Did Helen and Mamphele mess it up for all of us, or are we just messed up ourselves?

I’m sure I don’t need to go into too much detail about the embarrassing scandal that was the DA-Mamphele merger a few months ago.

Enough has been said about how the focus on the proverbial ‘kiss of death’ rather than the implications for the parties was sexist, and how a political misstep of this scale was just generally an awful thing to have happened to the only two women-led parties. It was, to be polite, not ideal.

But, what are the long lasting effects for women who might have political aspirations? Did the actions of two women mean that nobody will ever take women seriously in politics again?

There is a saying that goes ‘whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good’. I think that’s what we’re struggling with here. Women politicians have to struggle with both doing their job and working to make sure that we take them seriously.

And where public opinion is concerned, they better be working extra hard on the second one in ways that themselves are sexist.

Women in politics must make themselves look goodlest they be criticised for the way they dress. Women in politics must not look old, or pursue plastic surgerybecause their bodies are public property. But, women in politics should not be too beautiful because then they will not be taken seriously from the outset.

In fact, people will make lists of them and perv over them and generally objectify them. Women in politics should not be too power hungry or they will be thought emotional and thus irrational. But women must work on their public identities in a way that male politicians do not have to.

These thought patterns and criticisms hark back to very old, very boring, stereotypes of women as emotional, irrational creatures.

In fact, the very idea that being emotional is thought of as a negative thing is a patriarchal construct but that’s for another blog altogether.

Essentially, what this comes down to is something that Caitlin Moran says in her book How to be a Woman:

“You can tell whether some misogynistic societal pressure is being exerted on women by calmly enquiring, ‘And are the men doing this, as well?’ If they aren’t, chances are you’re dealing with what we strident feminists refer to as ‘some total fucking bullshit’.”

When Berlusconiwas involved in a harem of 14 women and the misappropriation of state funds denied it and then was busted, when Clinton-Lewinskihappened and was denied and later proven, when Putin imprisoned Greenpeace activistson trumped up charges I doubt that anybody said – yoh, those men are not to be trusted, best we vote for a woman.

Did Zille and Ramphele mess up – yes. Was it so super embarrassing that you want to cringe just talking about it – hell yes. Was it because they were women – no. So I hope that all aspiring female (especially the feminist) politicos out there realise this, and keep pushing to make sure that we have women at the top, and that when they make mistakes, they are simply viewed as mistakes.

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