U.N.I.T.Y “who you callin’ a bitch?”

5 Mar

So, here are my thoughts on being a woman entering local politics and how I want to be treated, and how I want to behave…mostly. It’s also peppered with my thoughts on how women get treated who want to, whisper, run this town.  I am a feminist. This is what it means to me.

How I want to behave as a local politician:

1. I am sister first, politician second. There is no place for sexist ‘putting her in her place’ remarks in the democracy I want. I don’t care if I oppose her politics, I respect her position and know that it was often more difficult for her to find her voice. I have heard local female activists sniggering over comments men make about the women in their own party. It’s wrong. It’s never right. Stamp it out. Take active responsibility within your own groups and party for making this happen.

2. Play the issues not the person. The people involved in local politics are hardworking, often have a caring responsibility, this is more likely to be the case for women remember, so when they are making the time to represent their communities when you throw your verbal ‘sticks and stones’ this person may have been up all night with a baby or elderly relative. They never claimed to be an expert, or a diplomat, they care about making positive change for their community. When you juggle work, caring for family and politics it is hard not to be ground down by the personal. But don’t be ground down, and don’t toughen up. Just be.

3. In confrontation, frequently the language is gender related too. Implying a ‘shrew’ that needs to be tamed, an irrational hormone ridden harpy, or a terrifying matriarch when they refuse to lie down. I say to my fellow women activists of all parties, don’t change to fit in either as ‘pet’ and a darling or back down from your ground when you are accused of being ‘hard’. Or as the Queen Latifah puts it “Stop dropping so low”. Its a challenge, because I tell myself I must toughen up. I spent an evening in tears because someone I respect, but often disagree with, challenged not my point but my right to make it. I am going to stop to telling myself to toughen up and so should you.

4. We need to reject the culture and trappings of political confrontation. It wasn’t designed by us. It wasn’t designed by the men who inhabit the space today. But in this case, the figures rather than the hips, don’t lie. We are half the population and we inhabit very little political space. We are put off by confrontation, not because we can’t do it. BELIEVE – reference the excellent Cllr Mears and her ability to crush in this way. But because we don’t see the point of confrontation. How does it illuminate an issue? How does it engage and build consensus with our local communities?

Consensus is important and confrontation is the enemy of moving forward. Confrontation is the friend of the status quo and the bread chucking, pass the port and let the officers really decided what is good for communities. It is possible through local government in a way that would be far more difficult to achieve in Westminster.

5. So when you see it, call it. No party tribalism. “Who you callin’ a bitch?”

So, thanks to Queen Latifah and the excellent elected representatives of all parties in Brighton and Hove who make me proud to call them sister…even when they renounce feminism *sigh*. I hope I can soon join you in working towards a better democracy and a better city.

UNITY for Women’s Day – Friday 8th March

Comment away…


9 Responses to “U.N.I.T.Y “who you callin’ a bitch?””

  1. catemoore March 5, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    I struggle with my personal opinion of feminism but you have raised some really good issues here. I agree with you – don’t toughen up. Be what you are. I had a female boss who called me sister in private but in public betrayed me to cement her place with her ‘brothers’. This was her ‘toughening up’. A shame for her and a disaster for me.

    Our biggest challenge as women, I believe, is to achieve whilst retaining our essence, celebrating our differences and allowing each other to just be, whoever and however we need to be.

  2. Simon Burgess March 5, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    Excellent piece, I’m a feminist (apologies to those who don’t think a man can be) which doesn’t mean I’m perfect or that I truly know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of discrimination, but I’m always ready to listen and learn about playing my part in tackling misogyny, discrimination and sexism. As a man I hope people will respect that I also don’t agree that we should all ‘toughen up’ if we do we can lose the passion and empathy that makes us want to help people.

  3. Aideen March 5, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    Great piece Emma. 40 years in work (and sometime ago in local politics) taught me that you have to be yourself. Trying to act out or emulate old male gender roles doesn’t work (does not work for men either in enlightened work places) so I fully endorse the ‘just be’ advice. Respect, kindness, compassion, being knowledgable, listening to other points of view and being open to be influenced by them are all key. Sad that after all these years we are still having to say this. Unity now and always

  4. Cllr Warren Morgan (@warrenmorgan) March 5, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    Excellent post, agree with all points re the treatment of women in politics, whatever the political disagreement, gender should never be a factor.

    On your points 4 and 5, I think it is difficult to avoid confrontation in politics (and I confess I’m as guilty as anyone here) but politics is essentially the clash of ideas, and sometimes that debate can get passionate. Sometimes people say they are put off by the confrontation involved in political debate; at other times people ask why politicians don’t get more angry in the face of injustice or inequality. Whether it was the Suffragettes, the Jarrow marchers or those demonstrating against Iraq, the argument could be made that those positions were put forward with passion and indeed direct action at times.

    To reach a consensus there must first be one or more competing ideas to inform the debate – yes that should be done by playing the issues, not the person, but you only have to look at Nye Bevan’s withering disdain for the Tories, or some of the exchanges between Disraeli and Gladstone to see that political animosity didn’t start with the advent of Twitter. (I have to say that the worst instance I’ve experienced where I was the target of personal attack was at the hands of two female opponents, so I’d argue that poor behaviour in the political arena is not exclusively male). Is our political discourse getting worse or better, and does it reflect society in general?

    I’d argue that yes, we need a better style of politics, a more mature and respectful debate, but that should not preclude making the case passionately in defence of people against a perceived unjust policy, the current example being the bedroom tax. Debate is essential to reach a conclusion, confrontation can sometimes clear the air and allow people to feel their voice has been heard – political argument can bring out the best and the worst in people. The line between the two is sometimes hard to judge and exactly where it lies can be in the eye of the beholder.

    • huxley06 March 5, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

      I guess my point is that those passionate protests, those movements were communities who had ‘consensus’ and a determination to communicate with an elite who were holding onto power. My argument is that local politics must not become an ‘elite’ but serve the communities and provide voice…never exist in a theatre in which the community’s perception is that is serves itself. This is more pronounced in Westminster politics obviously.
      I find it interesting that debate is not seen as part of forming consensus, I believe it is. I don’t believe that conflict, or confrontational style help. I think that debate should serve to test and illuminate the idea not, as is prevalent the person. I am really glad you made these points so that I could have the chance to clarify my perspective.

    • curiouscatherine March 6, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

      Hi there

      I think part of the point here though is that the line is often drawn with a confrontational ‘norm’ in place – and that is what puts off people who are not from a political arena or comfortable with that norm.

      I think there is another issue here as well – we have a set of processes and formats which were created at a time when there was more formality in our interactions. The confrontational nature of the format was blunted to some extent by the social norms of the time. As our society get less formal and deferential – not in itself a bad thing – we are left with political formats that don’t fit.

      We perhaps need to reintroduce some rules that make sense for today – not try and make debate work within victorian formats

      This is a bit of a half formed thought that may need more mulling!


  5. Claire Jones-Hughes (@contentedmummy) March 5, 2013 at 10:26 pm #

    Good read Emma. I look forward to seeing politics done your way. Stick to your guns! I believe there’s a massive difference between ‘power’ and ‘politics’ but in our somewhat confused democratic society, the line between the two blurs considerably.


  1. Can we do better than confrontational parliamentary politics? | A dragon's best friend - March 7, 2013

    […] point about sexism in politics. It’s all very public schoolboys oxbridge. There’s also this thought-provoking article by Emma Daniel here. You see it in debating societies and the like. Two people proposing a motion, […]

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