Since sexual harassment claims swept through parliament, all eyes have been on Theresa May, who stands in the unique position of being a woman spearheading a government riddled with accusations of sexism. May represents female success in a relentlessly unwelcoming field, and has achieved what only one other woman has managed to by becoming Prime Minister; but behind the strong power-dressing and stable speech delivery, we’re reminded after her handling of the Westminster scandals that these things alone do not a feminist make.
On the crest of the breaking wave of misconduct allegations behind the closed doors of Westminster, Theresa May refused via a spokesperson to confess exactly how long she was aware of the toxicity within parliament, declaring that No 10 was “not aware of any allegations having been formally reported”. When the wave broke, however, and took with it Michael Fallon, May was suddenly ready to talk. She told the public that she was “very concerned” about these claims, and that she was determined to give parliament a long overdue shake up for the sake of all victims.
The shake up is long overdue. So overdue that three years ago when May was first made personally aware of Westminster sex scandals, as MP Lisa Nandy claims (yep, no less than three times), government could have probably done with the shake up then. Or even more recently, since May took the helm after Brexit in 2016, something useful might have been done. Changes to save people, especially women who are already vastly-underrepresented, from suffering harassment and degradation are welcome as soon as possible, right? It’s a little underwhelming that now, under immense and international media pressure, is the time May chooses to take action. Now, she is promising to pull this weed from Westminster, but not three years ago, when Lisa Nandy formally reported her findings. Not onwards from 1997, when she was first elected as an MP.
As a woman in government, Theresa May is automatically subjected to harsher and more biased scrutiny than her male counterparts, which is plain sexism. This, however, isn’t an issue of holding her to a higher standard because she wears skirts. We need to hold her to a higher standard because she represents us, and we deserve role models that don’t just pay lip service to the issues in our lives. As long as her actions speak of cover-ups, underhandedness, and unreliability, she is less of a feminist and more of an honorary boy’s-club member.
There are few political role models that honestly stand for equality and against corruption, even fewer of those who are female, and as her secrecy around the Westminster scandals proves, Theresa May isn’t one of them. It should be crystal clear who she’s protecting, and currently we’re a long way from clarity. As for these allegations toward her and her MPs; as Michelle Obama once said, “the truth matters… you don’t take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules”. At the very least, we’re learning where we stand.
Words by Esmeralda Voegele-Downing