From ‘I’m not a feminist, but … ’ to ‘call me an old-fashioned feminist … ’: conservative women in parliament and ‘feminism’, 1979–2017

David Swift
  • Women s History Review, June 2018, Taylor & Francis
  • DOI: 10.1080/09612025.2018.1482659

The use of feminism by Conservative female MPs

What is it about?

The changing relationship between Conservative women in Parliament and the concept of 'feminism'. From the time of Margaret Thatcher to David Cameron's election as Tory leader in 2005, Conservative women would consistently distance themselves from the concept of feminism, and stridently deny that they were feminists. This was despite their actions and speeches in Parliament often furthering causes - such as equal pay and equality of opportunity - which could be seen as feminist. Since 2005, however, Conservative women from across the party have tended to claim that they are indeed feminisits, and used 'feminist' justifications for a range of policies, including restricting reproductive rights.

Why is it important?

This change in the relationship between Conservative women and 'feminism' signals not only an attempt by the Tories to rectify the gender imbalance in their support, but more significnatly is of a piece with broader trends towards post-modern conceptions of identity, whereby one can be something simply by claiming to be so.

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