Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: It's patronising and frankly anti-feminist to say women politicians are nicer than men

So female MPs are less tribal and adversarial? Just have a look at the ones we've got, says Fionola Meredith

Arlene Foster and Michelle Gildernew could barely conceal their disdain for one another
Arlene Foster and Michelle Gildernew could barely conceal their disdain for one another
Fionola Meredith

By Fionola Meredith

When are we going to get over the idea that women are naturally nicer than men? Apart from being blatantly untrue, it does women politicians no favours to be corralled in the box labelled sweet, kind and consensual. It undermines their agency and authority to be reduced to some wafty essence of the eternal feminine. And yet still it keeps happening.

Caroline Lucas, the Brighton MP and former leader of the UK Green Party, recently called for an all-female cabinet of national unity in order to resist a no-deal Brexit. Why all-female?

Yup, you guessed it. It's because the ladies are "less tribal", according to Lucas, and so "they tend to find it easier to establish trust".

Waxing still more lyrical, Lucas claimed women "can bring a different perspective to crises, are able to reach out to those they disagree with and co-operate to find solutions".

What really blows me away is that, nine times out of 10, it's women themselves that characterise their sex in this silly, self-damaging way.

I'm tired arguing with veteran stalwarts of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition who continue to peddle such badly knitted claptrap on the airwaves and in print. Nothing will shake their belief that more women should be running the show because they are naturally less combative and more willing to work together than men.

Evidence, anyone?

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Lucas sent out a personal invitation to 10 hand-picked female colleagues from across the political spectrum, but she was widely - and rightly - criticised when it emerged that all of the women in her fantasy cabinet were white.

Not a single black or minority ethnic person among them. Lucas swiftly apologised for her embarrassingly all-white dream-team, as she certainly should.

But why hasn't she said sorry for wasting everyone's time with such an absurd suggestion as a women-only cabinet in the first place?

Ironically, Lucas cited Northern Ireland as an example of place where "intractable problems have found the beginning of resolution thanks to the leadership of women".

While there have undoubtedly been many women who have fought bravely and effectively for peace, including high-profile campaigners such as Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams of the Peace People, as well as countless, nameless others who helped to ease tensions and bring people together at a grassroots level, it's simply untrue to claim that our peace was won, or even initiated, primarily by women.

That's a feminist fairy tale.

In fact - whether we like it or not - it was predominantly the grim, hard-bitten men who eventually decided to sit down together and thrash out an imperfect truce.

If Caroline Lucas could bear to tear herself away from lovely, civilised Brighton and take a trip to the wild west that is Northern Ireland, she could see for herself one example of female leadership in action.

Or rather inaction, since the government led by Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill hasn't been in existence for several years, and shows no sign of imminent return.

The "intractable problems" which brought Stormont down have not found even the barest hint of resolution under their leadership.

At least Paisley and McGuinness, whatever you think of that pair - and in my case it's very little indeed for very different reasons - kept the ramshackle circus on the road. At least they chuckled occasionally.

For the most revealing instance of the wonderfully friendly, non-adversarial and non-tribal way that women politicians supposedly engage with one another, Ms Lucas should check out the joint BBC TV interview given this week by Mrs Foster and Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew.

The two politicians were interviewed standing alongside one another in solidarity against the Fermanagh dissident bomb attack on police. But within seconds it all went to pot, with Gildernew and Foster snapping bad-temperedly and cutting across each other, accompanied by much eye-rolling and head-shaking. The animosity, irritability and complete absence of trust between them was palpable. They looked as if they would like to throttle each other.

So much for the "different perspective to crises" and the ability "to reach out to those they disagree with and co-operate to find solutions" that women naturally bring to the negotiating table, according to Lucas and Co.

There is nothing about being a woman that makes you inherently nicer. The ability to be an effective political operator has nothing to do with the possession or otherwise of a pair of ovaries. So let's ditch this infantilising, patronising and anti-equality myth once and for all.

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