Just in case you hadn’t noticed, the run up to the general election has begun. And with the start of this political pantomime something miraculous has happened. I have become a woman. With women’s issues. Apparently these issues were around before the election but it is only now that the election has begun that the powers that be have decided to inform me that I should care about the tampon tax and other womanly matters.
So here’s the thing, a tax on tampons is outrageous. A period is not a luxury. Anyone who has had one will tell you that. And that’s something I care about. Companies are still turning away women because they are of an age that means they may go on maternity leave. And that’s something I care about. In 2013 it was shown that women will still earn 19.7 percent less than men for the same amount of work. Again this is something hugely important to me. But these are not the only things I care about. So strangely enough Nigel Farage promising to end the tax on tampons does not mean I will be going purple on May 7th.
Because the problem I have with the idea of women’s issues is this. If they exist, what are ‘men’s issues’? Do they get everything that’s left? I know the political arena looks pretty sparse without tampons and maternity leave but it does mean that they are left with the small issues of welfare, the NHS, tax, education and other tiny considerations like that. If women are targeted by politicians solely based on issues centred on their gender what does that say about their opinion on their ability to partake in mainstream politics? Are we therefore accepting that women are defined by their gender and so should vote accordingly?
Basically, these issues are not ‘women’s’, they are everyone’s. So, yes, put these issues on the agenda, but don’t use them as a way of getting women’s votes; use it to appeal to people’s sense of right and wrong. It is not a women’s issue that of 650 MPs only 148 are female, it is a problem for the whole population. Just like if the NHS was failing we would assume that not only those with illnesses would care, everyone should see these issues as morally unsound.
But this idea of targeting voters based on what will for them be a personal gain pervades our system. People do not vote based solely on what will benefit them personally and politicians in this election need to stop appealing to people’s selfish tendencies. Policies to benefit everyone’s self-interest are simply not possible: they will inevitably conflict. If this idea of pursuing our own individual benefit continues within politics, disillusionment will only continue to grow as people expect unachievable policies. But more than that, when politics becomes merely about self-interest it inevitably disengages those on the left and those who enter politics in order to benefit all. This is leaving us with a narrower and narrower political spectrum, and less and less choice between parties.
So, yes, I am a woman and although I don’t start my sentences with ‘as a woman’ or watch loose women every week I do care about ‘women’s issues’. But please don’t think that on the 7th of May I will be voting based solely on the price of my tampons. I will be voting based on what I perceive to be the greatest benefit to all, not just myself, and you should too.