Theresa May will take power as prime minister of the United Kingdom on Wednesday. (UK Home Office — CC BY 2.0)

The country that lived through Margaret Thatcher’s premiership should know better than to believe a female leader will protect women’s rights purely on the basis of her gender.

From VersoBooks:

The rise of women to positions of high office certainly represents progress of a sort. Not even a century ago, women were denied the opportunity to play any part in civic life. Even now, women are under-represented at all levels of British politics. This has a knock-on effect too – the low social status of women correlates with poverty, lower education and poor health. But to stop our feminist analysis at the point of the gender of candidates is, to put it kindly, narrow-minded and unambitious. It suggests that the ultimate goal of gender equality is to hand power to women who already have the social connections, personal wealth and formal education necessary to join the elite. British society is unequal, oppressive and brutal in the way it treats marginalised groups. Feminism must go deeper than a demand for a woman to be in charge of that. … In her role as Home Secretary, Theresa May has presided over the incarceration, alleged sexual assault and terrorising of some of the most vulnerable women in the world. At Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre, which falls under May’s jurisdiction, innocent women are increasingly handcuffed for hospital visits. Hundreds of detainees have alleged sexual abuse and mistreatment, including being held down half-naked, propositioned by guards, and strip searched. The vast majority of these women are victims of rape and sexual assault, and many have come to the UK to seek refuge. Despite this, the Refugee Council notes that women are particularly likely to have their asylum claims unfairly rejected, with 50% being overturned on appeal in 2011, compared with 26% on average. One detainee, a rape survivor, described her incarceration at Yarl’s Wood as “like being raped all over again.”

These stories are not just horrific for the individual women involved; they are also evidence that a culture of brutalising women of colour is an endemic feature of the British state. In presiding over Yarl’s Wood, May has ensured that the sexual humiliation and trauma of women has become a routine part of what writer Gracie Mae identifies as “the state’s machinery of immigration control.” In her ambition to create a “hostile environment” for undocumented people to enter this country, at worst May has weaponised racist misogyny; at best she has turned a blind eye to the allegations made by detainees. Indeed, in 2014, campaigners claimed that an official UN inquiry into Britain’s record on tackling violence against women was prevented from investigating conditions inside Yarl’s Wood. … One of the more nonsensical arguments made following the rise of … two women as candidates is that the Conservative Party is now more feminist than leftwing political parties who claim equality as a foundational principle. While the next leader of the Tories will indeed be a woman, the party cannot be more feminist than Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity drive in Labour, which seeks to protect the services that enable the safety and independence of women and marginalised people.

The feminists arguing that politicians with the track records of May and [her former rival Andrea] Leadsom could be linked in any way to social progress must be those who do not rely on the social institutions that have historically protected women, and who will ultimately find their lives unaffected by whichever political party forms a government. This is privilege in action, not feminism.

Read more.

— Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

Wait, before you go…

If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface. We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.

Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.

Support Truthdig