Women’s Week: Suffolk MP Therese Coffey says she has had her fair share of ‘mansplaining’

Dr Therese Coffey. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Dr Therese Coffey. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

I was proud to be the first woman ever to be elected as an MP for a Suffolk constituency in 2010, writes Dr Therese Coffey.

That was over a century after Suffolk had elected the very first woman mayor in Britain, when Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson became mayor of Aldeburgh in 1908. At that point, her sister Millicent Fawcett was pressing the case for women to get the vote which eventually happened in 1918 with full suffrage happening 10 years later.

In the elections held since the seat of Suffolk Coastal was first created in 1983 till 2010, only four women had even tried to become an MP here. My predecessor had been in place from before 1983 and had decided to retire only a few months before the election. I was fortunate that David Cameron had changed party rules, such that the local Conservatives chose from three men and three women. I won that contest on the first ballot though some people who are now my strongest supporters freely admit they did not expect to vote for a woman. I am glad I persuaded them.

That said, I have had my fair share of mansplaining, I have had to push back on those who I do not think would have spoken to my predecessor in the same way and I do not know if that was because I was a blow-in or a confident, thirtysomething, professional woman being assertive and assured in standing up and acting for what I thought was in the best interests of the people I represented.

I am pleased to have brought a female touch and was delighted to be joined by Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill in 2015. I think we were able to really galvanise and complete the effectiveness of Suffolk MPs working together.

Looking forward, I would like us to be more ambitious on encouraging more women into elected public life. It is said that women have lower risk appetites but I am concerned that ongoing abuse, particularly on social media, and the murder of Jo Cox is having a chilling effect on those whose first concern, understandably, is their family. From my experience, the effort is certainly rewarding, even if you do have to don a tin helmet from time to time.

The ladies who helped secure the vote had it far tougher but their tenacity won the day. I will do what I can to help even more enjoy the privilege of public service, hard won by the women who went before us.