The Mommy Wars have come to Downing Street. Over the weekend, Andrea Leadsom, the energy minister running to replace David Cameron, appeared to suggest she was more qualified to become prime minister than her female opponent because she has children.
In an interview with The Times, Leadsom, a mother of three, said, “Genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country.” She also said her opponent, Home Secretary Theresa May, “possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people,” adding, “but I have children who are going to have children who will be directly party of what happens next.”
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once said there is a special place in hell for women who don’t support each other. I wonder where Albright would put women who try to politicize the reproductive challenges of their female colleagues. May has said publicly that she and her husband could not have children.
After the interview appeared, Leadsom said she was “disgusted” at the presentation of her comments because she did not want family to be a “feature of the campaign.” But the storm of criticism only grew after the Times responded to a demand to release the interview transcript and the audio recording, in which Leadsom clearly puts a long emphasis on the word “children.” Leadsom later apologized to May.
Tory MP Guto Bebb (a May supporter) told the Financial Times the remarks were “utterly vile.” And the Telegraph reported Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who’s openly gay, sounded a sympathetic note with May, saying, “I am childless. I have nieces and nephews. I believe I–like everybody else–have a very real stake in our country.”
As far as I can tell, May has yet to comment. I’m not sure she has to. Women of May’s generation fought hard enough to be accepted as political leaders by their male peers. Friendly fire from another woman on an issue so clearly outside the realm of politics feels close to betrayal. If there’s a silver lining, it’s how universal the condemnation of Leadsom has been.
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