The UK Has Gained a Female PM, But Getting There Has Only Highlighted How Far We Have to Go

On Wednesday Theresa May became the United Kingdom’s 76th prime minister, and only the 2nd woman to hold the title since Margaret Thatcher left office in 1990. And whilst it may have been 26 years since the Iron Lady was in power, it became unfortunately apparent early on that attitudes towards women in positions of political power haven’t quite yet caught up in time. In those 26 years those attitudes should have matured into strong open-minded adults who take pleasure from reading a good book and having an interesting discussion at the pub. Yet, somehow, it seems as though they never quite got past the sulky phase where they do have a working brain, but would rather play video-games and pull someone’s chair out from behind them for a laugh.

That’s not to say, of course, that gender equality hasn’t completely come on leaps and bounds – even the two-woman fight to the final stages of the Conservative leadership race was a positive and refreshing example of strong political female leaders we usually lack in British politics. We need look no further than the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon to see that there very much is a place in politics for powerful and successful female leaders. In fact, it’s the current climate of positive gender-equality rhetoric and discussion that made it all the more disappointing to see this kind of coverage:

 

Then there’s the cringe-worthy female associations that you would simply never see in the reporting of a male PM. Where was the photo of David Cameron’s trousers? The close-up of Gordon Brown’s tie? The cartoon of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove fighting over a briefcase?

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In the first paragraph of the Evening Standard’s interview with May, journalist’s Sarah Sands and Joe Murphy feel it is necessary to reference May’s home surroundings as if interviewing a celebrity in Grazia:

“The exotic flashes include an abstract picture of a blue horizon by Tobias Trenwith, a taste in recipes that extends to Ottolenghi and of course the shoes. May declines to say how many pairs she owns, protesting that she certainly has fewer than Imelda Marcos”

But of course, how could they ever interview the next prime minister without probing into her shoe collection? The same question was asked to David Cameron, right?

To make matters worse, even candidate Andrea Leadsom herself failed to present an approach which wasn’t stuck in the 1950’s, with her comments that she would make a better prime minister than May because she had children.  It’s so disappointing to hear a woman who is vying for control of the country – someone who could have a real impact on the future of women and gender equality – to reduce her qualities to focus solely on her ability as a mother. One silver lining that emerged was the nationwide outrage that ensued, displaying that – thank god – this isn’t a view commonly shared.

And, of course, the endless comparisons to Margaret Thatcher. As the first and second women to hold office, from the same political party and of similar social backgrounds, comparisons between Thatcher and May are of course inevitable. But where does it end? I completely understand if something were to be referenced in relation to policy or leadership style. But repeatedly making the comparison solely because of gender seems pointless and narrow-sighted. Has anyone considered if May has anything in common with anyone other former Prime Ministers, or would that be seen as redundant? Portraying that we can only compare a woman to another woman sadly feels as though it is keeping these politicians within gender boundaries.

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And so, we can only hope that May’s time in power encourages a shift in media coverage. Perhaps the media simply never bothered to check the year that we’re in from the day Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister ended. I can only hope that with May in power it can be realised that we can handle gender neutral coverage of politicians. Remember that time we needed a photo of a shoe to explain David Cameron’s speech on… oh.

Post by Lizzie Scourfield

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