10 big misconceptions politicians have about women

They patronise us with pink buses and tales of suffragettes and they think we want to talk about reproductive rights endlessly. Zoe Williams rounds up the mistakes politicians make about women

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By Zoe Williams on

In these last, desperate days, everything rides on the undecideds and the may-or-may-nots; these are mostly women. Nine million of us, at the last election, paid the political class the ultimate anti-homage: we simply didn’t turn up. Any party who could find some way to appeal to the refusniks could score big on the slot machines of fate. However, the only way they’re going to do that is by shifting some of their giant misconceptions about female kind: and, here, I believe I can help. 

  1. That we all agree with each other. Most of them think that if they can come up with exactly the right policy, said in exactly the right way, by exactly the right person, then every single woman will roll over and vote. The perfect soundbite will hit the scene like a Maybelline mascara or the Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream; it will have no target audience, no particular demographic, no skin-type. It will simply suit all women, and all women will immediately buy it. Right, so the problem with this is quite simple: we don’t all agree. There is as much distance between, say, me and Katie Hopkins (hopefully also you and Katie Hopkins) as there is between any given two men, and the fact that we both share certain physical apparatus, I can tell you, does not help. On one matter, though, I think we are pretty united, which is that we hate being treated as one lump of opinion, when in fact our opinions are infinitely varied. Until they stop trying to appeal to all women, it is unlikely that they will find a way to appeal to any women (though some of us will continue to vote, out of sympathy or habit).  
  2. That we like the colour pink. Sometime after the Labour party put its finishing touches on its manifesto, the bright pink transit van arrived. It was to take Harriet Harman and Gloria De Piero up and down the country to listen to various women, from army wives to Asda cashiers, a “listening” exercise, they called it. The obvious first objection was that it didn’t look great, starting to listen to women only after you’d had two men write your policy document. But on a deeper level, pink? Seriously? As if we were five-year-olds, choosing a party to match our umbrella? Harriet Harman answered this criticism, ““It’s not pink, it’s magenta.” I’m using “answered” in the loosest possible sense.
  3. That childcare is a women's issue. In fact, childcare is an issue for everybody in a household that has to pay for it, which includes many men. While we’re here, housing is never presented as a women’s issue, even though it’s right at the top of the list of things women care about. I could really simplify this for the entire political class: if it’s important, and makes a difference to people’s lives, and will have ramifications into the future, then it’s a women’s issue. And if it's a trivial, media-fabricated, non-story, then it’s not a women’s issue. 
  4. That when you "win" a point against an opponent, female voters watch and are impressed. Whereas in fact, that martial strategy – attack at the weakest debating point, score – has not achieved anything for about six decades. A large group of thinking people – in which women (no offence, men) are at the vanguard – have figured this out. 
  5. That we will become confused if they go into too much detail. So they try to keep everything extremely simple. “That side will cost you money. We will make you richer. Don’t worry about how. Just trust us.” This is actually three mistakes in one: first, we know it really isn’t that simple. Few people fit neatly into rich/poor, taxpayer/scrounger categories on which their binary arguments are based. Secondly, far more importantly, we don’t only care about money. Often, there are other things we care about more. Thirdly, we are more intelligent than this gives us credit for. I believe this is also true of men.
  6. That reproductive rights are something we want to debate endlessly. These rights were won. The majority of women want them to stay won. We do not want to see them eroded, via underhand amendments about time limits and sex selection. We know the issue is used as a dog whistle to the Christian right, and we object to that.
  7. That we want the cheapest answers possible. It all goes back to Margaret Thatcher’s conception of the female voter as the thrifty housewife, always looking for bargain government at low, low prices. Some of us are like that; others see our public services the way we’d see our vests or accessories. Sure, we don’t want to throw money away, but we’ve not averse to quality. 
  8. That we just want a grown-up to take over while we get on with “normal life”. If I had a pound for the number of times I’ve heard this from politicians, even Greens, that “normal” people don’t want to have discussions, they just want to get on with “normal” life: well, I would have about £12. It may not sound a lot, but it’s a lot of money in “if I had a pound” world. This may have been true in the 1990s. These days, wherever they are on the spectrum, whether they’re worrying about the environment or the self-healing market, most people are deeply political. Probably the least political people I can think of are politicians. 
  9. That voting and/or political procedures are what put us off voting. It’s because we can’t vote by email… or because we don’t see enough women on the front benches… or because the House of Commons sits late into the night, so doesn’t seem to have much to say to regular life… or because we find the language confusing or the local party intimidating or political traditions abstruse. While all those things might be true, what really puts people off voting is the sense – intensified by coalition government – that whatever they promise, they'll find some way not to deliver. It really is that simple.
  10. That reminding us about the Suffragettes who died so that we could vote is a really persuasive, killer argument to get us into the polling booth. In fact, I don't know about you, but all it makes me think is how much politics has failed to deliver on the democratic dreams of the Suffragettes, not how much I owe it to my great-great-grandmother to continue to legitimise them. 

    Get It Together: We Deserve Better Politics by Zoe Williams is published on April 2 by Hutchinson 
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General Election
Zoe Williams

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