In this week’s Cabinet reshuffle female MPs were promoted to roles formerly dominated by men. But, somewhat unsurprisingly, UK prime minister David Cameron’s promotions have failed to achieve a positive reaction from the public. Many people, who would otherwise be in favour of more women entering the Cabinet, have pointed out that Cameron has in fact promoted just two women, with Elizabeth Truss becoming secretary of state for the environment and Nicky Morgan replacing Michael Gove as education secretary, while employment minister Esther McVey’s brief was only tweaked slightly so she could sit in the Cabinet. However, with only 10 months until the General Election, most people simply saw Cameron’s reshuffle, not as an attempt to rebalance his male-dominated party, but as a PR stunt to boost the Tory party’s image.
Women’s underrepresentation in politics has long been seen as a problem. Think back to the 1997 General Election, during which a record number of female Labour MPs entered government, in the phenomenon known as ‘Blair’s Babes’. This was received as an extremely positive thing. And, while Cameron’s reshuffle was seen as an obvious ploy, his and Blair’s rationale was the same. The rationale being that having more women in government means a better, more consensual, more feminine government. As Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore reflected, ‘the Tories have finally realised they need a woman’s touch’.
But doesn’t this idea in itself need questioning? Yes, it is positive that more women are getting involved in politics, but they shouldn’t be promoted on the basis of their gender, but on the basis of their experience and beliefs. Suggesting that women can bring something different to politics than men, as Moore does, turns biology into a virtue. By praising this caricature of the female personality, we destroy any chance of achieving equality between men and women in society, quite simply because it suggests that women are different to men.
The whole idea that women can feminise politics for the better is backward and anti-feminist. Previous generations of women fought for equality and to be given the same opportunities as men. They fought for the right to be recognised as no different; as being as capable as men. Today, it seems like the focus is less on what makes us equal, than it is on recognising what makes us different.
Nathalie Farrugia is a spiked intern.