Political Promise

In Defence of Women in Politics

In Uncategorized on August 5, 2010 at 2:44 pm

By Charlotte Jee


There is much truth to the old adage that you can tell a lot about a man from the woman he chooses to marry, but you can equally tell a lot about our national mindset, with all its prejudices and assumptions, from the treatment in the media of those with the dubious pleasure of being a woman in or around politics.

Consider, as rationally as you can, one such example: Cherie Booth- wife of Tony Blair. One thing is certain: she sometimes displayed a lack of decorum when expressing her views; she went against the stereotype of quiet, stay-at-home political consorts who kept their opinions to themselves, and she was arguably the ‘lowest-born’ of all Prime Ministers’ wives, but is this enough to justify the vitriol most sections of the press poured on her while her husband was in office, and beyond?

Unlike Sarah Brown (and certainly unlike Samantha Cameron, or ‘SamCam’ as she is affectionately known), Cherie Booth did not have a particularly privileged upbringing, and yet she went on to defy her lot in life and become an incredibly successful barrister and patron of several worthwhile charities- a fact in itself which makes her worth recognition, if not applause.

The point is- while I do not feel particularly drawn to her as a person, I feel more ashamed by the casual nature of the outrage and abuse that the British public, from the Daily Mail to dinner party guests, feel they have the right to fling at her, and other women in and around politics who defy our comfortable stereotypes.

The most shameful fact about the spleen vented at such women is that it often focuses first and foremost, and occasionally no more than, on their appearance. Cherie had the misfortune of seeming to fit the archetype of the uncontrollable, opinionated woman (qualities that would be routinely praised if they were found in a man), and, shock horror, she wasn’t particularly attractive, instantly making her fair game for all sorts of cruel comments written about her by hacks who, frankly, aren’t oil paintings either.

This trend goes beyond politicians’ wives into female politicians themselves- Theresa May, one of the four women in the 23-strong cabinet, has been the subject of some laughably patronising articles- such as a recent gem by Quentin Letts for the Daily Mail, describing her as a ‘head girl’ figure, ‘tough but unhysterical’ (because the rest of us ‘girls’ are hysterical?) Sadly, furthermore, several sections of the press seem unable to cure themselves of an unhealthy obsession with the Home Secretary’s’ jackets and shoes- a crime unfortunately also committed by many female commentators. Really, they should be focusing on commending her recent decision to review anti-terror laws and denouncing her for scrapping a scheme to protect victims of domestic violence, not cooing over her lipstick.

I could try to get even by talking about Eric Pickles’ jowls, Iain Duncan Smith’s teeth that weird thing Gordon Brown did with his mouth, but actually, I don’t want to. I’d rather we saved our energy and anger for the issues that really matter.

You may say that this is merely a reflection of what people what to read. But I for one don’t, and I suspect I’m not alone. Also, just a thought, if we really want women- with all their unrecognised talent and diversity of opinion- to enter politics in greater numbers  (which is necessary as we currently languish below Afghanistan, Namibia, Kyrgyzstan and many more for female MP numbers) maybe we should stop banging on about their appearance and start taking them seriously.

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