Socialist Worker

Sexist spin flows from oppression

by Kelly Hilditch
Issue No. 2197

“Women will decide this election.”

We’re only a week into the official election campaign, but I’ve already lost count of the number of commentators I’ve seen utter those words on TV, radio and in print.

Let’s leave aside for a moment that this is a meaningless statement which throws everyone who shares my gender into a homogenous clump, like “the Muslims” or “the youth”.

What annoys me more is that the commentators are not talking about how the parties will fight to win our vote—by setting out policies on equal pay, taking action on rape or the myriad of other things that affect women’s lives.

No. They are talking about the ridiculous circus that has grown up around the party leaders’ wives.

Don’t worry—I have nothing to say about Sarah Brown or Samantha Cameron themselves.

There’s little I want to add to the gallons of ink being spilled on the wardrobe choices or fertility of those who are coupled to our potential new leaders.

It’s fairly amusing to watch the media struggling to cope with Miriam Gonzalez Durantez’s assertion that she can’t drop her job to support Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s campaign.

But the more important issue is how the media attitude to “the wives” is a sad reflection of the position of women in Britain today.

At the last general election in 2005, 128 women were elected as MPs—making up 20 percent of the House of Commons. That is ridiculously low, but historically it is a high level of representation.

Infamous

Until the 1980s the figure hovered around the 4 percent mark, and it wasn’t until 1997 that women finally broke the 10 percent ceiling—only to have it marked with the infamous “Blair’s Babes” photo opportunity.

Outside parliament, it’s no better. Less than 4 percent of executive directors in Britain’s top companies are women.

Women’s representation has doubled in one area since 1997—the number of women in the prison population.

We need to fight all discrimination and trivialisation of women.

But would the country look very different if we woke up the day after the election to find that half our MPs were women?

Would it really change society?

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would continue. The government would implement the pay cuts and job losses threatened in order to make up for the money thrown at the banks. The pay gap would continue.

The average woman working full time is paid 17 percent less per hour than a man—and 38 percent less if her job is part-time.

Women make up the majority of part-time workers.

Outside work, 80 percent of women pensioners don’t qualify for the full state pension—often because of time they spent out of the workforce when looking after children.

Women would not be better or kinder than men in parliament. But they would be just as likely to fight for the benefit of their class—so the vital question is which class they’re from.

The gap between working class men and women is microscopic compared to the gap between our class and those in charge.

We live in a society where those at the very top earn well over 100 times more than their lowest paid employee.

I want equality.

But I don’t just want to be equal to the man sat at the desk next to mine. I want a really equal society.


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Tue 13 Apr 2010, 18:51 BST
Issue No. 2197
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