You can be a feminist and still hate Theresa May


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You can be a feminist and still hate Theresa May

The two aren’t mutually exclusive. This is why

There’s a great misconception when people talk about feminism. They assume if you identify as a feminist, that automatically means you have to love and support all women, even problematic women, even awful women, even women who do nothing to help other women. Women like Theresa May.

It’s not true. You can be a feminist and still think Theresa May is a fucking cunt, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. At least not for me. It’s an easy mistake to make. Theresa May is only the second female Prime Minister the UK’s had, which meant for some papers, her accidental leadership automatically qualified her as a feminist hero. And Theresa has contributed to some of that confusion, like the time she posed in a t-shirt emblazoned with “This is what a feminist looks like” on the front.

Comedian Bridget Christie commented on the irony of the stunt in her Edinburgh fringe show, and again in a Guardian column, where she said:  “I’ve been trying to work out what a Tory feminist is, because I keep seeing photographs of female Tory MPs in the newspapers, wearing T-shirts with ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ on the front of them.

“And on the back it says, ‘Not really, I’m a Tory, you gullible dick.’ Then underneath that it says, ‘I axed the health in pregnancy grant. I closed Sure Start centres. I cut child benefit and slashed tax credits. I shut down shelters for battered wives and children. I cut rape counselling and legal aid.’

“‘I cut funding for CCTV cameras and street lighting, making women much more vulnerable. I closed down all 23 specialist domestic violence courts. I cut benefits for disabled children. I tried to amend the abortion act so that women receive one-to-one abortion counselling from the pope before they go ahead with it.’ The back is much longer than the front, by the way. It’s a tailcoat, basically. They’re wearing tailcoats.”

There’s an argument, and it’s an OK argument, that says doubting Theresa May’s feminist credentials simply because she’s a Tory is unfair. Surely you can be both, people say. Surely it comes down to the individual. It does. That’s why it’s important to look at Theresa May’s personal achievements as a woman.

Like when she was accused of allowing the “state sanctioned abuse of women” at Draconian detention centre Yarl’s Wood, where women were referred to as “black bitches” and their self-harming behaviour was wilfully ignored. Theresa May, then the Home Secretary, extended Serco’s contract to manage Yarl’s Wood amid allegations of sexual abuse and rape at the centre, and sent a junior minister in her place to answer questions about the treatment of women detainees. Labour MP Yvette Cooper – also a woman – called her behaviour, justifiably, “a disgrace”.

Her voting record makes for particularly grim reading. She voted against lowering the age of consent for LGBT people. She voted against giving LGBT couples the right to adopt. She voted against making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race/caste. She voted against raising welfare payments in line with the cost of living. She voted to cut welfare benefits. She’s voted for stricter immigration and asylum policies.

A woman protests outside Yarl’s Wood detention centre

Under Theresa May’s short, chequered leadership period, things haven’t improved for British women. There hasn’t been some sort of second sexual revolution. Her party have cut millions from carer services, despite the fact that 72 per cent of carers, my mum among them, are women. She presides over a country where period poverty exists, where a proposed law to stop forcing women to wear heels to work was shot down.

In a Politico post, Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, calls Theresa May “female but not feminist”. She writes: “For a woman’s power to be truly consequential, she must wield it with an understanding of how it will affect the lives of other women.”

Feminism definitely doesn’t mean having to support every woman in the world despite their dodgy beliefs – nobody’s going to suddenly declare what a feminist hero Ivanka Trump is – but it does mean intersectionality. It does mean using your position of privilege to help women who don’t have that privilege, and that’s where the complication of being both a Tory and a feminist is. Theresa May isn’t even the only one guilty of the only-the-right-type mentality. Here’s fellow Tory woman politician Edwina Currie lamenting the fact that Britain, where child poverty has skyrocketed since 2010, has fat people (and are obviously undeserving of help because of their body type).

Theresa May, like Edwina Currie and Margaret Thatcher before her, aren’t feminists just because they were born with vaginas. They follow the Tory tradition of faux-feminism, and that’s a little bit more complicated, and a little bit more paper thin. You can be a Tory and feminist, and you can be a Theresa May Tory while being a feminist, so long as you accept that Tory feminism means that to the world you can look like you care for women, only if you care for the right ones (the ones who are white, affluent, straight, thin, and who of course vote Conservative).