If even Merkel attracts ‘black widow spider’ sexism, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Merkel was compared to the creature - but would such a comparison have been made in the case of a male politician?

Share

There are days when you don’t have to venture far beyond your front door to encounter what is now, thanks to Laura Bates and her campaign, termed “everyday sexism”.

But you would have hoped – at least I would have hoped – that the rarefied world of think-tanks and academia might be above all that. Not so, as I found, at the august Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House this week, where they were discussing the German election. One of three men on the panel ventured the view – current among some German commentators – that Angela Merkel was akin to a “black widow spider” who sucked parties into her coalitions and poisoned them while they slept.

The one female member of the panel objected valiantly – but to my mind a little too mildly – that such a comparison would not have been made in the case of a male politician, which of course it would not. As our very own Lib Dems know to their cost, there is such a thing as the “curse of coalition”, which places the junior partner at a big disadvantage at the next election. That applies whether the head of government is male or female.

Such casual acceptance of a stereotype cannot but lower the tone of academic discourse and cast doubt on the judgement of the speaker. But perhaps this is in part at least a reflection of the think-tank environment. A couple of weeks ago, I spent a day going from one thinktank event to another. In the morning it was housing for the elderly; in the afternoon a consideration of whether central banks could ever be independent, and lastly, in early evening, a debate on “progressive” capitalism. The audiences and speakers, even at the session on housing, were predominantly male. At the other two, a cursory glance around the hall suggested that a mere 15 per cent of participants were women.

In my experience, the only times when the balance is anything near 50-50 at such events is when migration, foreign aid or refugee issues are discussed from a left-ish perspective. What does this say about the world of thinktanks, about the quality of their studies, about the representative nature of political and social debate in this country? Above all, I think it says that the female voice is far too rarely heard, but is it we, or the men, who are to blame? 

It’s not racist to say ‘get insured’

To his credit, the no-longer new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has continued as he began, targeting uninsured drivers on the grounds that breaking the law in one way might suggest a willingness to break the law in others. I recently came across one of his “sweeps” on the Chelsea Embankment. More than a dozen vehicles had been stopped, with some drivers on their phones, presumably  trying drum up enough insurance to continue on their way.

What many might find depressing, including me, is that in this “white” part of town, the majority of those drivers came from ethnic minorities. However this variety of stop-and-search is “colour-blind” in the sense that the police make stops after scanning number plates and cross-checking for insurance by computer. There is no question of a US-style offence of “driving while black”. Consequently I am now more guilty than I used to be of “racial profiling” other drivers. Perhaps insurers should concentrate their adverts on this, clearly hard to reach, part of the market.

m.dejevsky@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are curr...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: odd pub names, final polls in Scotland and war historians

John Rentoul
 

i Editor's Letter: We are winning the fight against extreme poverty and hunger. It's time to up the ante

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week