Laura Trott, originally appointed to advise David Cameron on how his policies will affect women, will now have to cover education and childcare, too. This reminds me of one of my dad’s sayings, which he’d use to explain why men shouldn’t have to do housework: “why have a dog and bark yourself?” The fact is, if you’ve already got one woman to deal equality (whatever that means, eh?), you might as well get her to deal with all the other “calm down, dear” laydees’ issues – childcare, early years, that sort of thing.
I imagine in another 17 months Trott will get tights, makeup and the colour pink added to her portfolio. Maybe they’ll also allow her to stick a broom up her arse and sweep the Houses of Parliament as she goes along (it’s possible they’ve also confused her with the cyclist Laura Trott and think she’ll win them pretty gold medals, too).
It’s not that I think education and childcare, and the impact other policies will have on them, aren’t important. There’s just something about handing these things over to a “women’s issues” woman that reeks of an attitude that says it’s all much of a muchness. According to the Guardian “education and childcare are thought to be key to winning over the support of female swing voters at the next election”. While I can see some truth in that, the brazen way in which these issues are lumped together — Things Women Care About™, not things about which we should all care — verges on the rude. Even public health minister Anna Soubry (hater of all lunchtime desk eaters) feels she was appointed to her particular post because it’s wrongly seen as a “soft, bloody girly option”. Leave the proper politics to the boys and get the women to mop up afterwards.
And yet I don’t even think that it would help to have a male adviser on childcare instead. After all, childcare is primarily done by women. What’s more, it is an issue relating to gender equality due to the impact it has on a woman’s ability to earn money and have a public presence. Especially in a Tory party context, appointing a male adviser on childcare might look more than a little mansplainy (can’t trust those “stupid women” to know what’s good for them). Unfortunately, what we’re getting instead is a situation in which women get the issues which are considered less important and women’s issues are given to the people who are considered less important. If you’re the average Tory male it probably looks like a perfect match-up.
Perhaps part of the problem is that we’re even calling it childcare, though. It all sounds a bit fluffy, as though women in politics are on hand to dole out weaning tips, potty training advice and recommended bedtime reads. In a broader sense what we’re actually dealing with – with childcare as with any other form of carer role – is unpaid labour, economic exclusion and grossly undervalued contributions to the health, well-being and productivity of others. It is a massive issue. It deserves space all of its own. Oh, but it’s a women’s issue, too. Can’t we fit it under that umbrella? I’m really not sure that we should.
Indeed, I’m starting to think that looking at “the impact on women” of various policies is itself an enormous cop-out. Or rather, if women are half the human race – we are, aren’t we? – why aren’t our “issues” broken up to the point at which they take up half of all political discussion space? By this I don’t mean pink/blue, boy/girl gendered politics, but a politics which doesn’t take certain concerns and hive them off as “one for the ladies to deal with”. A politics which doesn’t present male (and primarily white, middle-class, heterosexual male) experience of the world as the thing, all others being equal, to which we should all aspire. After all, if the ladies got their act together and sorted out the “equalities” stuff – all those issues that are neatly passed over to them, tied up in a metaphorical pink ribbon – who’d we be left with to make the tea? These things are not separate. These jobs don’t disappear.
This ridiculously entitled position — “I’m doing some important things – you, over there, look at the impact on those who are Other and see how best to market it to Them” — has got things so horribly back to front. The thing is, I can’t even work out whether it’s intentional or not. As ever, we’re being governed by people who don’t seem to notice they’re putting us in our place. As far as they’re concerned, that’s just where we belong and it’s actually terribly generous of them to enquire whether or not we’re enjoying the view.