited for the future of our country’s government and the impact that women will have in it.