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The uncomfortable truth about women in politics

By Nina Steele 

Compared to their male counterparts, women in politics get a tougher time. From the way they dress to what goes on in their private lives, it seems nothing is out of bounds.

A typical example is the difference in treatment of the then Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and his successor, Nicola Sturgeon. During his 7 years as First Minister, I cannot recollect much being said about the fact that Alex Salmond does not have any children. On the other hand, Nicola Sturgeon has been in office for just a few months (since November 2014) and her childlessness has already been widely reported.

It is very clear that there is one rule for men and another for women in politics. For example, the ability of a man who is a parent to carry out his job successfully, is never questioned, while if a woman has children there is an automatic assumption that her career will suffer because of it. If you think that this means childless women get treated better, then think again. They are treated with a different kind of suspicion. With regards to childless women, the assumption is that they are somewhat too career obsessed.

It doesn’t matter that Theresa May has proved herself as a competent Home Secretary for more years than most of her male predecessors (she is the longest serving Home Secretary since 1962), the fact that she is childless is being cited by some of her own colleagues as the reason why she cannot be a serious contender for the future leadership of the Conservative party. The assumption is that, parenthood matters too much to the electorate, therefore the fact that she is childless may put many people off. What a lot of nonsense!

The hatred of Margaret Thatcher in some quarters, was as much to do with her gender as it was with her policies. Here was a woman with great conviction, who inherited a country on its knees and made it successful again. Yet she is still vilified like no other Prime Minister (except maybe for Tony Blair, since the Iraq war). That some people on the left felt the need to celebrate her passing, shows the extent of that hatred.

There are still many in society who see the role of a woman as principally that of a homemaker, and preferably, a docile one. A strong woman makes them feel uncomfortable. For such people, women in politics are fair game. Where once politicians where people you only read about or saw on TV or heard on the radio, the proliferation of social media, means that they are now easily accessible. That in itself is not a bad thing, however, it also means that they can easily be the victims of trolls and vicious attacks like never before. Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, was on the receiving end of such vicious attacks earlier this year.

The truth is, in a male dominated field, women will always have a mountain to climb in order to be taken seriously. Politics is a tough arena in normal circumstances and even more so, when you are a woman. It is an uncomfortable truth, but one that I suspect, most women entering politics are aware of.

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