Earlier this week a message appeared on my facebook page, “woman’s hour top 100 women, what d’ya think?”
Leaving aside that I am a middle aged woman from Liverpool and not a teenager from the ‘hood, I’ll tell you what I think.
My first thought is that the list says more about the women who voted than it does about women as a whole, or at least I hope it does. Nothing screams Middle England more loudly than Radio 4 and the Woman’s Hour top 100 list reflects their prejudices – lots of middle class white folk with a few darker faces included so as not to appear racist. How else would The Queen have come out as number 1 with the judges?!
That she has influence is without question, but how has that influence been used other than to foster privilege and enforce the entitlement that the upper class feels in ruling over the rest of us? A situation never more obvious than with the current crop of Old Etonians and Bullingdon Boys who populate the cabinet. The judges, in placing The Queen at the head of the list, have served to reinforce the paradigm that it’s not what you know but who you know that matters in 21st century Britain. And that it’s not what you do but how much money you have that is to be admired.
What message does this send out to the millions of young women setting out on their careers? Just this, that if you study hard enough, go to university, get a good job and work hard you might just be lucky enough to be born Queen of England.
I have no truck with any of Margaret Thatcher’s policies but would have been happier for her to head the list as it is undeniable that she reached her position of influence from personal ambition and determination (and OK Denis’s money helped but she could have settled for a less high profile position as did most Tory wives).
And so few politicians on the list? I can’t argue with that as where are the female leaders to take over from her, Shirley Williams, Barbara Castle? Theresa May, the invisible Home Secretary, is another example of a senior woman who should have influence but who has exerted none. That she came second on the list is a disgrace.
I suspected that I would be less than impressed by the list and avoided listening to the awards programme but I did catch the last couple of minutes, just long enough to hear the presenters making their closing remarks.
What struck me was the immutable smugness of Jenny Murray and Jane Garvie. Remember the story of the dog riding a bicycle? It’s not done well but amazing that it is done at all. The tone of the closing remarks was just like that: “Thank you to all you lovely ladies here today, the lovely ladies who voted, the lovely ladies on the list. Aren’t we all wonderful? We’ve managed to come here this morning, without our lovely husbands even managed to find 100 lovely women to vote for.” Rather than lamenting the lack of real influence and the clear gaps that the list threw up they were more than content that they had actually manages to find 100 women from whom to create a list.
We don’t need this list. What we need is a proper debate as to why so few women have real influence and why those that do have it chose not to use it.