Theresa May is not your feminist icon – Rachel Smith

“We live in hysterical times”, Suzanne Moore wrote of our current political climate in a recent article for the Guardian.

After over a century of enduring gender stereotypes (thanks, Freud), it seems that the tables have turned: men, in politics and elsewhere, are in desperate need of a superwoman to swoop in and administer the smelling salts. She should be sensible, rational, level-headed, and look a lot like what Sheryl Sandberg described in her 2013 book Lean In. Having climbed the highest rung of the socio-economic ladder, this high-power, high profile woman will be formidable to behold. She might even ‘have it all’.

Girl Summit 2014

Such discourse now surrounds Theresa May as she continues to push for Tory leadership. May has occupied a seat in Parliament for over ten years now, and has held the position of Home Secretary for six. Her productivity as Home Secretary is undeniable, and with the help of a good wardrobe, she’s often been lauded by women’s magazines and online feminists as an example of how feminism has succeeded to influence politics and wider culture.

In recent years, gender and racial diversity in cabinets has been an increasingly important issue in politics, and whilst no one can argue that increased representation is not An Objectively Good Thing, tangible change within marginalised communities remains to be seen.

Success for one individual is not success for the whole. A woman in power is just as capable of passing laws that actively endanger women as another male Prime Minister. For all of Theresa May’s cool-headed ambition, she has a well-known portfolio of damaging policies which disproportionately disadvantage working-class women, single mothers, women of colour, and migrant women.

Girl Summit 2014

May scrapped moves to protect victims of domestic abuse from precarious and dangerous living situations in 2010, and rapidly deteriorating conditions and treatment in Yarls Wood detention centre have sparked extensive protests from collectives like Sisters Uncut. Her proposed changes to immigration and deportation not only threaten to break up vulnerable families, but also show a disregard for the socio-economic structures that keep these families in states of precarity and further entrench levels of poverty and inequality across the country.  

“A woman in power is just as capable of passing laws that actively endanger women”

Logic dictates that more women in parliament = greater freedoms, opportunities, and brighter futures for women in society across the board. When we see women occupying our top business positions and lobbying for a tighter pay gap, change seems possible. But this is true only for certain sections of society: barriers to education, healthcare, maternity leave and even the right to remain in the UK are still very much a reality for most women.

We need to push for structural, collective change in order to protect the women most vulnerable to harm, exploitation, and poverty.


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