Stella Creasy on being a woman in public life

John Rentoul

sc e1398956486535 300x280 Stella Creasy on being a woman in public lifeIn my interview with Stella Creasy for Ethos Journal, which was mostly about her campaign against payday lenders and her views on empowering in consumers in other parts of the private sector and in public services (longer version here), I also asked her about being a woman in politics.

What about Laura Sandys, I said, referring to the Conservative MP who had just announced that she would be standing down at the next election (I interviewed Creasy in December – it has taken a long time for this interview to be published). Her reply was sharp:

Stella Creasy: OK. This is really interesting – where you won’t like me – why are you asking me about that?

JR: Because my woman editor thinks there’s a problem with the House of Commons and the way it treats women.

I absolutely think that’s an issue in a workplace that is four out of five men, like it is in the media, because we live in an 80-20 society, because it means that people do think, “Is that for me?” But I am just very sceptical because when Louise Mensch resigned I was deluged with phone calls saying, “Can I get a comment from you about whether this means women – ?”

I was like, “I’ll stop you there. I have not got children, yet, my partner does not work abroad, I don’t write novels, I’m not even in the same political party as this woman, why are you making the presumption that I could understand what she’s been going through? Here are the names of five of my male colleagues who have young families who I know are torn about the fact that they don’t get to see their kids as much as they want to – call them.” None of them got a phone call.

I just caution this notion that it’s always a gender issue first, not necessarily a parenting issue. As a committed feminist one of the sad things about my generation is that we haven’t cracked the fact that childcare is a parents’ thing rather than a woman’s thing. Still too often – I notice it with my friends, I notice it with my constituents – there is a fear about what having children will do. I don’t think this place is any different. I think the challenges about women in this place go beyond childcare and beyond whether people standing down is indicative of that. Actually it’s about language, it’s about tone, it’s much more about the unconscious expectations.

I got into a fight last night about this at Matt Forde’s Political Party. Somebody in the audience commented on what I was wearing. And I snapped back, absolutely, because I have a quiet anger that this stuff goes unchallenged – and sometimes it is not so quiet – and everyone got very cross with me and I suddenly thought that it is very hard to explain the different sensation of being a woman in public life and it’s not just about this place. It is in the media; it is the fact that your woman editor says, “Oh you should ask about this.” I don’t know her, I haven’t had these conversations, but just because I happen to be the same gender means that I understand what she’s going through. But there is that presumption, in the way that, if John Woodcock was sat here would you be asking him about one of the men who’s standing down – Bob Ainsworth?

When you start to call it out people feel very uncomfortable about having it called out, but one of the things we have to do is, as [Gustav] Ichheiser, the great sociology theorist, said about the absence of debates as well as debates – that what is missing is as important as what is spoken. You’ve always known that I’m a nerd –

JR: It is true that no one talking about the proportion of 2010 men who are standing down.

SC: There is a statistical challenge but in itself the presumption that I would have a special connection is the challenge that we face: the idea that there are women’s issues. If men were clever, feminism would be our top priority because societies that are equal are more prosperous and yet the numbers of men who will say to me, “Look at me, I am a feminist too,” as if I should be grateful and I think, “We all benefit from it.” I know that sounds spiky. I mean it in a gentle way. Until we start challenging these perceptions – this place is rife with it; that’s no different from British society. I’ve done debates here where when women have spoken they have been called emotional, irrational, and I think you’ve not done that to men and believe me I’ve been as boring as they are and I’ve called people out on this.

I was talking about the “No to Page 3” campaign to Liam Fox. He said he agreed with it but it was not really a big issue. I said, “I don’t know how to express to you what it is like to be judged on how you dress and how you look all the time.”

A journalist congratulated me [on the payday loans victory] for changing perceptions of women MPs. There is a journey we have to travel. It is not just about this place, it is about British society. That is why I am angry.

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  • Pacificweather

    This is an interesting generational issue. Women have never been so free and able to do the jobs to which they aspire but some, I believe it’s a minority, still feel insecure about their position in society. My aunt, who is in her eighties, never believed she was inferior to men and says she was never treated as inferior. Was she judged by what she wore I asked her. Probably, she said but as I had good taste I am sure it was positive but if it wasn’t I would not have been in a different position to those men who wore terrible suits and ties. What do you think about page 3 girls? I had to explain what page three was. There have always been women who defined themselves by what they looked like or took their clothes of for money she said. The test for me is whether or not they have other choices in life. If they do and that is how they want to live their life then who am I to object. Trashy newspapers and magazines have always been popular and women are much more critical of their own sex than men she added. What do you think of Stella Creasey I asked. She seems to be a well educated woman who has, or pretends to have, a flibbertigigget mind. I doubt that will help her to achieve her goals. She should think more and talk less by which I mean she should talk to the point. I am not sure she yet knows what her point is.

  • greggf

    May I ask what is your Aunt’s view of MrsT Pacific?

  • Ciaran Goggins

    Why oh why John did you choose Creasy for your downfall? She cites Mensch. Who named the “victim” in the Ched Evans rape trial but was not arrested by North Wales Police. So proof of one law for the rich, another for the poor. Why doesn’t Creasy want anonymity for rape trial defendants (in line with ECHR?) Given the aquittals of Nigel Evans, William Roache, Michael Le Vell? Creasy with the dire Caitli* Moran forms the Greasy/Moran axis that along with Caroline Criado-Perez tells us that we are all Subconsciously Phallocentrically Oppressing Wimmin.

  • Charlie

    On the ‘Political Party’ show that Stella referred to I also distinctly remember HER saying, seriously without irony, that boys should be banned from wearing tight jeans because they look stupid.

    “I don’t know how to express to you what it is like to be judged on how you dress and how you look all the time.

  • Pacificweather

    She admires her for being dedicated to what she wanted to achieve and for her ability to control a diverse cabinet but she thinks she made foolish economic mistakes. She thought the Falklands war was a mistake economically at the time but was very pleased that it helped to remove the vile Agentinian junta. She dislikes the false persona she adopted and her affection for Ronald Reagan whom she despised but I have always thought she has more respect for her as a woman than she would admit. She has an instinct for character. She said I was a fool in 1997 when I supported Tony Blair. She saw through him from his first television appearance. She admired Babara Castle, especially for the way she handled Wilson, and, of course, Betty Boothroyd.

  • greggf

    Thankyou Pacific, I cannot demur with any of those views.
    I remember it was a surprise to see a “B-movie” actor attain the “top job” in the West – almost an (reverse) allegory of some of his Hollywood roles.

  • Pacificweather

    Ed Milliband could express it for her or Cameron, who was partly selected as leader for his appeal to women, but they wont because appearing to be self absorbed is not good for a politician’s career.

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