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theresa may doesn’t deserve your sympathy

After the ex-PM announced her resignation today, she was seen crying, which was enough for many people to express their sympathy with her and forget about Yarl's Wood and the Windrush generation.

by Roisin Lanigan
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24 May 2019, 12:26pm

Still from Sky News via YouTube

Theresa May has not been a good Prime Minister. Since she took the role in 2016, when David Cameron resigned after the Brexit referendum, she’s been portrayed as ineffectual and unpopular, failing to get her Brexit bills through a hostile Parliament and presiding over a Cabinet that, if the tabloids are to be believed, despise her.

With constant negative press and constant backlash, it’s unsurprising that finally, after many false starts and speeches where it looked like she might resign, May finally quit this morning. It’s also unsurprising that with that level of negativity surrounding her, some people have started to feel sorry for Theresa May. That sympathy reached a head this morning, as Theresa got tearful in her resignation speech, announcing to the gathered media: “I will shortly leave that [position which] has been the honour of my life to hold.” Earlier this week she was also captured by the tabloids looking glassy eyed in the back of a car, under a headlined that read “END OF THE ROAD”.

After her resignation speech, social media was flooded by sympathetic messages. “Am I the only person who feels sorry for Theresa May?” one person wrote. “I’ve never voted Tory in my life but that woman has tried everything. Thanks for your efforts.” The Daily Express gushed about how she “cried for her country” and how it would “bring a lump to your throat”. This sums up the general argument of the Theresa May sympathisers: that we should feel sorry for her because she’s a human being, because she tried her best, because she had a hard job and was in a near-impossible position.

There’s some logic in the argument. As human beings, we’re naturally empathetic creatures. It’s hard, on a basic level, for any of us to look at another person crying over the loss of their job, knowing that their spirit is broken, and not feel a pang of pity. But there are plenty of other better avenues for you to channel that empathy. There are also plenty of times when Theresa May could have displayed empathy, sympathy and pity herself, and didn't.

“I’d definitely cry on TV if I was being deported. I’d cry over getting sanctioned for being two minutes late to a benefits meeting," says Euan, a 21-year-old Edinburgh student, of today’s rush to sympathy. "I can’t stand people commending her over her crocodile tears and forgetting all the other things she’s done.”

As Twitter user Feargal Ó Murchú‏ pointed out this morning, Theresa May showed none of today’s emotion when she systematically oppressed the most vulnerable in our society with policies that her party, and she herself, forced on the country. She could have cried when she presided over human rights abuses at Yarl’s Wood. She could have cried in any of the speeches where she was forced to defend the deportation of the Windrush generation. But she didn’t. The fact is, Theresa May cried today because she felt sorry for herself. We don’t need to feel sorry for her too.

Another school of thought says that: Theresa May is a woman, and if we’re feminists, then women deserve our support. “Gender has nothing to do with it," says Holly, a 20-year-old student from Birkenhead. "Thatcher was a woman too — does that mean we have to forgive her for completely destroying the North and my hometown? Just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you can get away with letting millions of children live in poverty.”

Theresa May’s actions, and policies, while Prime Minister (and as Home Secretary) have oppressed vulnerable women and actively made their lives worse. In Yarl’s Wood, her policies have reportedly enabled the detainment of rape and torture victims because the Home Office refused to accept that rape was a kind of torture. Within Yarl's Wood itself, women were made even more vulnerable, as a dossier released in 2015 revealed decades of physical and sexual abuse by the centre’s staff. In deporting the Windrush generation, she separated children from their mothers. She has formed a government with the support of the DUP, who in Northern Ireland have prevented people from marrying their same-sex partners. Abortion remains banned in the region.

Feminism is intersectional and relies on the tenets of defending the most vulnerable women, using our privilege and voice and actions to elevate those who are oppressed. Theresa May did the opposite. She showed herself to be self-serving as a politician, with a lack of respect or care for vulnerable women. Feminism does not mean that women who actively oppress other women deserve our support, even when they get sacked.

Instead of shedding a tear for Theresa May today, you should feel sad (and panicked) that we might end up with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. Who will probably be worse.