Jeremy Corbyn reminds me of the kind of university lecturer that I would have fallen in love with aged about 19. His scruffy idealism, his tales of protest making him a radical hero in my middle class world. My interest in politics was probably triggered by some such character, but over the years my politics has grown up with me, becoming less romantic and more real. It has been shaped by my experiences as a teacher, my anger at evident inequalities in our society and also my experiences as a woman trying to make my way in the world. Joining Labour, I believed I was on the side of those who agreed with me, who wanted to be at the forefront of change and progression; that was the story I was told.
In both the election and the leadership election, I was thrilled to see brilliant women taking centre stage. At the same time I had to ignore the demeaning way of talking about these women within the media, on social network and amongst Conservative politicians. I had to believe that on my side of the spectrum, it was a different story, one which would reflect my narrative.
Yet this weekend we elected three men to our leadership roles. I watched in abject misery today as it looked like the Shadow Cabinet was also going to be male dominated, with the more stereotypically ‘soft’ roles going to women. Thankfully this has changed as the day has gone forward but there’s no escaping from the grief I feel at the missed opportunity for equal representation in leadership. Listening to the celebrations at Labour in the weekend and the lack of female voice, I wonder how did we get back here?
The argument by voters is ‘I didn’t vote for them because of their gender, I voted for them because they were the best for the job’. Firstly, I don’t think this is a problem of individuals or individual votes and I’m not querying the fact that 59% voted for Corbyn. What I want to scream about is what has happened in our society where the progressive, liberal party cannot elect a single woman into the leadership. Secondly, I think that the women who were standing were far better for the job than Corbyn, I admired Kendall’s determination to take the party in a more progressive direction and learn from the general election’s statement about Labour and economics and I think that Yvette Cooper was brilliant in her reaction to the refugee crisis. It wasn’t as if the choice was between qualified men and some token woman picked off the street; these were strong, intelligent, empowered women. Thirdly this is the problem with Corbyn’s supposed ‘radicalism’ – it is a radicalism of the past. His panicked suggestion of ‘all-women carriages’ was an example of how far behind the times he is and how little thinking he has done about one of the key issues in creating a more equal society.
I’m not completely opposed to all that Corbyn says and does, I’m sure in theory we might agree – he espouses values of equality and social justice, but I just find it hard to believe he knows what that means in today’s world. Most of all I don’t want to be sitting at the feet of an old white man telling me how he is going to make the world a more equal place, I want to be standing at the side of a powerful woman proving it.
Today ‘The Guardian’ ran this picture of Jeremy surrounded by fawning women.
Meanwhile ‘The Metro’ had an article about Corbyn and his leadership, whilst the two stories in their banner were about Posh Spice’s clothing line and the Duchess of Cornwall’s hair. Leadership for men; clothes and hair for the girls. Yesterday, I was part of a Digimeet about female leadership organised by @WomenEd. Today being part of the Labour party, I suddenly feel like I’m in an all-women carriage on an old boys’ train and I feel so desperately sad about that.