Changing the political culture to be more accepting of women

Prime minister Theresa May has called for “dads to talk to girls about current affairs and politics” in a bid to encourage more women to enter Parliament.

The Liberal Democrat party has a long track record of encouraging, training and mentoring women who have parliamentary aspirations. I have attended Inspiration Days at LibDem HQ and have come away buoyed by the brilliant, erudite, passionate and diverse women I encountered there; and not once has the subject of wishing their fathers spoke to them more about politics been raised.

There are myriad reasons why women are under-represented in Parliament, and every woman in the country will have their own reasons why a career in politics may not seem appealing. It’s often thought that the demands of a high-profile career would interfere with the traditional female domain of raising and family and keeping house for their husband, and while I admit that this may be a consideration – long hours, leaving little time to maybe have, or raise, children – it is trite and ignorant to cite this as the main barrier to access.

I dislike politics because it seems such a ‘Boys Club’. And this is the paradox – there won’t be more women in politics until there are more women in politics. I see the Commons as little more than a Club House, where be-suited yobs hurl abuse and childish noises at one another. The idea of being in that playground atmosphere makes my skin crawl; having to shout over booing and catcalls to make my point heard, only to have it dismissed or shot down. Surely if everyone quietened down a bit, listened to the points being raised, and then reacted, everything would be a little calmer and more respectful? It’s difficult to make even a logical, thought-out point sound reasonable when one has to yell above a pantomime audience.

There is also the extension of the abuse that any woman in the public eye receives, exacerbated because of the position of responsibility. The behaviour directed at female MPs is simply disgusting, and I am highly reluctant to open myself up to that. Online and verbal abuse is commonplace, and escalates in (thankfully isolated) cases to physical abuse and actual harm. I don’t know a single woman who would be happy to accept that state of affairs simply because they are trying to do a job, and make decisions that some people may be unhappy with. I understand that male MP’s are also on the receiving end of this, that it is not just woman, and I condemn the behaviour across the board. However, it is an extension of the misogyny of society as a whole that female MPs receive abuse more frequently and to a greater degree.

Personally, I want to enter politics to make change; to support those who feel left-behind or unrepresented. I want to find the things that I can make better for thousands of people, and make sure that the Government of this country works, and works well, for the people of this country rather than just for itself. What I don’t want is the exhausting struggle; in meetings, with twenty men, to make my voice heard and my point considered valid. I don’t want to sit with old news pundits who talk across me, cut me off and denigrate my opinions. I don’t want to open up my past life choices to scrutiny, to have it picked over and pulled apart by a vicious media who feel that I am unsuited to political life because I went to Musical Theatre school rather than Oxford or Cambridge. I don’t want what I wear to be considered more newsworthy than what I say or do, or worse, have what I say considered to be unworthy because of what I’ve chosen to wear that day (does a policy delivered while wearing flat shoes have more value than the same policy delivered while wearing high heels?)

It wasn’t until the Equal Franchise act in 1928 that women were given the same voting rights as men. Given that Parliament has been around since 1215, that’s a lot of history to overturn in a comparatively short space of time, and I know that advancements are being made all the time. Yes, there should be more women in Parliament, of course there should be. But the culture of politics won’t change until the culture of politics can be changed to make it more accepting of women, and that won’t happen until there are more women in Parliament.

* Dani Tougher joined the Liberal Democrats in 2016 and blogs at More Than Nothing.

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  • Kay Kirkham 19th Sep '16 - 5:34pm

    Why can’t mum’s talk to daughters about politics?

  • I agree.
    Diane James is a very welcome leader for Ukip, and she took that job on without any need for a specious All Women Shortlist. Seems that liberals have a lot to learn, in that quality talent, finds its way through by merit, not spurious gender quotas.? Well done Diane James.

  • Allan Brame 19th Sep '16 - 6:58pm

    Hard to judge Diane James, as she seemingly refuses to speak to the media.
    I suppose she knows that, being in UKIP, the chances of her being elected and experiencing the boorish behaviour Dani Tougher describes are negligible.
    Her only experience is of the European Parliament which is far more civilised, meaning it is studiously ignored by our media.

  • Is it only the Labour Party and the Lib Dems who have yet to elect a female leader? Green, Plaid, Tory, SNP, UKIP, all have female leaders. I don’t know what to make of it to be honest.

  • Tony Greaves 19th Sep '16 - 7:24pm

    Remember that “politics” is not just about the Westminster Parliament.


  • Helen Tedcastle 19th Sep '16 - 7:50pm

    While I completely understand and sympathise with the sentiments in this article, I’m afraid that unless there is a structural change in the voting system, the numbers of women getting elected by the Lib Dems will be relatively small.

