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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 24-Jun-14 12:25:21

Guest post: 'Women are rightly disillusioned with politics - but it's worth fighting for change'

We surveyed more than 1,200 Mumsnetters on the UK's political culture, and found that 90% of them think Westminster is sexist. Here, MN blogger Victoria Smith - A.K.A Glosswitch - writes that whilst our disillusionment is entirely justified, we must remain engaged with politics.

Do read the survey results and the piece, and post your thoughts below.

Victoria Smith


Posted on: Tue 24-Jun-14 12:25:21


Lead photo

'9 out of 10 Mumsnet users think the political culture in Westminster is sexist'

So why do we put up with it? Nine out of ten of us believe the political culture of Westminster is sexist; only 15% of us view parliament as family friendly; over a third of us declare ourselves disillusioned with the entire political system. Yet, of the 1,200 women who completed Mumsnet's Political Culture in the UK survey, not one of us has yet thought “sod it” and revived the Gunpowder Plot. It seems – for now – we're simply resigned.

Revolution seems attractive when it's Russell Brand discussing it, all vague principles and puppy dog eyes. In the cold light of day, when you've noses to wipe, mouths to feed, jobs to hold on to and dishes to wash, it's another matter. It's not that we can't summon up anger at injustice, it's just that we're very, very tired. And besides, when you watch PMQs – when you see grown men talking over one another, braying and shouting, while policies which have the power to ruin lives are tossed back and forth like sticky buns in an Eton food fight – you end up thinking “what's the point? Just what is the point of resistance when they can behave like this in public, at work, and it's no longer even shocking?” It seems the normal rules just don't apply.

What comes through most clearly in this year’s survey is that in the eyes of respondents, parliament remains what it always was: an institution created by and for wealthy men. We see that the place is rampantly sexist; we know that women are grossly under-represented; we notice how badly MPs conduct themselves when supposedly representing their constituents; most of us suspect that it is whom you know, not what you know, that gets you to the top. It is not surprising, therefore, that the majority of us would not consider standing for parliament or as a local councillor. What's the point of playing a game in which anyone without a penis, a trust fund and a dutiful wife is almost certainly bound to lose?

I think this disillusionment is rational, given growing inequality and deprivation in a nominally wealthy country. My fear is that our disillusionment will be interpreted in the way it's always interpreted: as women in general, and mums in particular, not “liking” politics and being “turned off” by it. Ever so subtly, the narrative gets twisted until it ends up being our fault.

Only 1% of us would agree that “politics is effective and serves the British people well”. I think this disillusionment is rational, given growing inequality and deprivation in a nominally wealthy country. My fear is that our disillusionment will be interpreted in the way it's always interpreted: as women in general, and mums in particular, not “liking” politics and being “turned off” by it. Ever so subtly, the narrative gets twisted until it ends up being our fault. Politics is not “our thing”. It's not that a system that was set up for a tiny minority is failing the majority; it's that we have somehow failed to toughen up to meet its demands. Don't like politics? Never mind, dear. Back to the kitchen sink.

63% of us think that having more women in top political jobs would mean politicians had a greater understanding of our concerns. I am not so sure. As a child growing up in the eighties, I liked the fact that we had a female prime minister. I knew nothing of her politics (indeed, I actually believed Thatcher was married to Labour leader Michael Foot and that the two worked as a duo) but the fact that she was female meant something. I still think this of female MPs now. I am neither romantic nor essentialist about “feminine” qualities. I know female MPs let women down, and I am not surprised they do so within a culture so cruel, macho and unforgiving. Nonetheless, to put oneself out there in that heartless, misogynistic culture, and then to be reported on by a media that casually reduces you to “Blair Babes” and “Cameron Cuties”, takes some guts. If we can learn something from our female MPs, it's perhaps not bleeding heart kindness, but just how strong women can be.

