(Last Sunday, TCW writer Belinda Brown braved the The Big Debate: Women and Politics in the 21st Century, taking on the arch feminists Bonnie Greer, Dr Leslie Orr and Heather Wakefield. Over the next few days, in a series of posts, she will set out her argument as to why their feminist demand for equal political representation is so deeply flawed.)
It is accepted by all mainstream political parties that political institutions should broadly reflect the social characteristics of the people they represent. The most conspicuous group ‘missing’ is women who constitute 50 percent of the population but only make up 29 per cent of MPs. Political parties are much preoccupied with how to bring more women on board .
We can identify three main reasons why it is believed to be important that politicians reflect the social demographic of the people they represent.
First, it is important for reasons of social justice; second it provides a symbolic legitimacy; finally it is believed that by having female politicians the concerns and interests of the female constituency will be ensured.
I am going to argue that none of these arguments stand up to scrutiny. Furthermore, I am going to argue that female politicians are potentially less likely to represent the interests of their female constituents than male politicians. I will suggest also that the consequences of ensuring female representation can actually be detrimental to the furtherance of ordinary women’s interests and contributes to a top heavy political system as a whole.
In this post today I start by examining the validity of the ‘Social Justice’ argument for equal women’s representation in the political sphere.
The notion that we should have equal proportions of men and women in every single area of life is such a taken for granted component of social justice that it is enshrined in the highest international bodies and in the laws that govern our political life. However, the focus on achieving equality in every public institution obscures the greater ‘inequality’, the one in favour of women, which pervades private domestic life.
Women have control over motherhood – something to which they attach enormous value and importance. Women also have a high degree of control over paternity – if a mother does not want the father to be a parent, he will have to go to court if he wants to be involved. On the other hand, Child Support Agency (CSA) paternity claims show that mothers sometimes inaccurately confer paternity when money is involved.
In practice, men have to obtain the cooperation of the mother if they want a paternity test to check a child is actually theirs.
In Marxist terms, men may have greater control over the means of production. But when it comes to the means of reproduction women are utterly in charge.
Traditionally, women have also derived enormous financial benefits from marriage. In our society women are estimated to do about 70-80 per cent of consumer spending despite earning considerably less than men. This suggests that the transfer of significant amounts of wealth from men to women is still occurring and marriage and partnership are likely to be the relationships through which this happens.
The realm of home and family also provide women with significant levels of control and autonomy over children, over physical space, and over social and kinship networks – a control and autonomy that the average man seldom finds at work.
However, despite all this, feminists have colluded with the political ‘philosophers’ by completely ignoring these benefits, to them, of the private realm.
Once the private realm is brought into focus we realise that the inequality that appears to work in the favour of men in the public realm has its counterpart in favour of women in the private realm. If we look at things partially we see inequality. However, once we look holistically we realise things are actually quite fair.
Tomorrow, I will examine symbolic legitimacy and how women MPs are possibly even less representative of ordinary women than male MPs.