In her first column for the Young Fabian Blog, Young Fabian Member and Membership Ambassador Anna Bage juxtaposes the coverage of Kate Middleton in recent weeks with the (lack of) coverage of women in politics.
It’s safe to say that in recent weeks Britain has been struck by Royal wedding fever. The engagement and wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton has dominated the news of late, with the UK in manic preparation for last Friday’s event.
Kate Middleton has received a huge amount of media attention, from interest in her wedding dress to how she’ll perform as Prince William’s wife. As a woman, watching Kate Middleton dominate the newspaper headlines has been bittersweet. Whilst it’s brilliant to see a woman on front page news being celebrated, the reason for the extensive coverage is less about applauding her capabilities and achievements, but more about her changing weight, her fashion sense, and of course, her appearance on the big day.
And although Kate enjoyed a successful three years at a red brick University, she now declines her right to vote by marrying into the Royal family – a right that was fought hard for by previous generations of women. In addition, she almost certainly forgoes a conventional career in which she might use the skills and knowledge attained via her degree.
With their focus elsewhere, the metropolitan media have missed the really big female story of the last few week. The Fabian Review study on gender inequality, both inside and outside of the houses of parliament.
Now, while I wouldn’t pretend that the ongoing lack of female presence in politics would sell as many headlines as the speculation over whether Kate Middleton would be wearing cream or ivory at the Royal wedding, it does highlight an important point. In a society that seems to venerate the status of the celebrity, what chance of intellectual exposure do the admirable qualities of our hard working Labour women stand? Not for them the front page news, endless headlines and photo opportunities. In fact, in the recent Fabian Review, the focus on gender equality, on feminism, and on highlighting the ever present lack of women in the Houses of Parliament showed that we have a long way to go.
It’s not that women aren’t as interested in politics as men, as accomplished women already show. Maybe it is rather that the political environment is not conducive to fostering fledging female ambitions.
In my work as a membership ambassador for the Young Fabians, I have come across young women who are passionate and enthusiastic about politics; women who are hard working, dedicated, and who want to get involved, but quite simply lack the confidence to do so. The Labour party need to both recognise and then realise the untapped potential that so many of these women hold. If this potential is to be harnessed for the future of both our party and our country, they need to be nurtured and supported for their future roles, just like Kate has for hers. Young women must realise and be shown that they have the support of their party behind them.
The Labour Party needs to do more to provide environments in which women can comfortably express their ideas and opinions, and can be guided through the workings of public life, and of the political environment. If we are to tackle the problem of under-representation in the houses of parliament, we must first surely energise women interested in politics by providing them with a strong and secure platform from which they can grow. And we should highlight Labour successes, such as Susan Nash and Luciana Berger, who are proving that being both political and female can be a perfect match.
For any union to be successful there needs to be a strong and caring framework on which it can rely. As Kate enters the cloisters of the Royal family, let’s hope that one day the Labour party can find renewed energy to work on providing a safe and supporting sanctuary for its young women.
That really could distinguish Labour from a party led by a man who, in the same week as Royalty crowned the media, thought it might be amusing to tell an elected representative of the people to ‘calm down dear, calm down…’
I wonder what Kate thought of that?