Right now I can picture MPs and their advisors scouring the Mumsnet survey, not with a view to making structural changes for the benefit of all, but with an eye to winning “the Mumsnet vote”. We Mumsnetters are, of course, influential, and so we should be. Women make up more than half the electorate and as for children – well, everyone's a child at some stage (even the likes of Nigel Farage). We matter, although the importance of the Mumsnet voter (stereotyped as a middle-class mother who won't be embodied by any woman reading this on Mumsnet right now) tends to overshadow the importance of the Mumsnet mum – that person who's around long after the ballot papers have been counted and who's still waiting for a real value to be placed on the work she does.

I can't see us being fully appreciated until there is a significant transformation in how parliament, and workplaces in general, accommodates “the breeding class”. We are not an added extra. We are not babes and cuties in waiting, temporarily out of service while we raise the next generation of voters. If the home of political decision-making cannot find space for people like us, what faith can we have in decisions made on our behalf?

By Victoria Smith

Twitter: @Glosswitch

mrsbucketxx Tue 24-Jun-14 15:10:58

things will only change when the majority vote, if people are aching after a socialist idyl then put your vote where your mouth is next year.

the sad truth is that most wont and the voters who do vote, the older generation with not vote for what most mumsnetters want.

the voting system does work, only if you do vote

PetulaGordino Tue 24-Jun-14 17:07:18

"the voting system does work, only if you do vote"

yes and no - you need people to be politically engaged before that point, feeling listened to, able to vote for policies they agree with, able to stand up and put themselves forward for election or political involvement

i vote, but tbh it feels like i'm voting for the best of a bad lot - compromising and hedging my bets and voting strategically according to the situation in my own area. the option to vote for what i really want simply isn't there

but i'm not prepared to put myself forward either, and while i acknowledge that that is perhaps cowardly, i also don't think it's entirely my own fault that i feel that way

essentialbabyland Tue 24-Jun-14 17:12:23

It is heart breaking for me as a 65 year old mum of two adult children and a grandmother of one to hear that there are only 1 million Mums at home looking after their children full time in 2014. Two million Mums have disappeared into the employment market in the last two or three years.

I remember being very ill with earache in both ears when I was 7 years old. My teacher, who I absolutely loved, sat me on her knee and cuddled me in the class until my mother came to fetch me. My teacher was at that time, allowed to hold and touch me and give me comfort. I was not left alone, but most importantly I KNEW MY MUMMY WAS COMING TO GET ME AND TAKE ME HOME. SHE WAS ALWAYS AT HOME AND I WAS NEVER FRIGHTENED. I never went home to an empty house.

I know that families are struggling but I can say truthfully that being born immediately after the war - we had very little and daily living was a struggle for everyone - but we were happy as our Mum's were not tired, exhausted and stressed and were always there.

I'm sorry but I am disappointed at how things have turned out for young women. This is not what we wanted for women. We have been duped by our Government and the Elitists into thinking that we could only get equality by joining the male employment rat race. It is my generation's fault. Motherhood and pregnancy was dismissed. We as women are born with a full time job - MOTHERHOOD - AND WE SHOULD HAVE CAMPAIGNED TO HAVE IT RECOGNISED AS SUCH. WE SHOULD HAVE DEMAND OUR TAX ALLOWANCE AS WAGES BECAUSE WE LIVE IN A CAPITALIST SOCIETY.

But hay ho - we missed out opportunity and now young women and mothers are paying the price. From me an apology.

SirChenjin Tue 24-Jun-14 17:49:51

Don't apologise to me - I love working outside the home. I'm delighted that previous generations fought hard for me to have the maternity rights I had, quality childcare, degree level education, and a job that I didn't have to give up when I got married. UP THE WORKING WOMAN!!!

