The Erasure of Women in Politics - IWD 2023

Kicking off a week of pieces to mark International Women's Day 2023, Kerrie Portman discusses her experience of the ways in which women are overlooked and excluded from politics.

Sometimes I feel invisible in political spaces. It’s a recurring cast of political actors and not always the ones I expect this sort of thing from, who erase me. I’m a woman; I had the displeasure of learning to expect the rooms I walk into over-represented by men, of the masculine raised hand chosen over mine because he can reach higher, of biting my tongue when I know the answer because the man in the conversation who doesn’t know also doesn’t know to shut up, of being the only woman at the table, of feeling the immense and paralysing weight of the pressure of being judged and watched and waited upon to fail. 

I have recently had the displeasure of learning I may be erased in spaces targeted at women. The ones where once inside the target turned out to be on my back. It feels more violating, like I fell for a trap, lured in with a pot of honey. I was invited to speak for a women’s safety charter initiative, where they asked me to speak about my experiences of being abused within the local area. So I did. I shared my story of chronic and repeated abuse. The councillors did not treat me with even a basic level of human respect. Most turned away. One, a man, told me he was going to ignore what I said and move. None cared, and none acknowledged my, sadly not unique, experiences. They invited me into that space under the guise and pretence of wanting to create women’s safety. I was not safe within that space. This was when I learnt that it was nothing but a vanity project and nothing about the safety of women, like me, who nearly died due to abuse. Apathy is deadly. The honest and tragic truth of politicians in that space was if they cared they could have prevented the abuse I went through. But I didn’t exist- within their world- until I was potentially useful to them and as soon as I wasn’t I ceased to exist once again.

But I am a human. I exist even when that’s not convenient for others.

Shortly after this, most of the same culprits posted an image on social media showing their support for women’s history month by picturing their female politicians, or rather their white female politicians, leaving out one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. I tried to politely comment to ask where she was. They deleted my comment. Of course they did; women who didn’t fit into their neat little narrative couldn’t exist. So I reposted my comment, with the added question of why it was deleted. This comment disappeared too. On a post supporting women’s history month, my voice and my questions were removed. I didn’t get to speak. I did not get to exist in that space. I was not awarded the right to simply be. And that right was forcibly removed behind the disguise of celebrating women. Which women, exactly? The ones’ to fit into a box? The ones deemed worthy of the right to speak? The ones deemed worthy of the right to exist? I exist.

I exist. I have the displeasure of existing within a political sphere rife with misogyny, one where I felt too unsafe to engage in local politics for five months due to that misogyny being left to breed, like a toxic mould. I have the displeasure of having to exist within a political sphere that I have to fight to even be in and even then am not acknowledged and treated as though I do not exist when I am right there. I exist. We exist. Women exist. Non-binary people exist. 

Kerrie Portman was one of the winners of 30 To Watch Politics for her work as Director of a grassroots Pride CIC and campaigning against Care Leaver homelessness. The latter was motivated by her personal experiences of being homeless after leaving Care and include writing research, speaking at Hertfordshire County Council and parliament's Interministerial Board on Care Leavers.

Kerrie is currently one of the pioneering cohort of Foundation Year students at Cambridge University, a new programme for disadvantaged students.

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