I thought I’d use the month of September to display one of my absolute favourite antique suffragette postcards. The caption reads:
“This is the “the house” that man built
The house that for years our statesman have controlled
Ruling the world with mind fearless and bold;
Can woman expect to rule such a house.
She that’s afraid of a poor little mouse
No! No!! Suffragette your place is not yet,
Inside the house that man built.”
This card came to mind last week when we pulled out our sofa to look for something and found a dead mouse. I screamed like a little girl and dashed out of the room as fast as my legs could carry me. My boyfriend looked at me in amazement and said dryly (raising an eyebrow for maximum effect) “What happened to your feminism?” I said “I don’t give a shit about f**king feminism, just get rid of it.”
Looking back at the episode I feel a little ashamed, but I don’t think my behaviour should cost me my right to sit in Parliament, as the above poem suggests. But this and the recent outpouring of anger and outrage in the blogosphere in response to Nadine Dorries’ amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill about abortion have given me reason to ponder one of my favourite subjects: women’s political representation.
A couple of weeks ago Angela Cummine, a doctural student at Oxford, wrote a piece in the Guardian arguing that Michelle Bachmann’s presence in the Republican race for President was a ‘net positive’ for women on the basis of descriptive representation. She concluded:
“rejecting the sole female candidate on the basis that she is not the right sort of feminist is losing the war to win a battle. Women are better represented in politics with Bachmann in the race, no matter how unpalatable her views.”
Reading this left me quietly seething inside and Nadine Dorries is just one of the reasons why I don’t think it’s better to have any woman in politics than none at all. We can add Margaret Thatcher, Sarah Palin, Hayat Massimi, Insaf Al Khawaldeh, Nariman Al Rousan, Adab Al Saoud, Zakieh Al Shamayleh and Falak Jama’ani to this list. You won’t have heard of the names of the last 6 women. They were elected to the Jordanian Parliament under a quota. The way the quota was organised in Jordan means that only very conservative women from rural areas with large tribal support can get elected. Activists in Jordan have been angered by the failure of female representatives to do anything to support women and things came to a head in 2003 when 4 of the 6 women either failed to show up or voted against moves to abolish laws that allow men to divorce their wives for money and give exemptions to men who commit ‘honour’ crimes.
Nadine Dorries is a pest and I don’t say this lightly; pests have the ability to do serious damage. While I believe our abortion laws are safe I think there’s a serious risk that proposed amendments such as these move us closer to the situation in the US where women’s bodies become the centre of the political battleground. We’re fortunate enough in this country that ‘honour’ crimes are illegal and getting a divorce is far simpler than for women in the Middle East. Nevertheless, the likes of Nadine Dorries remind us that we can’t be complacent; there are certainly times where no women is preferable to one.