    Also, as a woman, I’m not particularly joyful about the election of Diane James as UKIP leader who happens to be female. Rather, my first thought was how odious her political cause is.

    I’m more interested in their ideas than whether they ‘look like me.’ Many female MPs have quite different backgrounds, have had many different experiences and often do not share similar ideas or principles with me – except that they are biologically the same sex.

    Rather, ideas and merit are more important than whether an MP represents a particular group in appearance, sex or orientation.

  • “Diane James is a very welcome leader for Ukip, and she took that job on without any need for a specious All Women Shortlist.”

    Diane James was called Farage in a dress by UKIP supporters and a southern queen when UKIP needed a northern prince by political pundits. James’ personality suggests she was voted in as was more of the same and was not what UKIP needed as party – her gender was either irrelevant (good but it’s a bad decision) or a large part of the reason she was chosen (bad and it’s a bad decision). If anything an aggressive and intolerant female leader may break the glass ceiling but they’re only going to build an iron one behind themselves.

    I struggle with the idea that getting women into politics is good no matter what happens or how it is done, however I can recognise women in power are definitely more likely to suffer personal abuse. It’s a tragedy as it puts off real potential leaders and allows for poor decisions to be passed as the focus is on how far we have to grow as a society.

  • Stuart Armstrong 19th Sep '16 - 8:44pm

    “I dislike politics because it seems such a ‘Boys Club’. And this is the paradox – there won’t be more women in politics until there are more women in politics. I see the Commons as little more than a Club House, where be-suited yobs hurl abuse and childish noises at one another. The idea of being in that playground atmosphere makes my skin crawl; having to shout over booing and catcalls to make my point heard, only to have it dismissed or shot down.”

    I don’t think this is something inherent to men, nor is it something that, as a man, I’m a fan of.

    Ironically, for all the things that are wrong with Stormint

  • Helen Tedcastle

    “Rather, ideas and merit are more important than whether an MP represents a particular group in appearance, sex or orientation.”

    Absolutely spot on.

  • Stuart Armstrong 19th Sep '16 - 8:46pm

    Apologies – I’m writing this in my phone and accidentally hit the “post” button.

    “Ironically, for all the things that are wrong with Stormont, the exchanges in there are never as bad as at PMQs”.

  • Stuart Armstrong 19th Sep '16 - 8:55pm

    It wasn’t until the Equal Franchise act in 1928 that women were given the same voting rights as men. Given that Parliament has been around since 1215, that’s a lot of history to overturn in a comparatively short space of time”.

    Most men didn’t have voting rights until reforms in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

  • DJ
    “…James’ personality suggests she was voted in as was more of the same and was not what UKIP needed as party”

    So,..for liberals,.. it’s not legitimate for a woman taking the helm of a party if [in their view], it’s the wrong kind of woman,.?,… in the same way that it’s not a binding referendum result, but merely an advisory referendum result, when [in their view],…. it’s the wrong referendum result,..?
    Yes,..I think I’m starting to get the measure of this cantankerous and hypocritical political party that dubiously, has *Democrat* as part of its name.?

  • 1. I don’t give a toss what gender Ms James is. Her views are odious and need to be opposed.
    2. It is a legal fact that the referendum was only advisory. In a parliamentary democracy power rests with parliament and any decisions about leaving the EU rest with them.

  • David Pocock 20th Sep '16 - 12:02am

    Stewart Armstrong, it wasn’t til 1918 men got the vote. Millions of men died in a war they could not vote for previously.

    I think we should be liberals about this really. The gender gap is closing regarding MPs, but as most MPs it all comes from one class of the nation. Idk if I can feel pleased or not that there is a new flavour of middle class MP in town or not whilst working classes descend into the middle ages.

    I think much of these movement are filled with well meaning people but it seems more about getting parliament 50% full if feminists more than women.

    As for the abuse well in the momentum sense it is totally wrong to smash up windows etc. I think internet abuse is wrong too but it is also being used as a cover to decry disagreement so I feel it serves liberty better to just be tough. Easy to say for me, I’m not getting elected.

    If we really want diversity in parliament I suggest working to make the nation meritocratic and not the crony state the Tory’s seem to be building. Then we can let those best placed rise to the top and have equality. I don’t want more jess Philips and call that victory

  • David Pocock 20th Sep '16 - 12:07am

    J Dunn I would say it doesn’t matter if a woman takes over a party it is irrelevant the gender. Only thing that matters to be is policy and leadership. If you like ukip you prob are not that into policy hense why you are happy to kill my EU citizenship with no policy for post murder.

