There are 192 female MPs in Parliament, the highest ever number. In 2015 there were also a record number of female candidates standing for Parliament. The UK now has its second female Prime Minister along with a female leader in Scotland with Kezia Dugdale, Ruth Davidson, Caroline Lucas and Leanne Wood all leading UK political parties. Even UKIP had a female leader this year, albeit for a matter of weeks. Despite all this progress women still face a fight for equality and still play by male rules, so what needs to change in 2017?
In late 2016 Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was criticised for the trousers she chose to wear. Under criticism from members of her own party, her aides defended her by criticising another female MPs' handbag costs. In the past week a male MP, Philip Davies, was elected on to the Women Equalities Commission, despite being a famous anti-feminist.
It seems that despite a lot of progress in terms of numbers and prominence of female politicians there are still a number of areas in which women still face a fight where male counterparts won’t.
Expectations of Politicians
To an extent the rules that women have to play by have been effectively those that have been made and defined by men. This is because, to an extent, of the style of former heavyweight female MPs, in particular the huge figure of Margaret Thatcher. When Thatcher became the UK’s first female leader she did so by being famously tough, hard headed and emotionless, traditionally and stereotypically the descriptors of a male politician.
The fact that Mrs Thatcher played so much in to the male expectations of the role meant that her predecessors and followers are now judged by the same rules. The fact that she only promoted one woman to her cabinet in her 11 years at Downing Street shows she did not progress the female case as far as she could have done. Now that Theresa May is in position she still faces being judged by largely male formed and male based expectations, hence why she still faces criticisms over her clothing and why her demeanour remains silent, strong and closed.
UK’s Equality Issue
The UK still lags behind other countries in the gender balance percentage within houses of political power. Sweden leads the way with almost 45% of its politicians being female in 2010 while the UK had only 22% at the same time, although this has since increased to a 29% share but remains behind many European allies. Labour currently has 99 female MPs, Conservatives 68 and 25 from other political parties in Parliament. This shows despite being a self-described progressive nation the UK still faces questions over equality and what further steps could be taken.
Source: UK Political Info
It would seem that despite the number of female political leaders growing, Labour still faces its own equality issues as the wait for a female leader goes on, despite having 99 female MPs. Angela Eagle was swept aside in 2016’s leadership battles while in 2015 the two frontrunners were men. The difficulty for women on the left of politics seems greater given the stereotypically more liberal and progressive women of the left being even less likely to fit in to the tough, hard-nosed, male mould by which politicians are still judged and which Thatcher, and currently May, changed so little.
It is brilliant that the UK now not only has its second female Prime Minister but also has a number of female leaders of political parties as well as an upward trajectory of women MPs in Parliament. However real progress cannot be judged by numbers and prominence alone and while the leader of the UK can still be criticised over her clothing real progress still has a long way to go. Theresa May and her fellow female leaders should learn from what Margaret Thatcher didn’t achieve and change the mould aspiring female leaders are expected to fit and attempt to change the predominantly male expectations by which female politicians are judged.