Thursday, 22 October 2009

The gender agenda

With 'jobs for the boys' thankfully becoming a thing of the past, most businesses are embracing comprehensive diversity programmes to ensure that their workforce is representative of the wider populace. Public sector organisations especially understand the need to reflect the communities they serve.

David Cameron, the quintessential sheep in wolves' clothing, has announced that he intends to impose all-women shortlists in certain constituencies at the next General Election to ensure that female candidates are able to stand. With only 19 women MPs out of 195, it's clear that the Conservatives have some work to do if they're to convince the voters of Britain that they're a party of the people. But as the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Showing a customary lack of respect for the sacrifices made by her forebears, Anne Widdecombe was one of the first to speak out, labeling Cameron's decision as "an insult to women". Given how willing Anne has always been to sabotage other women's rights, I guess she would be the expert.

Also voicing his dissatisfaction today, was Tory commentator Iain Dale who described the move as "fundamentally unconservative". Following a depressingly predictable line of logic, he asked "Where it will all lead? All-black shortlists? All-gay shortlists? All-disabled shortlists? All-Muslim shortlists? Not in my name." Or anyone else's you ridiculous relic.

Cameron's idea is both bold and commendable. It's also smart, since he knows full well that he'll get plenty of progressive coverage for taking a step in the right direction, safe in the knowledge that his party faithful will make sure that it never happens.

But the really depressing element of this whole story is how complicit the press has always been in maintaining the gender imbalance, through its sexist journalistic traits. Whether they're referring to 'Blair's Babes' or 'Cameron's Cuties', women are constantly being reduced to the role of decorative adornments rather than fully functioning politicians. And yes, I appreciate that may in itself be a contradiction in terms.

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