Repeatedly called out for her lack of personality, her “cold-fish” and “control freak” tendencies, Theresa May is rapidly becoming yet another infamous figure of British politics. There is however a dislike for our PM now that is characteristically different, and perhaps even stronger, in comparison to the dislike felt towards those previous to her – a wide-spread public opinion that I find rather curious.
Now granted, in normal circumstances, politics is an area of life that I (and I’m sure many others) give very little of my already limited attention span to. However, given Britain’s recent never-ending, TV soap-style government, I believe it would be wrong of any of us to completely ignore the political state of the country we live in – nowadays being ignorant is definitely not as sexy as being cultured!
Disregarding the elections, questionable manifestos and highly opinionated debates, I would be lying if part of me was not slightly proud to have a female prime minister. Without trying to make too many readers shudder as you wonder if you’ve accidentally stumbled across an aggressive feminist rant, let me put you at ease now. To have a woman in charge of Britain is not something I feel proud of because of a feeling that she deserves to be there as a symbol of female dominance. No, I am proud to have a woman as our Prime Minister as it shows that this country has perhaps stopped using gender as a determinant of someone’s ability to lead others.
“Could it be that the cold, heartless image our PM offers us is actually the result of a woman trying too hard not to be labelled as weak by her fellow colleagues?”
That being said, I have found the criticism against Theresa May rather interesting. In our society, disliking and disparaging our PM is pretty much deemed fair play. If you’re aiming for such a powerful position in government you’d be naïve to think that you wouldn’t come across people that disagreed with you and weren’t overly polite about it. The theme created around Theresa May is one of her being cold and senseless – an image that has recently grown in intensity, especially since her lack of public appearances after the horrific Grenfell Tower fire. And this is a criticism only encouraged by Jeremy Corbyn’s far more hands on, empathetic approach which saw him visit residents of the Tower.
My main question, however, is if the claims over Theresa May’s so-called personality bypass are actually a fair criticism. As I previously mentioned, I like to think of May’s rise to power as being due to society’s disregard of the differences between gender’s abilities. But when I made that assumption I believe I only applied it to people like me – the bread and butter public, the everyday British person. It came to light whilst watching May over the last few months that perhaps the fair, gender equal life I lead doesn’t apply to her like it does to me. In an industry with very few female representatives, could it be that the cold, heartless image our PM offers us is actually the result of a woman trying too hard not to be labelled as weak by her fellow colleagues?
“Is society misjudging these powerful women’s strong persona as irrational?”
When we look at women in power, more often than not, critics will deem their personality to be impersonal and ruthless, creating an image of a formidable ice-queen. Margaret Thatcher was found to be “vindictive and nasty” by her fellow Conservative MP James Prior. Hillary Clinton has been called “dominant” and “controlling” by critics. Even the technically fictional, highly successful Miranda Priestly in the film adaption of The Devil Wears Prada is deemed “a notorious sadist”.
What I find myself wondering is whether such women find it in themselves to be overly merciless in order to avoid society seeing them as too feminine and therefore too weak for such a responsibility. Or is it in fact society misjudging these powerful women’s strong persona as irrational, whilst their male counterparts unquestionably act in an equally controlling demeanour?
“Theresa May will never be judged completely fairly in comparison to her male colleagues”
It begs the question of what society as a whole is willing to accept of the individuals running our country. When allegations surfaced against David Cameron over some rather questionable entanglements with a pig during his university days, despite a fair deal of jokes made at his expense, never did anyone question his ability to run our country because of it. I would not be surprised however, that had the tables been turned and this had been about Theresa May, the damages to her reputation would most certainly outweigh those of Cameron’s. We laugh at May when she says the naughtiest thing she’s ever done is run through fields of wheat, but could it be that she hides her true personality for the very reason that male politicians seem to get away with more outlandish behaviour than women?
Moreover, May’s wardrobe choices are often trolled: Alison Phillips, for example, focuses on “the dreadful leopard skin shoes, the leather trousers, the Billy Connolly cast-off suit“. Phillips writes that her dull, predictable interests will give our society a Prime Minister “like Thatcher on acid”. When you take this all into account, ask yourself: how often can you say you’ve seen the media call out a male politician as being unfit for their role because they’ve worn the same, untailored suit (probably bought in an M&S sale) multiple weeks in a row?
However much we criticise our politicians, Theresa May will never be judged completely fairly in comparison to her male colleagues. Perhaps you disagree with what she stands for; a perfectly justified opinion to have. But next time you find yourself disagreeing with Theresa May, take a moment to ask yourself – would you agree with what’s being said more if it were it being said by a man?
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Image from Teacher Dude on Flickr, License here.