Imagine a male MP, writing in the Daily Telegraph, begs his colleagues to come together and form an emergency all-male cabinet to push through Brexit because women are too accommodating and won’t be firm and bullish enough to stand up to European leaders and demand a good deal for Britain. It is widely known men are more confrontational, more demanding, and less willing to negotiate away their red lines, so in the interests of delivering Brexit we need senior men from all parties to come together and form a new cabinet in the national interest.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas – feminist, progressive, breaker of barriers and critic of stereotypes – would be first in line to fire back, branding such a man a sexist who has demeaned his fellow men by assuming they all think and act the same way.
So why does she make the opposite point in The Guardian today, demanding an all-female Cabinet to stop Brexit – and expect no backlash? As well as the whole stopping Brexit thing, Lucas’ argument falls down in two main areas – sexism and politics.
Firstly, the sexism. Lucas writes that in her experience women are “less tribal” and more trusting, so can work together in the national interest to stop Brexit. I’m not sure what House of Commons she has been sitting in for the last nine years, but the idea that partisan warriors like Diane Abbott and Andrea Jenkyns could work together strikes me as more than a little pie in the sky.
Lucas also lumps together 51% of the population (and 32% of the House of Commons), assigning them passive, co-operative characteristics and – by extension – labelling men as confrontational and disobliging she feeds into the gender stereotypes she has spent much of her career fighting against. Ironically, these are just the kind of comments that so enrage certain feminists when they come from the likes of Jordan Peterson.
It’s particularly galling given that Lucas is a leading campaigner against gender stereotypes in early childhood. She, rightly in my view, highlights the damage stereotypes can do in forming children’s expectations of what boys and girls should and should not do and say. But by promoting A fantasy cabinet where the girls get round the table and sort it all out over a lovely cup of camomile tea she is feeding in to the very narrative she claims to oppose.
Then there’s the politics of Lucas’ proposal. Does she really think all women will come together to stop Brexit? Lucas claims she has written to senior women on all sides, but she has been notably selective, approaching only those who agree with her Brexit position. Justine Greening is an excellent MP and a former Cabinet minister, but at the moment she is markedly less senior than Liz Truss, Priti Patel or Theresa Villiers.
Lucas is clearly aware these female MPs have very different Brexit opinions to herself. As Liz Truss herself pointed out on Twitter, it is hard to think of anything more sexist than assuming someone’s gender determines their worldview or attitude. Lucas also said she would be open to men sitting in her emergency cabinet, singling out Dominic Grieve as a potential man on the all-women shortlist. But if that is the case, why set out your stall for an all-women cabinet at all?
Instead of abandoning her own principles and indulging in lazy political clickbait to draw attention to her plan to overthrow the elected government, Lucas would do well to focus on the real issues facing women in politics.
Women only make up a third of MPs and make excellent candidates are put off by the high barriers to entry. The working conditions in Parliament are difficult for most MPs, but the long hours and lack of proper maternity support make it especially off putting for women who want to get involved in elected politics. Perhaps Lucas would have more candidates for her ladies-only cabinet if she stopped playing politics and focused on making concrete improvements to our political system.