Monday, 21 July 2014

Equality of outrage

Following the promotion of several female MPs to the Cabinet in last week's reshuffle, criticism was heaped upon the Daily Mail* for it's coverage of the new ministers - which focussed on their clothes and general appearance, rather than their qualifications for the job and their qualities as serious politicians.

Labour MP for Bishop Auckland Helen Goodman, however, chose to Tweet this:

It does female ministers a great disservice to think they are only there to 'make up the numbers'; when a male politician is promoted, no one asks whether he has been put in that position because the Prime Minister thinks he'll be good at it, or just to keep up appearances - why should we cast these aspersions on female MPs?

When Sajid Javid was made Minister for Culture, attacks in the press focused mainly on the fact he was a former banker, rather than claiming he was only there to increase muslim representation in the cabinet instead of on his own merits - even though a look at the cultural background of someone who is in charge of culture might actually be relevant to how he might undertake the job.  It is distasteful that female politicians are still seen merely as 'window dressing'.

For those interested in more than just a female MP's clothing and appearance, this excellent Buzzfeed article goes into more detail about some of the newly promoted ministers' CVs, backgrounds, what inspires them, etc. - and aptly demonstrates that they have been put in the cabinet on merit, not purely to fulfil some quota.

A few hours later, Helen Goodman deleted her Tweet, and wrote that it had been 'intended as a lighthearted remark'.

Now, I don't really think that Helen Goodman is sexist.  If she genuinely thinks that the 'most interesting' thing about Esther McVey, Nicky Morgan, Penny Mordaunt, et al is their clothes, then that's her opinion - but I highly doubt she is in any way an enemy of women in politics.  What's remarkable is the muted response her comments received; with the exception of a few Conservative activists seeking to make hay over an opponent's blunder, I have seen very little said about this incident at all.

Imagine, if you will, what the reaction would've been to a male MP (of any party) Tweeting the same incendiary and derogatory remarks about female ministers - and then trying to pass it off as "aww, c'mon guys - it was just a joke!"  He would've been hauled over the coals.  Whether that would be the correct reaction to his comments is another matter - but he would certainly have been castigated for saying what Helen Goodman said.  Ms Goodman, on the other hand, seems to have got off fairly lightly.

The real sexism here is that people seem to be considerably less offended by Ms Goodman's Tweet than they would have been had it been posted by a male politician.  If particular comments are deemed sexist - and, therefore, unacceptable - it shouldn't matter who says them.  The equality movement are fighting the good fight for causes such as equal pay - but we won't truly achieve those goals until we have equal outrage too.

* When is criticism NOT heaped upon the Daily Mail?!

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