As her new memoir lifts the lid on life as Britain's longest continuously serving female MP, Harriet Harman tells us why right now is the time for women to rise up and be counted
Labour MP Harriet Harman – and twice Acting Deputy Leader of the Labour Party – has spent the last 30 years bringing women’s issues to the forefront of British politics. In her new memoir, A Woman’s Work, she writes about the time her university tutor took her aside and explained that if she slept with him, she’d get a 2:1. She writes about her struggle with maternal guilt and life as a woman in a parliament that was 97% male. As Donald Trump continues to roll back the progress of women’s rights, Harriet Harman writes exclusively for Marie Claire on why women need to shout as loudly as possible, especially now.
Words by Harriet Harman
‘In 2017, women are having to take to the streets and march to protect their rights, and that’s a sad reality. We need to march, and speak, and campaign, because we don’t want to see the progress that we’ve made towards equality slipping back. A few decades ago the prevailing view was that men were superior creatures and our role was to support them. They “knew” about things. We did not. The summit of our ambitions was to catch a husband. And once we’d succeeded in that, our destiny was to cook and clean for him, have his children and look after them.
My generation – I’m 66 – decided that we were not going to put up with that. We didn’t feel that we were inferior to men so why should we be subordinate to them? Why shouldn’t he share the role of looking after his children and why shouldn’t we be out in the world working and earning money too? That was what the Women’s Movement was all about and massive steps were made.
But it’s often a case of two steps forward and one step back when it comes to making real change. Those who never agreed with women’s equality lurk waiting for the opportunity to turn the clock back. And they’ve got a new champion – no less than the leader of the Free World – US president Donald Trump. Leaked tape recordings show him describing how he grabs at women. One of the first Executive Orders he signed as President was restricting US funding for organisations which support birth control (including abortion) in developing countries. It’s not Donald Trump – and the men-only advisory team beaming as he signed on the dotted line – who should be making choices about women. Women should be able to make those choices themselves. In the 1970’s and 80s we marched under banners chanting “Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate”. And it’s time to get those banners out again.
This is not just about defending the rights we’ve already got. We are not yet equal. The annual income of women (taking into account pay, pensions, tax credits etc) is only 70% of men’s. And we are not worth 30% less than men. Equality will be when we don’t lag behind at all. And though attitudes have changed about domestic violence, still 100 women are killed by their husband or partner (or ex) every year. We’ve got a woman Prime Minister but women are still tearing their hair out about the cost of childcare.
We’ve got to defend the rights we’ve fought hard for and campaign to make further progress. So, sisters, lets get out there and lets get loud!’
Harriet Harman’s memoir A Woman’s Work (£20, Allen Lane) is out now