Women in politics - 'little more than window dressing'?
The theology has clearly influenced Gordon Brown’s ‘Presbyterian conscience’. The most significant shot fired across his bow by Caroline Flint – the fickle and capricious erstwhile Europe Minister – was that he treats women in the Cabinet as ‘little more than female window dressing’. The Prime Minister does not, she avers, view women as equals, preferring instead structures which secure and perpetuate male dominion. To her frustration, he has not grasped the emancipatory ideas of the Enlightenment.
Feminist politics is a murky as feminist theology, but they are united by their fundamental antithesis to patriarchy. In his Dogmatics, Barth observed: ‘Different ages, peoples and cultures have had very different ideas of what is concretely appropriate, salutary and necessary in man and woman.’ While the liberal tradition has been concerned with an equality of liberties and opportunities, Marxist feminism has been more radical in its identification and elimination of the prevalent androcentric fallacy – that men and women do not only differ physiologically, but also in their experience, perception and appropriation of reality; and that this difference has been masked because the normative representation of humanity in Western culture has been the experiences, values and conceptual constructs of males.
Ms Flint has simply discovered the consequence of Gordon Brown’s failure to find femininity in God. Gordon Brown’s God is a father, husband, king, clan leader and warrior. Caroline Flint’s is a pregnant woman, mother, midwife, mistress. Gordon Brown’s testosterone-charged, self-asserting and self-aggrandising ‘inner circle’ has no need of the goddess and no use for the ‘feminine experience’. And so Caroline Flint feels that she exists on the periphery of misogyny, enduring an intolerable oppression. In the worldview of the Prime Minister, men possess all dignity, virtue, and power, while women, as a mere derivative of man, are inferior, defective, passive, somehow less than fully human. Therefore the female contribution to Cabinet can be largely ignored.
But Ms Flint’s error of judgement (and it is a considerable one) is that her emotional outburst, pettiness and inconsistency (not to mention posing for this sort of photograph) will simply be taken as corroboration that she was never qualified to be any more than ‘window dressing’ in the first place: her feminist quest to join the male-dominated ‘inner circle’ was the superficial pursuit of gender, not of merit. By resigning from the Cabinet, she can no longer be a critical voice within it, but is reduced to being just another feminist revolt against it. Hers is now the ‘advocacy stance’ adopted by all liberation theologies which favour the oppressed. Her desire was to join the male-dominated ‘inner circle’ in order to realise the full equality of male and female: by removing herself from it she has just set back by years the struggle for the political liberation of women. She has simply proved herself to be the incarnation of all that Gordon Brown intuitively felt but, with his commitment to Marxist principles of equality, could never actually state.
Ms Flint ought to reflect on the fact that it was the women who did not desert Jesus but were united with him in his crucifixion and death; they were first to witness the resurrection; and they were the first to receive the apostolic commission to go and tell others.
But those women were not obsessed with a trivial political feminist quest: they kept their eyes fixed on the super-objective, and they had the balls to persevere.