Tuesday, 28 July 2015

When will the LibDems 'woman problem' end?

Note : I've had this post written for a little while but haven't posted it. I'll explain why I have decided to post it today.

When will the LibDems 'woman problem' end?

1. When it's no longer acceptable for a female candidate to be told to wear a certain kind of bra to make her bust smaller and reduce any 'distraction'.

2. When we act firmly and quickly against instances of harassment ensuring that the party can rightly be called a safe space.

3. When we stop assuming that we elect women to parliament by moulding them in the image and style of the sitting MP they're succeeding.

4. When we focus on 50/50 representations in all areas of our party - not just our candidates lists.

5. When our members call bullshit on male candidates spreading pregnancy rumours about opponents during selection campaigns.

6. When leadership schemes focus on building a CV to help get people elected rather than building a wardrobe of brightly coloured cardigans and matching accessories.

7. When we offer real support (and yes, I mean financial support) to those who might not otherwise be able to afford to run for office.

8. When we require gender balance instead of zipping (they're NOT the same thing).

9. When casual 'banter' about sexual encounters in online forums is seen as the seedy throwback that it is (yes, I am talking about 'LibDem Chat-up lines', 'jokes' where you ask if somebody would like to take your deposit aren't funny, they're grim.)

10. When selection panels are properly trained and are made aware of what is and isn't an acceptable question to ask a prospective candidate - this includes Local Government.

11. When we stop excusing bad behaviour because 'it's just his way'.

12. When we accept that the fact that the vast majority of our organisers are men is a real problem.

13. When we realise that getting women elected isn't about taking glossy photographs and offering them leaders visits - it's about giving their campaigns early money and expertise to get a fair chance.

14. When we stop choosing failed and disgraced ex-MPs over new and exciting female candidates.

15. When we enforce a responsibility to report any inappropriate behaviour - putting the focus on the onlookers, not the victim.

I've had this written for a little while and add to it occasionally. I hadn't posted it, because like many others, I don't like the idea of speaking ill of the party that I care about. The Liberal Democrats get enough shit in the press without me pitching in.

That said, there comes a time when the shitty deal that so many of my friends and colleagues have gotten becomes more important. Of course it's important to stand by your party and defend it, but it's more important to stand with those that our systems are failing.

During the leadership campaign there was talk of a 'Morrissey 2' report, which is an interesting idea. I have one point to make. Morrissey 1 might have meant that we employed a Pastoral Care Officer, but if it's successor doesn't call for root and branch reform of our party, I question what impact it will have. The Morrissey Report is great, but what difference does it make to a local branch populated by old men? What difference does it make to the way that we treat our female parliamentary candidates? What difference does it make to how we campaign for female candidates?

If I had to answer my own question, about the LibDem 'woman problem', it would be to say this - we'll start to solve the problem that we have when we stop pretending that it doesn't exist and start looking it in the face and frankly, that better happen fast because I know of plenty of people who have had just about enough.


  1. I'm going to continue my one woman validating against 50/50 here. Please stop reinforcing the gender binary. Genderqueer people do exist and 50/50 leaves no place for them.

    Other than that, great post. I've one I could add, but as it's ongoing...

    1. I've only just seen this Jennie, so sorry for the late response. You're absolutely right, and I'm sorry for my lax thinking on this. I'm glad that we have people like you willing to point this out ad infinitum to others who aren't up to speed. ;)

  2. Validating = campaign #damnyouautocorrect stupid swipe keyboard on phone

  3. It is very hard to disagree with most of Sam's points. Indeed many of her points are about very shallow thinking or just plain discourtesy.

    I am sure that, by now, I will qualify as one of Sam's "old men", but that means that I have plenty of experience to show that mixed gender groups do very much better than single gender groups or committees. And I would agree with Jennie that (from experience) "genderqueer" people have a lot to offer as well. Gender is not the only qualification for inclusion. Indeed, as the father of a child with Downs syndrome, and with experience of Downs people working in committees I would suggest that the talents of people with learning dificulties should also be tapped by the party as well.

    However, while doing everything that we can to ensure that everyone is encouraged to take part at all levels in the party, we should not assume that that will mean that every committee should contain the same proportion of members from particular groups as there are in the population as a whole ("zipping"?), or that we should judge our success (or failure) by an exact mathematical ratio. If committees depart from a 50:50 gender ratio, we should ask why, but we should not assume some scandal. After all, it would be surprising if people as diferent as men and women (with diferent skeletons, internal body organs and layout, diferent endocrine systems, etc social history? etc) always wanted the same jobs. They should always have the same opportunities, but may not wish to, or be able to, take advantage of all the oportunites that they are offered. Just as a gender imbalance on a committee does not always imply a fault in the system, it is also not a judgement on those of one gender (sexual orientation or disabilty etc etc) who choose not to apply for membership of that committee.

    Some jobs or committees will be very much more attractive to people of particular genders, sexual orientation, ability, training etc, than others. (You might expect more accountants, of either gender, on a finance committee, for example) While encouraging people from all groups (including many that I have not mentioned - and perhaps that no one has yet defined), we should not create straight jackets for ourselves.

    And while acknowledging that there have been and still are many artificial obstacles to women becoming MPs etc one should also recognise the huge achievemnets of those who have overcome those obstacles, and changed the world for the better.

    But rude, criminal, shameful, eccentric, shallow, and narrow minded behaviour of which Sam complains is a disgrace, and should have no place in a Liberal Party.