Sexist Tory attacks on Angela Rayner ‘stink of classism’

Mail on Sunday article could put women off going into politics, say gender equality campaigners

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Tuesday 26 April 2022 18:02
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<p>Ms Rayner, Labour MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, responded by accusing Tory MPs of wielding anonymous briefings to disseminate ‘desperate, perverted smears’ about her</p>

Ms Rayner, Labour MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, responded by accusing Tory MPs of wielding anonymous briefings to disseminate ‘desperate, perverted smears’ about her

Misogynistic remarks about Angela Rayner by Torys MP in the Mail on Sunday “stink of” classism as well as sexism, a leading human rights lawyer has said.

Charlotte Proudman, a feminist barrister, suggested some Conservatives perceived the Labour deputy leader as not being of the “same standard” as Eton-educated politicians due to the fact she went to state school.

Anonymous Tory MPs quoted in the Mail on Sunday claimed Ms Rayner tried to knock Boris Johnson “off his stride” during Prime Minister’s Questions by “crossing and uncrossing her legs” in a scene supposedly reminiscent of the film Basic Instinct.

The article has been widely condemned as sexist and Ms Rayner has accused the MPs of disseminating “desperate, perverted smears” about her.

Dr Proudman, an award-winning family law lawyer, told The Independent: “It stinks of sexism and classism. Because Rayner went to a comprehensive school she’s not up to the same standard of an Eton-educated man.

“I went to comprehensive school as did many of my colleagues, and to suggest that we are substandard is highly patronising and classist.”

The lawyer said the comments from anonymous Tory MPs about Rayner demonstrate “how out of touch” the Conservative Party is.

Dr Proudman added: “The misogynist Daily Mail headline is beyond the pale. It’s an attempt to reduce a powerful female MP to a sexual object, to ridicule and berate her.

“She is judged on the clothes she wears and she is imagined by some men to be crossing her legs in parliament with no knickers.

“Men are never held up to the same standards. Imagine a headline commenting on whether our prime minister had his underpants on? Or the fact his fly is undone and so we imagine him without underpants. It would never happen.”

Dr Proudman noted it was not the first time a UK MP who is a woman has been compared to Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, with Conservative MP Lucy Fraser also enduring similar coverage in tabloid reports in 2016.

The lawyer added: “This is misogyny of the darkest form as it suggests to the public that’s it’s permissible to enjoy titillation and entertainment at the expense of women’s dignity and integrity. It’s not.

“Just remember every time the media shares a photograph of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct they are showing a woman’s body part which was filmed without her consent. She was duped into the filming and had no idea that her vagina would be shown in the film. This isn’t sexy. It isn’t art. It’s misogyny in which men take advantage of women.”

Jess Phillips, the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, told The Independent the article written about Ms Rayner was “as dangerous as it is stupid”.

Ms Phillips, who is the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, added: “It perpetuates the lie that women use sexual power to control and that is a lie that causes women to be attacked and brutalised. The story that we all should be more worried about is the one about abusive MPs.”

Ms Rayner frequently sits next to Sir Keir Starmer and opposite Mr Johnson during PMQs, and stands in for the Labour leader when he is absent.

Mr Johnson has “deplored the misogyny directed at” Ms Rayner and said the Tory MPs quoted in the article, written by journalist Glen Owen, were not speaking for him.

Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of Fawcett Society, a gender equality charity, told The Independent: “Angela Rayner deserves better, women in politics deserve better, and our democracy deserves better.

“It's bad enough that Glen Owen's 'sources' saw fit to make these vile, misogynist comments but the fact they were then turned into a story by the Mail on Sunday is a particular low.”

Ms Olchawski said it was“not news” parliament is a “hostile environment for women” and warned articles such as the Mail on Sunday piece put women off embarking on a political career.

“Which is damaging for all of us,” she added. “It’s about time stern action was taken to stamp out sexism and misogyny in our parliament, the media and beyond.”

Glitch, an anti-online abuse charity, told The Independent they were “horrified” to witness the “misogynistic remarks made about Angela Raynor by fellow MPs”.

In a statement, the organisation added: “Misogyny is a threat to democracy, silencing and belittling women who we have chosen to represent us.

“This abuse, online and offline, is often a barrier to women engaging in public life, with online abuse often cited as a reason many women MPs choose not to run for re-election, especially black women. We must address it in every sphere, so that fear of misogyny is no longer a barrier to women in politics.”

Addressing the comments about her, Ms Rayner tweeted Mr Johnson and his backers “clearly have a big problem with women in public life” and that they “should be ashamed of themselves”.

“I won’t be letting their vile lies deter me. Their attempts to harass and intimidate me will fail,” she added.

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