KAREN ADAM: Time for women to stand up to unfair treatment like that shown to Angela Ranyer MP
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Imagine being asked during an interview for a post, “who have you been sleeping with?”
Or, “whose secretary are you?” Or when speaking in the House of Commons you are faced with male Tory MPs gesturing to bounce imaginary breasts? All of this has happened in the past at Westminster, directed at women who have simply had the courage to remain driven and professional, while working for the people they represent.
In the assessment you play out in your mind before seeking selection as a political candidate, you incorporate an anxiety, knowing that your choices can so easily impact on you and your family. Perhaps something you say online is purposely misconstrued, prompting abuse and death threats which requires police intervention (a situation I have encountered personally), all because you have an opinion.
I’ve been gobsmacked that in 2022 we faced a situation fit for 1622, being a time of burning women as witches for ‘spell binding’.
A parliamentarian disgracefully claimed that Angela Rayner MP deployed a “Basic Instinct ploy to distract Boris” and moreover, a national newspaper felt it was newsworthy to actually publish it. We now know that Angela Rayner MP has legs. What’s more… sometimes you can see them.
This is what is being fed to us and our younger generations, a trail of dehumanising women that takes us on a road towards the dark places of institutionalised misogynistic behaviour and hate crime.
When standing for election, you’re often told to have a ‘thick skin’, a sentiment I profoundly disagree with. I would much rather a politician was sensitive to the needs of their constituents. Do we really want a politician with ‘thick skin’ making decisions for our most vulnerable? We can see right now in real time where that gets us.
Not having a ‘thick skin’ I know only too well the sleepless nights and torment that this abhorrent treatment causes. Like me, Angela Rayner MP is a mother and grandmother, the thought that our children and grandchildren may face the reality of playground taunts is harrowing.
Any woman you talk to in politics has fallen victim to this – both the unpleasant, demeaning comments of colleagues, and the way they’re then picked up and run with in the media. The time has come now for women to not step aside, to not give way, and to certainly not ‘put up and shut up’.
As well as breaking new ground in baseless misogynist absurdity, the Mail on Sunday story has now prompted 5000 complaints. The newspaper’s editor was summoned to meet the Speaker of the House of Commons.
Conservative whips said they were trying to identify the Mail on Sunday’s anonymous source, while Johnson said he would unleash “the terrors of the earth” on the MP responsible, just as soon as they tell him who they are.
The current bear pit of Westminster politics is nothing new. From the calm and collected references to ‘calm down, dear’ to ‘she’s asking for it’ (one of the many dog whistles used to imply a women is using her body for political advantage), is grindingly familiar, each with its own ugly distinction.
We need action. If it was happening at any other workplace, there would be an investigation.
Because of issues like this, female politicians are endlessly being scrutinised in relation to what we wear and how we should act, which leads to constant pre-emption of, “will this be used against me?” No one should be required to have internal vigilance like this.
The reports along these lines in relation to me are too numerous to mention. It’s young women who are particularly seen as threatening to the establishment. It’s an attempt to keep women quiet, to keep them hyper vigilant and divert their attentions from the task at hand – tackling patriarchal structures - making many of the stale male cohort look outdated and out of touch.
A fearful prospect for those clinging on to power. I say to you, make way for women, nurture and support our young women, and watch the world change.
- Karen Adam is MSP for Banff and Buchan.