A woman in a mans world. Or so it seemed. Yet these were the very men who were running part of the country, a country with just over 50% female population.
Are there enough women in politics? And if not then why not? Was this evening representative of all of parliament or was this just one of those insane off-chances…?
13 men look up from the table at the lady who’s approaching. White teeth gleaming, suites shiny black. It draws similarities to scene in Clifton, Bristol, where the ‘University Prep boys’ would saunter down the street, jumpers over their shoulders. Here, they had that same dazzling smile, and socially reliant confidence protruding out of their chests in form of a large male bravado. Stifled smiles elude and their bodies stiffened in a cardboard-like stance at sight of this well presented female in a dress and dinner jacket.
Friendly, welcoming, a man stands and holds out his hand in offer of a shake. The lady accepts and quickly scans around the table to look for her female accomplice. ‘’Not here’’ she thinks. Another scan and a double check of her phone confirms that she has been stood up, due to a ‘pregnancy-headed diary clash’. Great.
“You must be Tanya!” one man exclaims, as the room around him remains lit up by his colleagues teeth. The atmosphere is warm, but penetrating, and the lady stands out like a centre peice.
“At the head of the table is Cardiff North MP”. The man to the right of the lady softly alerts her as she sits down. ‘’Important information’’ Tanya logs. As she looks towards this man, he glances in the opposite direction. Why is this? Something seems odd.
The man to Tanya’s right quickly becomes her ‘seat-side buddy’. He is approximately 30 years her senior, and a ferocious Tory, yet they find common interests of traveling to remote parts of the world, and sports watches.
The woman is lightly interrogated by each member of the table throughout the evening, as curiosity and ambiguity surround her. “What is your interest to come this evening, aside from to accompany your friend?” one man asks. ‘’Have you always been Tory?’’ Another enquires.
Moments before this, the entire table had erupted in laughter at one of the men’s Aunts who ‘’wasn’t a Tory’’. Therefore, knowing her answer the lady chooses her words wisely (yet honestly).
“I’m actually not Tory, in fact most of my views agree with the Labour parties policies” she replies.
The men gulp, synchronised, as though this had been practiced many times. In a second movement, the entire table turn their heads toward the Cardiff North MP for his response.
“Would you want to become a member of the conservative party? We have a big need for a lot of help delivering leaflets…” Responds Cardiff North MP with his ever so white and extremely charismatic grin (similar to that of a Cheshire Cat).
Laughter escapes her lips as Tanya almost chokes on her chicken soup. This is an obvious joke right?! If she was waiting be inspired then this was the moment. Not.
She mumbles a polite excuse, then comes back with her line of questioning…
“What makes the conservatives the conservatives?”
“Choice.” Is the over-riding answer.
“And do you feel that young people are educated enough on politics?”
“Possibly not” Is the response. As a 29 year old citizen who voted for the first time in 2015, Tanya was easily within the ‘previously uneducated young person’ category.
Discussions of the strive for balanced economies across developing countries, overturning Caste Type Discrimination, the awesomeness of the welfare state of Finland, and the responsibility behind the word ‘choice’ ensued… Noodles and gloopy meat are passed across the table as each man overfills his belly.
The entire table let’s out raucous discordant laughter each time Cardiff MP speaks, sounding somewhat like an out of tune piano played by the hyperactive hands of an excited toddler. It’s a surprise the waiters don’t jump out of their skin, and Tanya ponders on each occurrence, failing to understand the funny part.
These baffling and bemusing scenes are punctuated by a lack of directness from the MP himself. Despite leading the actions and conversations of the group, minimal eye contact and genuine conversation comes from the MP all evening. It seems that so much attention is directed toward this man that no effort is required by him to establish respect. Only when she has spoken has she felt his gaze, soft, absorbing, yet avoident.
As the night draws to a close, the evening is sealed with a firm handshake and a white toothy grin from Cardiff Norths MP. As though propelled into the position as ‘best friend for lifetime’, Tanya is confidently invited to future gatherings…
The men pull their large heavy coats over their shoulders, and Tanya wraps her scarf around her neck and prepares her umbrella for full scale opening. Ceremonious handshakes follow and Tanya escorts her new new sports watch loving friend to the door, out into the British weather.
An evening of insight, shock and full stomachs all round. Thrust into a situation where politics was right in the forefront it was only too clear how ceremonious the political process is. It wasn’t so much about what these men knew, but instead about who they knew.
Was it a coincidence that Tanya was the only woman on a table of 13 men? Probably not. Yet what does this mean for aspiring female politicians? As of June 2016, only 22.8% of national parliamentians were women, a slow increase from 11% from the year before. It gets worse… globally, there are 38 states where women account for less than 10% of parliamentary roles, and there are 4 chambers with no women at all….
So it may be important to ask, why is it crucial for women to be in politics? Surely the world did fine when men ran the country? Representation. And equality of views in society. Both men and women offer different views, perspectives and experiences, which all contribute to a well balanced picture. How can little girls grow up inspired, if the world is predominantly run by men? How can they guarantee that their interest are looked out for? And what would ever make little girls consider switching their ballerina outfit for the shoes of a politician? Seeing one they respect most likely.
When women are in parlimentiary roles it can be common for them to take on or be given the more nurturing roles, such as projects overseeing developments of settlements, working with and forging bonds with the communities. Men in comparison will be more likely to take responsibility of the budgets and finances. Whilst it could be said that these women should be ‘grateful’ for their important role in parliament, there is hope yet that we can work toward a future where both sexes have equal opportunity for any parliamentary role, dependent on their experience, passions and ability.
There are practical elements which can prevent women reaching their ideal goals in politics. Childcare, housework, (yes housework!). Historically, women were valued as the primary caregiver, and homemaker, yet practices are evolving and many households now work to create ‘balance of roles’ between two working parents. In America, the number of stay at home dads has doubled in the last 10 years alone. Further, men are shown to develop higher maternal instincts when they are the primary caregiver. Neuroscience is taking us to a level of understanding which is changing previously entrenched views. So with these changing views, there is the opportunity to evolve this within the political landscape also.
When women get to power the road doesn’t end there. Female candidates face labels of ‘butch, bitch, and mummy’ (none of which have positive connotations). Nicola Sturgeon’s high heels have been the talks of many towns, and the argument over Theresa May’s expensive leather trousers and appearance on the American Vogue cover has taken precedence over other political discussions. Now if this isn’t irrelevant distraction then it is difficult to say what is. When was Donuld Trump last scrutinised for his fashion sense? Men are rarely challenged in politics for their masculinity in this way. Why?
Let’s face it, whilst in this last century we have progressed far on our views of gender equality globally, we are still not quite there. Becoming a women in parliament is a treacherous road, in fact becoming a ballerina sounds like a far more scenic path. Yet with all of our young girls still aspiring to be ballerinas, does it not make you think… who does that leave to run our country?
Tanya Wigley is a Masters student of Human Rights and Development at Swansea University