The ‘should we feel sorry for Theresa May’ debate is condescending and sexist

We shouldn't be discussing whether to feel sorry for Theresa May or not

Why is my life full of people debating whether or not they do or don’t, should or shouldn’t feel sorry for Theresa May?

It’s a debate that made a strong start after the 2017 election , gained traction after the sign falling off and throat giving up conference speech of that October, and peaked last week during the no-confidence vote, via contributions from Grazia , Jeremy Corbyn and even my seventy something mother who said “Diana, I don’t feel sorry for that woman at all’.

Do I feel sorry for her? I refuse to contemplate the question. Despite being a Labour-voting, Guardian-reading, liberal-minded Bremoaner, I now find it very hard to view the whole Brexit shenanigan through any prism other than that of gender. And it seems to me that the ‘feeling sorry for Theresa May’ debate plays into this with its weird, but familiar to all women, mixture of chivalry and condescension.

I see a woman doing a rubbish job and a load of blokes standing on the sidelines snarking to each other about how they’d do it better in various non-specific, probably non-achievable, ways. Another scenario that I expect is familiar to any woman who’s ever had a job.

Labour, for example, reassure me that they’re ‘continuing to work on an alternative plan for Brexit’. I’m glad that they’re continuing this important internal project – but they’ve had two years. To be honest, they should have moved beyond the ‘working on’ phase and should probably now be in the ‘knowing what their plan is’ phase.

Jacob Rees Mogg has tweeted six reasons that the deal is ‘bad’. This is neither constructive nor informative.

And Tony Blair and just about everyone else in the Guardian advocate the ‘Peoples’ Vote’. This suggestion generally doesn’t go beyond the achievement of the vote itself. But what then? Another Leave vote and a return to where we are now? A Remain vote and a descent into class war? Maybe at this point Labour’s ‘alternative plan’ will be revealed? We can dream.

All the alternatives are rubbish: because it’s a rubbish situation. Which brings me back to gender. Because when there’s rubbish and poorly rewarded work to be done who generally does it? Women. (See all the data ever on: unequal pay, low pay, and domestic labour for which there is no pay.)

And I know that she’s a traitor to her gender, see the readmittance of Andrew Griffiths and Charlie Elphicke to the party. But this only serves to reinforce the genderedness of the debate: pragmatism will never call on a white, middle-class man to betray his gender, race and class… pragmatism will only ever call on him to big up his gender, race and class more than usual.

So, do I feel sorry for her? Intellectually: I refuse to engage with this question. I will agree or disagree with her, find her critics stupid or less so, and freak out about the idea of a no-deal cliff edge. But I will not contemplate how much she does or doesn’t deserve pity. Emotionally: look at the men she has to work with, of course I do!

Diana Harrison is a former editor at UNISON and is now freelancing for trade unions, not-for-profits and charities. Follow her on Twitter here.

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