We live in glorious times for democracy, my sisters: after many years of struggle and toil, finally we have the vote. At long, long last, our politicians are forced to listen to female voices – and act in female interests, if they wish to maintain power. Well, the Equal Franchise Act is actually 83 years old, so it’s not exactly new news, but it looks like someone only just got around to telling our coalition government, given the internal document that has been leaked, detailing how the Conservative Party (incorporating the Liberal Democrats, like a failing magazine swallowed up by a rival) plans to appeal to that psephologically baffling novelty, the Woman.
For some reason, women seem to be going off the coalition quicker than men. Oh those fickle ladies, invoking their famous mind-changing prerogative. The authors of the memo do have some ideas of why this might be – and it’s not even all guesswork, because they actually found some women in and around the cabinet office and number 10 to talk to about it. (And that, I think, shows how seriously the report authors have taken their subject, because judging from the gender profile of our ministers, it can’t be easy to round up enough XX ones to get a conversation going.)
This gives the whole report an unfortunate air of the debriefing from an undercover excursion to a stitch-‘n’-bitch or an Avon party. Guys! You will not believe what the girls are saying when you’re not there! Some of them are a bit upset that they’re losing their jobs in the hacking-and-slashing of the (heavily female-staffed) public sector. Not being able to afford childcare thanks to cuts in tax credits could possibly be an issue. There’s even a suggestion that the male-dominated nature of politics could be off-putting – “there’s a view that the Government’s choice of leaders on the economy gave the implication that ‘now there’s a real job to be done sorting out the mess, it can only be done by men’,” says the report.
And now there’s a real job to be done recovering those alienated women voters, that too is going to be done by men. What are they going to give us? A party for women in business. A ban on advertising to children. An emphasis that those cuts which are currently chucking women out of their jobs are actually building a stronger economy for the future – and if it’s good for the future then it’s good for children, and women are just nuts about those baby things, apparently. Thankfully it doesn’t suggest getting SamCam photoshopped into even more flattering celeb shots (as when the Mail sticky-taped her alongside Gwyneth Paltrow), but there’s probably a whole communications unit dedicated to leveraging Our Lady Of The Boden already, so I can’t take too much heart from that.
There are a few ideas worthy of discussion in there, but strangely, no one seems to have offered the one that would be really radical: treating women voters like people. Not as some sort of mysterious special interest group, not as adjuncts to infants who can be won over with specious toss about investing in the future. Not dismissing the work they do as “non-jobs” and angling to get them off the public payroll, not treating abortion rights as a handy distraction to dangle while ripping the guts from the NHS, and not employing people like Steve Hilton who frame maternity leave as business-strangling red tape. “Women are key to British growth and success,” concludes the report. Well, we would be – we’re slightly more than half the bloody country.
Text © Sarah Ditum, 2011