Saskia Bamber explains how Theresa May’s track record makes her far from a feminist icon
Today Theresa May becomes our new Prime Minister, making her the first woman to hold the role in over 25 years. Given the historically male dominated sphere of British politics, particularly in the Conservative Party, May’s success could be seen as a step in the right direction for gender equality. Unfortunately, it is becoming clear that May in Number 10 is no victory for the women’s rights movement.
May has been responsible for some of the most egregious cuts affecting society’s most vulnerable members. May is part of the government that cut the 23 specialist domestic violence courts, rape counselling and legal aid. She was one of the major players involved in cutting disability benefit, child benefit and tax credits, not to mention cutting funding for shelters for at risk woman and children. However, one glimmer of hope in her generally dire history of social policy has been her personal action on domestic violence. May has spoken out multiple times about the problems victims face, saying that “victims of abuse are still being let down and reports are not being taken seriously enough”.
Fears surrounding May’s leadership are valid. If actions speak louder than words, her actions towards those reliant on benefits speak volumes in regards to her attitude towards vulnerable people. With women forming a sizable portion of Britain’s most vulnerable, there is little chance of May leveling the playing field when it comes to gender equality beyond the upper-echelons of government.
Despite May’s commendable plans to form a more gender-balanced cabinet, her track record as home secretary makes it hard to believe that she will deliver any real change. Bridget Christie says it best stating that “there are female Conservative MPs who are happy to call themselves feminists. Why, they even wear T-shirts saying that they’re feminists, just so we know. I saw a picture of Theresa May wearing one…it said ‘This is what a feminist looks like’. And on the back of her one it said ‘Not really! I’m a Tory!’”. Christie hits the nail on the head; having a woman Prime Minister is not enough if she is not dedicated to true equality. This is not only relevant in regards to women, but all other marginalised groups, such as people of colour, the LGBTQIA+ community and of course all those who cross various intersections between those groups. Taking into consideration that issues regarding PoC and LGBTQIA+ communities have come to the fore particularly recently, it is becoming increasingly evident how crucial it is for us to have a Prime Minister who will support the interests of these movements.
Theresa May is an unelected leader, and with her dubious record in terms of liberation issues, I question whether she is the right person to guide us through the next unpredictable years. To be honest I am skeptical, but right now she is the only option, so all I can do is hope for the best.
Collage by Joy Molan