It is expected that Theresa May would be a feminist. As the second ever female Prime Minister in the UK and former Minister for Women and Equalities, it feels as though it should be inevitable. Her lengthy career as an MP in the male dominated Houses of Parliament should serve as an education for at least some of the issues women face. In 2014, Mrs May wore a t-shirt reading ‘’This is what a feminist looks like’’ as part of a campaign lead by the Fawcett society. So, it may seem surprising that when asked by Vogue’s Gaby Wood in March of this year if she was a feminist, May replied, ‘’I haven’t thought about that for a very long time!’’. Her actions as Prime Minister make it clear that, no, she hasn’t thought about feminism in a very long time.
Theresa May once promised ‘’actions not words’’ in a speech about confronting the issues faced by women. True to her word, action has been taken – but not the kind that was expected. Her most recent ‘’action’’ has been the £1 billion deal with the DUP. The Northern Irish party have some notoriously conservative views, including being anti-abortion and not believing in LGBT rights. The partnership between the Conservative’s and the DUP is an acceptance of the latter’s almost unbelievable policies. In this instance, Theresa May has certainly forgotten her once feminist values – giving no regard for how detrimental the DUP’s policies are to women. Northern Ireland has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, forcing women to travel to England to receive a treatment that would otherwise be free. By creating a government propped up by the DUP, May is taking the side of the oppressor.
Another ‘’action’’ from Theresa May with no regard for the damaging effects it will have on women, is her selling arms to the oppressive Saudi Arabian government. A country where women are not allowed to drive and need permission from a man to travel abroad. The British government have sold over £3 billion worth of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, allowing them to continue their bombardment of Yemen. This is a conflict that has left over 10,000 people dead and 17 million in need of urgent humanitarian aid. Unsurprisingly, women are some of those worst effected, with 1000 pregnant women facing death or life-threatening complications due to a severe lack of medical professionals and resources. Contrary to her t-shirt, the Prime Minister looks very much unlike a feminist.
When Theresa May does bother to remember to be the feminist she once claimed to be, it’s clear that it’s only for a very particular type of woman. She co-founded a programme called Women2Win, which encouraged more female Conservative MP’s – overtly helping a very niche group of women. This, combined with voting against gay couples having adoption rights, backing austerity measures, and voting against increasing the top rate of tax, Theresa May’s sporadic feminism is far from intersectional. It is clear who benefits from programmes like Women2Win and decreases in top rate tax: wealthy, white, and upper-class women. Some of those worst affected by austerity measures are black and Asian women, a demographic clearly forgotten and left behind by Theresa May’s agenda. Less fortunate women are left to suffer the consequences of austerity, which affects four times as many women than it does men. Austerity has even seen the gender pay gap increase, which is rather ironic since May previously lead a campaign titled ‘’Theresa May for Equal Pay’’. Far from closing the pay gap, the Prime Minister has widened it. There is no denying that she certainly has forgotten her feminism.
With deceiving credentials as Minister for Women and Equalities and cunningly spinning the intended insult ‘’bloody difficult woman’’ into a sort of trademark, the lure of Theresa May’s false feminism is strong. A vote for Theresa May was not a vote for women, but a vote against women. She is not a feminist by default, just for being the second ever female Prime Minister. Her policies actively promote institutionalised sexism and perpetuate misogyny. All Theresa May has done is make it bloody difficult to be a woman – in Britain, and beyond.
Written by Katherine Buckland