Boris Johnson’s Performative Feminism

Amy Dwyer discusses why Labour should make more of the Tories' hypocrisy on feminism and gender parity in Parliament, and makes the case for more women to #SignUpToStand for elected office.

Last week, on #AskHerToStand Day, Boris Johnson appeared on a 50:50 Parliament campaign video, where he stated that, ‘the moment when – for the first time – we finally achieve 50:50 representation in our Parliament’ is overdue.[1] While it is great to have a Prime Minister support a campaign like this, as it raises awareness significantly, Johnson’s support is hypocritical to say the least.

Boris Johnson speaking in clear support of gender parity in Westminster calls into question why he is scoring a home goal like this. On the face of this support, it might seem wholesome and genuine. Yet, if we look deeper, his party is woefully lacking on the gender front. Only 24% of Conservative MPs are female.[2] As such, the Tories would need to more than double the number of female MPs in their party to reach gender parity. So while Johnson calls on other parties to increase their gender representation, which of course they should, it is incredibly hypocritical given how poorly his own party is in this respect.

Labour need to be making more of a deal of the Conservative lack of gender representation. Although only reaching equal representation recently, and as a result of an election defeat that I am sure we would all rather forget about, the point is that now over half of Labour MPs are women. This is a positive base that we can work from, while ensuring that with the future addition of MPs we maintain this gender balance. We need to be slating the Tories over this, their bold hypocrisy on feminism.

On #AskHerToStand Day (21st November), one of the major dates in the calendar for the 50:50 Parliament campaign, to have a Prime Minister supporting the campaign with less than ¼ of his own parliamentary party being women, is almost an insult. We need to call out this performative activism strongly. No elected representative, especially the Prime Minister, should be able to present themselves as an ally on an issue where they actually fail to act or make positive changes.

We need 2020 women to #SignUpToStand before the end of 2020 and we can do it. 1800 amazing women have already signed up and if we can encourage 220 more, we’re there! But we need real action and real commitment. Less performative activism. Fewer empty slogans. More real action. We need to remove the barriers that prevent women going into politics, both at local and national level.

But more than this, we need to support those women who do sign up and who put themselves forward to be our representatives. We need people to ask their female friends, girlfriends, colleagues, housemates and family members to consider standing as an MP or councillor. While this goes a long way, we also need people to support women once they have committed to standing. Women often face abuse just for putting themselves forward and so it’s so important that women have support networks around them to encourage them during their election campaigns and after!


Amy Dwyer is studying for an MA in Politics and is an ambassador at 50:50 Parliament. She is also Women’s Officer for the North West Young Fabians.

[1] Prime Minister calls for a 50:50 Parliament - 50:50 Parliament

[2] Parliament: summary of gender | The Institute for Government

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