When will sexism in politics be old news?

By Samantha Johnson-Audini

Earlier this week, Labour MP Clive Lewis caused outrage as he was reported to have told an audience member at a Momentum event to “get on your knees bitch”.

A first thing to note regarding this story is that Lewis was not directing this comment at a woman, but rather a male audience member. While “bitch” is still a misogynistic slur, it seems to have been a badly judged joke between friends. Lewis’ comments pale in comparison to other alleged comments that have arisen from fellow (now ex) Labour MP Jared O’Mara; allegedly O’Mara referred to an ex-girlfriend an “ugly bitch”.

Both Lewis’ and O’Mara’s comments were first reported by right-wing website Guido Fawkes.  Guido Fawkes’ concern surrounding misogyny does seem, however, disingenuous at best. The website has previously gained access to young women’s personal Twitter and Instagram accounts and posted personal information about them. Paul Staines (founder) once edited a photo of himself to make it look like he was in bed with Diane Abbott, a particularly degrading action directed at a leading female MP. It, therefore, seems unlikely that this site has really become the champion of anti-sexism. Misogyny must be called out from all sides of the political spectrum- not just when it is politically convenient and makes a headline.

Sexist language within politics is often harder to trace than the comments of Lewis and O’Mara. Whether it be David Cameron telling Angela Eagle to “Calm down dear” or Tory MP Sir Nicolas Soames ‘barking’ at SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, women in politics face subtle undermining and patronising from men on all sides of the Commons.

As only a third of Commons are women it is unsurprising that sexist language and attitudes prevail. Parliament can feel like an old boys club. The attitude of MPs like Lewis and O’Mara are, however, being increasingly challenged by female MPs such as Harriet Harman and Jess Phillips. The culture of the old boy’s club is slowly being called out and, hopefully, sexist attitudes will crumble with it.

Photograph: Aslan Media via flickr 

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