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Women in the Lib Dems and the female Lib Dem blogosphere

*takes a deep breath and delves into a blog and isn’t isn’t how it will end up sounding like*

I was already researching a blog on female bloggers within the Lib Dems when I came across this piece entitled You should have your tongue ripped out”: the reality of sexist abuse online over at The New Statesman by Helen Lewis Hasteley. It’s a powerful piece detailing how much abuse women bloggers get and gets quite heavy and some of what these bloggers have to face up to is abhorrent and that is putting it lightly.

However I’m not going to get into that piece. It sums up some of the problems that female bloggers face and is well worth a read. I’m going to look into the Lib Dem blogosphere and the proportion of women in it considering we aim to be a diverse party and then get into women at a more national level.

When up at conference I spoke to (and overheard) numerous complaints about the lack of women amongst the Lib Dem Blog Awards winners. Men went 6/6 throughout the six categories and some felt this showed the party to not be diverse enough. Looking at the stats the general membership of the party was late last year (the last set of stats I can find) was 52% male to 48% female. Looking at the Lib Dem Blog aggregator though we find that 13% of the blogs listed are by women. That is quite a disparity.

Taking out the non Lib Dem award there were 19 people nominated for Lib Dem Blog awards and five of them were women. Bizarrely enough in every category we saw one female short-listed and three men. This equates to 26% of those short-listed were female bloggers therefore women were punching well above their weight compared to having only 13% of the blogs. You could read from this that the average content of the female bloggers was more recognised by the judging panel than their male counterparts.

It was also said both in Birmingham and on social media that it was a shame that all four of those who interviewed Nick Clegg were ‘white, middle-class men’. It should be noted that Caron Lindsay would have been interviewed the DPM had she been at conference on that Sunday morning. If my memory is up to scratch I think it was a family members birthday on the Saturday night and therefore she couldn’t get down to Brum in time for that interview on the Sunday morning.

In a way it felt to me then and still does now that some people believe that putting labels on people is an important thing. I am white and I am male, the middle-class bit we can discuss (did anyone see the photos from that interview with Nick Clegg? – I was wearing a hoodie FFS – that doesn’t scream out ‘middle-class’ to me but still…) and that is how people saw me. They didn’t see me as a blogger who had impressed a series of judges they saw me as a white middle-class male.

Speaking from a personal standpoint here (I’ve been told off before that I’m not allowed to speak from a personal PoV on my own blog) I don’t look at anyone and instantly put a label on them. Whether it be their gender, their sexuality, their skin colour, their age etc… I see everyone as equal. Yes I like some people more than others but when it comes down to it we all have feelings and we all bleed no matter who we are.

In blogging terms I don’t read a blog with preconceived ideas on the writer. What they write will mould my thoughts about who they are as no doubt my blog moulds my readers about the person and blogger I am. That is human nature. I read a few blogs a lot and then there are a few I read whenever I see it posted somewhere and it catches my eye. The bloggers that I return to on a regular basis are seemingly those that force me to think and that is how I like my blogging experience to be. I can get news anywhere but I want to have to think when I read blogs.

So what can be done about the supposed lack of diversity amongst Lib Dem bloggers?

Well firstly there are nearly as many women as men in the party of sheer volume isn’t itself a reason. Why do men seem to blog more than women on the whole within the party? Now that is a question I have no answer to. Here is a breakdown of Lib Dems in office compared to the average from other parties (data via a post by Mark Pack dated Nov 2010.:

55% European Parliament (+23%)
50% Welsh Assembly (+3%)
32% Welsh local councils (+7%)
32% English local councils (+7%)
31% Scottish local councils (+9%)
12% Westminster Parliament (-10%)
12% Scottish Parliament (-28%)

So there are plenty of women representing the party at five levels of government but nationally both in Holyhood and Westminster the level of females is too low. I know there is an argument that this is the reason we need a quota system or all female short lists. I do not believe this because that isn’t standing up to our philosophy that your age/race/gender/sexuality etc… doesn’t matter. We should elect who we best feel can represent our constituency not be forced into a quota system.

Some will say that seeing more female MPs will help inspire other women to get involved and make politics a fairer place gender wise. It is a fair argument but I’ve always wondered why people can only have role models of the same sex? Is Nick Clegg an inspiration to me? Yes. Is Paddy Ashdown an inspiration to me? Yes but also ask me if Jo Swinson is an inspiration to me then I’ll also say yes. As I would Lynne Featherstone etc… Just down the road from me in Brentwood we lost a councillor in May by just nine votes who was one of the hardest working and best councillors I have come across in Karen Chilvers. Does she inspire me to wanting to help better my own local community? Damn straight she does.

The Liberal Democrats as a party is not a closed shop. In a perfect world would there be a gender balance that is more in line with the membership numbers? Of course there would but clearly this is not an ideal world. So something has to be done that doesn’t go as far as All Women Short-lists but will help give women the leg up and in steps one of my favourite rules from a sport.

