Miriam González Durántez –known in the UK as Miriam Clegg– is from the town of Olmedo in the province of Valladolid, Spain. She left there to study Law, a degree she chose because she felt it would open doors for her. While she was taking a course in Bruges as part of her education, she met her future husband, the politician Nick Clegg. González Durántez spoke to the Economist journalist Anne McElvoy at IE’s Santa Cruz La Real campus in Segovia as part of the Hay Festival.
McElvoy put a number of questions to González Durántez and the focus of their discussion was the Inspiring Women initiative, part of the Inspiring the Future project. When her husband changed tack from European to British politics, the family moved to the United Kingdom. For González Durántez that meant a change in jobs (she currently works for Dechert, a firm that specializes in legal matters). Another big change came when Nick Clegg was chosen to lead the Liberal Democrat Party and the 2010 electoral campaign began.
Overnight, González Durántez found herself thrown into the public eye. McElvoy asked what she learned from the experience. “That most people try to help,” was the quick reply, given the many things said about her in the media at that time. She remembers a specific example, when a British newspaper painted her as a bad wife and mother because Nick Clegg had to share with her the task of taking their children to school. “It didn’t occur to anyone to ask him if he wanted to do it.”
Something that became clear very soon was that being a public figure also allowed new possibilities, like raising awareness. During that 2010 electoral campaign, González Durántez realized that there were few women in politics. That is when the Inspiring Women initiative arose, an idea that involved offering adult women as role models for young people. These women went to schools to give talks about their experiences to the new generations of girls, to help them have confidence in themselves.
Why is her project necessary? González Durántez illustrated her reply with an anecdote. She explained that if a group of young children (boys and girls) are asked what jobs the other children will do when they are older, they say that the boys will be lawyers, doctors and that kind of thing, while they say that the girls will be models, hairdressers and event organizers. González Durántez reminded us that children are not born sexist, but this is nonetheless a reality. “It is something that we have to change together.”
This is a change that is easier to make if it is possible to see women working in all industries, said the interviewee. Her initiative works particularly with girls aged 13 and 14, although those of other ages also participate. One of the discoveries they made was that girls between 11 and 21 told them they felt they did not have enough access to certain areas, such as politics.
González Durántez stated that the goal was to challenge stereotypes. The moment of truth is “when the girls realize ‘I can be like this woman because this is a real woman’ when they see you in person, not on the television,” says the lawyer. However, they do not only work with famous women. At the outset, as they often are at that stage, things were low key: working together with González Durántez were a yoga teacher and a woman who worked in a bank.
During the discussion, some thorny matters came up but González Durántez did not avoid them. “I don’t mind at all if women who do not want to reach certain levels or work in certain jobs do not do them. But those who do want to do them should have that option.” Talking about the term ‘feminazi’ she asked, “in what other context would you link the word Nazi with a particular group?” However, she is also a pragmatist. “You can’t have everything: three children, a social life and a successful career. Being a parent is full of commitments. But for men too,” she says.