When I woke up this morning, I was expecting to perhaps deal with some jokes about feminism, not argue with members of 'the Nasty party'.
At 3 o'clock in the morning, Lucy and I wrote a presentation on feminism in the middle of discussing our favourite wife of Henry VIII (Anne Boleyn forever) - Thursday is International Women's Day, so we've decided to run a week of feminist themed activities, including a a feminism dedicated issue of the school newspaper, a bake sale to raise money for Oxfam (and smash stereotypes that say 'like, isn't that counter-productive to message of feminism'), run a craft workshop for the younger years to make their own glorious feminist sashes, and have a 'dress up as an inspirational female role model' day. In speakers, the assembly for sixth formers, we introduced the reason why feminism is still needed, whilst covering things like Suffragettes in the UK and the attacks on women's rights by our current government, to advertise what we're doing for the week. We falsely assumed that this would be the most fascinating part of our day.
After we'd spoken, I rejoined the audience with Lucy, expecting one of the bland speakers that are usually in to speak to us. Actually, they were two women from a Conservative Party Forum, with one speaker and another that (mostly) just observed. They began by saying that they were going to build on our feminism presentation, before making a weak joke about being from 'the Nasty Party'. The speakers said that they'd come to ask us what we want for the 2015 and 2020 manifestos, by asking us what we want by those dates. I sincerely doubt that their real intention was to 'ask' us anything, as she spent more time defending the party from whatever point someone brought up than actually listening to our concerns.
For instance, several people brought up tuition fees - but instead of acknowledging their concerns, she responded with a condescending, simpering statement like 'it's for your own good' and twisted their words to make the students seem utterly unreasonable for wanting to attend university without having a huge debt for a significant part of their adult lives. I think that a universally acknowledged signal for A Very Serious Argument is probably Lucy's ominous hand raising. She brought up that she'd like to be able to graduate university but have a job where she's actually paid a living wage for it, instead of being used for unpaid labour (in response to Workfare) in a mock simpering manner like the woman's own. The speaker seemed shocked at the prospect of confrontation.
She then lied about the state of benefits in this country, when she responded to someone's point on it by declaring that it's 'fairer than ever' and that things like the Disability Living Allowance were cut because disabled people themselves 'don't want it'. I know from experience that this isn't remotely true. I raised my hand to point out that under the 'fairer laws' implemented by the government, my mother was told that she isn't 'disabled enough' to continue receiving the inadequate, limited care currently offered to her by the council. Furthermore, the centre that used to offer her rehabilitation and physical therapy was affected by the funding cuts so much that they had to close down. Instead of responding to me properly, she patronisingly asked me what I'd do to prevent that from happening, in a tone that seemed to imply I was being hysterical. I pointed out that I think it's appalling that wealthy people aren't being taxed properly and/or are able to evade taxes, while the programs that ordinary people in our country need are being cut by the government. She just looked at me as though I was being completely absurd.
Lucy raised her hand to say 'I want a Minister of Equalities who hasn't voted against gay rights' and the speaker looked utterly shocked, raising her arms up to declare that she was 'at a loss'. (What does that even bloody mean?) They weren't expecting us to know what the government are doing, or to care about the future of our country enough to passionately argue back at them. I regularly look up MPs I see in the media on They Work For You and it's on May's voting record that she's voted against gay rights:
- In 1998 she voted against equalising the age of consent.
- In 2000, she voted against the repeal of Section 28, legislation that banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local government and schools.
- In 2001 and 2002 she voted against gay couples jointly adopting children.
- In 2008 she voted in favour of a defeated bill which said that IVF rights should require a male role model - effectively discriminating against lesbian fertility rights.
What was her response to this factual evidence?
She thought it was appropriate to casually drop May's name in with a breezy 'oh I was talking to Theresa the other day, who said that if it looks like a marriage, then it is a marriage' and blamed her previous voting record on pressure and influence by backbenchers. (Keep this point in mind, it's going to come up again.) Suddenly, she just flipped, attacking our feminism presentation from earlier on and saying that we hadn't mentioned that there are more female Tory MPs than all the other parties all together, and that their offices have women and gay people employed there - hurrah! Apparently that means that we can all conveniently forgive the Tories from implementing laws and bills that harm those groups of people.
Lucy pointed out that we didn't mention either that people in their party (such as Nadine Dorries) have been attempting to limit abortion rights and control sex education. Their reaction to this was probably the worst part of the entire situation. The speaker just shouted that 'nope, not going to answer that, it's not the party really' and the other woman just turned round to scream at us that 'LABOUR DID IT TOO, IT WAS A CROSS-PARTY BILL'. How mature. We're fully aware of that - how ignorant do they think we are? It's not like we readily accept everything the Labour Party do and that they're free from my criticism.
Furthermore, Lucy pointed out that a) that is not an acceptable excuse, b) she calls out Labour MPs too, and c) the anti-choice movement is stronger in the Conservative party. The speaker then declared that backbenchers are irrelevant and don't have any influence on the party (contradicting what she'd said earlier). Suddenly, she declared that she'd fight for abortion rights standing next to us, in an attempt to look reasonable after shouting at teenager - Lucy just promptly replied to with a curt 'good', which made everyone, including our head of year, laugh. Her attempt of taking back the discussion failed pathetically, as when someone pointed that she'd like to see the Tories talking about women as actual human beings without always trying to attach them to children, the speaker just replied with a 'tell me about it!' - what point was she exactly trying to make?
I really don't understand them. My issue today wasn't a childish 'they're evil Tories!' I deeply disagree with them politically, but I was willing to listen to what they had to say. In fact, I forced myself to be civil whilst speaking to them - a courtesy they really did not extend to us. They couldn't even manage a basic consistency in their arguments and they resorted to shouting at teenagers once they realised that they couldn't just force propaganda into the country's youth by declaring that it's all for our own good, implying that we're too ignorant to know what's we believe. They tried to make out that we're hysterical infants that don't understand what we're saying, which wasn't a wise decision considering that all the teenagers in that room are going to be able to vote in the next election. It's not exactly a good sign if representatives of the government are so scared of confrontation that they resort to blatant lying and speaking to young people like they're infants in a failed attempt to manipulate the next generation.
It was a mix of standing up for what we believe in and feeling sickened at the world. After they left, our head of year told us that he's not supposed to have a political bias, but he was very glad that we'd given them a horrible time. After they'd gone, one of our teachers had to calm us down because we were just furious that it was such an obvious (failed) attempt at propaganda. Somehow, the presentations I do with Lucy always feature a ceremonious crossing out of a Tory's face - I'm glad that we crossed out David Cameron's face in front of them (unintentionally, but still). I hope they go and tell their darling Theresa about their horrible morning.
EDIT: According to UK Political Info, the Conservatives have 49 female MPs, while Labour have 81, the Liberal-Democrats have 7, and there are six classified as 'other. That really doesn't look like the Conservatives have more female MPs than all the other parties put together. Huh.