Monday, 15 December 2014

Radio 4 Women's Hour - Female PPCs in the Liberal Democrats

I've just been listening to our President Elect Sal Brinton and two of our best female PPCs - Lisa Smart in my Parliamentary constituency of Hazel Grove, and Layla Moran of Oxford West & Abingdon on Radio 4 Women's Hour.

You can listen to the episode here and the discussion about the Lib Dems is about 26 minutes in.

My own thoughts, following the programme, are that although the Leadership Programme shows we want to do something about the issue of not having a lot of female MPs in the Liberal Democrats - the issue breaks down like this. There are three categories of seats, as it is pointed out in the programme.

Firstly there are seats that are unlikely to be won by our party. It's not really part of the focus here - they can be useful way of any candidate gaining experience - of a campaign involving media attention, hustings and canvassing voters, and indeed even Margaret Thatcher stood in a seat she wasn't likely to win.

The point I would like to make here is that if women are selected in these seats, it gives force to a rather regrettable narrative of "we select women, they just don't win" - it rather misses the point to say this. So, I think it can be useful for candidates to gain experience in this type of seat, but it shouldn't be used against them, or against women PPCs generally.

Secondly, turning to women in development seats - this is useful if the candidate is selected. I thought the discussion in the programme hinged a little on what the candidates could do to make themselves more attractive to the selection electorate (i.e. members of the party) - which is all very laudable but misses what we need to do as a party to change the perception of members regarding women.

With Jo Swinson MP taking her baby to receptions, and the indomitable Abi Bell voting at council level with baby in tow, this is the kind of highly visible participation of women that shows there isn't any barrier to being an effective elected representative and a woman. With regard to women that don't have and/or don't want children, the "baby question" shouldn't even come up - but does again and again. These are the kind of attitudes we need to change amongst members.

On another level, our policies may be good for women, but we could be talking about them more. To finish this point, the recent sexual harassment scandal must never be allowed to happen again, and we must reform the party - including such hard to reach places as the shadowy Regional Parties Committee that has responsibility for such matters - so as to provide a safe space for women. Layla Moran refers to "how the party looks from the outside" and I think this is a wise focus.

The other aspect of women in development seats is ageism. As Paddy likes to remind us, it took him two goes to get elected in Yeovil - perhaps the definition of a "development" seat there. So really, we need to be selecting women to fight these seats with a lot of energy  - I don't want to hear or see comments along the lines of "bit young isn't she?" or "I don't think she's got the experience" - I don't think any of this was said about Paddy as he was building Yeovil up.

Finally, and most importantly, selecting women in winnable seats must be the Holy Grail. We are lucky in Hazel Grove to have an excellent candidate in Lisa Smart, and I look forward to campaigning to get her into Parliament. We've not taken the route here of defaulting to a Head of the Council (although in Stockport we do have the excellent Sue Derbyshire in that role) and I feel sure we have a bright future ahead of ourselves with Lisa as our PPC.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

In defence of ..... reasonable feminism #notallfeminists

I read with interest Sam Bowman on Motte & Bailey arguments - essentially the action of advancing a reasonable point that nobody would really disagree with and using it to justfiy a more extreme point.

I would like to apply the opposite of this to some people's views on feminism - where people have used the extreme points made by some feminists to discredit the movement as a whole.

Some feminists say very strange things at times, which the more reasonable of us wish they wouldn't. Of course they are entitled, via their right to free speech, to express an opinion, however these do then get held up by our opponents about why "feminism" should be stopped. It's more responsible to think about how your personal hobby-horse or opinion may not help the movement if it's specious or poorly thought through. Especially if you are paid to have that opinion - your outlet may not have the movement's best interests at heart and could, perhaps, shock horror, be looking for clicks if you put a particularly bonkers opinion out there which will get them a lot of traffic.

An example of what I am talking about is Jessica Valenti believing that Dolly Parton's song "Jolene" is problematic, as she believes the woman at the heart of the song has no power. It's not about that - it's about yearning and longing.

Why don't these things get called out more by the feminist movement? It can be unfashionable to oppose causes that famous Twitterati people seem all over, but surely we should do it if we believe in it.

However some of the sisterhood, or cliquey aspects of the various strands of feminism seem to abandon critical faculties in order to have an "in-group". This can be shown also by the feminists who seek to exclude transsexuals from the feminist debate. In that case, both sides are right in a way - we shouldn't seek to exclude anyone who identifies as female (in fact in some cases we can learn a lot about how men and women are treated differently in the world of work) but there are things that you learn if you have grown up idenitifying as female - from the biological such as menstruation to the sociological such as street harrassment first happening to you as a young teen or pre-teen - and that lived experience should be respected and also learnt from - maybe even from men!

I've thought things like this for a while, and really resent how Jessica Valenti and others with very extreme opinions are both held up as "feminist" opinion by their outlets AND berated as such from the opponents to the movement.

Not all feminists want to ban Jolene - the song (or indeed the facial bleach). Not all of us want to ban Page 3 - though I feel my opposition to that campaign is disapproved of most acutely amongst my peer group. Some of us do think for ourselves and differentiate between nonsense and advancing the cause. Up Reasonable Feminism!