As Hilary Clinton’s concession speech was broadcast across the world, women of all ages were reminded that “we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday someone will and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.” Not only was this glass ceiling left intact by defeat, but defeat by Donald Trump – US President whose famous claim that you can “grab them by the p—y” set the worrying tone for gender equality. In the face of sexism, will women take the leap if others are defeated or are we not even willing to take the jump in the first place? Hilary Clinton, Theresa May, Angela Merkel – prominent female names in the world of international politics. But how representative are these names of the state of gender equality within politics – do they represent a leap forward or a just a lucky break for a fierce few?
A reverse overnight?
As the story in the US has unravelled, so too has the global concern for women’s rights. Following Trump’s inauguration, the worldwide Women’s March on January 21st 2017, poignantly aimed at Trump himself, brought women’s rights back to the centre of political focus. A female politician gets defeated by somebody whose policies caused worldwide uproar. Was the Women’s March in response to a shock overnight reversal in gender equality or should the defeat and rise normalisation of sexism have been expected? Trump’s attitude to women is, sadly, not unique and many argue it reflects something of the engrained gender inequality within politics. Is this march as far as women are willing to go when it comes to engaging in politics? It is argued that women often lead by example and flourish politically when met with the presence of female role models in political life. The global intensity of the march is nothing to look down upon, but when it gets down to the ‘real politics’, if Hilary Clinton can’t do it, can any of us?
The situation on this side of the pond
Diane Abbott, shadow home secretary and the first black female MP to enter the game of British politics in 1987, warns of the substantial abuse engrained within the political scene and its impacts on future female involvement. Harassment, death threats, rape threats – all characteristics of Diane’s daily political existence. Her political journey reflects one entangled with racism and sexism, and its only getting worse – “now the pushback is the politics of personal destruction.” If stepping into politics means being subject to barking noises and public sexism, then “not only does it tend to marginalise the female “offender”, but other women look at how those of us in the public space are treated and think twice about speaking up publicly, let alone getting involved in political activity.” With this in mind, the 2015 election results and the instatement of Theresa May (although not through direct vote) as Britain’s second woman Prime Minister, may seem somewhat contradictory. With the number of women in Parliament rising by a third, and Theresa May leading the ruling government it may seem hopeful for equality in the political world. Yet, with women’s presence in parliament only reaching 29% of all MPs and 26% of all members in the House of Lords, ‘victory for gender equality’ is not necessarily the title I would award. Diane Abbotts and Theresa May have made their way to the top but is their presence a glimpse of hope or were they simply fierce enough to survive the abuse?
We just don’t want to ‘do’ politics.
There is, of course, the possibility that women simply just don’t see themselves in politics. Looking past discrimination, recruitment biases, and voters bias towards men, perhaps much of it could just be a difference in ambition. Whatever the case may be, women live different lives to men. Their presence in the political scene IS important and should not be something to be mocked or let slip by the wayside. Increased presence of women doesn’t necessarily reflect a natural correlation with attention to women’s rights – presence of women within politics must be somewhat separated from these expectations. Yet, to reach gender equality, a women’s place in politics has to be more than just a march.
Politics may be tough, but so are we.
 Wolbrecht and Campbell. 2007. ‘Leading by Example: Female Members of Parliament as Political Role Models’.
Abbott, Diane. 2017/02/14. ‘I fought racism and misogyny to become and MP. The fight is getting harder’ in The Guardian.
BBC News, 2017/01/30. ‘Tory MP Soames sorry for ‘woofing’ at Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh’ in BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38801422
BBC News, 2015/08/05. ‘Election 2015: Number of women in Parliament rises by a third’ in BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32601280
Cafagna, Josephine. 2016/02/14. ‘Why so many women do not go into politics’ in The Sydney Morning Herald.
Clinton, H. 2016/11/09. ‘Concession speech’ in The Guardian.
Fahrenthold, David A. 2016/10/08. ‘Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005’ in The Washington Post.
High-Pippet, Angela and John Comer. 1998. ‘Female Empowerment: The Influence of Women Representing Women.’ Women & Politics Vol. 19, No.4 (p.53-66).
House of Commons Library. 2016/13/12. ‘Women in Parliament and Government.’ http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN01250
Lovenduski, Joni and Pippa Norris. 2003. ‘Westminster Women: the Politics of Presence.’ Political Studies Vol. 51, No.2 (p.84-102).
Mason, Rowena. 2017/02/14. ‘Diane Abbott: misogyny and abuse are putting women off politics’ in The Guardian.
Stone, Jon. 2016/06. ‘Theresa May officially becomes UK Prime Minister’ in The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/theresa-may-officially-becomes-uk-prime-minister-a7135126.html
Wolbrecht, Christina and David E. Campbell. 2007. ‘Leading by Example: Female Members of Parliament as Political Role Models.’ American Journal of Political Science Vol. 651, No. 4 (pp921-939).
Women’s March Website: https://www.womensmarch.com/event-details/