The Trump visit, and every disastrous press statement since, have been beyond upsetting for most of us. The daily bombardment of bad news from across the Atlantic has been as depressing as it has been enraging. There are big issues to deal with. For us watching from our newsfeeds and TV screens, we find it hard to understand our position in world politics and what we can do to help. The mixture of the extreme with the absurd is discombobulating, but we shouldn’t allow the little things to be buried just because the shit on top is really heavy.
So let’s take a minute to talk about the Trump/May handholding. This bizarre act was a custard pie in the face of the women of Britain, but felt more like a kick in the vagina.
Perhaps I’ve had false hope of a feminist surge breaking through to the mainstream as I am bounced around within my particular social media echo-chamber. But I know there are women in the public eye who have the interests of other women high on their agenda. How can Theresa May take the title of only the second ever female Prime Minister without also standing up for women, first and foremost. Why didn’t she get the memo? Would Michelle Obama have allowed Trump to take her hand? Not a chance.
The basics; there were two parties involved, two hands, two humans, two nations, two genders. We know that Donald Trump assumes a dominant role where he can, he craves and seizes control, asserts his presence and seeks to overpower his peers, with sometimes devastating consequences for the recipients of his sinister attention. This hand hold wasn’t a sexual advance, but the act preyed on all the same expectations of gender stereotypes that Trump is clearly used to, and he made it happen.
But Theresa May played her part in this too. It might have taken May by surprise, it might have seemed like a small, even caring gesture, she might have been too polite to make a fuss while she processed the situation, and then it was over. Male American dominance successfully exerted, female British weakness confirmed.
Many of us have experienced situations like this before. Many of us have our coping mechanisms; we may have trained ourselves over the years to minimise and downplay intimidating behaviour in order to reduce the risk of escalation or danger. That’s just life as a woman, our society has made that type of response necessary. As a female politician in Westminster, I have no doubt that Theresa May too has had to deal with her fair share of inappropriate and chauvinistic behaviour before. I do not agree with shaming victims, but make no mistake about it, May is no victim here. In the role of Prime Minister May has a duty to represent us all. She is briefed and advised to within an inch of her life about protocol, expectations and image and she is not that naive. She would have been on high alert at all times to do whatever it takes to achieve a ‘successful’ meeting. Given these circumstances, I simply don’t accept that she didn’t allow this gesture in full consciousness. If May had merely moved her hand away in this instance it would have spoken volumes for British women. Instead May’s self-consciousness entwined with her political vulnerability took precedence over her and our reputation as Brits and as women. She considered the fragility of her political agenda and with an almost exuberant lapdog-like hope for approval, chose to just let this gesture go. Theresa May has the platform and the opportunity to do so much for women, and instead she chose go beyond diminutive to fully submissive in this ‘special relationship’ she seems so keen to foster. Theresa May fails to represent my political views, but putting that aside, here she also fails to represent my humanity, dignity and our equality.
The unity shown by women across the world these last couple of weeks is not just the ‘hippy left’. Women and men are protesting against the patriarchal behaviour in which May is now complicit. We need a beacon of feminism to head our country, and to see a woman in this role betraying and undermining women in this way feels like we’ve regressed 20 years. This episode is testament to the fact that we are still so far from gender equality, further behind that even I had thought. To the same effect, the fact that there were any female Trump voters is difficult to understand. So what can we do now? Call our marches and petitions inconsequential, tell us to ‘calm down dear, you’re overreacting’, but we have to continue to call out every act of misogyny with our loudest voices. We need to talk to our neighbours, our family and friends about how we are affected by this behaviour because any movement towards equality has to come from within the homes of the people of our communities and filter up, it ain’t coming from the top down, that’s for sure.