Sex, Gender and the Conservative Party: From Iron Lady to by Sarah Childs;Paul Webb

By Sarah Childs;Paul Webb

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A new Committee of Women’s Rights was established in 1973. From 1975 to 1990, the Conservative party was famously led by Margaret Thatcher. Although her impact on women’s participation and representation in the wider party is, unfortunately, under-researched, it can be said with some confidence that her era did not witness a blossoming of women’s representation (descriptive or substantive) in the party. Relations between the party’s women’s organization and the national leadership in the more recent past are widely regarded as poor.

The former follows the assumption that the substantive representation of women equals the feminist substantive representation of women. Thus, when conservative representatives’ claims and actions are ‘feminist’, conservatives would be considered to be acting ‘for women’. However, this approach is dependent upon agreed criteria for judging something as feminist. This is most likely to 32 Sex, Gender and the Conservative Party be based on either feminist theory or women’s movement demands. However, both of these are not necessarily unproblematic, given debates amongst feminists over feminist theory and the leftist orientation of many feminist movements (Celis and Childs 2011).

What individual women and men choose to do is not for others, not least ‘society’ and by implication government or the state, to decide. Hence, if women prefer the traditional sexual division of labour, so be it. Now for some conservatives this choice might reflect ‘natural’ differences (and inequalities) between women and men (Crompton and Lyonette 2005), but it need not be based on biology. Either way, the logic is clear. 32 In practice, as will be discussed in Chapters 5 and 6, deploying choice might permit the development of more avowedly (liberal) feminist policies for women by individual conservative actors or parties, because it limits conservative opponents’ criticism that such policies threaten the sanctity of the family and the wider established and revered societal structures and norms.

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