Victories for British Feminism?: Women Bishops and Parliamentary Promotions

Be Aware: Things aren't always what they seem

The Church of England finally voted for women bishops. A victory for employment equality and sex discrimination, if nothing else. It remains to be seen how many women will be promoted or will be able to exact any influence as the previous synod vote controversially opposed change, opting for the status quo. Many believe the no-voters were put under pressure to change their controversial, patriarchal and antiquated views in 21st century Britain, but then you can say the same for the institution they represent.

Religion is almost irrelevant to modern day living. Atheism, humanism and agnosticism are on the rise, not to mention meta-religions like the thousands of self proclaimed Star Wars Jedis, according to census data. And many so-called Christians are religious in name only. They don’t practice or attend church.

Meanwhile Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle to oust crusty old privileged white men from his Tory government (similar to American Republicans) in favour of slightly younger privileged white womenwho’ll be in their roles for less than a year until 2015’s election – is discomfiting. While having more women in power is a good thing, mass positive discrimination is problematic. Are they being promoted for possessing the potential to do a good job or simply because they have vaginas? (New Equality Minister Nicky Morgan’s anti-gay marriage stance pretty much says it all. The irony!)

I’ve always had a problem with how politicians are recruited into their positions as they’re very rarely qualified for the roles they’re allocated. Doctors are never Health Secretaries, teachers never Education Secretaries – it’s why we have so many problems running our own country.

I have little faith that the increase in female representation in government – that still will not reflect 50% of the population – will make a difference in how issues are tackled and policies are formed. Like the Church, government has long been a man’s game, a gender exclusive old boy’s club, where men further each others careers at the expense of women, if need be. Only Margaret Thatcher broke through to reach the top as Britain’s first female Prime Minister.

Things are different now. Had Ms. Thatcher entered politics today I seriously doubt she’d get very far.  Media influence in politics is highly critical of women, more so than back in Thatcher’s time. Privacy is anathema to the media. It’s not what they say or do but what they wear, who they marry, and where they shop that attracts criticism. Their actions and opinions are overshadowed by meaningless appearances. And any time a female MP expresses an opinion on women’s issues, it’s opposed not on merit with meaningful counterarguments, but seen as the ignorant, controversial utterances of a ‘silly woman’ – a condescending knee jerk reaction.

This inclination is echoed in the House of Commons itself with Cameron’s infamousCalm down, dear.‘ What hope do these new female recruits have when they’re undermined by both their peers, the press, and if they’re really lucky, the public? And this is why women a) don’t go into politics, and b) are squeezed or elbowed out of it.

No, this reshuffle feels like a tokenistic play for good press. Cameron is saying, ‘See, we can be modern. We can be different. We value women. Equality is important to us.’

Trouble is, I don’t believe him.

Disingenuous male feminism isn’t helpful. Don’t open the door to the promotion of women if you don’t want to or have no intention of following through. Don’t promote women into short-term roles (in this case, less than 10 months!) where they’ll have little time or power to effect change – for better or worse – to prove they’re able to do the jobs previously held by their male counterparts.

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