Who would have thought that one woman doing something as simple as crossing her legs and uncrossing her legs would spell the undoing of an entire political party?
I’m exaggerating a bit, but the whispers in the corridors of British political power seem to think so. Last weekend the post on Sunday wrote a report on Angela Rayner, the Labor Party’s deputy leader, and how she “likes” to call the Prime Minister Boris Johnson “out of step” when they clash over Prime Minister’s questions. According to the anonymous MP quoted in the piece, Rayner displays her killer charm by aping Sharon Stone’s famous scene in the 1992 film primal instinct – With clothes, of course.
“She knows she can’t match Boris’s Oxford Union debating training, but she has other skills that he lacks,” the unnamed MP told the newspaper.
The ability is… well, having legs, right?
It has long been known that Rayner can give anything she gets in debates with Johnson and other Conservative MPs. And yet the play traces her political fervor to good old-fashioned flirting.
Suffice it to say that the fallout was seismic. Politicians on both sides of Britain’s political divide and beyond have criticized the report for its blatant sexism. (Conservative MPs, including Johnson and Nadine Dorries, posted a boring cut-and-paste tweet).
For his part, Johnson has noted that the “source” who spilled the beans to the newspaper “will be punished if caught” – giving you, if you know anything at all about the whys and wherefores of Downing Street political journalism, a answer should give decent belly laugh for the day.
To be fair, it’s all a bit of an own goal for the Tories, who, if you were to rely on the play’s “flirt” theory at all, seem like a party faced by a childish, over-sexed schoolboy who is his eyes straight as he sees a pair of clothed woman’s legs.
When a prime minister stumbling from one controversy to another, dealing with both Brexit and the Ukraine war, is distracted by a bit of female anatomy, what hope do we have?
Sexism is nothing new here – women politicians have always been objectified and sexualized – but boy are we tired of it.
The feeling of being threatened by a capable, intelligent woman. The attempts to humiliate her with ‘sexy bird’ nonsense. The idea that women politicians are “inferior” or somehow “different”. The implication that women in politics are reduced to using their feminine tricks because that’s all they have to bring to the table.
Whatever the stuffy machismo women politicians endure in the corridors of power, the real barriers of political life often lie outside.
Caitriona Gleeson, CEO of Women for Elections, noted in a speech last year that the proliferation of online sexist abuse against public officials is also a “systemic and increasing obstacle” for women considering entering politics.
But when misogyny comes from the top down and from her own peers, how can we expect online culture to be anything but sexist? And when so many women are prevented from holding public office simply because they don’t want to deal with it, where does that leave us?
In this case, Rayner is the victim of a double whammy of sexism and classism.
The play characteristically referred to Rayner as the “generally educated Labor MP” and Johnson as the “old Etonian”. The article went on to posit that the former can hardly compete with the latter’s age-old skills and Oxford Union debating training.
“The potted biography is given – my extensive education, my experience as a caregiver, my family, my class, my origins. The implication is clear,” Rayner tweeted himself on Sunday.
The wonderful thing is that her biography is presented as a kind of slander and not for what it is for so many people: a life path to be impressed by and ultimately respected.
The only positive thing to take away from all of this is that Rayner certainly seems to have upset the Conservative Party.
If you, as a political entity, resort to naming someone for a pair of legs that might justify some kind of stare, you are truly playing a losing game.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/this-sexist-smear-is-proof-that-angela-rayner-has-the-tories-rattled-41586967.html These sexist smears are proof that Angela Rayner shook up the Tories