I’ll tell you what pisses me off. One, having my gender render me invisible; and two, being told I need to enter the online political mainstream in order to make my opinions matter.
Both of these things were lurking in the swampy undercurrent at NetrootsUK on Saturday – a potentially thrilling but ultimately stalled attempt at ‘building the progressive grassroots online’ which actually turned out to be a Labour party love-fest with no space for anyone who considered themselves to be of the Left, progressive and liberal but not necessarily a Labour voter. In fact, doesn’t the whole notion of organising progressive movements online fly directly in the face of party politics? Isn’t that why millions of disgruntled voters – including, shock horror, women – hung up their voting slips in May and retreated onto the internet where they were more likely to actually have their voices heard?
Women are engaged with politics, and women are online, and of the latter they are heavily more so than men. Let me be clear: this is no less important than being politically online, which, we were onerously informed, was where the real decision-making is happening and where women are conspicuous by their absence. ‘How we do get more women engaging in politics online?’ conference organisers mused, and then gave us a fringe workshop within which we expected to thrash it out in an hour and a half and then forward a succinct memo giving them the codes to our fuzzy little minds. Politically, women are only ever viewed as a tool to election success, a ‘minority’ whose voting behaviour can be cracked over a cup of tea and a packet of hobnobs at Mumsnet Towers. Women, Labour’s social networks need you! Give me a break.
And that’s the problem with the progressive Left – it self-congratulates for having more women in Westminster than any other political leaning, despite the fact these numbers are still shockingly low, and then naively believes that in providing a separate space for women to talk to other women about women, they’ve totally nailed that whole gender equality problem. Sorry, but that’s not good enough, and if nobody tells you, you’ll just keep doing it.
The economy, access, opportunity, welfare, health, family, work, education, life – I can point out how cuts in all these areas, thanks to the Coalition budget, will be felt disproportionately for women; how every single one will see over half the population become less empowered and less visible in the UK. But that’s horribly bad for all of us, not just for women. So why is Westminster 2.0 filled to the gills with white middle class men making assumptions about my future? And why, more importantly, has nobody bothered stepping out of that bubble and venturing to other parts of the country, and other parts of the Internet, to speak to anyone else?
If you’re taking on the progressive fight to end this madness, to stop the cuts and make sure you and your kids have libraries and free education and good healthcare and the right to walk down the street at night and not get mugged or raped – whether or not you’re a Labour voter – then you need to include women at every single point of that battle. My issues – my extra special women’s issues – are ultimately everyone’s issues. Next time, please prepare a conference where women are part of the overall conversation, are involved equally in every seminar, and aren’t consigned to the sidelines again whilst the men get on with the proper work.