So you’d think the feminists would have been pleased with the prospect of the next Prime Minister being a woman, right?
You know what women's liberation doesn't look like? A choice of two right-wing, anti-woman leaders who happen to be female. #ToryLeadership
— Laurie Penny (@PennyRed) July 7, 2016
Or that they would be chuffed to bits that the country is now in a very experienced pair of female hands, yes?
I guess we’ll have to forgive them all this desperation though – it must be pretty vexing for people who see themselves as the champions of women’s equality to be losing 2-0 to the Tories with not a pink bus in sight, as David Cameron points out. Not to mention that Thatcher had no time for the women’s movement and Theresa May never played the ‘vote for me because I’m a woman’ card – something Angela Eagle has not been above, and which places her beyond the identity politics into which so many leftists have descended in recent times:
Here's an idea: how about no white men stand for Labour leader? Put your progressive ideals where your money is.
— Caroline CriadoPerez (@CCriadoPerez) July 13, 2016
But this hand wringing is taking place among ideologues and hard left platforms – not the front pages of the mainstream press. That’s because May has had the savvy to position herself in such a way that these sentiments sound unhinged when one looks at the facts.
Theresa May is a woman smart enough to understand the zeitgeist. When, in October 2002 she had the guts to confront her colleagues over their ‘Nasty Party’ image she had her finger on the pulse of public opinion in a way the party desperately needed, and she had the gumption to do something about it.
Events over the past few days have demonstrated that she still gets what people are thinking, and that she’s been playing it all along. She knows people are desperate for her famous no-nonsense attitude but also had the nous to stage a touchy-feely interview about how much she wanted to have children. Leadsom walked into the kafkatrap and was shredded without May having to lift a finger. The same goes for her sartorial savvy; May – as well as anyone without a chip on their shoulder – appreciates that caricature cartoons exaggerating her leopard print shoes are about as sexist as images and headlines that define Boris and Donald by their ridiculous hair, but she just sits back and lets the magic happen; she knows there’s an outrage army out there who will rise to the bait whether she wants them to or not. It’s a pattern that keeps happening – Ken Clarke calls her a ‘bloody difficult woman’, he gets called a sexist, she laughs it off and suddenly everyone’s thrilled because a ‘bloody difficult woman’ is exactly what we need at the helm.
This goes for her policy as well as her persona. May understands that there has been a huge renaissance – particularly among the young – of Marxist style identity politics. Perhaps because she recognises this, and perhaps to avoid comparisons with Thatcher, May has always gone out of her way to support women in parliament, and continues to do so in the appointment of women to senior government positions.
Her first speech as PM set out a clear social justice agenda, and there are some of us that might be disappointed in all this affirmative action and her touting of disingenuous wage gap ideas. But we should take heart in the fact that she wasn’t afraid to draw attention to the problem of white boys’ educational under-achievement. She’s won’t be hurling around accusations of white heteropatriarchal privilege any time soon – she’s not blinded by ideology.
It is a testament to May’s intelligence that she understands she simply has to deal in identity politics because of what the other side is like. Even with an impressive list of pro woman initiatives up her sleeve, she is still being told that she’s not a feminist by Laurie Penny because she thinks there should be a time limit for abortions. With opponents that vicious and ideological people in the centre have no choice but to play along with this agenda – the army of gender zombie activists ready to rally at the cry of prejudice is just too large and powerful to ignore. Better to tick their boxes and then get on with the job of grown up stateswomanship than open yourself to their infantile invective. Besides, her choice to frame her agenda as one of social justice simply has the effect of making the ‘vote for me because I’m a gay woman’ antics of Angela Eagle look all the more pathetic. She’s pulled the same stunt with the Leave camp – by promising that Brexit means Brexit and appointing Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary she’s taken the wind out of the sails of those who would accuse her of a lack of commitment to the referendum result.
Theresa May knows that 48% of the country didn’t want to leave the EU, but she also heard the chanting for Brexit when she was making her first speech as PM. She realises she’s inherited a divided country, and it’s possible that her careful positioning of herself as a moderate Remainer who is happy to put Brexiteers in charge of both the Foreign Office and Brexit, just like her never complain, never explain attitude to the gender baiting going on around her will equip her to handle one of the most difficult situations UK politics has ever seen.
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