The sexist reaction to Jack Monroe leaving the Labour Party and joining the Greens demonstrates how quickly women's political views are derided and dismissed.
When anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe announced she was joining the Green Party it was bound to ruffle a few feathers; especially as less than 18 months ago Ms Monroe appeared in a Labour Party campaign video. But the thing that seems to have really upset people is that Ms Monroe is a woman who has made a public statement about her political beliefs. Let that settle in. A woman. Talking about politics. Yep. All those lefty men who were perfectly happy for Ms Monroe to promote the Labour Party are now asking Ms Monroe if she really understands how politics works. Because of course. Of course a women who has campaigned for Labour for 10 years might not have actually understood the Party she was campaigning for. Of course the woman Labour trusted enough to feature in their campaign videos probably didn't actually know what she was talking about. Some examples here andhere.
While the response to Ms Monroe's tweets is incredibly, blatantly sexist it's also incredibly, blatantly familiar to most women who've dared to have an opinion on politics. Especially an opinion that goes against the nice, cozy little narrative that has been created for us. Women get to have opinions about domestic violence shelters, we get to have opinions about rape conviction rates and healthcare budgets for maternity wards and at what age sex ed should be taught to children. Everything else is kind of outside our area and while it's ok for us to think about it generally we should err on the side of caution and defer to the men. Women aren't expect to be interested in politics and we definitely aren't expected to have strong opinions on the general direction political parties are moving in. Low voter turnout among women and the fact that only 148 out of 650 MPs are female compound this belief that women just aren't very interested in politics and when we are we should stick to what we know: rape, domestic violence and babies.
Ms Monroe described her decision to defect leave the Labour Party as "kind of inevitable" and said she still has "a lot of love for the Labour Party, but just disagree with too much of it right now". It's a reason cited again and again by voters defecting from Labour in favour of the Greens: we're not leaving because we hate Labour, it's just that they're not the party we thought they were. Unfortunately as I recently discovered a lot of Labour supporters believe that women are leaving Labour because we've got our knickers in a twist. When I took to Facebook to tell my friends and family I was voting Green in May 2015 there was such an intake of breath that it reached through my computer screen and chilled the room around me. And then the cautions began flooding in. The front runners who responded on instinct suggested I just don't understand how important the Labour Party is in the never ending battle against the Tories. The next wave likened the Green surge to the popularity the Lib Dems enjoyed before they went into a coalition. Then people moved on to pointing out the Greens didn't have a track record in government, apparently assuming I had neglected to do any research on the party I was joining. And so on and so on.
It's depressing to see the reaction Jack Monroe's statement has received, especially from self-describing allies on the left. But it's also kind of a relief. Women are expected to only care about women-focused issues and for a normal woman to make an overarching statement about her political allegiances? Well it's intimidating. Female politicians are often faced with ridicule, women with multiple political achievements are judged on their appearance and dismissed. All of this makes it even more difficult for women who don't work in politics to make political statements because for every person willing to engage and debate with you there will also be a host of people lining up to explain how you've got it a bit wrong and really need to start toeing the (right) party line again.