International Women's Day: Three-quarters of Conservative MPs won't say they're a feminist

Just over half of MPs are feminists, a poll for Yahoo News UK and YouGov found
Just over half of MPs are feminists, a poll for Yahoo News UK and YouGov found

Nearly half of MPs do not consider themselves to be feminists, according to an exclusive poll conducted by Yahoo News UK.

The figures, revealed on International Women’s Day, show that 53% of MPs across parties say they identify as a feminist, 37% said they do not and 10% said they don’t know.

The survey of 100 MPs by YouGov finds that just 28% of Conservative MPs identify as a feminist, whereas 60% do not and 12% don’t know.

Labour MPs are almost three times as likely as their Tory counterparts to call themselves a feminist, while MPs outside the two main parties are the most likely to identify as a feminist, with 81% saying they adopt the label.

Cross-party MPs gather alongside aspiring woman from their constituencies to show them the inner workings of Westminster. (Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)
Cross-party MPs gather alongside aspiring woman from their constituencies to show them the inner workings of Westminster. (Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)

Female MPs are almost twice as likely as male MPs to consider themselves a feminist.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, told Yahoo News UK the results reflect a continuing hostility to the term feminism.

She said: “To the extent that Parliament represents wider society I wasn’t that surprised that only half of MPs consider themselves feminists.

“We know there’s a residual resistance to the word feminism and that it had negative connotations to some, and that’s what you’re seeing reflected in the numbers.”

She stressed that the poll shows some positive signs about changing attitudes within Parliament.

“Clearly it is disappointing that there are those who reject the term and don’t see that it’s relevant to them.

“But actually in a place like Parliament where we know it’s a bit anachronistic and it still runs itself like an old men’s club, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by that.

“But I take heart from the proportion who do say they’re feminists.

“I know from working with MPs in Parliament that there are a lot of them, a number of women and some of the men, who are active on this agenda and really want to drive forward change,” she added.

The results are a stark contrast to the optimistic view portrayed by Harriet Harman, senior Labour MP and leading feminist advocate in March 2018, when she hailed the entry of ‘Tory feminists’ into the House of Commons.

In a speech marking International Women’s Day last year, she said: “The whole agenda for women in the House of Commons has changed, firstly because of the numbers – there are more than 200 female MPs now.

“But, secondly and critically, there has been a dramatic change in the nature of Conservative women MPs.

“We have now got feminists on the Tory side, who are very different from the doughty tweedy matrons of the past.

“These MPs are more modern, and people that we, as Labour women, can work cross-party with.”

Theresa May has called herself a feminist in an interview while she was Home Secretary following a backlash over her previous reluctance to using the term.

In 2016 she was pictured wearing a T-shirt produced by the Fawcett Society with the slogan ‘this is what a feminist looks like’.

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Ms Smethers stresses that politicians calling themselves feminists must back this up with actions.

She said: “I would want our politicians to wear their feminism in an authentic way and do it in a way that’s genuinely translated into actions.

“It comes back to deeds not words at the end of the day.

“We have to ensure that we are our policy and legislative change is consistent with the label feminist.”

Naz Shah MP, Labour Women and Equalities Minister, told Yahoo News UK: “I do consider myself as a feminist, as the basis of feminism is the emancipation of women from the injustices of a patriarchal society and fight for a fairer and more equal society.

“Of course, there are different strands and approaches to feminism and that highlights the diversity of women around the world. But no matter the strand or approach, we are all feminists and sisters – struggling for a common aim.

“Labour MPs are more likely to be feminists because Labour MPs are more likely to be women as opposed to the Conservatives. Our Labour MPs stand tall on socialist values, which includes standing up for the rights of women.

“The attitudes of some men can cause much of the problems in a patriarchal society, and if they don’t want to be labelled ‘feminists’, while also being silent on issues relating to the Gender Pay Gap, sexual harassment at work or other issues of women’s equality, then those men are also part of the problem.”

The research shows that MPs are more likely than the general population to call themselves a feminist.

YouGov polling in 2018 found out that just 26% of Brits are feminists, with 31% saying there is no longer a need for feminism.

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