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[Guest Post] A Minister for Women? I’d prefer Silly Walks, thanks.

2010 November 24

GUEST POST SHOUTOUT: The Working Girl, who’s guestposting for us today, blogs on the world of work, politics and feminism over here.


Bless the Labour government of 1997-2010. They did quite a bit of good. Minimum wage, Northern Ireland and Civil Partnerships are all some of my favourite things, behind whiskers on kittens. They did, however, invent an awful lot of tosh to appear modern and popular.

One of these inventions was the post of Minister for Women. Created in 1997 and given first to Harriet Harman (who was also the last Labour minister to hold the post in 2010), it was meant to look at gender inequality throughout Britain. The post was expanded to look at other inequalities and discrimination in 2007 and now the full title is Minister for Women and Equalities. Because women are so under-represented in Parliament (although you’ll be forgiven for not being bowled over by the number of ethnic minorities either), the specific
title ‘Minister for Women’ has been retained.

I have a few issues with this. One I would like to illustrate using Ainsley Hayes, she of the long blond hair and happy gun-toting Republican ways in Season 2 of The West Wing. When being invited back to her alma mater to debate the Equal Rights Amendment (which specifically stated that discrimination against anyone because of their gender was illegal), Sam assumes she’s all for it. She’s not, and here’s why:

It’s humiliating. A new amendment we vote on declaring that I am equal under the law to a man? I am mortified to discover there is reason to believe I wasn’t before. I am a citizen of this country; I am not a special subset in need of your protection. I do not have to have my rights handed down to me by a bunch of old white men. The same article fourteen that protects you protects me, and I went to law school just to make sure.

You can see her in quite frankly awesome action here.

Photo: Emily Proctor as associate White House counsel Ainsley Hayes in The West Wing. Image rights: Warner Bros/HBO.

Emily Proctor as associate White House counsel Ainsley Hayes in The West Wing.

I don’t understand why we are singled out for special rights as if we need protection – we’ve already passed various laws stipulating that I cannot be paid less or treated with disrespect or sexually harassed because of my gender. I’m OK with these laws. I want to see society catch up with our legislation, but I feel that having a specific Minister for people like me who have ovaries is, quite frankly, patronising.

It’s also completely redundant. If they actually did anything to stem the misogyny and discrimination faced by women every day, I’d applaud. But they don’t, because they can’t, because so much of what we face is ingrained within society. We’re slowly turning it around – another hundred years or so and we might be nearly there – but I don’t think having a specific Minister stops any employer in their tracks from giving that woman a smaller pay raise than her male counterpart, or that man over there denying his wife the right to work because he wants her to have his dinner ready every day, or that assistant from cutting and pasting his female boss’ head onto the Page 3 girl and sending it round the office.

Photo: Theresa May, Minister for Women & Equalities. Image via Wikipedia

Current incumbent Theresa May, image via Wikipedia Commons.

Finally, my huge issue with our Minister for Women and Equalities is that it’s always given to a woman, generally as an additional role to her main ministerial duties. This sends the message that gender equality is something additional, not important enough to be a main duty – and it’s certainly a woman’s issue, nothing for the men to worry about, hur hur. By placing this so predominantly in the female sphere, we are telling men that they don’t need to think about gender equality, that it’s fine for them so they shouldn’t fight for it, that it’s purely something that the discriminated against need to fight for and correct.

Our next Minister for Women and Equalities should be a man. Then they have to argue that women’s rights are a necessity that are already afforded to men without question, that gender inequality affects children of both genders by reducing financial remuneration and by encouraging stereotypes, that maybe, just maybe, men can be feminists too. Sad that having a man in the role would make other men sit up and notice, but at this point in time, I’m willing to use all my tools in my box. If they won’t listen to women’s issues when declared by a woman, then maybe it’s time for the testosterone to even things up a little and help bring gender equality into the male-dominated public sphere.

If you’re interested in guest posting on BadRep, drop us a line and tell us what you’re thinking at [email protected]

5 Responses leave one →
  1. November 24, 2010


  2. November 25, 2010

    I don’t really have anything to add to the piece but I do want to express my love for ainsley hayes. since this is the internet and i appear to be male, i feel as though i should make some comment about a desire to procreate with her, so let’s assume i did that.

  3. Jenni permalink
    November 25, 2010

    I’m not sure why Ainsley says she doesn’t need her rights handed to her by old white men and then invokes article 14 to make her point. Republican doublethink, anyone?

    WG – you do or you don’t think we should have a Minister for Women? I think we should have one. I’ve got no problems with the next one being a man for a change, although it does put me in mind of this Onion article –,2338/

  4. Sarah Jackson permalink*
    November 27, 2010

    Whatever shape the govt equalities remit takes I think there should be some level of specific representation for women, to provide a check on the development of gender neutral policies and services. They *sound* good but can mean women are worse off – I was at a thing yesterday where Helena Kennedy made this point much better than I can, though I think I might be mangling her phrase a bit: “Equality isn’t simply treating as equal people that aren’t.”

    The Women’s Resource Centre ran a great campaign which explains more about why we need a women’s sector as well as gender equality lobby:

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