I’m not quite sure what I was expecting when I arrived at the Festival of Ideas’ event with Rachel Reeves. All I knew was that I was about to fulfil every book lovers’s dream; being set free in Waterstones after-hours.
It was a modest, cosy set up in the corner, set out by fast-filling chairs and two noticeably more comfortable chairs at the front set up with microphones and a jug of water. The event began getting right into what Reeves was promoting, her new book Women of Westminster, and her passion was instantly noticed as she passionately explained the premise.
Reeves had silenced the room into captivation, her stories ranged from desperately dark to funny and light. Her knowledge of the women who paved the way in politics before us was incredibly impressive: she was able to recall facts and statistics without thinking (this may be an assumed given for an MP but I still struggle to remember my phone number after 2 and a half years).
You really don’t have to be a Labour supporter, or voter, to appreciate what she was saying. Her main focus was on women in Parliament and she recalled her talks with Theresa May about her opinion on the way women were (and are) treated in Westminster. Something I particularly noticed was her enthusiasm towards cross-party initiatives and how, as women, we can make anything happen when we work together and fight a bigger cause.
This attitude of women working together is as important now as it was 50 years ago. One of the stories Reeves told was of women in Parliament meeting up and agreeing to stamp on the toes (with high heels) of any man who touched them inappropriately. A more recent example was the agreement that should an MP be absent for maternity (or paternity) leave, a nominated MP would step in and vote for them. Reeves also talked passionately about the inherent sexism that isn’t only systematically built within attitudes and laws, but how Westminster is physically built for men – when women first started debating in Parliament, some were actually too short to deliver speeches and arguments!
After the talk, I decided to buy a copy of the book – I thought it was incredibly refreshing for a such a ‘heavy’ subject to include women’s stories from all parties and backgrounds. With these sorts of things I’m definitely one of those people who flicks between despair and hope, but with more women taking up positions within Parliament and those very women working together to create a fairer and more equal Westminster, I’m hoping it’ll be a story of the latter. Thank you Rachel – it was a pleasure listening to you!
Bethan Stone is a reporter for Bristol Women’s Voice.