“We are a long way from equality and we need to find out why that is,” she told the Guardian.
“Looking at parliament and the way it behaves, any sane woman would look at that and say do I want to be part of this bullying, finger-pointing mob who don’t talk like human beings and are disengaged from real life? To try and manage a young family makes it very difficult.”
The impressive Ms. Featherstone has asked the question that a lot of people can answer, but which no one can answer precisely. We can say for certain that there are issues holding women back from politics, otherwise there would be more of them in the field. But which factors? There are various factors affecting the number of women in politics, which fall broadly into two categories: attitudinal and structural.
Attitudinal factors relate to a personâ€™s views (whether male or female). In this context they matter when the person believes that women are not suitable for the political arena, because they are ‘naturally more domestic’, or not intelligent enough, or various other sexist views. These are fairly straightforward, and may be views held by either sex, or indeed a potential female candidate themselves. Attitudes like this can lead to rejection at the selection stage, hence the calls for all-women shortlists and similar devices.
Structural issues are those which affect the nature of the role, such as the need for non-London MPs to spend extended periods of time in the capital. Structural issues can be more complex, as they overlap and sometimes contradict attitudinal ones. Take Ms. Featherstone’s remarks quoted above. She points to a structural issue, which is one of managing a young family while being a female MP. Yet this is also an attitudinal one, as it is based on society’s general view that women should (and will) do more to look after children then men. And her critique of the “bullying, finger-pointing mob who don’t talk like human beings and are disengaged from real life” is true enough, but then it again highlights the view that women are not supposed to be as confrontational as men. So making parliament more family friendly and less confrontational will help attract more women to politics, but it might not do anything to change attitudes (at least not initially).
So which is the most important issue to work on in order to increase the number of female candidates/MPs? Is it attitudinal factors, or structural ones? The former matter more, but the latter are easier and quicker to fix. Dealing with structural problems is likely to increase the number of female MPs, but it isnâ€™t until we see a greater shift in attitudes that the problem will really be solved.
|Post to del.icio.us|
Filed in: Current affairs,Sex equality