Rebecca Coulson is a freelance classical musician and writer, and the Conservative Prospective Parliamentary candidate for the City of Durham
I feel a little uncertain writing about about my woman-ness. It’s just not something I normally think about. But I’m increasingly aware that this makes me immensely fortunate.
Without getting into an ontological debate, my hesitation comes from the way in which we commonly consider the distinction between description and definition. There are many words which can accurately be used to describe me. A few random examples might include: greyish-green-eyed, argumentative, Mozartian, left-handed. But I find it harder accepting those adjectives by which we’re so often pushed to define ourselves.
Or at least, I find it hard to accept them as more than simple descriptors. I’m from the North East, but do I (not least because our immediate world is increasingly global) need to define myself as North Eastern? I’m a Conservative – and I’m certainly into the practical application of strongly-held views – but does this define me? I’m also British, white, self-employed, Anglican, newly 29, and – yes – a woman.
Should the fortune, achievement, or happenstance of being, like 49.6 per cent of Earth’s population – female – be at the heart of my essence? Biologically, gender is a divide, and differing hormonal balances do affect behaviour, but so does much, both genetic and environmental. I was born into an egalitarian academic family living in a liberal secular democracy led by a female premier and a female monarch. And I was never a girly girl (the rousing #LikeAGirl campaign makes me feel guilty for using this terminology), and most of my best friends have always been male.
I don’t know what this means – the point is rather that I don’t think it means anything – except that, in a group situation, I’m aware that I don’t notice if I’m the only woman. Indeed, I was discussing this very subject at a dinner party on Thursday night, when I suddenly realised that it was, indeed, the case. And professionally, I never expect the way in which I’m treated to hinge upon my gender; I react cynically to any suggestion that it might. But, as I mentioned, I’m coming to the realisation that this makes me fortunate (albeit something I feel the need to reflect upon), and, sadly, maybe quite unusual.
Times are changing: even Rupert Murdoch now considers his page three girls outdated. But I know that for some women in the UK, gender is not only still defining, it can also be dangerous.
And this is why I’ve decided that I should be more open-minded about women-only political groups. I’ve never joined gender- or age-based organisations, because I’ve always been happy to be part of the main scene, regardless of its average demographic. I also have a deeper frustration at the inherent exclusivity of these cliques – but that’s just me. We need more women and young people in politics, and many of the groups which exist to dower their confidence are vibrant and successful.
I’m still -– for another three-hundred-odd days – under thirty, yet I’ve never been involved in Conservative Future, although it does a lot of great work, and I can see that it offers fun to those happiest socialising within their age bracket. (Road Trip 2015, of course, builds brilliantly on this.) The most impressive campaigning session we’ve had so far in Durham was when Hartlepool wunderkind and North-East CF president, Isaac Duffy, recently brought along a couple of dozen local 16-and-17-year-olds to try their hand at canvassing.
I’m writing this from Birmingham, by the way, where, coincidentally, I’ve just been on Woman’s Hour alongside Wealden’s excellent PPC, Nus Ghani. I admit that, whilst I’m a total Radio 4 addict, I’ve often felt slightly uncomfortable enjoying this programme; I’ll have a rethink.
But my new-found acceptance will definitely flag before it reaches the all-woman shortlist. Because I don’t think that positive
discrimination is simply oxymoronic; this kind of forced redistribution is, to me, irrational, counter-productive, and offensive.
Whilst I’ve previously been to bits of the conference (sorry, I can’t bring myself to drop its definite article), this is my first full one. And something I’ve been aware of, from an initial glance through the fringe events’ bursting handbook, is the very broadness of our party. I might not agree with Blue Fox – the Conservative anti-hunting lobby – but I’m impressed that it exists. And the ConHome/TEAS Azerbaijani wine tasting certainly offered relaxed enlightenment after a long day of intellectual consideration.
Because the talks and debates here, which cover all aspects of contemporary life and Conservatism, have reminded me how lucky I am that (unlike most of my lefty friends) there’s a party which broadly, traditionally, potentially fits with what I’m convinced is right.
And this is where the demographically-defined groups fit in best: as part of a greater whole.