If you think Theresa May’s appointment to the office of Prime Minister is a victory for feminism, you’re probably not a feminist. She might have just secured the top job in politics, but her success is not symbolic of large-scale social progress. In fact it’s much more about maintaining the status quo. The political sphere remains principally masculine, and May has worked her way up by embracing the masculine conception of political competence. Equality of opportunity is only possible if you’re prepared to accept this narrative. May’s ideology ignores the needs of underprivileged and under-represented women and it’s a feminism I refuse to welcome.
As much as you might argue that May’s arrival at Number 10 is proof that we have abandoned our patriarchalism of old, she is unfortunately an outlier. In Britain we may no longer hold women hostage in the domestic sphere or cry ‘witch’ at the first sign of female agency, but that’s not to say outdated institutions have vanished. Theresa May is both 54th Prime Minister and the second woman to ever hold the office. And she accomplished this by negotiating a parliamentary system built around its predominantly male membership. The processes of British parliamentary politics have long been subject to the scrutiny of feminist commentators. Spontaneous late night votes, tours of the country and the obligation to live part-time in London are all cited as challenges to women who seek to both raise children and rise up the political ranks. Hence, the House of Commons is only 29 per cent female. Theresa May has fought the institution and apparently won, but that does not mean the institution fights fair.
In the spirit of conservatism, May’s leadership campaign was characterised by stability and consistency. And likewise, her time as Prime Minister will not signal much change in terms of politics’ gender problem. May’s own brand of equality does nothing to aid the most disadvantaged. She’s repeatedly voted against gay couples adopting children, ignored the four votes which led to the Gender Recognition Act, and voted for the restriction of IVF rights to couples where a male role model was present. The question of whether May is even fit to represent a modern, progressive state is dubious. But whether or not she can be classed a feminist is certain; as much as it is tempting to celebrate her success against the odds, to do so in the name of feminism would be to betray the people who need the movement the most. Feminism is not solely about women succeeding where men often have. If May’s government fails to work for all women in society, then her time in office will mean no more for feminism than any of her male predecessors.
Image by Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr