First female Commissioner of the Met?

// 11 November 2008

The Metropolitan police are inviting applications for the post of chief Commissioner following Boris’s ousting of Sir Ian Blair from the position last month, and Cambridgeshire police’s Chief Constable, Julie Spence, could well be in the running. The Guardian reports that this would be the first time a woman has applied for the prestigious post.

Spence first joined the police in 1978, when sexism in the force was rife:

A common initiation rite for WPCs was to imprint their bare buttocks with the station stamp. Women were confined to a separate police division until the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 compelled their integration into the main police force.

She was the first married woman in Avon and Somerset police – apparently women were expected to leave the force once they married and had children – and is now the president of the British Association of Women in Policing. Asked about the prevalence of sexism in today’s force, she responds:

“I took on the role as president of the British Association of Women in Policing because I wanted to make a difference.” Women now make up nearly 25% of the force, compared with 16% in 2001. There are five chief constables and more than 10% of Acpo’s 250 senior police officers are women. Things are improving, says Spence, but sexism lingers. “You think it’s gone away and there are pockets of it and you do see women struggling.”

A study published at the end of 2005 suggests that both sexism and homophobia remain widespread in the force.

However, despite flying the flag for women in the police force, Spence appears to hold some troubling views, having been held up in the right wing press as a no nonsense spokesperson for the ills of immigration. While she acknowledges in the Guardian interview that any increase in crime rates following an increase in the migrant population of Cambridgeshire is “no more or less than you’d expect with any rapid movement of people into the country”, she also comes out with such gems as:

“What is it that makes people fearful? And some of it […is] the fact you hear lots of different languages going around. It just feels unsettling because you don’t understand what people are saying, so you don’t know whether it’s anything to be worried about or not.”

Terrorists, the lot of ’em. Then there’s this:

“…the Lithuanians probably live in houses of multiple occupancy and then they spill over into the parks and they drink, urinate, and actually all they are doing is having fun, but it doesn’t help tension and cohesion”

Because people born in the UK never get pissed in parks or share houses…

Oh, and she also reads the Daily Mail.

We’ll see what happens – the deadline for applications to the post is December 1st, and the current favourite for the job is a man, Sir Paul Stevenson, who will become acting commissioner when Blair steps down – but I think this could be one of those cases where a lone woman breaking through the glass ceiling might be progressive symbolically but not necessary translate into genuine social progress: I’m afraid I simply can’t trust a Mailite to take the welfare and rights of the thousands of immigrant women and men in our capital seriously, and that’s just for starters.

Comments From You

Jessica // Posted 11 November 2008 at 1:39 pm

I like finding women who read the Daily Mail and express centre-right views*. It reminds me that a) not everyone is the same, b) many people disagree with me, and c) that women are as diverse as men and can be just as wrong (in my opinion) as men.

*That’s not to say I like the Daily Mail.

Sarah // Posted 11 November 2008 at 2:32 pm

I agree with Jessica – yes it would be amazing to have a feminist woman in such a role, however we have to be careful we’re not holding her to higher moral standards than we would a man. That isn’t particularly feminist.

Having said that, I do find her quoted comments stupid and offensive, but then there are plenty of women and men who hold similar view, unfortunately. But I think it’s perfectly possible to disagree with her as an individual while being pleased to see women aiming to break new ‘glass ceilings’. Same way I felt about Sarah Palin, for example.

Anne Onne // Posted 11 November 2008 at 4:02 pm

@ Sarah: Puts us in a difficult position, though, doesn’t it?

On the one hand we have to be careful not to judge them more harshly, because a POC can be homophobic, or sexist, or ableist, or even racist, and a woman can be homopobic, racist or transphobic, etc.

On the other, we can’t give them an easy ride because we want diversity.

So, we end up criticising them roundly (remembering to fight our own internalised prejudices and examine the way we see them) for their problematic words and decisions, whilst having to defend them against discrimination and bashing on the basis of their gender/sexuality/race/disability/size etc.

I am glad that there are more women in higher positions of authority. Yes, they’re not always going to be liberal or do good things, but it would be no different than if an equally conservative man was in her shoes. The important thing is, we don’t support someone just because they look like us, nor do we ignore problematic things just because they were said by a woman. Which is what the mainstream white, male, het media accused Obama or Clinton supporters of doing a while back, and we always see echoes of this. Sometimes we feel we need to fight harder to prove that we AREN’T blindly following anyone with a vagina, whilst at the same time having to remind less than progressive progressives that feminism is for EVERYONE, not just women we like.

thisonewoman // Posted 11 November 2008 at 9:35 pm

I have to say I cant get excited about this. I don’t think it matters how diverse the police is or who is in charge it is still part of the repressive state apparatus, so pretty much anti everything I stand for

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