Our Absurd Gender Debate: We Have a Woman PM. So what?

2016 has been a dispiriting year: icons such as David Bowie and Prince have died; the horror of the terrorist and hate-fuelled attacks continue to appear on our news feeds daily; the politics of hate vomited all over our newspapers and TV screens during the hideous referendum debate. Nigel Farage. Brexit. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. And now the choice of our new Prime Minister has come down to one thing: how good a woman is she? Cue the Vagenda outcries, cue Everyday Sexism, cue women across the UK rolling their eyes: not this again, surely?

Kenneth Clarke, the patriarch’s wet dream, called May a “bloody difficult woman.” Theresa May isn’t a “bloody difficult leader” she is a bloody difficult woman. Because a woman in a high profile job, whose views you may disagree with, is always difficult, right? do I give damn about what she wears? No. Do I care that she doesn’t have children? No. Could I tell you exactly how old she is and what her fashion sense is - yes, because that’s all I’ve been able to read about each and every time I flick through a newspaper. It’s like Germaine Greer and Simone de Beauvoir never happened. A generation of women who burned their bras must be wondering why the hell they bothered.

Newspapers have been filled not with May’s views on human rights or immigration, but with stories dedicated to shoes, handbags, fighting with handbags, marriage, children, cooking and hairstyles. Angela Eagle launched her campaign in a sea of pink on Monday, because pink is for girls and blue is for boys of course. As Judith Butler argued in Bodies that Matter, it’s that kind of performative colour-coded conditioning that fucks us all up in the first place. Some argued Eagle’s matching pink jacket presented a calmer, softer approach to leadership than that offered by the harsher May. Maybe the leadership bid should just be decided in a special episode of Bake Off: whoever makes the cutest iced-pink cupcakes wins?

 May’s fashion sense is proving more popular a topic for articles than her policies

Here come the girls” the Daily Star reported, as if the race to number 10 was a Boots commercial, with May and Leadsom vying for the best shades of number 7 this summer. The day after she became leader the front cover of the Sun showed a picture of May’s shoes with the headline “heel, boys.” It was accompanied by a story that she would “whip” everyone into shape and that she would be “crowned” prime minister taking us between an uncomfortable image of Queen Theresa as the answer to all our prayers and Ms May the terrifying dominatrix: woman as angel, woman as hoe.

May’s fashion sense is proving more popular a topic for articles than her policies; she will bring “glamour” according to this piece thus making her an ideal candidate for PM. This in The Telegraph discussed how “away from the controversial row on motherhood, what really matters in this competition is who can fill David Cameron’s shoes, or replace them with something more stylish.” I wondered if I did attend feminism classes at university or if I had dreamt it. Was Virginia Woolf real? As I slapped myself across the face with A Vindication of the Rights of Women, I woke and remembered it did actually happen. Why has everyone else bloody well forgotten?

The debate on the gender of our new prime minister is absurd, ridiculous and it is quite unnecessary

Virginia Woolf wrote about the “curious disparity” between books written about men in A Room of One’s Own, and those written about women: books about women filled her university library. Just a cursory glance of last week’s newspaper’s reveals more column space was dedicated to May and Leadsom than their male leadership-contender counterparts, fulfilling every single “male gaze” cultural gendered stereotype you could imagine. English teacher’s up and down the country will be printing each and every one of these articles for their A Level student’s summer projects: gendered stereotypes – a case study. Women as mother - check! Women as a good cook - check! Women described in parts as opposite to a whole - ding, ding, ding!

Margaret Thatcher famously had phonetic classes to make her voice more masculine and therefore stronger in a world of men. Today - on Twitter - many are discussing whether or not Angela Eagle will be a suitable leader based on the pitch, intonation and tone on her voice. Is this what a modern debate on the qualities of our female political leaders has become? A debate about their voice on Twitter? Hashtag utter bollocks.  

The debate on the gender of our new prime minister is absurd, ridiculous and it is quite unnecessary. The media should be concentrating on informing the public on her policies, views and beliefs are. How they are going to govern us should be at the centre of information about them, and nothing much else. Compare 1970s headline’s about Thatcher’s election to PM with those of May today and they are frighteningly similar. With Brexit, the demonisation of the working classes, the increase in race attacks and now a reemergence of gender bias, it really does feel like Britain is heading back to its bad old days.

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