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Guest Post By redpesto – Cabinet reshuffle: Guardian Team Woman take one hell of a beating

September 5, 2012

On the morning of Prime Minister David Cameron’s long-anticipated first reshuffle, Guardian Team Woman correspondent Jane Martinson introduced an article outlining what women want:

Much has changed since the wannabe prime minister David Cameron pledged to give a third of his first government’s jobs to women, thereby ending what he called the “scandalous under-representation” in parliament. Not least the fact that, once in Downing Street, he promptly appointed just five women to his 23-strong cabinet. There may be a female home secretary in Theresa May, but at 22%, the UK ranks 57th in terms of female parliamentary representation, according to the Centre for Women and Democracy.

Not for the first time, Martinson focuses on the number of women in the cabinet, as though this correlates to the level of feminism within the coalition. She goes on to point out how Cameron tried to deal with his ‘women problem’ by ‘the appointment of an unelected woman to give the feminine perspective to Number 10.’ It’s unclear whether Martinson’s reference to the ‘feminine perspective’ is a slip of the keyboard, or a reference to some special insight that only women have by virtue of being female – like ‘female intuition’, only in a shade of Tory blue.

In order to come up with some advice for Cameron on what to do about women, and how he should go about his reshuffle, the article then goes on to present the views of what can only be described as a round-up of the usual feminist suspects, including Graunwatch/QRG fave Julie Bindel, professional ‘mumsy cupcake feminist’ Natasha Walter and Ceri Goddard of the Fawcett Society, who came up with this gem:

“The reshuffle is a golden opportunity for the prime minister to boost the presence and influence of women in British politics. Ninety years after women first got the vote, the nation is run by a cabinet made up of more millionaires than women. Women are bearing the brunt of austerity measures in terms of cuts to benefits and services. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. Other countries fare much better, even when it comes to cabinet-level posts – indeed, Sweden, Switzerland and France all have equal numbers of men and women in their cabinets. Why can’t we?”

Goddard’s not the only offender amongst the writers, but ‘more women equals more feminism’ is such a frequently-used argument perhaps it ought to form the official Team Woman motto. What’s also interesting is a clear contradiction between the way Bindel and Susie Orbach come out on opposite sides regarding (now-former) Women and Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone. Each sees in her only what they want to see: someone who spoke out on body image issues (Orbach) versus someone who won’t give the commercial sex industry a kicking because she’s part of a non-existent ‘party line’ in favour of decriminalisation (Bindel).

In fact, it is a hallmark of all the contributors that they merely restate their familiar positions on women, the ‘disproportionate’ cuts, the idea that violence against women is the priority, and that if only there were more women around the cabinet table, all their wishes would come true – though it must really gall Julie Bindel that she even contemplates the idea of relying on a male Minister for Women to deliver on the issues she wants.

So what happened in the actual reshuffle? Needless to say, Cameron didn’t listen to a word from any of the women in the article. Pretty much from the off, Martinson was already counting heads and grumping via Twitter:

hmm, 2 women seem to be 1st casualties already. Not sure Cameron listening to what #women want from the reshuffle yet (link)

Indeed. RT@jameschappers Big women problem shaping up for PM as Spelman, Warsi, Gillan out. Can’t end day with fewer women than before (link)

Martinson’s focus on the overall numbers of women not only overlooked the significant issue of the sacking of Ken Clarke as Justice minister, and the lack of ethnic diversity in the cabinet, but misses two crucial points. First, Cameron only needed to increase the overall number of female ministers (rather than just cabinet ministers) by just one to get a cheap ‘more women’ headline. Second, and more importantly, the number of women doesn’t tell us a single thing about policy. That sound you hear is Margaret Thatcher cackling insanely as she watches another bunch of naive feminists make the same mistake they did when she became Prime Minister over thirty years ago.

And it got worse for Team Woman soon after that. First Justine Greening got shunted from Transport to International Development to make way for an expanded Heathrow airport, then Maria Miller was appointed Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport as well as Minister for Women and Equalities, leading to this Twitter exchange:

Martinson: Apart from trying to stop [British Preganancy Advisory Service] what interest has Maria Miller shown in women and equalities exactly?

Eleanor Mills: @janemartinson Cameron reckons maria miller is a woman (rare breed in cabinet now) so she is qualified for wimmins issues #reshufffle #sigh

Martinson: It would be funny wdn’t it. If it weren’t so v annoying…

It’s hard not to laugh at the fact that having waved the flag for Team Woman so much, Martinson now finds Cameron following though on the very logic she has so often used, only to appoint an anti-abortion MP to a brief which may include women’s reproductive rights. It’s Sarah Palin Reloaded. No wonder Martinson ends up whingeing about ‘More women than before? but not the 1/3 he promised’ like a kid complaining about getting only two ponies instead of five, and then discovering they’re both three-legged nags rather than thoroughbreds. By paying more attention to numbers rather than to ideology, Martinson’s been blindsided to the fact that even if Cameron had appointed women to half his cabinet, they’d still all be Tories in favour of cuts.

