The proportion of female MPs is at its highest ever in the UK, but women still make up only just over a third of representatives in the Commons. Labour’s Dawn Butler has faced both sexism and racism as the MP for Brent Central in London, but she says her family background – particularly growing up with four brothers – prepared her to hold her own.
In her Letter to My Younger Self interview in this week’s Big Issue, the former shadow minister for women and equalities said she had to develop a “loud voice” to be heard at the dinner table, honing the skills she needed in the male-dominated Commons years later.
“I had to formulate my arguments before I made them, I had to dot the i’s and cross the t’s and show that I could stand up completely on my own,” she said.
“Never underestimate your upbringing or the influence people have in your life, and how they formulate how you approach a situation, how you act, how you talk. It was that upbringing that made me who I am now.”
Butler says she was continually frustrated by the strict guidelines her parents imposed on her, and the future they insisted was appropriate for their daughters.
“I grew up in a very strict household,” she explains. “We were not allowed to do lots of things. I used to play in the steel band and I remember coming home from school one day to tell my parents the school wanted me to go to Trinidad to play in a steel band there. I was so excited. Can you imagine? And my mum said no. No was my mum’s favourite word. I was devastated. And of course I definitely was not allowed to have a boyfriend. It was very much, you get educated, you get a job, you get married, then you have kids.”