Political spouses should no longer hide their authentic selves. Nevena Bridgen explains what exactly makes up the authenticity of a political wife.
When I launched The Wives of Westminster, a few females MPs who claim to be ‘truth-telling feminists’ were lining up to proclaim political spouses irrelevant and perpetuate along with some of their journalists that a political spouse should hide in plain sight. If you are the spouse of Jeremy Hunt and you ‘hide your bracelet in front of the cameras’, according to one journalist, you are doing it well. A fake appearance, this stereotypical role that’s been placed on all of us, myself included, invites pigeonholing and deception. Without anyone asking us if we agree, we are forced to fit into a judgemental old world view of what a Wife of Westminster should be.
The bottom line of such a negative stereotyping is rooted in default inequality, and a socially constructed model where a political spouse is a prop and should be used as a prop and if she God forbids dare to go center stage, she will be quickly pressured to go back into a dark corner. ‘Woman, know your place’, is the advice I do not accept and won’t conform. You would think female MPs across party lines should stand up for all women, and especially the wives of their colleagues, but they did not.
Tell The Truth
After my cover interview for The Times, fellow Wives of Westminster approached me and said: ‘You are so brave. Thank you for standing up on behalf of others, it was long overdue.’ At first, I did not understand why they called me ‘brave’ for going public about the role I have. Then after the attacks, I understood what they meant by it.
Turn up the volume, unapologetically
If a political spouse knows that she will get a backlash for how she will be perceived, judged, attacked, pigeonholed by quite frankly everyone and anyone, what are the chances she will want to be seen and heard in the public arena? What are the chances she will soldier through the backlash and attacks thrown disappointingly by some female holders of public office? What are the chances that her response will be to go center stage and turn up the volume, completely unapologetically? Because, that’s exactly what her response should be.
Stereotypes are so passé
While I am happy with the impact The Wives of Westminster project is having and the national conversation it has prompted and created, I also know that if I did not have my on stage and media experience I would have probably written up by now a different story. If I had not been trained at the London Guildhall School of Music and Drama, one of the finest of its type in the world and without the confidence that comes from my professional experience as an international opera singer and being in the centre of the stage, I would probably not even be writing this digital entry today.
If I did not know the purpose of my endeavor, I would probably be pressured to do as what I was advised to do: ‘lie low’, ‘hide’, ‘keep it light’ and go back into the shadow a political spouse, this prescribed role, a traditional political spouse should inhabit.
What exactly makes up the authenticity of a political spouse?
I identified five themes I would like to explore and expand on further as The Wives of Westminster project unfolds.
A Political Spouse Should Be Able To Tell Her Story In Her Own Words And On Her Own Terms
A Political Spouse Should Not Need To Pretend To Be Someone Else To Fit In With Someone Else’s View. Especially, If The Person Judging Her Claims To Be A Feminist
A Political Spouse Should Not Be Asked To Hide How She Really Feels. She Should Stand Up For What She Believes In, As Should Everyone Else
A Political Spouse Should Not Have To Conform To The Behaviour Others Expect Her To Display
Political Spouse Should Not Feel Obligated To Share One And The Same Political Views As Her Husband. It’s Okay If She Disagrees
And to all fellow women, I say: you should not go through life being afraid to share with the world who you are. You all have the right to be your authentic selves. Announce yourself to the world. Be it. Claiming yourself is priceless, and those who share the same, universal values and wish you well will always support you. Those who won’t do not matter, anyway.