Should female leaders be expected to address gender equality? – Labour Article
There is no doubting the importance of having representatives who truly reflect us. People want to be heard. They think more accurate representation is the best opportunity for this to occur. But, how can we be sure that representatives who look like us will think the same as us? Quite simply, we can’t.
This issue was one of the reasons Theresa May’s appointment as Prime Minister in July 2016 attracted a great deal of hype. The media were not at all shy in discussing the appointment of our second female PM. Of course, this was a welcome advancement for women in politics. But it was by no means a guarantee that issues of gender equality would be addressed with urgency.
A politician’s gender is certainly not the sole determinant in addressing gender equality. It cannot be intrinsically linked to political opinions. This assertion is foolish; it’s taking a step backwards.
For May, her education and upbringing, and her party affiliation largely determined the direction of her policy. Not forgetting her undertaking of the very burdensome Brexit negotiations.
Yet, when Theresa May resigned as Conservative leader, in June 2019, she was catapulted into a heap of reproval over her lack of action to improve gender equality. Naturally, as with all politicians, some critique was to be expected. But was it correct in this instance? I think not.
I do understand where this comes from. May had ample opportunity to address gender equality. She did not act on this. She stayed scandalously silent when given the opportunity to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland, and cut the budget of the Women and Equalities department by £1 million. The latter being particularly strange given her previous experience as the department’s leader.
So, I am not saying that the former PM was right in neglecting such pressing issues. However, this condemnation was largely attributed to the gendered expectations of female leaders. This is not fair.
It is also very interesting to look at May’s male counterparts in this. They are not subject to the same expectations. I cannot say I am surprised. There is no expectation for Boris Johnson to address gender equality, despite having a voting record that is not dissimilar to May’s.
And, while May was criticised for her lack of addressing such issues, BoJo was given credit that he doesn’t deserve. The recent passing of the Domestic Abuse Bill is a prime example of this. May’s government initiated this legislation but was halted by Johnson’s suspension of parliament. Now, BoJo gets all the credit. What’s his legacy with women? Laughable.
Ultimately, it is not enough to solely rely on female leaders to create change. We have recently seen a huge amount of media coverage surrounding the relationship between a leaders’ gender and their performance against Covid-19. There have been many claims suggesting “women are handling the crisis better”. I unequivocally applaud these women. In this case, gender is a plausible factor in a nation’s performance. (Although sadly, only 19 female world leaders exist). There is a lot to be done before their work alone can result in an extensive transformation.
If we truly want progressive change, every leader and politician, regardless of their gender, must confront issues of gender equality. It is not enough to assume that female leaders will address such issues because of their respective gender. This merely adds yet another unrealistic expectation to the long list that already exists for women in politics.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Abi Clargo
Point of Information
Gender equality is not only a job for female leaders, but for all of us – a Liberal response
I firmly support Abi’s position here. The issue of gender equality has itself become genderised, and women in politics are held to a much higher expectation than male politicians in this regard.
Theresa May was not the champion of equality that many had hoped for when she took office. As Abi points out, the former PM’s record was far from perfect and I am not defending her actions. But our country’s second female Prime Minister did leave a lasting legacy on the Conservative party and it is one that, in my opinion, she does get enough credit for; along with being the Conservative’s first Minister for Women and Equalities, May founded Women2Win, a group in the Tory party that supports female election candidates to try and increase the gender representation of Parliament.
The problem for May was that her time in office became taken over almost entirely by Brexit. And so, there was less time to address issues such as gender equality. At the same time, her legacy on the Tory party has been overshadowed by her handling of our departure from the EU.
There does seem to be an expectation for Female politicians to do more to advance gender equality – an issue that we must not forget involves both genders. Perhaps, rather than an expectation, it is more hope that is placed on female leaders. They are in a position of power to make positive changes and use their voices to help further the cause of gender equality. It was here that Theresa May fell short of the mark.
Written by Guest Liberal writer, Fergus Harris.
Redefining feminism within UK politics to increase male accountability – a Conservative Response
To me, the premise of Abi’s argument is near infallible. For the successful proliferation of gender equality both nationwide and globally, female leaders cannot carry the movement alone.
It’s also true that having a token female leader of government for a short period of time, as with May, would never cure this age-old issue. Nor would this move even marginally succeed to help women feel significantly better represented in our political economy than previously.
The focus of Abi’s article is on the behaviour of those at the top. Figures who undoubtedly have an unequalled power to incite change. However, for real progress to be made, a greater focus must be brought to the behaviour of all individuals, Prime Minister, lawyer or doctor. This is because the issue ferments itself within outdated social norms, and thus impacts every level of social interaction.
So, while Abi notes that, “it is not enough to solely rely on female leaders to create change,” I don’t believe it is the sole role of male leaders either, or any leader to be exact. Accountability, most notably by men within the Feminist Movement, should instead be fostered through re-education or the masses to correct the stigma that the movement is ‘anti-male’ but rather pro-equality.
In this same sense, I am hesitant to agree with Abi’s discussion of claims reporting, “women are handling the crisis better”. Earlier this month, POI published Abbey Milnes’ article on the success of female leaders against Coronavirus – one which took a less dogmatic approach. In agreement with Abbey, I feel it’s important to highlight that this success is down to a more feminine leadership style, not gender in an absolute sense. To lay down blanket statements that define the successes and failures of leaders by gender only reinforces further inequality and prejudice.
If we as feminists are to fight for the legitimation of the movement, it must be sought from a position of equality rather than retribution.
Written by Junior Conservative Writer, Emily Taylor
I’m Abi! I am a liberal, political enthusiast from the Welsh valleys. Since I was young, I have been captivated by politics. I used to spend so much time watching the morning news before school, and have paid close attention to political campaigns for as long as I can remember. It was a lot later that I decided I wanted to pursue politics academically. Now, I have just finished my second year studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Exeter.
I am a second year student reading History and International Relations at the University of Exeter. After my degree, I am hoping to do a Journalism MA.
I am a first year student reading Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Exeter. After completing my degree, I wish to go on to study Public Policy at a postgraduate level.