From Florence Nightingale, Emily Pankhurst and Princess Diana to Emma Watson, Carol Ann Duffy to Kelly Holmes there have been so many notable and inspirational British women that have progressively furthered gender equality in society. Now we are in a position for the first time where we have two strong-minded, independent and highly influential women in charge of our Nation.
Arlene Foster and Theresa May in cooperation have the potential to completely alter the position of women in society, their status in the work place, the objectification of females in the media and the sexist discrimination faced in everyday life. So who are these women and what do they stand for? Will they attempt to fix the patriarchal hegemony deep rooted within our society? Only time will tell.
Between the two they have shaped the world of politics to be more female friendly and accepting, after working for decades in the environment. Despite being fairly new to their respective roles within the government, they both achieved the title of the first female leaders of their political parties. This is a milestone in terms of gender equality not only in the workplace, but in the institution that governs the workplaces, in the system that can smash the glass ceiling and that can cause the change.
May has been a conservative MP since 1997, which for some like me is a lifetime, in 2002 she was the first female chairperson and later became the parties leader and our Prime Minister in July 2016. It is clear that she has held many impressive titles including Home Secutary, however her popularity with the public hasn’t always been quite as spectacular. There are a few major issues that Thereasa May has been involved in, for example as the Home Secutary she made extreme cuts to the police force which led to a reduction in police officers and an increase in crime figures. Despite a deeply religious Catholic upbringing, it has been reported that in reference to introducing ‘compulsory refugee quotas’ she believed we should only help those in desperate need and refuse “the ones who are strong and rich enough to come to Europe”, which doesn’t exactly scream Christianity and compassion.
Arlene Foster also grew up in a religious household during the troubles in Northern Ireland where her family experienced true violence first hand. After having her father shot and experiencing a bus bombing as a teenager Foster has been adamant about just how vital safety and security is, her personal opinion on May’s police force cuts would be an interesting one to hear. Before becoming The Democratic Unionist Party’s leader in December 2015, a party she had been part of since 2004, she was also part of the Ulster Unionist Party and held the position as Head of department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment. Arlene Foster seems to be a woman who sticks to her principles, for example in 2016 she was greatly criticized for rejecting an invitation to a Northern Irish ceremony commemorating a century since the uprising against British rule. Her reason for not attending was that she was it as “an attack on democracy” and was not prepared to attend due to the implications it may hold in the future, showing her forward thinking.
When the team Foster led in 2016 overspent by over 400 billion pounds in what became known as the “Cash for Ash scandal” Foster was subjected to sexist media portrayals of the budget overspend. However, instead of defending herself and her team with facts showing an immense history of governments going over budget, Arlene’s insistence on ensuring people knew that the media were being unfair to her due to her gender ultimately undermined her strong position. By giving these reports so much attention, and reduced herself to looking obsessed with the insult, by blowing the situation up she defleated her no-nonsense image. Thereasa May was also involved in a sexist scandal earlier this year, however, instead of being subjected to sexist comments she was criticized for making them herself- when she characterized certain jobs around the house as ‘boys jobs’ and ‘girls jobs’. This in a different way undermines her position as a politician; it questions her acceptance of categorizing acceptable behaviors for certain genders, it questions her understanding of sexism and it ultimate questions her comprehension of her power- to be broadcasting these opinions freely and saying these comments without thought.
We are not even a year into this government’s term and there is a long road ahead for these women to pave the way. By understanding who they are as people, we can begin to understand who they are as politicians and then who they are as the leaders of millions. Although it is significant to know the backgrounds, it is unfair to let that cloud our judgments of them now, their history is JUST as important as their future.