There is a lot of work to be done in terms of engaging the population (not just women) in politics. Cleaning up their act, making it more accessible, giving local groups far more of a say in how their communities are run are just a couple of examples

AnnieLobeseder Tue 24-Jun-14 19:41:11

essentialbabyland - don't you dare project your feelings on work and SAH onto me or other WOHMs. Don't you dare feel sorry for my children, who despite having two WOHPs, are also never home alone and know that they are safe, loved and cherished. I work because I love it and suffer mental illness when I SAH. Your generation gave us the choice, for which I am eternally grateful. Why are you surprised that so many women choose to work, just because you'd prefer not to? Everyone is different - women are not some homogeneous herd who thrive in a role of domestic care. What we need now is the same revolution for men, but in the opposite direction, so that we end up with a society where everyone is free to SAH or WOH with no expectations put upon them because of their gender. Women are "born to be mothers"? FFS, such stereotypical bollocks, and damaging to both genders.

As for politics, glosswitch has summed it up perfectly. "[G]rown men talking over one another, braying and shouting". And the room is full when MPs expenses are discussed but empty when the topic is disability benefits. It's just so patently obvious that not one of them gives the slightest fuck about us as long as they get their dinners.

I don't think that the population of the UK, including Mumsnetters, are disinterested in politics, despite the poor vote turnout. We just have absolutely NO CLUE who to vote for any more because they're all just so fucking awful.

And then the media gives hours of airtime to UKIP but you'd never know that the Green party exists because of the media blackout of the party, and the BBC doesn't bother reporting that 50 000 people marched against austerity this week. So even our "free and impartial" press are keeping the alternatives from us - we don't hear about the alternative parties we could be voting for, we don't hear when there are protests which could inspire us to begin protesting ourselves.

Where can we turn, what can we do, when from the government to the media we're being lied to, dismissed and laughed at as we fall into poverty despair? We're not disinterested, we're desperate!

jaffajiffy Tue 24-Jun-14 20:09:21

Great guest post

PetulaGordino Tue 24-Jun-14 20:41:21

I would laugh at essentialbaby's post except I realise there are people who really do think like that.

JassyRadlett Tue 24-Jun-14 23:02:40

Well said, Annie. And great guest post particularly around the politics of disengagement. The fact is it suits at least some parties not to have an engaged electorate.

PetulaGordino Tue 24-Jun-14 23:13:51

absolutely jassy. and it suits those in power to maintain the status quo (in terms of how politicians come to power), because of course, that's what got them there in the first place!

weatherall Wed 25-Jun-14 08:36:01

We need compulsory voting and quotas.

prettybird Wed 25-Jun-14 21:34:00

I never felt guilty about working ft and neither did dh grin.

Ds was never unloved and never home alone - in addition to us, his parents, he was loved at his child minder (house next door) and had loving grandparents, aunts and uncles. He was a happy baby/toddler/child who skipped happily in to the child minder and, just as importantly, was happy to see us in the evening.

It was his dad who went to school when he broke his leg "twisted his ankle" - and then had to ring me to check his weight for the plaster cast blush as I was in London on business. No trauma for ds - he knew/knows we both love him.

At the moment (a few years on), both dh and I are working from home and ds appreciates us less hmm. We probably do fewer "quality" things with him because we're always around. Might have something to do with him bring 13 grin

My parents worked ft (initially as ft students) when I was a child and I never felt unloved or neglected. I resent people implying that I was wrong feeling that way.

In terms of politics, the current referendum debate has really helped engage people in a way that I haven't seen for years smile - people are actually talking about what sort of society they want, how they could achieve it and whether it is indeed possible.

I just hope that after the referendum there isn't a rebound of disillusionment when things that people were told wouldn't/would happen then do/don't happen, contrary to what the politicians are asserting.

AnnieLobeseder Wed 25-Jun-14 21:56:08

I realise I am absolutely guilty of this, but doesn't it say something that we seem to be more interested in talking about WOHM vs SAHM on this thread rather than the actual topic, which is the atrocious state out of nation's political sphere? sad blush

prettybird Wed 25-Jun-14 22:18:01

I'd argue that all we were doing was respond to the controversial post early in the thread - but it could be that we were guilty of feeding a troll hmm

All the rest of us have indeed reacted to that - but have tried to return it to the premise of the OP, which is about politics smile

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