So if you haven’t got kids, you’ve got less of a stake in the future? Andrea Leadsom may have dropped out of the race to be PM, says Ruth Bratt, but she’s helped reveal some universal sexist truths in politics.
“Being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake…”
This is what former Conservative leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom told a journalist this week. Following the controversy caused by the report, on the front page of The Times this weekend, she issued a statement saying it was gutter journalism at its worst and denied that this is what she meant. So The Times released a recording. And it was exactly what she had said.
For those wondering whether she was asked a lot about being a mother, it appears from the excerpt that it’s a not very forcefully put question based on the fact that Leadsom has on previous occasions used the phrase “as a mother” in interviews and in the House.
However she meant it, however it’s been reported, however it’s been interpreted, it points to the worrying trend of defining women by their procreative state. Parenthood does not, in itself, define a person. Child-free living does not make you less empathetic, having children does not make you better or more able to understand or care about the future of the world. It might, but it’s not a given.
To declare that because you have given birth you automatically have more of a stake in the future of your country assumes that people only care about things that directly affect them and their offspring. How selfish Leadsom must think people are.
“Selfish people are selfish people whether they are ramming a buggy into the back of your legs, or being judgey about a crying child.”
You might think that this truly empathetic woman would want to help other mothers like her, but she spoke out against maternity leave for women working for small businesses. That doesn’t seem very empathetic. As a mother – a working mother at that (urgh that phrase. When did you last hear working father?) – surely she should have some empathy, some motherly feeling for those other women who are, like her, mothers and career women?
She talks about having a stake, because she has children (her emphasis) while May only has nieces and nephews, the implication being that she could not possibly care as much about what might happen. Leadsom has CHILDREN, children who will have children. Unless of course, they choose not to have children, or can’t have children, at which point they will become incapable of thinking about the future in any real way and will probably spend all of their disposable income on holidays and fracking and setting fire to things that aren’t interesting to them anymore because they don’t have to worry about the future.
There’s also an inherent assumption that Theresa May is “sad” because she doesn’t have children. (May previously said in an interview, she and her husband were unable to have children, were sad but found comfort in their happy marriage). But why is her not having children even up for discussion? Why is Leadsom having children up for discussion?
It was bad enough when we saw headlines like: “They may both be women, but they have quite different views” (BBC) or, journalists asking, “You’re both women, what sets you apart?” When on earth has a man ever been asked that? Of course they have different views – women make up 50 per cent of the population – they don’t all think and feel the same things.
“To declare that because you have given birth you automatically have more of a stake in the future of your country assumes that people only care about things that directly affect them and their offspring.”
But now it appears we are reducing women’s roles once again and suggesting that motherhood is the defining feature of every woman, even women who aren’t part of that hood. Baroness Warsi reacted to the article, saying that she did not want debates about motherhood and the roles of women to come back into politics – great, but until wider society changes the way it defines women, we have no chance of that happening.
Being a mother does not make you better or worse than a woman who is not a mother. Selfish people are selfish people whether they are ramming a buggy into the back of your legs, or being judgey about a crying child. Empathetic people are empathetic whether they spend their evenings putting their baby to bed or if they spend their evenings on their own, watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. None of these things are mutually exclusive.
It’s not enough to blame and censure Leadsom for saying these things. Blame the media which frames the debate in terms of womanhood and motherhood. Why not pit these two women against each other as political adversaries, investigate their policies, care about their voting record, their political views?
Of course, it would be naive to think that we will no longer muck-rake politicians’ private lives, and we should hold hypocrisy to account – it is important now to ask exactly how empathetic these two women are (look at their records on same-sex marriage, immigration, maternity pay, minimum wage to name a few) – but please let’s do it outside the parameters of procreativity. It’s reductive, it’s insulting to all women – mothers and others – and it’s ultimately divisive.7991 Views
Ruth is an improviser, comedian, actor, writer and the short half of double act Trodd en Bratt. She is rapidly becoming a middle class cliche who likes to bake and knit. Ruth is in Showstopper! The Improvised Musical currently in Edinburgh and about to embark on a West End run. www.theshowstoppers.org