Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Tips for David Cameron on how to be a feminist

Dear Dave,

When I wrote my essay for my self-published anthology (yours for £7.99! ) The Light Bulb Moment, I talked about how I had always called myself a feminist. But I wasn’t really a feminist. I read the books and I talked the talk, but I didn’t behave in a feminist way. I co-operated with the patriarchal culture that harmed women. 

Well, you have always said you weren’t really a feminist – until yesterday. Perhaps that’s why you have so spectacularly failed to behave in a feminist way. But now you are a self-proclaimed feminist, here are some tips for you on how you can act as feminist. Hope you find them useful. 

Number One: don’t patronise women in public and in private. 

Telling a woman to ‘calm down, dear’ is not a feminist action. Even if your wife says it to you. It undermines her as a professional woman with an impassioned and assertive opinion. It feeds into tropes that women are emotional and that emotional equals irrational. It suggests that there is something ridiculous about women having an opinion.

Equally, try to avoid making snigger snigger jokes about women MPs being frustrated. It pains me to have to defend Nadine Dorries, so please don’t give me a reason to. 

Number Two: don’t say you understand women because you are married to one.

I’m sure Sam is lovely. But she does not represent all women. 

Number Three: stop introducing policies that penalise single mums and support dads who don’t support their kids. 

Despite the Norgrove Review finding that the law around custody disputes should not be changed, you still seem determined to change a system that currently works for the safety of children and supports the primary caregiver. Whilst paying lip service to the idea that single mums do a great job, your government does what it can to demonise poor, single parents. The DWP put out bad data about how many men fail to pay child support once a relationship breaks down to obfuscate what should be a national scandal about how some men refuse to take responsibility for their children. Gingerbread has plenty of evidence to show that unpaid child maintenance has soared to £3.87 billion in the last quarter of 2012. You should really take a look at it, and maybe do something about it. But don’t do something that means single mums trying to reach those dads have to pay the CSA. Oh, wait. Meanwhile, your reforms to the benefits system are actively harming women who are caregivers. And now your Marriage Tax Allowance will benefit men who don’t pay maintenance and marry again. None of this looks very feminist from where I’m standing.  

Number Four: stop pushing women and children further into poverty through cuts

It’s almost forgotten now, but your government’s first emergency budget hit women hard. And it hasn’t got any better since then. In fact, 70% of the cuts from that first budget came from women’s purses. Services have been cut that women use most – including services that benefit children. Benefits have been cut that help women caring for children, and for child-free women too. Jobs have been cut that are mainly populated by women, so that women’s unemployment has risen by 20% whilst men’s unemployment has slightly fallen (although more men than women are classed as unemployed). Services have been cut that support families, such as Sure Start, and help children stay in education, such as EMA. Poverty has a female face in the UK and your policies have entrenched poverty and furthered economic inequality. Your economic policies have harmed women over and over and over again. If you truly cared about equality between men and women – as you claimed to do when you said you are a feminist – you would not ruthlessly create policies that do so much harm to women’s economic equality. Time and time again, we see your government proposing and enacting policies that are intent on pushing women back into the domestic sphere from the public one. 

Number 5: employ some women.

The ‘donut effect’, where you seat women around you, doesn’t fool anyone. The representation of women in key ministries and in cabinet is a joke. Five women in the Cabinet? No women in the Treasury? Come on! 

Number 6: actually take proper action on sexualisation 

Your policies on sexualisation culture are weak and transparent. I won’t rehash why now, you can read all about it here. If you really want to improve the situation and tackle attitudes towards women and sex in young people, invest in sex and relationships education that has respect and consent at its heart. And maybe take a stand on Page 3. 

Number 7: don’t negotiate with the Taliban

Just don’t. Do not exclude women from peace talks and the future of their country. 

 Number 8: stop cutting services that save women’s lives

So far this year, 91 women have been murdered as a result of male violence against women and girls. 

Government cuts have led to life-saving refuge services shutting down, as 236 women turn up to refuges to flee domestic abuse every day. 1 in 4 women experience abuse, and yet instead of investing in services to support women and investing in education to tackle abuse, we are losing what little we had. 

Meanwhile, with nearly half a million sexual offences in the UK each year, police are referring fewer rape cases to the CPS

With no-where safe for women to go to, policies like Clare’s Law aren’t much comfort. With police not pursuing cases against violent men, a list like the one Clare’s Law provides won’t be complete. Instead, any policy action you have taken on VAWG seems like a lot like words, where investment and action could make a real difference. 

So, Dave. If you are a feminist, as you claim to be, you need to start doing. It isn’t enough to bandy the word around because you’re struggling to get women onside and your PR people panicked. You have the power to put feminism into action, to enact feminist policy in Government that could save women’s lives, lift families out of poverty and secure justice for women and girls. 

But you can’t even manage not to patronise women ministers, can you? 

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