In the wake of the recent general election, a good deal of post-election comment has focussed on the increased number of women MP’s entering parliament, with most of the major parties welcoming more women in to their ranks.
On the night of the election, and in the teeth of the growing grim horror of realising this country had elected for itself the most right wing government we have ever had, there were individual bright moments: Naz Shah’s victory in Bradford was made all the sweeter because she ousted the pinnacle of left-ist misogyny George Galloway; and Mhairi Black’s victory and acceptance speech was also another very bright spot indeed.
Both of these women, by virtue of the lives they have led, and the understandings they have of the world in which women operate, will I hope prove to be both strong and positive role models in the stifling air of patriarchal misogyny that is the House of Commons.
And therein, I suppose, is the very nub of my cynicism about this great display of positive spin being written and spoken about the increase in women MP’s: will these women en masse make this Parliament, this government, and the House of Commons, less patriarchal?
Will they, en masse, ensure that the cuts which have led to crisis in Domestic Violence support services are reversed?
Will they, as a group, work together to change societal attitudes to violence against all women, recognise the particular dangers faced by specific groups of women, and work to tear down the walls of racism, transphobia and misogyny that blight so many women’s lives?
Will they support the unseen, silent army of carers (mostly women) who provide the care to family members and friends that the state cannot or will not?
And what of the women stigmatised because of mental health issues, struggling in severe poverty with disabilities, or vilified by our societies racism because they are refugees?
What of the women fighting for homes? For the safety of their children?
Will they challenge the patriarchal systems they are now working within to effect the kind of changes that women need?
Because this is my concern: women are not all affected in the same way by discrimination, and not all forms of discrimination affect all women – we are not all equally oppressed. There are differing and intersecting ways in which women deal with (often life threatening) oppression: we are not one single homogeneous class.
Naz Shah and Mhairi Black not withstanding, the vast majority of these new MP’s are white, cis gender and come from comparatively privileged back grounds. When the difference between the overwhelmingly white, cis gender, privileged MP’s on any side of the house is so insubstantial – when so many women in various ways face threats from a government that is prepared to ditch the Human Rights Act, I don’t want, or need, more women simply buying in to the very systems which threaten us.
This isn’t something as shallow as disagreeing with someone else’s politics – this is about women’s lives.