When only one in five MPs are women and 85% of Cabinet ministers are male it’s easy to worry that women’s needs will be ignored. After all, if our policy makers inhabit a world in which the vast majority of people are men, isn’t that likely to colour their view of the people they represent? While it’s clear that women do not all share the same concerns, wouldn’t an environment in which being a woman is not in and of itself anomalous offer a good starting point from which to consider the diversity of all women’s views? I think it would; it bothers me that we remain so far from achieving this.
Of course, it could be that I worry too much. After all, it’s not as though the average MP has no contact whatsoever with womankind. Male MPs might, by and large, have been raised in creepy, ultra-posh all-male environments, but it’s not as though they never come face to face with real, live women in the here and now. They have wives! PAs! Nannies! Cleaners! Some of them even have daughters! What’s that if not an emotional investment in the future of the female population?
Take David Cameron, for instance. He is married to Sam Cam, who not only kicks Cherie Blair’s ass at sari-wearing cultural appropriation, but sets her husband straight regarding all things woman-related (what with her being a woman). Thanks to her he knows women need reassuring that they’re looking amazing! Thanks to her he’s able to make jokes about liking entrepreneurs because he shags one! And thanks to her he knows that telling a female MP to “calm down, dear” isn’t sexist after all because his wife was totes cool with it. Why have more women MPs when our very own PM, David Cameron, is married to an actual woman?
But it gets better than that. Not only does PM David Cameron have a wife but Chancellor George Osborne has a ten-year-old daughter. What’s more, she was in favour of having a female face other than the Queen on banknotes! Hear that, ladies? Why are we even having a debate about all-women shortlists when Osborne has, to quote the current Elle UK, a “secret feminist […] fighting for women’s rights” in his very own home? Obviously there’s a limit to Osborne himself can do about banknotes (he clearly lacks the vast wealth and political privilege of, say, non-rich, non-MP Caroline Criado-Perez) but he was at least pleased when the banknote campaign succeeded:
‘They might be small things, but they are powerful signals, especially to young girls like my 10-year-old daughter,’ he added.
Aw! Way to make caring about the representation of women sound not unlike having a crush on Justin Bieber! Still, just in case it sounds as though Osborne’s perception of women might seem slanted towards very young, white, mega-privileged ones, it’s worth bearing in mind that he’s also conversed with older, white, mega-privileged ones like Sheryl Sandberg. Job done!
I can’t believe I’m the only one who finds this immensely dispiriting. It would be bad enough if the concerns of womankind were viewed only through the eyes of the kind of women who reach parliament, but it’s not even that. So few women even reach parliament than male MPs take to quoting female members of their own families as a way of showing they’re still in touch. David Cameron’s wife and George Osborne’s daughter may have perfectly valid views but they cannot speak for the vast majority of women, for whom financial constraints reinforce gender inequalities in a wide variety of ways. Moreover, their presence and their position — as supportive spouses or plucky minors — cannot replace the presence of women in genuine positions of authority.
Cameron describes his wife as a “brilliant mother” who is “keeping me sane”, which is all very nice but rather irrelevant, unless we see this as women’s position in the political process, mopping the furrowed brows of those poor men placed with the burden of running the world. Sure, it’s good to know that almost a century after women got the vote, men such as Cameron still don’t have to come home to the domestic disasters feared by those opposing women’s suffrage, but weren’t we expecting more?