I grew up my entire life hearing about the only female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. I was always proud that a woman had once taken charge of this country and yet the mere mention of her name elicited such vitriol and anger. ‘Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead’ hit the iTunes charts on the day she died. This anger always confused me as a young girl. I wondered, politics aside – shouldn’t we be celebrating this woman who broke one of the highest glass ceilings in the country? Unfortunately, her failings are all that many remembered and it seemed any new female PM would inevitably bring back memories of her unpopular tenure. I became rather pessimistic that a woman would lead this country again for a long time.
Yet here we are in 2017 and this week Theresa May stood up in Lancaster House, the same place that Margaret Thatcher stood years before, to deliver a speech on the future of Britain in the European Union. It was the speech of a generation – the most important speech a British Prime Minister had made in a long while – and it was being made by a woman. Afterwards, May was praised by some for her boldness and her clarity and criticised by others for her arrogance. Whether you voted Remain or Leave, whether you welcomed the content of May’s speech or were infuriated by every second, for once we were talking about her work and not her shoe collection or her £999 brown leather trousers. Now when young girls turn on the television they will see a woman with power and agency, and hopefully this will inspire them.
I hope that this picture allows for some optimism in 2017, especially as Donald Trump is set to be inaugurated as President of the United States today. In fact, take a look around – there seem to be more women in power than ever before. Angela Merkel is Chancellor of Germany, Nicola Sturgeon is First Minister of Scotland, Cristina Fernandez de Kircher is President of Argentina, and, whilst she lost, Hilary Clinton was the first female candidate running for the biggest office on the planet. Her loss is a devastating blow for many who hoped there would be a female Commander in Chief. The fact that she lost to a man who openly expressed misogyny and was far less qualified for the job makes the defeat even harder to swallow.
Yet look what it has inspired. Hundreds of thousands of women are expected to march on Washington and cities around the world tomorrow to protest against the misogynistic comments of the new President-elect of the USA. Women are not holding back, they are using their agency more than ever before – and if reports are to be believed, plenty of men are going to stand alongside them.
Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that Hillary was the first woman to get that far. It would be easy to be pessimistic about the state of women’s power in the world. There are failings and regressive policies in government and women still face day-to-day sexism at home, on the streets and at work. However, we must remind the young girls growing up today that women are more powerful and have more agency than they have ever done before. It is a time to demand equality and to prevent Trump’s misogynistic comments from becoming acceptable but it is also a time to celebrate how far we have come.