“We need fewer women in politics”

These days, it seems that barely a day goes by without a politician saying something stupid or unpleasant. For example, this week Theresa May has given an interview to the Telegraph where she expresses some frighteningly McCarthayan views regarding Britishness and a veiled threat to those with radical politics.

There is a phenomenon which surrounds an unpleasant statement from a politician who happens to be a woman: some wag will invariably quip “and that’s why we need fewer women in politics”. Something similar happened with Nadine Dorries when she felt it would be appropriate to introduce a bill calling for abstinence education for girls only. The quip has been applied to Margaret Thatcher more times than she had closed mines.

Of course, it is almost always said in jest. The overwhelming majority of those who crack the tired joke do not really believe that half the population have no place whatsoever in politics. So why is this humourless feminazi so annoyed by a little joke?

This humourless feminazi is annoyed by a little joke as it taps so perfectly into a rather well-documented and incredibly irritating effect: attibuting to gender what can easily be attributed to being a dickhead.

Those who repeat the quip will declare that of course they are not sexist, and they genuinely do think that the number of women in politics should be no fewer than those that are already present. They still play directly into the hands of the system, though, and, like it or not, their quip is riddled with residual sexist attitudes and stereotypes.

Put simply, the idiocy and awfulness perpetrated by May, Dorries and Thatcher is almost completely nothing to do with their gender. What little can be attitributed to gender is that women in politics may be more likely to conform with the general consensus (laid down by a group of rich white men) due to stereotype threat. Much scholarly writing has also been dedicated to Margaret Thatcher’s performance of masculinity.

However, using dog-whistle racism to oppress, ruining sex education for a generation of young women, or destroying a country with neoliberal reforms is largely ungendered. Politicians do and say vile things all the time.

Where are the quips that Simon Hughes keeps abstaining from votes because he is a man? Where are the quips that we need fewer men in politics because Eric Pickles is determined to completely annihilate local public services? Why do we need any more men in politics when Andrew Lansley is in the process of cannibalising the NHS?

There are none. And this is because gender is irrelevant to what these politicians are doing. It is only called upon in women in a boring old joke because they are women and they are different and isn’t that funny that they’re doing politics, too?

If course we do not need fewer women in politics.

We need fewer dickheads in politics.

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