This week, Piers Morgan interviewed Munroe Bergdorf, the transgender model sacked for claiming that 'all white people are racist'. During a heated interview, in which Morgan repeatedly challenged Bergdorf on structural racism, he made the following claim:
The five most powerful people in this country, currently, are women. How does that sit with your patriarchy?
This is hardly the first time that Piers has brought this up. He tweeted it as his 'Fact of The Day' on February 28th, and raised it again in an interview with Stephen Hawking the following month. In fact, he seems hell-bent on using it to disprove gender inequality in this country.
So who are these women?
- The Queen
- Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
- Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland
- Amber Rudd, Home Secretary
- Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police
If patriarchy is, as Bergdorf argued during her interview with Piers, "a structure that puts men at the top of power", isn't he right? After all, if our country is effectively run by women, how can there be gender inequality? Unfortunately, it isn't quite that literal. Trust me, I would be thrilled if gender inequality was a thing of the past, and I am thrilled that I live in a country where female leadership is valid and respected.
However, there are more than a few holes in Piers Morgan's convenient argument. Not least that the Queen is at the top of the list. By his own logic of women being literally 'in power' signalling the end of patriarchy, said structure would've been dismantled as early as 1553, when Mary I took the throne as the first uncontested female monarch in this country. But alas, girls were still not allowed in schools and women were still banned from the professions. What he fails to recognise is that there is a difference between a few women holding positions of power, and an entire gender being economically, socially and politically empowered.
I understand that this is a far-fetched and fanciful argument on my behalf, but it only matches the absurdity of Piers'.
There is also a glaring similarity between all of these powerful women. Not to spell it out for you, but they're all white. Being white doesn't discredit their achievements, but can we all agree that gender inequality isn't just for white women. A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission last August revealed that black graduates earn 23.1% less on average than white workers and only 8.8% of ethnic minorities worked as managers. Meanwhile, a report by the British Council found that women were being encouraged, or even expected, to enter the workplace, but that this wasn't paralleled by equal support in managing or sharing their traditional roles in childcare and domestic duties. BME women face more layers of discrimination than anyone else when striving for opportunity. This is reflected in Parliament, where only 3.8% of MPs are non-white women. How does that sit with your patriarchy, Piers?
It's taken me a while to get to the most important issue with Piers' ongoing use of this argument: Representation alone does not signal the end of patriarchy. To claim so is to oversimplify sexism to an extent that it is no longer recognisable. As long as there are women suffering at the hands of gender inequality, patriarchy is still a thing. Particularly if the few women in positions of power aren't actively combating it. Theresa May famously refused to directly challenge President Donald Trump's misogyny, telling Andrew Marr in January:
The biggest statement that will be made about the role of women is the fact that I will be there as a female prime minister, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, talking to him, directly talking to him, about the interests that we share.
This is, in actual fact, a major issue that needs addressing in both conservative feminism and feminism as a whole: the idea that a woman merely existing in a position of power is enough. Barack Obama served two full terms as President of the United States, and Congress is currently 19% non-white. Has racism ended in the United States? Given the recent spike in white nationalist hate crimes, I'll say no to this one.
In 1988, Benazir Bhutto was elected as Pakistan's first female Prime Minister. She also served two, albeit non-consecutive, terms. Yet Pakistani NGOs estimate that 21% of girls still marry before the age of 18 and that approximately 1,000 honour killings take place every year, in addition to other forms of legally-validated violence against women. It's almost as though merely being a powerful woman doesn't solve gender inequality.
In his interview with Bergdorf, a transgender woman of colour, Piers Morgan took it upon himself to declare that patriarchy and institutionalized racism were over, thereby, as she pointed out "denying [her] lived experience". Theresa May being Prime Minister doesn't, in and of itself, eliminate the patriarchy. Nor does the five most powerful positions in our country being held by women. The patriarchy is eliminated in this country when no woman suffers at the hands of gender inequality.
I'd like to end with the words of a woman who can express this far better than I can, the iconic writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde:
I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.