What has Andrea Leadsom done? In that one infamous meeting with Times reporter, Rachel Sylvester, Leadsom seems to have done something that few politicians have done with such incredible skill; made comments offensive to the entire electorate.
I’m sure you’ll be familiar with Leadsom’s remark that being a mother gives her “a very real stake” in the future of Britain. This, she had argued, would make her a better choice for Prime Minister over her child-free rival Theresa May.
I think we can all agree this showed spectacularly poor judgement. A woman, Theresa May, was being judged on the fact she didn’t have children. That, for me, is an appalling thing to do and something that will have alienated a very large chunk of the female electorate.
Not that this makes it any worse, but May has previously spoken of her desire for children, and the sense of loss that she doesn’t have a family of her own. This suggests a private, medical issue. I have no desire to know what that issue is and it is not my business, or anyone else’s business, to know.
Moving swiftly on, The Times yesterday published further comments from the same interview. This time Leadsom’s comments were aimed at men.
Leadsom said it was “sensible and cautious” not to employer male childcare professionals as they could be sexually abusive. Apparently “your odds are stacked against you,” if you employ a man and there are, she claimed, statistics proving abusers seek out jobs where they work with children.
These were deeply unhelpful remarks, not least because I’ve never heard of the statistical evidence Leadsom is referring to (if you are familiar with it, please do share!). If you want statistics, I’ll give you one.
The childcare workforce in the UK is 2% male. Part of the reason for the woeful lack of male workers is that men struggle to work in this profession without being accused of criminal behavior. It hardly helps matters when a senior politician advises against hiring men to work in this field.
Secondly, I got thinking about this and I personally found the remarks deeply offensive. Followed through to their natural conclusion, the implication is that men cannot be trusted with children. This is exactly the kind of attitude that prevents men from becoming stay at home parents. This, in turn, keeps women chained to the kitchen sink.
Yes, okay, I was offended, but I think there’s a bigger game to be played here. I think one politician, in one poorly worded, badly thought out interview has proved that successive Governments have had the wrong approach towards gender equality issues.
For years we have had a Government Minister for Women and Equalities. Fact; women face discrimination and women still have gender battles to win. Leadsom’s comment about motherhood and having a “very real stake” in the UK’s future proves this.
Women should not be judged on the use of their reproductive organs. Then again, men should be able to work in childcare without suspicion of criminal intent.
The idea of having a Minister for Women and Equalities is outdated. It suggests women’s rights are more important than men’s. Some men’s rights activists have called for a rival Minster of Men.
I disagree; gender equality is such a fraught and complex area that splitting men’s and women’s rights wouldn’t work. I think we simply need to have a Minister for Equalities. This is a policy area where we need a joined up approach to make society a better place for men and women.
During the cabinet reshuffle over the past few days, the Prime Minister filled the Women and Equalities post. It went to Justine Greening. I was rather hoping Theresa May might have been courageous and dropped the “women” bit from the title. No such luck.
I wish Greening well in the post. I just hope she gets to achieve something while the Government is, quite understandably, bogged down in Brexit negotiations.
As for Leadsom, I also wish her well in her post as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. I just hope for her sake no further remarks surface of her slagging off tree huggers or hippies.