Is any woman better than no woman?

10 09 2012

Those reading this who are ages with me will remember a programme fronted by Ester Rantzen called “Children of Courage”.The format was to profile children who had been struck down by illness and illness and highlight their courage in facing adversity.

I remember disliking the programme immensely. Not just for it’s mawkishness and patronising attitude towards the young people featured but for the fact that I didn’t believe that they were truly courageous. To me courage was a matter of choice. Courage came when individuals chose to put themselves in danger and overcame their fears by doing so. It was unfortunate to be born with a disability or to contract a disease not a choice, so the possibility of exhibiting courage just didn’t arise

As I have seen more of the world I view courage differently. It is nothing to do with putting yourself in danger but rather a measure of how we face and overcome fear. I see courage in the articles that Lynne McNicoll writes for this magazine each month. Courage from the young people who face their illnesses with strength that I doubt I would be able to exhibit and courage from Lynne in putting herself in the path of suffering with little concern for her own health and wellbeing in order to help ease the pain of youngsters and their families.

So, do you show courage

I suspect that I am not alone in never having heard of Chloe Smith until this week. Her inability to answer questions put to her by Jeremy Paxman has since filled many a news programme and fills many column inches in the Sunday broadsheets. Her bosses are being blamed for letting her out alone but the fault is hers and hers alone. She performed badly on Channel 4 news and compounded this failure by not getting herself better prepared in advance of her later appearance on Newsnight. Had she never heard of Jeremy Paxman? Did she think that having seen the earlier mauling he would go gently with her?

And what has this to do with courage?

The problem is that there are so few women in public office that when one individual performs badly it is frequently represented as being a collective failure of womankind. The premise that her bosses shouldn’t have sent a woman to do a man’s job is clearly preposterous but one that has established a foothold in the aftermath of her performance. When Ed Milliband performs badly we reflect on his shortcomings and do not project these onto all men. The boss shouldn’t have sent Chloe Smith but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have sent a woman.

It is often said that women don’t put themselves forward for public office as they are unwilling to face public scrutiny and high profile disasters like the one that has floored Chloe Smith. I think that there is some truth in this. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in her shoes reading the newspaper reports this weekend but until more of us are prepared to put our heads above the parapets the few women who do put themselves out there, good or bad, will be seen to represent us all.

So while I cannot defend the incompetence that is Chloe Smith I have to accept some responsibility as she was the best that women in politics could offer – and, by the way, so do you.



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