    As for the referendum, you are exactly right it was not binding in any way and frankly I like being an EU citizen and so will fight til article 50 to stop it and if it happens I will fight on to get us back in. This isn’t a soviet state, anyone can disagree with the referendum result and fight on. Ya know democracy and all that.

  • Little Jackie Paper 20th Sep '16 - 12:58am

    The article comes across less as a wish for a so-called safe space, rather a pill-box to shoot at selected targets from.

    Whatever your gender you don’t get to choose what gauges the public use to judge you, sad as that might be.

    And, candidly, I’m not all that inclined to take lectures on civility from someone throwing out broadbrush comments like, ‘be-suited yobs hurl[ing] abuse and childish noises at one another.’

  • Ruth Bright 20th Sep '16 - 7:51am

    Dani Tougher – don’t be too down hearted about the acceptance of women by the electorate. During eight years as an inner-city councillor and five years as a Home Counties’ PPC (with babies either in tow or on the way!) I cannot remember a single nasty sexist comment by a member of the public. Sadly though I would grant you that the internal culture of the (then) three main parties could be dreadful.

    Little Jackie Paper – I don’t know how many times you have been a 5 ft tall female attempting to speak in a council chamber of baying opposition councillors with a range of nicknames for you but Dani’s comments about “be-suited yobs” making “childish noises” seem pretty mild to me!

  • Dani Tougher

    What you consider to be the ‘Boys Club’ of politics, by which I think you mean Westminster, I would give a LibDem example Paddy had no problem being accepted in “boys clubs” environments, was privately educated and then joined the Marines (and SBS) both quite “boys club” type environments. However when he entered Parliament he was never a great performer in the HoC and it never seemed to agree with him.

    Parliament is a very odd and unnatural environment and I would think the vast majority of people in the country (male or female) would find it a bad environment to try and achieve anything.

    Many improvements that would make parliament better would make it better for potential female MPs but also most potential male MPs. The issue is not gendered. That is not to say that there are not some specific changes that may be particularly helpful. However these will be individual items that need to be specifically identified and pushed for, not vague generalised complaints that can never actually be acted upon, so is useless to those who want to achieve something but satisfying to those who just want to complain.

  • Sue Sutherland 20th Sep '16 - 2:05pm

    I feel very happy looking at the picture which accompanies this article, two women at the top of politics is a wonderful image that means a lot to me, but from the discussions about women’s role in politics that I’ve seen on LDV I sometimes wonder whether I’m the only woman in the Lib Dems who really enjoys heckling or a good old fashioned roustabout. Politics is still dominated by men who treat each other like this. It isn’t just aimed at women. Yes, sexual innuendo and worse is specifically aimed at women but if we shut up as a result we’ll never win. I led a Council group back in the eighties and we had roughly equal numbers of men and women so I thought the future was bright for women in the Lib Dems. Unfortunately I was wrong. For me, the answer is, treat people who are trying to shut you up as they treat you, interrupt them, make rude comments about them, tell them off if they say you don’t know what you’re talking about, with a bit of humour if possible and you will start to enjoy it. After all you’re not doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for your future self and other women who may be able to alter the rules of political engagement once there are enough of them.

  • David Pocock. Men got the vote in 1868 when Disraeli tried to ‘dish the whigs’ by granting the vote to all men over 21. They promptly rewarded him by electing a Liberal Government led by Gladstone!
    Women over 30 got the vote for parliamentary elections only in 1918 and women over 21 in 1928, but women were voting in local elections and becoming councillors from the late 1890s
    Everyone over 18 got the vote in time for the 1970 election – the first one I voted in.

  • @Helen
    While I agree with you in principle, the lack of diversity within the Lib Dems is certainly something that is conspicuous and I can’t help but feel, as one of the disillusioned Labour voters who Tim Farron is trying to enrol, that this is a significant factor putting me off.

    I’ve just been looking at random crowd shots from the official conference Twitter feed, and trying to spot female or non-white faces. There are few of the former and virtually none of the latter. It’s quite extraordinary that a party which describes itself as outward-looking should be much less diverse even than UKIP. For me as an outsider, this is the thing I find most baffling and off-putting about the Lib Dems. I’m not having a dig here – I’m trying to be constructive.

  • David Pocock 20th Sep '16 - 7:51pm

    Mickft – I guess in 1868 it was expanded but it was not til 1918 that men got full suffrage.

    Previously there was a property law to stop the working classes from voting, it is why after the act the second party became labour and not the Liberals. The act also gave the vote to some (middle class married) women.

