Union Debate: This House Believes the Only Limit to Female Success is Female Ambition
Helen Charman on last nights debate featuring Katie Price, Rachel Johnson and Liz Jones
Last night the Cambridge Union saw people queuing from half past six onwards to fill the chamber for the debate over the motion ‘This house believes the only limit to female success is female ambition’. The interesting motion and the fact that the debate took place during the Union’s traditional open period at the beginning of each term, meaning that non-members could attend, were not, however, the real draws last night: Katie Price, she of the multi-million pound business empire and other sizeable assets, entered the chambers of the union for the first time.
Price is undeniably incredibly famous, and the anticipation of her arrival was tangible in the chamber long before her actual entrance, with Edward Turnham, Chairman of Cambridge University Conservative Association winning laughter from the audience during the Emergency Debate as he announced that it was “comforting to know I’m not the biggest tit in the house”.
Price, however, did not make a fool of herself. Despite opening her speech with the admission “I’m absolutely shitting myself” and at several points stumbling for what to say, she handled her clear discomfort well, with self-deprecating remarks such as “If you played Trivial Pursuit with me I’d definitely lose” and “I’ve made loads of mistakes, but I’ve got no regrets apart from Eurovision- I don’t know what I was thinking” winning huge applause from the audience. From her constant publicising of every detail of her life and her fondness for publically airing any grievances, it could have been easy for Price to launch into a discussion of her own life story and problems, and although she did refer to her own life she for the most part avoided this.
Katie Price was not the only high profile name debating the motion, however, with Charlotte Vere, founder of WomenOn and Anna Stansbury, a John’s Economics student, joining Price in opposition and controversial Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones, author Steve Moxon and editor of The Lady (and sister of Boris) Rachel Johnson in proposition of the motion.
Charlotte Vere and Stanbury gave incredibly strong performances, with Vere eloquently making the point that the way we define success needs to be re-evaluate, noting that it’s not all about women becoming prominent CEOs or high-flyers in the business world: “Your definition of success is that you reach your own personal full potential”. Stanbury, who is the policy director of The Wilberforce Society, was very impressive, receiving the most appreciative reaction from the audience, particularly for her lightning quick responses to members of the audience’s points of information. Steve Moxon, on the other hand gave an appalling performance, his odd choice of showing a powerpoint presentation giving him the air of an enthusiastic but often inaudible lecturer and his offensive thesis that women should aspire to the traditional female role of being young, beautiful and attracting a mate and leave men to the business of leadership and success was met with audible derision from the audience.
Liz Jones, however, was perhaps the most controversial speaker, finishing a staggeringly sexist speech with “I’m not surprised women don’t get to the top: I am staggered we have jobs at all”, after suggesting that women “always put their personal lives first” and spend their time in the workplace chatting and crying. She also declared “I believe women prefer domesticity”, suggesting that “they prefer to be martyrs”, a ridiculous generalisation and display of regressive, misogynist ideas perhaps not unexpected, given the views she has expressed in her columns, but still disappointing.
Rachel Johnson, who tweeted prior to the debate “Liz Jones and I abt to debate women and ambition against MissKatiePrice @cambridgeunion. Too frightened to say any more”, was an impressive speaker, despite her slightly questionable assertion that growing up as one of “Thatcher’s children” was an “affirmative and supportive environment” in which to be a woman. Johnson did, however, slightly cheapen her inspirational message about the potential for female success by, in the words of Stansbury, getting “her claws out” at Price, saying “the sky’s the limit, or in your case a ten-part series on Sky called ‘Katie’” and sarcastically referring to Price’s novels as “for those who really love literature”. Price didn’t respond to these comments from Johnson, and the debate never descended into ad hominem attacks, but earlier in the debate she did make her own pointed remark at Liz Jones and the Daily Mail, stating “the media make up a lot of stories without checking their facts… You should know that”.
The motion was a resounding triumph for Price and her fellow speakers, receiving as they did 497 votes in favour of the opposition as opposed to only 39 votes in favour of the proposition. Ultimately, Katie Price had nothing particularly revelatory or revolutionary to say, but whatever your opinions on her personal choices, she has to be applauded for venturing somewhere so far out of her comfort zone.