Wales’ politics needs more women, fewer robots

Dwyfor Meirionnydd MP Liz Saville Roberts campaigning in Porthmadog

Dr Rhiannon M Williams, lecturer in theatre & performance in USW, calls for more female politicians in Wales…

I was sat on the sofa on Friday, breastfeeding my youngest, when Theresa May did the walk of shame to face the cameras after her visit to Buckingham Palace.  A part of me almost felt sorry for her; sisterhood and all that.

But then she started talking.  Her speech confirmed with everything we’ve come to expect from her; full of soundbites with no real meaning, as she hinted that it was business as usual (but this time with the company of the even more right-wing DUP).

It struck me then why I couldn’t actually feel sorry for her.  Her inability to admit that she had lost ground was disingenuous, and showed that she lacks the compassion of a woman – and possesses the soul of a robot.

This isn’t a unique trait of hers; it has been seen all too often in British politics of recent years – mainly of course with male politicians.

To me, they look and sound the same.  So a part of me hoped that May’s sex would allow her to be able to express herself in a more genuine manner than that of the weirdly gendered male/robot politician.  But she did not, and I have no sympathy for her.

Could that be one of the reasons Corbyn was so popular?  A man who speaks from his heart, and talks fondly about his allotment.  His sincerity certainly broke the mould, and to me, he was a breath of fresh air.

I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that he is feminine, but he is softer, and certainly does not subscribe to the male robot politician mould.

As for other female party leaders, I have much admiration for them.  Our own Leanne Wood is warm and witty, Nicola Sturgeon is well spoken and proficient, and Caroline Lucas eloquent.  Their contributions to the TV debates were positive.

Confrontation

However, I am uncomfortable with the arena and set-up of the debate as I feel it is a confrontational, masculine forum.

I don’t feel that the audience learn much more about policies. The memorable parts seem to be the awkward moments and the put-downs and shouty bits.

This is exacerbated by the media, whose love affair with montage and soundbites knows no bounds, and the staging is that of a quiz show.

Of course, politics should be passionate and seen by the masses, and I’m not suggesting that the leaders meet up for a cup of tea and a biscuit instead.

But I believe that the debates call for a discourse which can not always be articulated in that particular format.

Awkward

May was wrong not to turn up to the debates; she herself called the election so she should face the music.

She and her advisors knew that she couldn’t do it; they were worried that she would malfunction and explode.

Her line that she would rather be out and about ‘meeting the public’ was a joke.

I actually laughed out loud seeing one of these ‘meetings’: there was a shot of her awkwardly chatting and sipping tea with half a dozen or so supermarket workers, which then panned out to show the rest of the room jam packed with fifty or so media; flashes flashing, filming, scribbling away (or did I imagine that; do journalists scribble away anymore?  Does anyone actually write?  I digress.)

Anyway, such an awkward cup of tea I had not witnessed before, and I sincerely hope that I will never experience that level of awkwardness whilst having a communal cup of tea.  (I am happy to repeat my use of awkward, because it was the epitome of the word.  An onomatopoeia, if you like.)

Doris

It was, however, far more troubling for me to see the way Diane Abbott was treated.  Our first black female MP has been the butt of too many jokes, and it is really not on.

Yes, she got her numbers wrong in one interview, but everybody has a wobble now and again.  To focus on her mistakes rather than her brilliance is thinly vailed racism and misogyny on behalf of the media and all her haters on social media.

Boris Johnson says and does ridiculous things daily and is not taken to task for them; we just laugh at him for being Boris.

But if Boris was a woman (Doris) she would not be in politics anymore – she would not be ‘one of the boys’ and therefore wouldn’t get away with it.

One of my favourite moments of the campaign was a photo in a Facebook group called ‘Can I Breastfeed in this’.

Yes, giggle if you want to.  The group exists because society, on the whole, looks aghast when you keep your tiny baby alive via your breasts, so we find clothes which aid this and share them with each other.

Anyway, a member posted a photo of Labour candidate Dr Laura Davies breastfeeding by a sign of her name, with her toddler snacking beside her.  She looks, as all new Mothers look, slightly tired, but also glowing and natural.

This, for me, was brilliant.  The photo spoke to me more than any debate or soundbite.

It not only helps normalise breastfeeding, but tells me how brave she is, how she values her family, and how she might understand me.  This photo spoke to me and I instantly recognised a comrade.

Female voices

I don’t think I would cast my vote based on whether a candidate was female or not, or whether she breastfed or not.  But should I?

A woman will have probably experienced some form of sexism, will have possibly had a lesser wage, and might have faced the challenges of juggling motherhood with a career, so will at least be aware of those concerns.

Should I look above and beyond party policies and make judgements based on gender?

There have been many headlines celebrating the fact that there are more female MPs than ever before.  It really was great here in Wales to see two female Welsh Labour MPs contest marginal seats and be victorious.

But I’m not digging out the party poppers just yet.  Three-quarters of our new MPs here in Wales are male. Having more female voices from here in Wales could speak of a gender that is discriminated against, from a marginalized culture.

And our voices need to be heard.  One of Wales’ most well-respected MPs within her constituency is a woman (Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru, Dwyfor Meirionnydd).  We can do it, and do it well.

Parties here need to nominate women of all ages so that our rainbows of experience are represented.

Much has been made of the surge in, and the energised youth vote, so why don’t we entrust some young people with our voice?  Plaid’s Fflur Elin was a refreshing candidate in Pontypridd, for example.

When the Welsh Assembly was created it was world-leading in that half the AS’s were female.  What happened there?

Could we reclaim this, and consider how we might be world leading in terms of our MPs also?

Let us conquer the dominance of the political robot (male or female), which has been making politics less real by the day.

Cup of tea, anyone?

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