208 Women and I

Danyelle Rolla, 209 Women

Social Documentary Photographer

Boston, Lincolnshire

You have to love Beyoncé’s optimism when she rhetorically stated “Who run the world? Girls” but nothing can be further from the truth. In the “class photograph” taken at the German G20 summit in 2017, only 4 of the 36 world leaders where female. Proof that although women are allowed to sit at the table, we are a far cry away from being represented equally. We can not ignore however the great distance women have travelled over the past 100 years. Suffragettes protested and broke the law, in order to have a say in changing the law. Today, because of their courage and resilience, 209 women sit in an elected parliament and fly the flag for fallopian tubes nationwide. 

The 209 Women initiative sees 209 female photographers produce portraits of all the female MP’s currently serving in Parliament. I have been lucky enough to be selected as one of the photographers contributing to the project. Yesterday I travelled to the beautiful constituency of South Derbyshire to produce a portrait of Conservative MP Heather Wheeler. As a lifelong Labour supporter, I was looking forward to meeting Heather and discussing politics and government policy with her. It is fair to say she disappointed me greatly. She was nothing like the Tory caricature I prejudged her to be. She was supposed to be self-serving and arrogant. She was meant to lack compassion and have an elitist disposition. She was meant to care little about the needs of the poor and only be interested in adding to the wealth of the rich! But, she wasn’t any of those things. The women I photographed yesterday was charming and kind, she seemed to genuinely care about the constituents in her charge. After discussing her motivations behind pursuing a career in politics, Heather seemed to be authentic in her want to help people. Battlelines were drawn however when she referred to Margret Thatcher at Saint Margret. Canonizing the women responsible for decimating my community and striping my father of his lively hood was a no go. She understood this and willingly obliged not to blaspheme in front of me again. Joking aside, it was a nightmare predicament! I found myself with an MP whom I liked, and what’s worse, she was a fucking tory!!! 

Yesterday was a refreshing reminder that difference is no excuse for ignorance. I may not vote for Heather but that does not suggest I do not respect what she and the other 208 female MP’s have accomplished. As a gender, we have never been more represented in government and this can only be positive but we must not become complacent. The 209 women initiative has been an excellent celebration of suffrage and progress. When the final curation of portraits goes on display in the Place of Westminster in December 2018, we must all be reminded of what sacrifices have been made in order for the photographs to hang. I am positive they will scream to the audience “look how far we’ve come!!” but I hope they carry with them another message, one that projects above all the celebrations and acknowledgments “Women, we still have so far to go, let get on with it!!!!”. 

The exhibition of portraits of the 209 female MPs by 209 female photographers will be on display in the Palace of Westminster in December and then in the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool in February 2019. Curated by Hilary Wood, Cheryl Newman, and Tracey Marshall. Thank you to Heather Wheeler MP for being an excellent sitter and Mark Lyon for assisting me throughout the shoot.