by Lola Okolosie
So on the same day in which a conservative councillor, Payam Tamiz, is kicked out of the Tory party for calling the women of Thanet 'sluts', the Prime Minister has himself made sexist comments during Prime Minister Question Time. It appears that Cameron has gotten away with dismissing Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Angela Eagle with the offensive rebuttal ‘calm down dear’. With the royal wedding happening in the same week, we were all supposed to stop worrying about it and get on with wondering what Kate’s dress was going to look like. Angry and disgusted.
Watching some of the live coverage of the wedding, I was even more incensed that journalists seemed particularly interested in asking little girls what they thought of ‘Kate’s dress’. Not what they thought of the wedding ceremony, but the dress. Indeed, this was not just something asked of ‘little girls’ who all, clearly the hype would have you believe, desire nothing more than to become a passive princess. I only mention this because it will be the media’s excuse for not taking more time over Cameron’s quite blatant sexism. There is no denying the following facts: Angela Eagle was not the only MP taking umbrage with Cameron during PM, yet she was the only one he thought to single out. Even more worrying, his put down was reliant on patronising her because of her gender. It would seem that it is not only Cameron and Payam Tamiz who hold sexist attitudes in the Conservative party. When Cameron made his comment George Osbourne’s face illuminated with absolute glee.
Cameron should have done the right thing and apologised for his comments. He has not. Instead he has gone on the offensive and claimed ‘socialists have no sense of humour’. To apologise would be to admit that his comments were sexist, offensive and plain wrong. I smell a double standard here. I wonder if Angela Eagle can write directly to the Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality Theresa May (obviously her first job doesn’t have a wide enough remit and there are no other women in the Conservative party that can dedicate the time and attention she can to the second position) about the treatment of women in politics. I wonder too, how Samantha Cameron, as a ‘British business executive’, would react if she was told to ‘calm down dear’ after giving a passionate response to a particular idea.
I also cannot help wondering how it is that to challenge such obvious sexism in the Conservative party is only being responded to with the old accusation that it is ‘Political Correctness gone mad’. The cover of this quarter’s Fabian Society publication, Fabian Review, has a number of startling statistics that clearly show how we must vocally challenge the still marginalised position women hold in our politics and society.
Here are some of them:
- since 1918, 4719 men have been elected to the House of Commons, as opposed to 355 women in the same time frame
- in 2010 267 constituencies had all men candidates, the same figure for women is just 11
- only 14% of local authority leaders are women, 86% of them are men
- the percentage of female MPs in the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat party is 32%, 16% and 12% respectively. We are nowhere near equal representation.
How then can women, feminist or not, sit back and not be completely furious at the patronizing treatment of one of the few female MPs, holding a prominent position, in the House of Commons. It is disingenuous to suggest that this ‘throw-away’ comment was not meant to offend. Such an obvious example of the undermining of women, Cameron’s ‘calm down dear’ is just the same as that heardby women up and down the country, who, when articulating their disagreement in the workplace or the home, are just dismissed by the notion that they are taking it all too seriously. They can’t, the argument goes, by virtue of being female, grasp the real dynamics of the given situation, because their female hormones makes women blow things out of all proportion.
In comparison to Gordon Brown’s ‘that bigoted woman’, there was much more of a sustained media storm over that ‘incident’. In the media’s eyes Cameron’s casual sexism is not comparable to Brown’s off-mic faux pas. It would seem that there are far more people worried about EU migrants “flocking” the UK like birds, than there are women in this country.
Particularly in light of Tamiz’s comments and subsequent sacking, the Conservatives, one would expect, would be a little more sensitive regarding gender equality issues. Come now, this is the party that is comfortable with seeing women lose £8.80 a week as a result of the cuts, men will only forgo £4.20. And it is the same party that seems unaware of the fact that women make up 90% of the group most affected by the cuts, single parents.
The reality is that casually sexist comments like this one, often reflect an ingrained attitude that is in some ways, more sinister because we are forever told that political correctness is a terrible thing stopping us from saying what we really want. The first response is always that you are being PC and thus over the top. When, in truth, we should always, especially if you are the Prime Minister, always be conscious of the power of language and what it is there to do, communicate our thoughts and feelings.
To somehow claim that the comment wasn’t sexist is, in my eyes, unforgivable. This is yet another example of how the existence of these deeply embedded and disempowering attitudes are denied.