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Jenny Willott, Equalities Minister for the Liberal Democrats, has recently criticised the fact that none of the party’s cabinet ministers are women, whilst also supposing that the insufficiently low number of women standing as Lib Dem MPs – only 12 percent – is due to the male-centric atmosphere of parliament. In particular, Prime Minister’s Questions is notorious for the highly competitive and traditionally masculine ethos that she believes dissuades those socialised into a more compassionate behavioural model of femininity from articulating themselves freely.
Interestingly, her claims are reaffirmed by politicians from different parties, such as Lady Jenkins, who runs the Conservative Women2Win campaign. She sympathised, saying: “The constant criticism of women in politics is hard. You’d think why would I? I stood once and I hated it. I hated being spat at on the street because [of wearing] a rosette.” Jenkins’ comments represent an oppression of female agency that is commonplace for women generally and heightens the need to address female disenfranchisement in the public sphere. If the focus on the mistreatment of women seems somehow threatening to male representation, remember that the reason for its prominence is due to a pre-existing gender imbalance that exclusively marginalises women. The plea for more women to occupy positions in parliament is a re-assessment of this inequality that aligns with the progression of society in disqualifying the many aspects of oppression.
This not to say that parliament has a “woman problem” – as journalistic jargon conventionally proposes – because the use of such discourse would purport the innocuous notion that it is unnatural for women to occupy positions of power. Of course, this is a reality we have been familiar with as a result of a wilfully misogynistic prejudice. Put simply, 51 percent of the world’s population are women and therefore it is only logical that a similarly high percentage of parliamentary positions should be filled by self-defining female politicians. Some people may argue that the representation of self-defining women via policy is the most important aspect of political practice and this argument is valid, but consider the truthful notion that those who have intimate knowledge of a particular identity experience are the most equipped to handle policy pertaining to it. It is just as unfair to expect male politicians to display expert handling of policies that predominantly affect women as it is to perpetuate the exclusion of women who correctly fear institutionalised misogyny would hamper a possible political career. It is important to note that persons of all genders should feel able to push a wide-range of policies, but there is currently a bias towards men that is an arguably ineffective organisation of political representation. Criticism of the competitive, quarrelsome debates in the House of Commons are widespread throughout society and the prevalence of hegemonic masculinity is the root of the combativeness. It is therefore unappealing to women, who are already discriminated against due to the inherent misogyny of certain aspects of socialised masculinity.
In addition, action must be taken to solve the other factors discouraging women from filling parliamentary positions, such as the recently exposed “sexually inappropriate behaviour” from the former Chief Executive, Lord Rennard. Unfortunately this abuse of power is not specific to one party or even restricted to parliament, as proven by the recent exposure of the similarly predatory behaviour of men holding senior positions within TV networks.
It is reasonable to say that female under-representation and – in some cases – exploitation is a result of the aforementioned masculine competitiveness that is now largely redundant as society begins to break away from “traditional gender roles”. The rectification of oppression towards people on account of their gender must continue and actively welcoming women MPs into parliament is an important step towards achieving a fair and unified society.