Before I came to University, people would ask me if I wanted to go into politics. My responses would range from dismissive laughter to an assertive “oh God no”. Because party politics isn’t for people like me, right? It’s for people who are more intelligent, knowledgable and charismatic than me. Above all, it’s for privately educated white men. It was not for young women who went to state school and wouldn’t dream of applying to Oxbridge for fear of being plunged into a world they could never imagine fitting into. Sure, I could study politics, but my future would look a lot smaller than going into politics itself.
A year at University and nothing changed. Politics society events were dominated by rich straight white men, on the committee and in contributions to discussions. Even societies where women weren’t under represented, the wealthy well educated women seemed to be given a place where others without the eloquence and experience didn’t rise in the same way. Where I saw no place for me, I lacked ambition. Where I saw my voice as less worthy, I didn’t speak out.
Then I joined the Labour Party.
A network of empowering, liberating women teaching one another their worth, giving each other a voice in a world we saw as alien. One that seeks to be as intersectional as possible, not just for women like me, but for women with less privilege who fit into other liberation groups, where we see LGBT+, disabled and BAME women running and being elected into positions of power. I feel it is important to recognise my own privilege within this piece. I am not LGBT+ or BAME and so I can never understand those struggles and we sure as hell have a long way to go in order for women from these groups to be truly represented in politics. However, I do know women in these liberation groups who feel that Labour offers them a voice and will stand up for them and that is vitally important if we are to be a progressive movement.
At my first Labour students event, when I was spoken over by a man, the Chair of my Labour Club came over and said “Don’t let him talk so much”. I immediately knew that this was a place that would fight for women to have a voice, against the norm of the brutal world of politics, of angry men shouting louder.
I saw women in positions of power at a local and national level in Labour Students. And not just wealthy privately educated ones, women who went to state schools, women who didn’t go to Oxbridge, women who were not rich. I saw a world where you didn’t have to have a vocabulary to match Stephen Fry to have a voice, you just had to have passion, commitment and drive.
Our network of women back each other up. At my first conference, when I knew I had other young women, young women who had never even met me before, going out of their way to look out for me, I felt safe. I was not just going to be lost in this sea of men in suits. At an event, if I am spoken over or harassed, I know that the women I am with will do whatever is in their power to call it out. In a domain where time and time again women are silenced, it is so empowering to know that together, we will fight to be heard. That struggle is made easier when we are united.
From being ‘bossy’ throughout primary school to just being a ‘nerd’ in secondary school, I was taught to keep quiet. Ambition was for other people, I told myself. I had my goal: to get to a good University, but beyond that, I had never dared dream of holding any position of power, and not just in politics, in anything I thought of doing. That sort of ambition, to me, was for other people, from schools with an impressive alumni page.
It was women who encouraged me to speak up and it was women who encouraged me to stand up. Women in Labour Students told me I was good enough to stand in elections and to run for committees, and I endeavour to do the same for other women who have that same glimmer of a thought I did: that maybe I should get involved in party politics. Without them, party politics would probably have remained just another thing I felt disillusioned by.
And so to the people who believe that supporting women is patronising, unfair or just unnecessary, I ask you not to disregard the impact of discouragement for women and the importance of encouraging them.
Never underestimate the power of a “You can do this” or “That comment was great” because they matter. For every ten of those comments, you might encourage a woman to speak regularly in meetings. For every fifty, you might encourage her to stand for a committee. For every hundred, you might encourage her to have the confidence to call out others. For every thousand, you might make her an MP.