On 9th November I was up at 6am hastily rewriting an article about how Trump’s Presidential campaign had let the sexism genie out the bottle and that it was going to be hard to put it back in. The rewrite was due to the fact the first draft had relied on Clinton winning… but anyway. I wrote:
This is one of the many terrifying things about the advent of Trump's presidency. His success sends a message that you can boast about abusing women's bodily integrity and still become the most powerful man in the world. His success sends a message that it is okay to use physically and sexually violent rhetoric when talking about women, and win. Throughout his whole campaign, he has appealed to that section of men who believe they are entitled to women's bodies. He has fired up a section of men who believe that women are second-class citizens. His language and his actions have given sexists and misogynists not only comfort, but legitimacy.
I was reminded by this article because I woke up this morning to a tweet (the link goes to my tweet, not his) from Guido Fawkes where he “joked” about ‘consoling’ Diane Abbott, accompanied by a selfie of him in bed with her face photoshopped on the pillow next to him.
I saw this tweet, and I thought about what I wrote in November. Because it feels part of the same trajectory - the increased normalisation of sexism and, in Abbott’s case, racism that make it okay to write sexual jokes - even threatening sexual jokes - about women MPs and women in the public eye.
It’s important to note that Fawkes isn’t some random egg troll. He’s a well-known, widely-read political commentator. And he thinks it’s acceptable to photoshop a woman MP’s face in bed next to him, while joking about ‘consoling’ her.
As a woman writing online, I instantly recognised Fawkes’ ‘play’ with his tweet. I’ve been on the receiving end of it myself. It’s the ‘she just needs a good shagging, that’ll shut her up’. It’s the idea that if women complain about the state of the world or the way they’ve been treated, it’s because we’re ‘frustrated’ and we just need a man to sort them out.
You may remember David Cameron using that tactic to shut up Nadine Dorries. And I HATE having to defend Nadine Dorries.
Put simply, this attitude is rooted in the idea that women who speak out are actually just incredibly undesirable to men and our anger is actually due to the fact that no men will have sex with us. If we could just find a man willing to ‘take one for the team’ and have sex with us, we’ll shut the fuck up.
It’s quite a sexually threatening thing to say. It’s certainly completely unacceptable for a political commentator - indeed anyone - to say about a woman in the public eye, or, indeed, any woman.
These kinds of comments have one clear purpose and one purpose only. They are to remind women that no matter how successful we are, no matter how long we’ve been an MP, no matter how much we have survived to get to where we are today, we are just an object to be deemed fuck-able or not by a man. We’re just objects to use and abuse. We’re either too ugly for men to want to fuck us, so we’ve failed as acceptable women. Or we’re too sexy for our own good, and therefore not to be taken seriously. We can never be seen as fully human woman doing our jobs, getting on with our lives.
It didn’t start with Trump. There was Letts in the Daily Mail bemoaning how ugly British women MPs were long before Donald started his march to the White House. But I do think the kind of rhetoric that Trump indulged in during his campaign, and which he actively encouraged from his supporters, helped to normalise this kind of language. He gave legitimacy to the idea that men could make crude sexual comments about women politicians to try and undermine their campaign. Now we have a political journalist ‘joking’ about how he’s helping out the Shadow Home Secretary by having sex with her.
This is not okay. We have to get the sexist, racist genie back in its bottle. Whatever anyone thinks of Diane Abbott or Labour or their policies, they need to stand up against this kind of nasty misogynoir. This nasty, schoolboy sexism that puts women into fuck-able and unfuck-able categories. That tells women to just shut up and get shagged.
Because as long as men like Fawkes think it’s okay to write this kind of nasty sexist bullshit, women will continue to be undermined, silenced and told that political power and political office is not for them.
Women MPs need to be criticised, questioned and held to account just like their male counterparts.
Women MPs - women everywhere - should not be subjected to gross, sexualised comments that seek to shut us up.
No male MP gets that. No male MP expects that.