On the eve of the UK General Election, #shevotes is being shared across social media. This urges women under 30 to vote — they are the cohort least likely to. The campaign line is ‘surprise them’ — the them being the Tory government and current Prime Minister who show open disdain and disgust to women.
So, why don’t young women vote? As with other non-voters, for a variety of reasons. In this article women express rational reasons why they don’t vote; a lack of knowledge, trust, a sense of futility and disillusionment.
I’d add that undermining this is the daily experience of mis-recognition and misogyny. A core underlying problem for young women — and all women. In listening to young women, it is clear that there is rarely anyone interested in talking to — and LISTENING to — their political views and Politics.
For over more than a decade, my work has involved asking women to tell me about their everyday politics — in Russia and in Scotland. I also spent 10 years as a Politics Lecturer. I’ve seen how young women — intelligent, engaged, vibrant — get shut down.
Traditional forms of political participation are difficult for young women — because women are not expected to be actors in these arenas
The young women I have had the privilege to talk to — and teach — have not been politically disengaged. Sure, in my role as a Feminist Politics Lecturer, I probably have come across a sub-sample of more than usually engaged young women.
Yet, it is worth highlighting that even in the study of Politics — this is not an automatic equal space for young women to be able to voice their politics and engage. Politics as a discipline has major issues of exclusion; it remains white and male and middle class. It remains, at the centre, wedded to understandings of ‘bias’ and ‘objectivity’ that serve only to maintain a male dominated status quo.
I’ve seen the way in which changing the tenor and mode of discussion and political learning transforms women’s participation. Move away from the bombastic ‘two-sides’ debating towards reflection and experience and creativity — and women express their politics vociferously and viscerally.
Being able to communicate the everyday exhaustion of being confronted with mis-recognition reveals that when young women attempt to discuss politics, they are often shut down; met with mansplaining; called ‘feminazis’; been told to ‘step back’ by the bros on the left-wing circuit.
I personally lived this too. Over 20 years ago, I was a politically engaged young woman. I couldn’t find anyone to take me seriously. My opinion did not matter. No wonder young women step away from spaces that simply don’t represent them and certainly don’t value their input.
And this is a travesty when we look at what young women achieve outside of the traditional party politics — the ban on up skirting, the current campaign to end the ‘rough sex’ defence — we see the power of activism on the politics that matter.
So, I can understand why young women feel voting may be pointless for them. That they might not know where to begin.
In spite of the brokenness of our current election system — where first past the post distorts the vote, where the campaign is dominated by disinformation and a public service broadcaster failing to do it’s basic job, where a Prime Minister blatantly avoids being held to account and refuses to see the reality of damage his party inflicts — we must vote. It is currently what we have.
Without your voices, the system won’t change.
I would also argue young women should consider voting tactically. While sexism and misogyny are problems that cross the left-right political spectrum, the current government has shown itself to be utterly abhorrent in relation to women.
Young women — and other women considering not voting — please, please, please keep surprising them by showing up.
Bring all the amazing everyday — taken for granted and made invisible — political work you do to the polls.
Bring your anger, frustration, boredom. Use your voice, your intelligence, your questions.
Bring the new agenda.
Come together, speak to one another. If your peer group thinks politics is boring — find another tribe online.
Shout back in their faces.
Know that it will matter so much to so many of us. For a long time to come.
As well as voting — arm yourself with information
Check out #shevotes
Use a fact checker — the current mainstream media are not doing their job. The coverage is appalling. Find alternative information — not ones that parrot ‘sources close to the government’ as fact, when it is in fact anything but.
Check out Refinery 29 and their coverage of the campaign