So, a general election is on its way. A general election which comes on the back of major worldwide economic collapse, and two divisive conflicts in the Middle East – conflicts that have long term consequences for all of us, and have raised major questions about how our democracy works. A general election where the victors are likely to make decisions about wide ranging public service cuts, and an election in a climate where political apathy is so widespread it sometimes appears universal.
In the midst of this, apparently the question ‘du jour’ for pundits and politicians alike is how ‘we’ go about engaging female voters: how do ‘we’ attract the ‘mums’ vote?
We have party leaders going to Mumsnet to answer questions. We have almost daily discussion on Radio 4′s Woman’s Hour about how to attract that elusive female vote. Should I find this encouraging? Because I really don’t.
The fact that I am ‘sans penis’ does not somehow mean I need a raft of policies which treat me as stupid. I don’t want a tax allowance that rewards me for getting married. I would quite like politicians and pundits to stop with the insinuation that if they print the ballots in pink, with a free shoe voucher attached, somehow I will become engaged with the political process.
Stop treating female voters as ‘they’ – some marginalised section of the population whose heads are too empty for the complicated machinations of our political system, and whose only concern is when their child benefit is paid, or whether their local Sure Start centre survives.
As a single mother, yes of course I want to know how policies will affect my family life. I also think there may be a slight chance that my daughter’s father wants to know how policies will affect his family life. Tax credits, Children’s services, the NHS, education, and support for parents (working or not) – are relevant to both of us. There are even issues – like the gender pay gap, or the woefully inadequate legislative frameworks for rape and domestic violence – which mainly affect the female half of the population, but again concern us both.
My uterus producing a child had no effect on my cognitive abilities. When I became a mother, the world did not shrink down to my house, my child, and playdates. Neither did her father’s.
We live in a country where a very large proportion of the electorate are viewed as apathetic. I don’t know many people who are apathetic, but I do know many who are completely alienated from mainstream political processes, and for very good reason. If a large proportion of the electorate feel alienated, then politicians have a very important issue to address, and I am interested in how they will do this.
The only interest I can muster in the endless puerile discussions about the ‘womens’ vote is morbid fascination. If women have had equal right to participation in political processes since 1928, how is the discussion about engaging ‘them’ in 2010 so facile? If you really are a politician wondering how to make your policies relevant to half the electorate, and you truly see ‘women’s concerns’ as so different from your own – then you are in the wrong line of work.