International Women’s Day saw what became essentially a pissing competition in British parliament over which political party represents women the most. Corbyn begins the day by wishing us women a happy International Women’s Day, and pointing out that his shadow cabinet is 50:50 men to women. He says that since his election, the Labour Party has made large leaps to improve gender equality in the party, as it has more female members than any other party. Theresa May says her party are taking measures to make the party more equal but fails to say exactly how. Then, Conservative MP Victoria Atkins says very truthfully that International Women’s Day is a chance to reflect on the ways in which governments and democracies serve women, then tells the benches that when it comes to prime ministers, the Conservatives are 2:0. May later repeats that their party have given two female prime ministers, but again fails to say what measures her party are taking to make the Conservatives more equal. Apparently it is unknown to the Tory party, and Labour fail to mention that one woman in the leading position does not instantly mean gender discrimination within that organization is gone. Measures still need to be made.
Equality is not in conservatism’s interests. Conservatism wants the most for the top few. Equality, specifically gender equality, wants a fairer starting ground, equal opportunities, and justice. The Tory party actively oppose that, no matter how much Theresa May says they don’t. Their actions very clearly prove otherwise: take for example the devastating cuts that David Cameron made to public services in 2015 and 2016, while he personally benefited from an offshore tax haven. Take the recent cuts that have been made on disability benefits, in which the Tory party are asking job centre employees to place a wheelchair behind someone then whip it out from underneath them just as they bend to sit down.
On the subject of Thatcher and May (Britain’s only two female prime ministers), they are both unequivocally anti-feminist. May so far has had multiple opportunities to move the Conservative party in a more feminism based direction, and has sat idly by whilst the situation gets worse. She’s sided and held hands with a self-confessed sexual predator. Thatcher in her whole time in parliamentary office refused to hire even one woman, as she wanted to be the only woman in the room. Her office occurred at such a pivotal time for the outside-of-the-government feminist movement, and she could have bolstered it, but alas, she served for her own wallet’s self interest and refused to effect change. Both prime ministers (and every other Tory prime minister) use austerity to make them and their pals at the top even more money. Austerity is justified by the Tories as a necessary evil, yet I can’t help but think that its vileness and willingness to target the poorest and most vulnerable people in this country makes it completely unnecessary.
It seems bizarre to me that Theresa May is not a feminist. She has to undergo horrific sexism on a daily basis even from her peers. She is seen to have been “allowed” to be prime minister. A progressive British newspaper said this about her husband: “Phillip May is known in politics as a man who has taken a back seat and allowed his wife, Theresa, to shine”. Like her becoming running for prime minister was his allowing. As soon as May announced she was running for PM, journalists scrambled to get an image of her home life; is she particularly domestic? Does she cook, clean? Does she smile? Is she thin enough to be PM? Is she grateful enough? What does her Husband think? These are questions we would never ask a man because it would be rude to do so. I don’t know if May recognized this as sexism or whether she didn’t. Either way she doesn’t walk the walk, even if she does talk the talk (though I’ve never heard it). Her speeches regarding women are full of phatic language. She uses the fact that she’s a woman to score points, as seen in the IWD debate on March 8th. She downright refuses to accept the fact that maybe the Tories might contribute to an ongoing system of oppression and degradation. Theresa May treats feminism as if it is a rope to the other side – the male side – of the world. She treats equality as if it is simply women learning how to behave like men.
It’s a shame that International Women’s Day was reduced to point scoring rather than setting differences aside and having an actual debate about what the British government can do to help minorities in this country. It’s sad that Britain has a woman for prime minister who refuses to give a leg up to other women. Really though, it’s a shame that every prime minister we’ve ever had has done very little to bolster and elevate feminism. I guess it just hurts more that two of those prime ministers were and are women.