So, there is rarely a politician of our time who has been the victim of so many robot memes and social media hate campaigns as our second female Prime Minister Theresa Mary May. Do a Facebook search (if you dare) and there are more pages that want her hung drawn and quartered than actually support her.
There’s also few Prime Minister’s private life we know so little about. With previous leaders we could read (if we really wanted) how Leo Blair was conceived,( a forgotten contraceptive apparently, I’m filing that under TMI) what Samantha Cameron has tattooed on her ankle ,a dolphin, (I’m disappointed I wanted a homage to Thatcher or at the very least a British bulldog smoking a cigar) and what Gordon Browns favourite beer is (no – he is a gin drinker – I may have made that up but I love the idea he has a pink gin and tonic each evening with his haggis and tatties).
But May is somewhat of an enigma. There’s not been many biographies, there’s certainly no sex scandals or secret Parisian lover hidden away (thank the lord as after the Brexit vote she may struggle sneaking him in without a sex visa of some sort). There is, sadly as it turns out, no wayward children to embarrass her with their drunken escapades or dodgy deals and she appears to have a strong and stable relationship with her husband. So we ask ourselves,what’s the deal with May? ….
1) She’s appeared in Vogue TWICE.
She is of course well known for her fashion choice in shoes from sexy leopard skin kitten heels, thigh length boots to meet the Queen and even gold wellies, these fashion choices have kept her in the papers almost as much as her policies but did you know she has also been photographed and appeared in Vogue twice, once in 1996 and again in 2003.
1996 – She was shot by Cindy Palmano for the pages of Vogue’s May issue. Rocking the pink two piece and with her hair a flattering natural brown.
2003 – She appeared in Vogue for a second time, being shot by Frederike Helwig for the March issue, the trademark shoes making a statement and a tailored leather jacket. She is on record as being an avid reader of ASOS catalogue and at a Tory fundraiser in 2015 she offered fashion shopping with her for an hour or two as a prize, (other prizes on the night included a cuppa with Boris , why do I have an image of a chimps tea party in my head – why?).
There’s even a story that a young Tory activist saying that May had “got her into politics because of the shoes“. Whether that’s a good enough reason to get into activism is not really the debate. What is fact is that Mrs. May is the only woman I know who has been praised for wearing kitten heels since 1985.
2) She’s really very clever.
Coming from quite humble origins (both Grandmas were chambermaids), she went to a mixture of a state education and grammar school (one of a small handful of prime ministers to have not attended a private school). She won a scholarship for a grammar school and gained her degree in Geography in Oxford. She worked for a spell at the Bank of England and went on to hold posts at the Association for Payment Clearing Services (APACS) as Head of the European Affairs Unit and Senior Adviser on International Affairs. These are not jobs given as raffle prizes, these are tough roles in a male dominated world of work. It is said that from the age of 12 she knew she wanted to get into politics and was determined to do so. Sadly she lost both her parents in her twenties and they never got to see her realise her political dream, winning a Tory seat in the summer of Labours huge landslide of 97 – no easy task. She was the party’s first female chairperson and was also our second longest serving home secretary, having to deal with the ever-present threat of terrorism, handle the fallout of the 2011 riots, and chart a way through the minefield of child sexual abuse, following the Jimmy Savile affair. Resilience runs through her veins it seems.
3) She’s not had it easy health wise.
Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2012 she is now insulin dependent. This means that she has to inject herself twice daily and monitor her blood sugars. This difficult to manage condition would be hard to deal with in any role but working where she does has its own challenges. Keeping on top of her condition has led to her surreptitiously breaking the House of Commons’ strict rules on not eating in the Chamber.
“There was one occasion when I had been expecting to go into the Chamber later, but the way the debates were drawn up meant I had to go in at 11am and I knew I wasn’t coming out till about five,” she recalls. “I had a bag of nuts in my handbag and one of my colleagues would lean forward every now and then, so that I could eat some nuts without being seen by the Speaker “
She has some inspirational words on the matter“I would like the message to get across that it doesn’t change what you can do,” she explains. “The more people can see that people with diabetes can lead a normal life doing the sort of things that other people do, the easier it is for those who are diagnosed with it to deal with it.
She’s also had to publicly defend and explain why she and her husband hadn’t had any children, in a way that few male politician has had to go into. To justify if it’s been a choice, or explain in detail why this hasn’t happened naturally. William Hague, leader of the Conservative party in the 90’s did not have kids (and he was only questioned why when rumours of his sexuality were abound and not whilst he was leader).
The Mail ran a two page “expose“ on childless people in power. Not one bloke was mentioned. This is a reflection of how society perceives women in general and our supposed primary role as child makers. You can be Prime Minster of one of the world’s most powerful countries, negotiate with the most powerful leaders of the world, hold the code to start world war 3, but you’ve not popped a baby out? This is hard enough if you’re just an average Joanne in the street, faced with the heartache of never being able to conceive, but having to explain this lack of “being a breeder” to the wider public, often in detail and then being judged on this must be soul destroying.
4) That Tweet.
Sent after her leader’s speech of the Tory conference in 2017.
Okay, it was the most cringe worthy speech since Kanye West last held a mic. (I’m not referencing a particular speech of his here, do a google search, its all of them he has ever made… ever).
During what was pitched as “her most important keynote speech ever“, her set fell down around her, she was given a P45 and she had a frog in her throat for 89% of it rendering her words incomprehensible. A Mr. Bean sketch would have been more believable. It was a disaster. Even ISIS wouldn’t claim responsibility for it. When I’m sure she would rather have just crawled under a rock and stayed there until at least the internet broke or the world got temporary amnesia, she didn’t, she sent this tweet out to the world.
This was both self-depreciating and an acknowledgement of what went wrong, and we loved it. We British love nothing more than a dig at ourselves and an acknowledgement of when we have failed using a bit of humour (watch any chick flick with Hugh Grant film ever). We need reminding that even the Prime Minister can mess up, be a bit rubbish and joke about it. Now she’s not known for side splitting jokes or witty comebacks and anecdotes, but this one tweet did wonders for her. It showed a little bit of much needed humanity. Haters even stopped in their tracks and stopped, just for a minute or two laughing at her and started grudgingly laughing with her.
5) She wants more women in politics
Former president of Women2Win (the campaign to encourage more women to stand as Tory Parliamentary candidates), she rarely turns down invitations to speak at women’s events in parliament. As home secretary she spoke against and changed legislation in FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and forced marriages, meaning both vile practices have fallen significantly in the UK and the consequences for men forcing women into forced marriages now include longer jail sentences.
Where men in power are described as talking directly, being born leaders and taking no bullsh*t, and they are celebrated for their show of strength and determination. Women, and May in particular, when they show the same characteristics as strong men, are described as being stubborn, scary and hard to deal with, or my personal favourite “ball breakers“.
When men are outspoken they are described as “assertive”. When women do the same the more derogatory term ”aggressive” is used.
May was described as “a bloody difficult woman“ by her colleague and peer Ken Clarke in 2016. A term she later owned and used to describe herself with glee. In fact feminists everywhere started using the #bloodydifficultwoman as a term of empowerment, celebration and support.
One of my favourite comments she has ever made was when in 2003 she was replaced as Party Chair by not one but two men. ”Yes”, she said; “It seems it takes two men to step into the shoes of one woman”.
In 2012, about being called the most powerful woman in UK politics, she said “There’s an added reason for me to try to do my best — to show that a woman in this position can do my job.” There is no argument that having more women of any political belief in positions of power is a precondition of female empowerment and should be celebrated as such.
By Scarlett McKenna