How do you succeed as a woman, a mother and a feminist in parliament?
Harman is a Labour MP who built her career on the stuff that well, conventional politicians missed out. And lucky for us, she’s gone ahead and written all about it in her memoir ‘A Woman’s Work’. I was, how shall we put it, somewhat shocked to hear a politician talk so openly about her struggle with maternal guilt and self-doubt. I think we do sometimes forget - politicians in parliament are real people too.
Harman, pregnant and let’s face it probably tired from being the only person who had to walk around Westminster wearing heels, began the fight for a seat in parliament when a by election unexpectedly cropped up. Oh, those rare unexpected elections…
She struck a nerve with the audience of 200+ people, when she spoke honestly of the guilt she felt towards her unborn child. She explained that running in the by-election meant that the demands of her job were going to multiply, and multiply again. How could she balance her work and personal life, how could she give her children the time they needed, the time they deserved. The time which is so precious to working mothers. Would she be a bad mother, should she be having this child, what would become of the children, “raised by an unfit mother”. These were thoughts that replayed in her mind, thoughts that became newspaper headlines. To admit she was struggling in the midst of her career, it would have damaged her, so she thought. Whilst she reminisced on her feelings she told us about the time her fellow colleagues believed she was having an affair with a mysterious lover.
Not quite… just sneaking away to see the children. But an affair - that’s more relatable in parliament, right, or is it more appropriate to say left?
These intense feelings of self-doubt, were the basis on what Harman built her career. She took strength from uncertainty and this drove her campaigns for better childcare, extended rights to women in the work place and fueled her feminist approach to politics.
Yet still, after all she has been through, I felt a sense of insecurity from this powerful, determined woman. When the audience asked her why she didn't run for leader of the Labour party - she said: “When people told me I should run for leader, it was a compliment, but I never really believed I could do it.” Let’s be honest here, far less capable people have run for political leadership, now I won’t name names ( *cough* Jeremy Corbyn).
Pushing ourselves forward, is something we all struggle with, but something which if done in the right way can lead us to opportunities that we never imagined existed. It’s all about believing the impossible, believing that anything is impossible. And taking steps, one at a time, forwards.
By Daisy Brown