This comment was in response to an editorial in today’s Times
I am astonished that people are still trotting out the same tired old arguments to defend the male choke-hold on politics. I’ve met many politicians whose ability varies wildly, so the notion that the only thing stopping women from entering politics and advancing once they do is their lack of ‘merit’ is simply ludicrous.
The UK now stands 52nd in the world in terms of female representation in national-level politics, behind Rwanda and Argentina. Rather than finding this a source of embarrassment for a modern nation that seeks to lecture others about democracy and human rights, people defend it as somehow ‘natural’ or – here we go again – they blame women themselves.
Do these dinosaurs actually believe that there is something particular to British women, from bankers to barmaids, that makes them less able than any and all men? It beggars belief.
Several years ago I read a comprehensive US study about why men and women do/don’t go into politics. Through thousands of interviews, the researchers found that the most common reason people think of going into politics in the first place is because someone suggests they do. And guess what? No one ever says that to women, no matter how educated or articulate. Conversely, expressing a view about the football match at a pub is enough to have a guy’s mates telling him he ‘should be prime minister’.
The corollary is that even the most accomplished women – including CEOs who’d graduated magna cum-laude from Harvard – didn’t feel they had the particular skill required for politics. Among men, on the other hand, the researchers found that everyone from street cleaners to factory workers to IT professionals think they would do a good job as president.
Until we stop hiding behind illiterate bigotry and start looking at political culture – how we recognise ‘leadership’ qualities, what ‘authority’ sounds like, and the mechanics of a life in elected office – the political landscape is unlikely to change much. The first step is to think it’s important enough to do so, and there’s little evidence we’re there yet.