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Views My Own

Is Having a Female Met Commissioner Really a Win for Equality?

For the first time, London's new top cop is a woman.

(Photo by Henry Langston)

Last week it was announced that Cressida Dick will be the new commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. The headlines led with the fact that she would be the first woman in its 188-year-history to take charge of the Met.

Some saw this as a feminist moment. Others took to Twitter to make inevitable limp "Dick" jokes. But is this really a victory for women?

Cressida Dick's background should frame her career more than her having a vagina does. She spent most of her career working in counterterrorism, and in 2005 commanded an operation that led to Jean Charles de Menezes – an innocent man mistaken for a terrorist – being shot dead on the London Underground.


Dick's appointment is being touted as a win for women everywhere (visibility! respect!), but also: our highest-ranking police officer headed up one of the most harrowing cases of policing in recent British history, and was never really held accountable. In 2007, a jury said the Met was guilty of failings in the case, but found "no personal culpability for Commander Cressida Dick". In a 2008 inquest, Dick said: "If you ask me whether I think anybody did anything wrong or unreasonable on the operation, I don't think they did." Jean Charles de Menezes' cousins Patricia Armani and Alex Pereira said Dick's appointment was "offensive" to his memory.

Just twenty-nine percent of police officers are female. Considering women are so underrepresented, you might understand a level of excitement for any hint of a crack in the glass ceiling – why many feminists see visibility as being better than nothing. But the message that this promotion sends is that the Met doesn't see Jean Charles de Menezes' death as a national disgrace. It says that the killing of an innocent man is no barrier to a rise in the ranks for those who let it happen.

Female visibility also doesn't count for much if the women at the top are enacting bad policies. I'm not sure that immigrant communities, for instance, are celebrating the small number of women in high-profile public roles as a win for diversity. In Yarl's Wood detention centre, women are facing deportation and denied fair hearings; official powers have been given to strip people of their citizenship, rendering them stateless; and the policing of Britain's borders now extends to many areas of daily life. This is all happening on the watches of women in power, Prime Minister Theresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

A real win for equality would be to celebrate tangible policy shifts, destabilise attitudes within toxic institutions and to ask for more rigorous third party organisations to challenge bad practice and officers who act with impunity. Instead, in the same week of Dick's appointment, the Met was accused of trying to "gag" its critics by defunding the Metropolitan Black Police Association.

The hope is that Dick will be an ambassador for women within an institution still largely seen by the public as a boys' club – and if internal change can lead to external practice, that might be a step in the right direction. Having women in positions of power not historically designed with them in mind is great, but it's not the end of the story. It begs further questions – why has it taken so long? Will others follow where they lead? And what about other marginalised groups – is this really a win for them too?

Dick's position shines a light on the need to be critical of women in positions of structural power. We must demand more.