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The UK’s next Prime Minister is now set to be a woman, after Michael Gove was knocked out of the Conservative leadership contest in the second round of voting.
To the naked eye this may look like a success for feminism, with Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom gaining 199 and 84 votes respectively to Gove’s 46.
In reality, this is closer to a disaster than a success. Although both May and Leadsom are women, it would be an insult to feminism to consider them a part of the movement.
To be a feminist is to not only support equal rights between men and women, but also between different races, religions and sexualities.
However, both May and Leadsom “generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights”.
Most notably, both of them voted in favour of repealing the Human Rights Act 1998.
Regardless of this, Labour MP Jess Phillips took to Twitter to attack her own party for this, saying: “So the next Prime Minister will be a Tory woman. The Labour Party should be ashamed.”
Quite for what, it isn’t clear. But she goes on to tweet, “Dudes, when I’m talking about problems of women in Labour Party and you all come back with stuff about Corbyn you are kinda making my point”.
The idea that men in fortunate situations of privilege are hampering women’s progression in society by merely existing is an attitude more likely to hold back feminism than move it forwards. Surely, if any oppressed section of society is seeking fairer representation, they should be keen to support anyone willing to help them?
Jeremy Corbyn is a far fairer example of a feminist in the sense of promoting equal rights, consistently voting for equal gay rights, consistently voting to support the welfare state and never doing anything in the ball park of voting against the Human Rights Act. Corbyn did not win Labour’s leadership election because he of his gender; he won because of his policies.
In terms of Phillips’ dig at Labour’s apparent lack of representation, it’s important to note that Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet is the first to be composed with a female majority. 17 of the 31 positions are held by women.
Since 1997, the Labour Party have used All Women Shortlists in general elections to increase the proportion of female MPs in their party, and it’s been a success. If anything, this has led to them being accused of “positive sexism”, a seemingly necessary evil to establish gender equality in Westminster. Labour have nothing to be “ashamed” of.
Another female Prime Minister wouldn’t necessarily do wonders for women in politics either. In the run up to becoming PM, Margaret Thatcher was known to have worked with a voice coach. This made her “shrill” voice deeper and more commanding.
Alone, this might be a justifiable act to communicate better. But as her appearance changed to become more masculine, it raised the question of if she changed herself to appeal to those who wouldn’t vote for a “feminine” Prime Minister. May and Leadsom don’t look to be much better.
The next Prime Minster will not be a victory for feminism. It will be a victory for one woman who has a history of voting against equality. Once again, the Tories should be ashamed of themselves.