politics feminism

Harriet Harman is quoted as saying that “One of Labour’s top two posts should always be held by a woman”, and that she does “not agree with all-male leaderships” because men “cannot be left to run things on their own”.

I initially started writing about how I felt that positive discrimination was a bad thing, and that discrimination for whatever reason just harms both the group who are discriminated against, and probably the group who are discriminated in favour of, too.

Then I stopped and read what I’d written, and wondered if I was possibly missing the point by quite a wide margin. After all, it’s almost certainly not me who’d be gaining anything from positive discrimination. So, I had a look for some explicitly feminist opinions of positive discrimination (and came across various anti-feminist pieces on the way, plus one that started “I’m not a feminist, but…I’m in favour of equal rights for men and women”. If that’s not a feminist, what is?). I came across the following quote from former Liberal Democrat MP, Jackie Ballard: “Every liberal bone in my body is opposed to positive discrimination but every liberal bone in my body is even more opposed to gender inequality.”

That really struck a chord with me. I’m not going to say that the end justifies the means, because in a lot of cases it just doesn’t. In this case, though, I sort of feel that it does. A few years of carefully-regulated discrimination in favour of women and minorities, to redress the balance of decades (or centuries, even) of unregulated, out-of-control discrimination and bigotry against them, and working towards a truly equal society, can’t be a terribly bad thing.

Ann Widdecombe’s comments interested me, and Penny Red makes a similar point: she insists that positions should be handed out on the basis of merit, rather than mandating a 50/50 split between men and women. Why, though, aren’t these the same thing? If giving the jobs to the people who will do them best means giving most of them to men — why? Why aren’t there an equal number of women who can do a job just as well? If you think that government positions should be given out on the basis of merit, ask yourself why they’re overwhelmingly held by men.

All in all, a democratic government should reflect the makeup of the population as closely as possible. If it doesn’t, there had better be a bloody good reason why. If there’s a better way of getting there than positive discrimination, but in the mean time (and given that I don’t really have any useful suggestions myself), that’s what we’ve got.

(As an aside, I do have to object to Harman’s comment that “men cannot be left to run things on their own”. That sort of comment is on exactly the same level as “women belong in the kitchen” and such things. Men should not be left to run things on our own; we make up only half of the population and should have no more than half of the political power.)