New feature: In our satin tights, fighting for our rights! But are women really natural campaigners?

// 25 January 2010

Stereotypes about women drawn to campaigning because they are natural nurturers do more harm than good, argues Mhairi Guild

We’re a nurturing, caring bunch, aren’t we, ladies? Not like those mean, power-obsessed, emotionally illiterate menfolk. Things would be different if we ran the country/the banks/foreign policy, as we are increasingly often assured. And no doubt they would. I don’t dispute for a second that the testosterone-fuelled, profit-led, morally ambivalent systems that pervade business, politics, popular culture and oooh… most public spaces really, wouldn’t – like every area of our lives – be vastly improved by greater, more substantive equality of representation and input. But I am so very weary of the way in which female sensitivity, empathy and every other admirable, emotionally intelligent trait that gets lumped in with what is rather dismissively dubbed the ‘feminisation’ of the public sphere, is so often lauded as the answer as to our problems. It’s lazy, it generalises and it limits women as much as the men it caricatures as barbarians.

Indeed, I often wonder how many women – Harriet Harman being the most notable of the recent culprits – who peddle this line of female ethical superiority remember their early teens. Politics? Backstabbing? Emotional and psychological guerrilla warfare that would make a 1950s CIA agent blush? And that’s just within the intimate cherished circles of your BFFs. We have fabulous strengths and wisdom, comrades, but we also have serious bite. What set me musing on this most recently was an interesting piece titled ‘Women at War’ in the Observer Magazine a few weeks ago, which drew attention to – and rightly celebrated – the prevalence of women among the current crop of environmental and legal justice activists, and in the charitable and campaigning sector more broadly.

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