So, farewell then Hillary. As the dust settled on a tumultuous week, the glass ceiling remains un-smashed, saved, ironically, in large part by the very identity politics that would have us envisage its presence in the first place. As I wrote in the run-up to the election, Hillary’s ‘I-am-woman-hear-me-roar’ manifesto was condescending and succeeded in doing no more than diminish her. The problem with basing your identity politics upon gender is that most people are, literally, sleeping with the enemy. We are surrounded by members of the opposite sex. Our attachment to those close to us outweighs our attachment to strangers who share our sex. As such, any appeals to the ‘sisterhood’ (or ‘brotherhood’) that jar with our own personal attachments will appear divisive, or just dumb.
Worse still for Hillary, the politics of The Sisterhood, to which she adheres, forever gravitate towards elitism and exclusion. For a paradigmatic example of this phenomenon, consider Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 and its annual ‘power list’, celebrating women considered to have made the “biggest impact” on the lives of British women. This year, to mark the programme’s seventieth anniversary, the power list will consider nominations, alive or dead, from 1946 onwards. Twenty four hours before Hillary’s defeat, the power list’s panel met live on Woman’s Hour to discuss who they might nominate. One of the panellists suggested Hillary Clinton.
Because Hillary conforms to that which is required by The Sisterhood. She may not have influenced the lives of British women in any way, but she believes that there is a ‘war on women’. She is politically on point.
What was most telling about the Woman’s Hour discussion was how much time the panel devoted to considering how they might contort their decision so as not to nominate Margaret Thatcher. Panellist Julia Hobsbawm set the ball rolling by asking, “What are we celebrating and marking? It’s got to be greater than just the idea of power or influence”. So, it’s the kind of power list that doesn’t dwell too much on power. Power is, after all, a patriarchal, chest-thumping pursuit. Panellists then described the decision of whether or not to vote for Mrs Thatcher as being a “dilemma” and a “moral maze”. Apparently, to claim that our first female Prime Minister was influential might be an immoral act.
The programme’s case for Thatcher, made by presenter Jane Garvey, consisted, in its entirety, of the following statement: “Can I just take up the cause of Margaret Thatcher, not necessarily one I … the listeners will support me taking up”. Garvey then goes on to make precisely no case at all [she literally says nothing]. This non-existent/non-aural case is, nonetheless, challenged by panellist Ayesha Hazarika, a former Labour adviser, who informs us that, “it’s not just about personal achievement, it’s about women helping other women”. Thatcher, we must infer, did not help women. And, according to Hazarika, she was “not known for being terribly sisterly to her other colleagues”. ‘Sisterliness’, unlike ‘power’, being an apparent pre-condition of inclusion onto the power list. Hazarika went on to suggest that instead of Thatcher, Harriet Harman be nominated. Or Diane Abbot. Or Michelle Obama (Hazarika: “I would … say that Michelle Obama has actually had quite a profound effect”).
This is the crucial flaw present in gender identity politics – it is defined as much by that which it rejects as by that which it accepts. There is an impetus, in championing the group identity, towards ever smaller, ever ‘purer’ numbers. In doing so, it ceases to actually represent the group it purports to defend. Mrs Thatcher and all of the women who admire her are immediately dismissed as being borderline immoral. Such an approach contains a ‘built in irrelevance’, whereby large numbers of women are wilfully excluded from a supposedly ‘woman’s movement’.
The snobbery of The Sisterhood is underlined when we consider some of the people that the Women’s Hour’s panel did feel were worthy of nomination (besides Hillary):
Sarah Kane, a disturbed playwright who killed herself whilst still in her twenties, and whose work consists almost entirely of grotesque sex acts and violence; Carol Churchill, another playwright, who wrote Seven Jewish Children, described by Howard Jacobson as “hate-fuelled”; Laura Bates, the head of Everyday Sexism; and Carmen Callil, the woman who founded the publisher Virago. At one point the name Gina Miller (the anti-Brexit campaigner) is even suggested. As. Being. One. Of. The. Seven. Most. Important. Women. In. Britain. Since. 1946.
Here, the pride of womanhood is just a great big pile of grievance. It is leftfield and elitist. And it is this species of ‘pride’ that Hillary chose to trade upon in the election. She is at one with the toffee-nosed feminism of Woman’s Hour. For many women – many of the deplorables – the sight of Hillary, this most privileged of ladies, waving her ‘woman [victim] card’ about (“deal me in!”) was nauseating. Hillary is rubbish. She married the ‘right’ man and that is all. She is an affront to equality. Her gender politics sealed her fate.
Woman’s Hour, however, can never be voted out.
(Image: Gage Skidmore)