Theresa May’s biggest problem? Being a woman

Life would be easier for Theresa May if she wasn't a woman, says Liz Nice. Picture Matt Dunham/PA Wi

Life would be easier for Theresa May if she wasn't a woman, says Liz Nice. Picture Matt Dunham/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Liz Nice says Theresa May's sex makes it impossible for her to win over Brexit

Theresa May is sticking to her guns while all around her the knives are out.

Knives don't usually do so well against guns, so she may well come out of this mess yet.

She has managed to remain relatively poised and confident but is always hampered by her lack of warmth.

In this she fails to be a woman, and it is against the patriarchal expectations of womanhood that in a man's world we women are judged.

May is always impeccably turned out – which is in her favour. Boris can wear a bobble hat and not bother to brush his hair, and everyone finds this charming. If May did that, everyone would say she was losing the plot – the favoured accusation against any woman in a leadership role from those who seek to undermine her.

'Her refusal to display any emotion in public … conveys a form of madness,' said Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore at the weekend.

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Oh, really? Well perhaps Suzanne has never been a boss, in which case she would know that any show of emotion from a woman in business is also seen as 'a form of madness'.

May can't win!

If she shouts in a meeting, she will be seen as unhinged.

If a male colleague does the same, he will be seen as strong and powerful.

Shouting is a particular problem for women. We have higher voices so sound loud when passionate – yet, so often, if we get animated, we are told to pipe down.

And that's what this latest Brexit drama is really all about, isn't it?

The Tory rebels want May to pipe down, to let the big clever men take over and show the little lady how it's done.

Boris changes his mind like the wind and Rees Mogg is acting in his own patrician drama with every statement he utters – yet we are supposed to follow the two of them, rather than the woman who has stuck at it and kept as close as possible to the path she always said she wanted to follow in the first place?

She might have more luck if she followed the time-honoured tradition of women out to get their way – by using her feminine wiles to get men to do her bidding while convincing them it was all their idea in the first place and then letting them take all the credit.

But maybe, like the rest of us, she was just bored of doing that?

Maybe she wished her cabinet – and the country – would just listen to a woman's words, rather than judging her only on the way she comes across? Maybe, but I doubt it will happen in May's lifetime – or in mine.

What makes someone inspiring?

I attended a fantastic event last week at Milsoms Kesgrave Hall near Ipswich organised by Archant which honoured 100 of Suffolk's most inspirational women. I was thrilled, and somewhat disbelieving, to be named as one of them.

I'm sure my colleagues were just being nice, but it did get me thinking about what being inspirational is actually about.

I've achieved plenty in my career. Getting into Oxford University, becoming a magazine editor in London and New York, launching the Magazine MA at the University of Sheffield, writing my book, Magazine Journalism, and coming back to Archant after having my children and getting the role of creative director here. My success in the world of work and academia looks pretty good on paper.

But I was born academically clever and could write from the age of seven as naturally as breathing. I got those gifts with no effort on my part whatsoever. But what I've come to realise this year is that we can hide behind those gifts.

We can use work to gain our self worth and convince ourselves that our lives are successful.

But real success is happiness and if we truly want to be an inspiration, it's the personal stuff we need to sort out. Because it's the personal stuff that is the really hard part.

I read a great quote the other day: 'Knowing your worth is about being ready to leave the table when respect is no longer being served.'

Follow that, and it won't matter if other people find you inspirational. You will be an inspiration to yourself.