Once the major part of the reshuffle was over, Martinson posted her analysis of the outcome, where she had the sheer brass neck to write the following:

Policy is always going to be more important than personnel, but to end the day with fewer women than the handful he started out with seems a tad careless.

If policy were really that important, Martinson wouldn’t be quite so obsessed with counting heads at every opportunity as a subsitute for debating what the Tories actually do and say. She wouldn’t have been such a cheerleader for the ‘media savvy’ Louise Mensch. She might finally realise that female Tory MPs like Elizabeth Truss are perefectly capable of being as brutally right-wing as their male counterparts. In short, she’d have a much better analysis of ‘Tory feminism’ as well as sexism within the Coalition.

But never mind all that: Team Woman at the Guardian may have taken a pasting over the reshuffle, but the real question is whether they learn to change tactics or persist with same failed approach. I suspect Martinson may yet keep choosing the latter.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 5, 2012 10:03 pm

    excellent post!

  2. September 9, 2012 7:50 pm

    Here’s a very good piece on numerical gender equality:

    “Note the assumption that “gender balance” is the natural default in all spheres of activity and thus any deviation from gender parity is evidence of systemic discrimination or some other injustice to be corrected. One wonders, then, what Mr Lawson and Bidisha make of other areas of endeavour, such as elite chess tournaments, where criteria and performance are sharply defined and where men outnumber women by about 100:1. Now it’s possible that unfair discrimination may be a factor among any number of variables, but the existence of such can’t be determined just from the ratio of male and female players. Whether or not meritocratic selection has been achieved can’t be deduced from whether gender parity results, since we have no basis, except ideology, on which to say that gender parity should be the meritocratic outcome. The assumption of a ‘natural’ 1:1 gender ratio in all occupations is itself a prejudice, albeit a modish one. On what basis do we determine that there ought to be a particular ratio of male and female philosophers, or mathematicians, or engineers? At what point and on what basis do we determine that a particular gender is sufficiently “represented” in a given vocation? Perhaps these are also questions a philosopher might ponder.”

    • redpesto permalink
      September 10, 2012 10:27 am

      There is a danger of making an argument that’s based on an ‘ought.’ There ‘ought’ to be a 50/50 gender balance in every aspect of life, if only as a simple read-off from the gender balance of the population as a whole. Trouble is, somewhere along the line it means getting more men into areas dominated by women, as well as women into areas dominated by men. Curiously, only the latter seems to be an issue. In the meantime, everyone gets to argue the toss when the number of women is anything below 50% (except where they are overrepresented in areas which someone disapproves of, in which case everyone argues the toss all over again).

      On another level, at some point the argument seems to have shifted from ‘equality of opportunity’ (e.g. anti-discrimination legislation) to equality of outcome (i.e. a 50/50 gender ratio). Except no-one knows how to achieve the latter other than quotas where women are under-represented (rather than simply not represented at all). Not only is that a problem for philosophers, it’s an even bigger problem for politicians – or indeed the hiring, firing and commissioning polices at national newspapers

  3. September 9, 2012 9:50 pm

    “‘more women equals more feminism’ is such a frequently-used argument perhaps it ought to form the official Team Woman motto”

    Yep – all true. And I think it’s 8 times as many women that read the Mail as read the Groan.

    “Martinson’s been blindsided to the fact that even if Cameron had appointed women to half his cabinet, they’d still all be Tories in favour of cuts”

    I’ve ceased to believe that the Guardian feminist bunch understand or bother with things like logical implications. Spouting confident rhetoric seems to be enough for them – and for some godforsaken reason they get a semi-influential voice, politically.

    • redpesto permalink
      September 10, 2012 10:38 am

      The Guardian has got some data-crunchers in to look at representation of women in the media, by comparing the Mail, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. Leading to this interesting observation in the comments:

      Hi Saupe, great work! You’re right that while the Guardian publishes more articles by women than the Daily Mail, the latter publishes articles by a much greater proportion of women.

      Mind you, the author of the article didn’t seem to know the Guardian had a Women’s Page. I wonder what other unexpected outcomes will show up?

  4. Missile Smile permalink
    September 27, 2012 8:48 am

    There are 306 conservative mps, 47 of which are women = 15%
    There are 22 cabinet ministers, 4 of which are women = 18%
    There 17 conservative cabinet ministers, 4 of which are women = 24%

    Seems to me like a reasonably accurate, albeit slightly over, representation of women in the cabinet.

  5. January 23, 2013 10:26 am

    When Nicolas Sarkozy was elected in 2007, he wanted half his cabinet to be women, something he has never quite achieved. He started out with several women in major posts, including Rachida Dati in justice, and Lagarde in finance, but the numbers have progressively dwindled. Currently, of 23 ministers, seven are women. Of eight junior ministers, three are women. Sarkozy was under pressure to include important jobs for women in his post-Lagarde reshuffle this afternoon, but made only small gestures towards women; the most important was Valerie Pecresse taking budget portfolio and being made government spokesman.

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