Women in politics: Are the wives and daughters of male MPs all we need?

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?



9 thoughts on “Women in politics: Are the wives and daughters of male MPs all we need?

  1. Yes, I find the status quo incredibly saddening. Becoming a mother meant re-entering the public sphere as an absence, an abjection. Before children, I was a Fellow of a Cambridge college. After giving birth, I became… not there. Resigned. Retired. I fought back, tried different careers and lines of work. But each time I was ultimately beaten back by the needs of the family. And in the end what did for me in terms of a career in the public sphere was my own feelings about my children and what they needed from a mother. Since I was the only one they had, I had to step down to the job. I would say “step up”, but it wouldn’t reflect reality. Working out what I wanted from motherhood has been far harder to me than working for that Fellowship ever was…

  2. You do touch on a very important point, then proceed to dismiss it. Gender issues are very different than many other issues. The rich white powerful men in office are not living in a world apart from women. There are real women these individuals really interact with on a daily basis. These people have many women whom they care deeply about and have strong emotional investments in. The rich white powerful men do not live in a world apart from women the way they live in a world apart from the poor or racial minorities or the disabled.

    It is not “women” that politicians are out of touch with, but the poor. Not just poor women, poor men and women. It is not “women” that politicians are out of touch with, but minorities. Not just minority women, but minority women and men. It is not “women” that politicians are out of touch with. It is the 99% of society that they don’t have contact with.

    1. I don’t dismiss that point. I think it’s perfectly valid to emphasise that politicians – all of them – don’t represent the vast majority of people. However, this isn’t a reason not to focus on the way in which they seek to get around this when it comes to the issue of gender. It’s a different tactic to that used elsewhere. Moreover (and I think this does need to be explored more) in present womankind and their concerns via their wives and daughters they creat an image of women and women’s concerns as primarily upper middle class, which then reinforces the idea that working-class issues are male working-class issues (thereby reinforcing the double discrimination that working-class women face).

      1. Your trying to make the point that because *penis* elected officials are not representing women. They are not representing their wives their daughters their mothers their aunts their cousins. This is bunk.

        Elected officials are not representing the poor or middle class. Male and female poor and middle class. Trying to inject gender into a non-gendered problem is distracting from the real issues.

        Note:not an intersectionality issue. The women that are being represented are being represented based on social class. The women not being represented are not being represented based on social class. There is no oppression of women to be intersectional with.

        1. Women had husbands, fathers, brothers, sons etc before they had suffrage. The existence of family relationships does not magically remove the fact of the ‘oppression of women’

        2. It wasn’t until the third reform act in 1887 that “men” as a group actually got the right to vote. In 1918 “women” as a group got the right to vote. This 31 year gap between men and women is really the closest it comes to “men” oppressing “women” and not the rich (including women) oppressing the poor (including men)

          There was never an “oppression of women”

          Today there is not a living woman that has been denied the vote based on gender. The officials are elected by an electorate that is majority female. So claiming “oppression of women” because women have voted males into office is simply bullshit.

        3. It’s pretty much impossible to take seriously someone who claims that women have never been systematically oppressed.

  3. I think it was Tony Benn who mooted the idea of each constituency being represented by two MPs – 1 male and 1 female. I am sure it would involve needing to change constituency boundaries etc in order to ensure the overall number of MPs doesn’t have to double, but I would love to see an absolute equal split in government.

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