Let’s Change The Way We Talk About Women In Power

theresa may prime minister

by Lucy Vine |
Published on

All the way from the kitchen to Number 10! Our columnist Lucy Vine is rolling her eyes...

I don't want to shock anyone here, but were you aware that our new Prime Minister is a woman? NO IT'S TRUE GUYS. It's such a good job I'm here because you'd have looked so dumb down the pub this weekend talking about that 'May dude and his crazy Boris appointment'. How else could you have known?


This was the week Theresa May took office as the UK’s second ever female Prime Minister, and whatever your political proclivities, as a woman, it’s hard not to get a little excited about that fact. And while she didn’t deliver on her much-heralded 50:50 gendered cabinet promise, May has given eight women prominent positions (out of a possible 22 but I’m trying not to dwell – I’m told I dwell), including Amber Rudd as home secretary, Justine Greening as education secretary, and Priti Patel as development secretary.

However – ohhh, a million howevers – it’s so hard to celebrate, when every five minutes we have their femaleness thrust in our faces. Most outlets felt the need to review May’s outfits every step of the way. One paper ran an op ed on their front page about her “perfect 10” arrival outfit to Number 10, adding, ‘Surely a woman who can pick a 10 out of 10 outfit for her arrival as prime minister… can be trusted to handle Brexit.’ Maybe it was a joke? It didn’t feel like a joke. Another newspaper ran May’s shoes as their actual front page this week. Our new PM, reduced to the leopard print heels she wore. I guess, bright side, it could’ve been her breasts? But, honestly, I much prefer that jolly sartorial tone to the one being used repeatedly and insidiously to underline that women are either emotional wrecks or hard bitches.

May has been countless times compared to ‘hard’ Margaret Thatcher, while potential Labour leader Angela Eagle is accused of being too soft. Interviewer John Humphrys called her ‘emotional’ and Trade Unionist Len McCluskey went even further, labelling her ‘histrionic.’ She had to defend herself against both accusations, while David Cameron – who’ve we’ve seen on the verge of tears a few times in recent weeks – has been applauded for displaying his vulnerable side. I saw Amber Rudd called ‘combative’ twice in one story, apparently just because she’s able to stand up for herself in parliament. And Andrea Leadsom’s motherhood comments sparked an entire week’s worth of debate because women and babies amiright. We probably all watched the entertaining-as-hell leaked video of Ken Clarke calling May ‘a bloody difficult woman’, and he updated his comments this week on Radio 4, clarifying that she is a ‘tough, pragmatic woman.’ Those are more asexual adjectives, but he still felt the need to add in that SHE IS A WOMAN. We cannot stop pointing out that these are women, like it is the most surprising thing to ever happen.

God it's weird. Isn't it weird? Women have been around for ages now – years probably – and still we are treated like a delightful novelty. Praised for doing tricks, like getting into power. We are tickled that May is up there doing so well with her shoes and her crying every day probably. It’s such a strange way to treat women who have worked their butts off (ooh, women have butts too!) to get where they are. Language matters. It does. And the way we've been underlining the femaleness, deliberately undermining their credibility, is so reductive. It's the 'calm down dear' mentality that keeps us in our place and stops us from shooting too high. That’s despite women being the only ones willing to come in and clear up the mess made by a bunch of Etonian boys who don't know how to clean it up because they've literally never had to do that for themselves and the housekeeper usually does that doesn't she oh but she's off on Wednesdays I always forget that.

Theresa May is a badass. Amber Rudd is a badass. Angela Eagle is a badass. Merkel, Sturgeon, Clinton – all those women currently on the world stage being amazing – badasses. So, yes, let’s celebrate them and that women finally get a shot at power, but let’s please stop with the patronising, gender-specific tear-downs.

And remember, a woman’s place is in the home office.

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