    The size of the electorate tripled from the 7.7 million who had been entitled to vote in 1912 to 21.4 million by the end of 1918. Women now accounted for about 43% of the electorate. Had women been enfranchised based upon the same requirements as men, they would have been in the majority because of the loss of men in the war. This may explain why the age of 30 was settled on.[6]

    “In addition to the suffrage changes, the Act also instituted the present system of holding general elections on one day, as opposed to being staggered over a period of weeks (although the polling itself would only take place on a single day in each constituency), and brought in the annual electoral register.”

  • The property qualification was abolished in 1868. Disraeli thought that by giving the vote to all men including working men he would get their votes. He was wrong. The 1906 Liberal Government was elected by an electorate consisting of all men over 21. Wikipedia is not always right. The electorate increased greatly with the addition of women and because population numbers rose. It was not an equal franchise until after WW2 because university graduates at a number of universities had 2 votes, one for their constituency and one for their university MP. This was scrapped around 1948.

  • @mickft

    You are wrong. Prior to the 1918 Representation of the People Act around 40% of male adults were not allowed to vote. Around half a million British men gave their lives because of the decisions of a government they were not allowed to vote for.

  • Apparently the 5th paragraph is above scrutiny.

  • David Pocock 20th Sep '16 - 11:27pm

    Wiki in this case was right as it seems to be a copy and paste from the site.

    “A further Act to reform the electoral system was deemed necessary during the First World War as millions of returning soldiers were not entitled to the vote because of property and residential qualifications. This Act widened suffrage by abolishing almost all property qualifications for men and by enfranchising women over 30 who met minimum property qualifications. The Act also instituted the present system of holding general elections on one day, and brought in the annual electoral register. These changes saw the size of the electorate triple from 7.7 million to 21.4 million. Women now accounted for about 43% of the electorate. However, women were still not politically equal to men, as men could vote from the age of 21. The age 30 requirement was to ensure women did not become the majority of the electorate. If women had been enfranchised based upon the same requirements as men, they would have been in the majority, due to the loss of men in the war. ”

    I read an 1867 act regarding suffrage but it did not offer suffrage to all men, just the head of some households and they had to still be rate payers. Please feel free to check my facts yourself you will see it is not just wiki being strange. Frankly when I first learned about it I too was confused as my understanding of history was suffragette vs patriarchy. The truth really was that the suffragettes do not deserve the rep they have; they only wanted the vote for middle class women and spent the war white feathering guys. The Suffragist movement (a largely liberal movement of all sorts) which wanted the vote for everyone deserves our admiration much more imo.

    It is v important history we should all look into though. Just so we remember quite how much (male) blood was shed and how much time it took to get universal suffrage.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Sep '16 - 2:14am

    Dani Tougher

    Firstly , can I say, that with your extraordinary name , you shall be very able ,to, please forgive the pun very much intended, tough it out ,amidst , not only the mayhem that is politics , but the opinionated type that is all of us Liberals , Liberal Democrats , and Liberal Democrat Voice commentators !

    Your article is excellent , your targets for criticism deserve it , your style of doing it is moderate, your views clearly fair . But I do not think you should think that you hate politics , merely the worst aspects of it !

    I do think women are far more accepted than you say , in many ways , in politics , more than many professions, yet, your analysis of why women often do not enter politics seems very forensic and sensible , as much to do with the nature of politics , as of the way women are looked at within it. It is very true of a lot of the women in the House of Commons , that the boys club attitude and , ya boo , politics is loathed, but , for some , it is something ,powerful , confident and often very able women throughout our political history have readily engaged in .

    Margaret Thatcher , criticised in a very sexist and unfair way and lampooned on Spitting Image for it , was often regarded as like a man. Nonsense , she was very feminine in her outward appearance and personality , and it was that fact , coupled with her remarkable talent and ability , that found its peak in a quite obvious strength of character and courage , that led to this wholly inappropriate criticism. Some did not know what to make of her! She did , though , engage in the very definite rough and tumble of the House of Commons , her final day in the House as Prime Minister , is a masterpiece of the art of boys club politics, or , old boys network, practiced by one of the Head girls! Watch it on You Tube .The irony is , having said all that , I do not like much of her politics !

    Dani, your joining our party is very welcome indeed . I have just read your article on your excellent blog , about your doing so . It is wonderful! As a fellow creative industries pro, I am personally glad you picked us , as a one time Labour member , I know what you said re that made great sense, I can see why your destination was not Labour, been there done that ! You are far too reasonable and analytical for them !

  • Richard Underhill 26th Sep '16 - 6:39pm

    Clinton versus Trump is on Channel 4 at 01.45 – 03.45 27/9/2016. Live TV debate.

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