I suspect some of you have heard of the Rooney Rule. It is a rule from American Football that all teams looking to hire a new Head Coach have to interview at least one minority candidate. This does two things. Firstly the minority candidate might win over the owner and get the job but secondly it gives more coaches from a minority background the experience of the interview process. This is something maybe the party could look at.

I don’t know how many approved PPCs there are out there but I’d imagine there would be a significant amount. Could the party put it in there constitution that at least one woman has to be interviewed by a local party? Is that even how it works? I’d imagine a prospective candidate is interviewed either by the local party or at an open hustings or something like that. If the local parties are forced to at least interview one woman each time then it will give that talent pool a better shot of winning the nomination. Even if it means certain women being interviewed by more than one local party each time around? Is this allowed? I presume it is.

Something needs to be done. Both on the gender issue but also on the race issue. The Lib Dems in parliament are as pale as you can be. The courses being run to help those from the ‘non white, middle-class male’ backgrounds will help but until then we need to stop putting labels on such a range of our MPs, Councillors and even down to us lowly bloggers.

We are when it comes down to it all human first and foremost. Things won’t get fairer and more diverse just because we want it to, something needs to be done. There are just as many women as men interested in politics so the gender unbalance comes from another source. Women can be just as good of an MP as a man. We all know this but for whatever reason as a party we are producing very few MPs at a national level who are female. This no doubt has a lot to do with the lack of safe seats for the party, something the other two major parties don’t suffer from.

So to sum up in all forms of the party I think no-one is persecuted for their age/race/gender/sexuality etc… There is a lingering hangover that more men are in parliament than women and that is something that needs to be addressed but to do so via any means other than giving minorities more chances would be unfair. Should a white male be overlooked just because they are white and male? No. That is wrong. The best people should be nominated and elected. That to me should be underlined, written in bold and have a clear full stop at the end. I couldn’t care less if they were a man, a woman, black or white, straight or gay. The person who will best represent the party is the best candidate.

The doors are not closed for women and I don’t buy the argument that women need female role-models. I know I’m a man and I’ve been told by numerous people that I’m not allowed an opinion on female issues because my reproductive organs are on the outside instead of inside but I just don’t see it in this day and age when it comes to politics in the UK. We have had a female Prime Minister and other female party leaders. The barriers have been broken down. Any kid can grow-up to be an MP no matter who they are or where they are from. Do we need to give these people more of an opportunity? Sure but the door is not shut and it’s not even closing.

We should not lament that no women won any blogging awards or that all the winners were white and male. We should congratulate those who won and in the greater scheme of things is it really that important? Getting stick (as the Lib Dem Voice people did) for both the fact all the winners were male and white as well as all those interviewing Nick Clegg suffered from the same affliction is insane.

Personally speaking I’d welcome as many people into the blogging world as possible. You can never have too much contend to read. I’d also welcome anyone into politics who wants to be there. The more people who are genuinely interested then the better we’ll get at representing what people really want.

I just really think some people – make that a lot of people – want to put labels on everyone all the time and that is when problems arise.

Have no idea how this ramble will be received but heck we we go…

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  1. Tedra Tedra

    Hm. I wonder why women might not put themselves out there when the punishment for putting oneself out there is being called a cunt, threatened with rape, receiving explicitly or implicitly threatening phone calls *at home*, etc.

    Yeah, it really is silly to pretend that who one is actually makes a difference, isn’t it?


  2. neilmonnery neilmonnery

    People are really saying that? They are only all men shortlists as only men applied. If only women applied for a certain seat then it would be a natural only women shortlist.

    People really think like that?

    As you say it is completely open to anyone but if there are more men applying then you’d expect there to be a few all men shortlists out there – it is just the way statistics work…

  3. Nicola Nicola

    Another thing, I saw on twitter I think saying we accept All-Men shortlists but won’t accept All-Women-shortlists.

    I think its an interesting argument but not one I subscribe to. After all, its men who are putting themselves forward. There is nothing barring women from putting themselves forward apart from themselves or their mental perspective at the time.

    All-Women-Shortlists are about banning men from the shortlist and banning them from putting their name forward. That is wrong, in my opinion. De facto All-Men-Shortlists don’t seek to ban women.

  4. neilmonnery neilmonnery

    I had not heard of that debate and the results behind it.

    I agree totally with your last sentence. Give women or people from ethnic backgrounds etc… any extra training they want but don’t say they get a nomination just because of that. They still need to be the best person of those who apply – just like in any other job.

  5. Nicola Nicola

    I agree. Did you hear about the diversity debate at Scottish LD conference on this very issue? Conference soundly rejected quotas and extending Leadership Programme to Scotland – not because of the training – we all agree with that but the fact that selection committees for target seats have to shortlist 2 candidates from the Leadership Programme.

    In my opinion, if you’ve gone through the leadership programme, you shouldn’t need the quota in order to get short-listed.

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