We have just survived the most interesting week in politics that the UK has ever had, perhaps since the end of the second World War. (A big shout out to the BBC News channel for their fantastic coverage). Witnessing the vacuum in power when all the key men left, then seeing the women stepping forward, has been really inspiring and quite frankly, a relief! As I said in my blog post last week … when it gets messy, bring on the women.
However, a good friend in Sydney pointed out to me, we don’t really want to pin our hopes on a female leader if she is just going to be another Margaret Thatcher who did nothing to champion women in politics. In her eleven year reign Mrs Thatcher brought just one woman into the Cabinet! I have been reflecting on this.
Will Theresa be another Thatcher?
The long shadow of Margaret Thatcher as an anti-feminist does indeed still loom large in any conversation about women political leaders, with many men simply thinking any woman will be the same. Apart from any personality issues, I believe Margaret Thatcher was a woman of her time and I don’t think there was any other way to act than to be either one of the men, or better than them at their own game. She did prove that a woman could do, what was probably perceived as a man’s job, and run the country. Thirty years later, having passed through the era-shifting portal of the millennium, we are in a very different world. There are now many female leaders around the globe, albeit the UK ranks as 48th with the number of senior women politicians that we have! David Cameron was very disappointing in his championing of women unlike Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who swept to power last November and created a balanced cabinet with equal number of men and women.!
I do truly hoped that the women who are increasingly stepping into national political roles in the UK will bring something different using their feminine power and not “ just do what men do” as Germaine Greer opined in the Times last month. She noted that as more women rise to the top they simply step into a “man-shaped world” …. “a world run by women is not the same as having a world run by say, feminists or socialists…..” she said.
I think we have been through a dramatic shift in the last year and the last fortnight in particular. Remember during the General Election in 2015 when half the speakers on the TV debates were female (Scotland, Wales, Green Party leaders). That was a first and many of them were widely judged to have performed better than the men.
Something has changed and there is an appetite for female leadership, ney, I think we could call it a hunger right now. We are actually expecting the women to be different and I believe that is giving them a mandate to bring their authentic leadership style to the table. I don’t think it will be long before we have a new language about leadership with these women setting the agenda and showing a new way.
The BBC last night had a reporter in Swindon asked people what they wanted from their new Prime Minister (a good time filler while we waited for Theresa May to meet the Queen at the Palace). People were asked to write one word on a card that summarised what they were looking for. Here are those words:
- A Do-er
Yes those qualities will have been curated …. but they are largely what the feminine brings, especially the last two. And Theresa May did not disappoint during her first few hours as Prime Minster on Wednesday evening as she demonstrated most of those qualities. You can read her speech here (with annotations from the Guardian) or watch on the BBC here.
Everybody could see that no plan had been put in place by the people championing to leave the EU … but Theresa has made some bold appointments to handle this. She appointed some of the men who wanted Brexit to happen and they are now heading up a brand new government department to clear up the mess they created.
Theresa May’s first speech was filled with inclusive language. She spoke of:
- the precious, precious bond (between the countries in the UK)
- that word unionist is very important to me (the original full name of the Tory party)
- we believe in a union not just between the nations of the United Kingdom but between all of our citizens – every one of us
- fighting against the burning injustice
- The government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few but by yours
- we will think not of the powerful, but you …..
Women Leaders are really taking on inequality
Much of the language during the referendum has been about putting the “Great” back into Britain but what did that really mean? and who has benefited from any initiatives that have been driving the economy forward? The answer is the few… and women leaders are now taking on this issue of wealth inequality. I would indeed have been disappointed if Theresa May had simply repeated about making Britain great again but the final call in her Maiden speech as Prime Minister, was “Together we will build a better Britain”.
She did talk about needing a vision for a new post-Brexit Britain and making a success of leaving the EU, but I also heard her put fairness and inequality right at the heart of her plans. What she said was more akin to a socialist reforming agenda such as we heard when Tony Blair first came to power in the 90s. She made a promise that new laws and initiatives would be specifically targeted to the many working people and not the few … the 1% rich.
This wealth inequality is what Christine Lagarde, CEO of the International Monetary Fund put at the top of the international agenda at the World Economic Forum’s Davos meeting at the start of 2014. That was when a report from Oxfam showed that 85 people were in possession of half the world’s wealth. Two and a half years later at the Femme Q feminine intelligence conference in Berlin, co-organiser Scilla Elworthy, announced that “now 62 of the richest billionaires have more wealth than half of humanity”. The last two years of austerity programs have simply made the rich richer and it is this inequality and increasing deprivation of opportunity that corroded the trust which people had in their political leaders. All pleadings from Westminster during the Referendum fell on deaf ears as they came over as more empty promises. Theresa May seemingly listened and has got the message from the country outside the capital. Forget us at your peril.
How the media have reported this rise of the feminine
The Evening Standard spoke of the country having had “enough of malicious male egos … and there’s a matriarchal yearning”. Our new Prime Minister will be joining Angela Merkel, and possibly Hillary Clinton, on a world stage “cleaning up all the male mess. The Germans call it the Femokratie.”
Meanwhile an interesting essay in the Daily Mail last Saturday noted that “femininity is no longer the insuperable obstacle to leadership that it was in the past.” Sadly the page was headlined with “Why are women suddenly ruling the world?” which is both inspiring and threatening. The accompanying graphic was an image of the planet with a woman’s foot in a black stiletto shoe striding over it. We have to shift the conversation about the rise of women to the top key leadership positions as some kind of take-over instead of what it is, the fair representation of half of the population. That will come with time as the culture and culture-narrators in the media become accustomed to female power as a norm.
What do women bring ?
So far, Theresa May is showing that there might just be a different way in politics. She is not a showy, egoic character with an obvious connection to the old boy’s network of Westminster. She says, and everybody agrees, that she just got on with the job. In a leadership contest at another moment in time, her lack of a high profile and charisma could have stood against her but now, after the drama of the Post-Referendum fall-out with the main characters leaving, a quiet, calm, sober figure …. a vicar’s daughter with a proven track record as a hard worker … is absolutely what we need. Satirists and impressionists are having to trawl through media archives searching for the very few recordings of Mrs May. She has either been elusive or her last of participation in there Boy’s Club has made her invisible.
Many women operate under the radar and remain invisible
I just came across a blog post from a friend, Karen Sands, a Leading GeroFuturist who describes herself as a “visionary with wrinkles” and champions the benefits of aging, particularly the gifts brought by older women. Karen was writing about how women, and their efforts/accomplishments in later life, tend to be invisible. At age 59, Theresa May kind of fits into that category.
Karen says, “Women have the opportunity to harness their dominant feminine aspect, to go with the flow, making changes and collaborating with others in ways that go unnoticed by a society so focused on the visible, on the ego. When we fly under the radar of the good old boys’ network, we can make significant, sustainable changes without anyone standing in our way. This is why women must step forward today and act on their power to make a difference—through their votes, their purchases, their leadership, their vision, and yes, their success. Striving for meaningful, sustainable, and profitable success is necessary if we are to have the resources and power to lead significant change.” A good mandate here for Theresa.
So fingers, our new PM may be our second female Prime Minister but let’s hope she is the first to be a real champion of the feminine with pro-female policies heralding a new era and bringing a soft power leadership to the UK.
Meanwhile, I have joined the Women’s Equality party (just one year old now) and if the movement for a cross-party Progressive Alliance movement does continue to get going, we have four years until the next general election to work out better alternatives to what we have now.