Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

POLITICS

Theresa May – female scapegoat or cruelly calamitous?

The prime minister is cleaning up a mess created by men in her party. Is it ridiculous to wonder if she deserves our sympathy, asks Labour voter Sophie Heawood

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By Sophie Heawood on

I’m not sure which chorus it is that keeps humming its way round my head, or exactly where I’ve borrowed the lyrics from, but I can’t make it stop. “Oh, Theresa,” I sing under my breath, day and night, “I wouldn’t wanna be ya.” I don’t think anybody in this country needs telling that things are not looking great for our prime minister right now. Brought in as an unelected leader, she tried to fix that by holding a general election, accidentally making herself even more unelected in the process. (Oh, let’s take our pleasures where we can find them – it WAS funny.)

Handed the poisoned chalice of Brexit, she tried to fix that by insisting that the completely divided country was actually fully united, as if the words themselves could magically make it true. She said, “Brexit means Brexit" and “strong and stable” so many times that she sounded like a bilingual dictionary I used to own in the early days of CD-ROMs, which would get stuck on a word and malfunction until you whacked it out of the disc drive to put it out of its misery.

Then Grenfell Tower burned and May became an unreachable medieval queen, locked in her own ivory tower lest the peasants began to revolt in front of her. I cannot stand it. I cannot stand the way she runs this country. I cannot stand her Tory politics and I couldn’t stand her when she was home secretary, letting the horrors of Yarl’s Wood detention centre and her immigration vans scare the life out of innocent, traumatised people.

And yet I have these conflicted feelings, because a person can experience two things at once. What I also see is a woman up there, left to clean up the mess made by boys like Cameron, Johnson and Gove, who treated Brexit as some kind of dormitory game involving a Mars Bar. I see the statistics on women CEOs, who are so often only allowed a chance at running a company when the company has hit the skids and the men don’t want to clear up the debris. It is a real phenomenon – female power is allowed in only when male power deserts, sensing a void of glory.

To get to the top, a woman has to reduce her heart to about the size of a pea. To rise up the political ladder, you have to shut down your emotions

I see a woman who, according to the Sunday Times political editor, has been crying in private all of last week. But, to get to the top, a woman has to reduce her heart to about the size of a pea. To rise up the political ladder, you have to shut down your emotions and make yourself tough in a way that may or may not come naturally to you. The bashings you get, all the way through your career, will be huge and personal and twice as cruel as a man will get, and you will have been socialised, as a woman, to be twice as concerned by such rejections. So, you’re tackling a problem multiplied by four. And then you get to the top and find out that the very quality that propelled you there – that ability to steel your heart over and no longer react spontaneously and genuinely – is the very thing that might send your career scuttling back down to the bottom again. *If* she ever had that spontaneity. Maybe she didn’t? I don’t know.

Watching Theresa May bash out the new power-sharing deal with Arlene Foster was odd – these are politicians whose work makes me feel physically sick, and yet I did think, just for a quiet tiny moment, wow, two women battling it out together in the top jobs of this country, possibly stymied by the powerful Ruth Davidson, another right-wing woman, and I’ve never seen that before and can I just have one moment of – alright, no. I can’t. The men of the left will shout at me if I let out one single tiny glimmer of – shush.

And if I mention the fact that the Tories have had two female prime ministers and we haven’t even had one female leader of the opposition, and that it’s the Labour party that had to bring in positive discrimination because female candidates didn’t stand a cat in hell’s chance within their own party if they were up against a man – literally, any man – well, apparently that’s all going to be OK when a benevolent 68-year-old white guy becomes prime minister.  

“Burn the witch,” say people on Facebook, putting up Photoshopped images of May’s twisted face, and I feel a bit sick. “We can get the Tories out – it’s clear now that Bernie would have won if he’d been allowed to stand for president,” say others, as if this is an endorsement of real left-wing politics. What it actually means is that people who would have voted for Bernie Sanders, supposedly because of his brilliant stance on equality, were happier to see Donald Trump win than to put their name to a vote for Hillary Clinton. The stats simply do not add up otherwise. And this is supposed to make me feel good?

As a Labour voter, all I want is the biggest fight against the Tories we have ever had, so we can get them out and get some values of human decency back in government: safe and long-term housing for all; a solid welfare state; schools not run as businesses, where qualified teachers aren’t leaving in droves; jobs with real contracts and real salaries for all; a government not led by weird immigration phobias and phantom bogeymen.

As a woman, I see that it’s the powerful woman who is once again the witch for our nation to burn. And I feel a bit sick.

@heawood

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