This week, I read an article which began by sensibly outlining the need for Labour to gain votes in rural communities (I am choosing to ignore that he chose to disregard women workers in his argument), which took a wrong turn somewhere and ended by arguing that Labour needs a Labour Men’s Network. When Bex Bailey, a friend of mine and the Youth Rep on the NEC protested against the forming of such a network (see here for link), the first comments telling her exactly how wrong she was were submitted by men. Surprise, surprise.
Now, I cannot be bothered to actually get into keyboard warrior mode with the men on the progressonline website, mostly because I have more important things to do (insert joke here about students being lazy). But I do want to address the faults in their arguments, as I think it is important to do so. The biggest mistake is that the authors of the comments and the original article have failed to realise that the Labour Party is a Labour Men’s Network for most women.
Now, I must point out that a lot of men took to twitter to deride the first article and as a woman in Labour I can say that I have had few problems, mostly because the people I surround myself with are feminists. But, I have heard stories from women I know that have been sidelined and patronised in university clubs, CLPs and conferences. This is why women’s networks are so important.
Many of the comments appeared to pit men and women against each other as if this would be the best way in solving the inequalities pointed out. Yes, we can all throw facts and figures around and play top trumps over who is the biggest victim (women) but actually, laws addressing domestic violence have been completely inadequate, for both men and women. Wouldn’t time be better spent addressing this than saying ‘oh but men are affected too’, of course they are. It may not be nice to hear but actually men are very much affected, as not only are they a victim (and nobody is denying the seriousness of the issue) but they are also far more likely to be perpetrators.
I want to address is the perceived irony of one commentator over the fact that Bex, a member of the NEC had written the article- ‘the mention of “structural oppression of women in society” here from the … NEC rep … structural oppression eh?‘. Just because Bex is an NEC rep does not make her point any less valid, especially as she was elected using AWS. Just because she is in a position of power does not mean structural oppression against women does not exist. An example that illustrates my argument exactly is the fact that Barack Obama is the president of the USA. Obama becoming ‘the first Black president’ did not bring an abrupt end to the structural oppression faced by African Americans day-to-day. If anything, it is used as poor excuse by many to ignore the inequalities that they face; the ‘he made it, why can’t you?’ attitude.
The Labour Women’s Network was criticised as being dominated by middle class women, perhaps rightly so. What I do not believe however, is that a men’s network would change the structure of the Labour Party. A Labour Men’s Network is no less likely to advance the rights of working class males than the Labour Party already does. I think any man foolish enough to join a Labour Men’s Network hoping to find a mixture of classes and colours would be disappointed to find it elitist and dominated by white middle class able-bodied men, this is the problem of politics. The problem with Labour is that not enough working class people associate themselves with it. The even bigger problem however is that not enough working class people (men and women) want to get involved in politics. And quite honestly, after seeing politics this week, I can understand why.
And on the Progress event that was exclusive to women? It was there to give us a safe space from people like you who shout us down and shut us out. If you self defined into a marginalised group, you would understand the importance of caucuses, having a safe space to receive support from people who face similar oppression and discuss issues that affect you all. But your probably right, us women who are hoping to achieve some kind of equality within the party are another classic example of ‘political correctness gone mad’ (actual quote from one comment).
When more than 2 women a week are murdered in the UK by former or current partners, the men in government have not done enough to address the issue. This is why we need more women in parliament, to raise awareness of so-called ‘women’s issues’. Women MPs like Stella Creasy who has raised awareness of violence against women and campaigned for a woman to be on a banknote. Yes, people are correct when they argue a woman is on every bank note, but it’s rather nice to finally get a woman on there who wasn’t given a divine right to rule.
So, men, the next time you’re threatened with rape and murder for campaigning for representation on bank notes, looked over for a job because your likely to get pregnant and ‘cost the company too much’ or harassed walking down the street for daring to show a bit of leg, you let me know. Maybe then, I’ll think about calling you oppressed. But at the moment, the best way to describe your behaviour is (to paraphrase one tweeter) ‘like a spoilt child asking for a toy simply because their friend has it‘.