“Women in politics face sexism and misogyny every day“ tweeted Angela Rayner following a particularly disgusting article in the Mail on Sunday which featured claims from Tory MPs that Rayner deliberately distracts Boris Johnson during PMQs by “provocatively” crossing and uncrossing her legs.
Whilst not surprising that the Mail On Sunday would run a sexist attack on a female MP, they took their entrenched misogyny to the next level with the headline “Tories accuse Angela Rayner of Basic Instinct ploy to distract Boris” illustrated with a photo of Sharon Stone from the notorious film scene in question.
Sexist Tories, sexist capitalist media
Vicious anti-working-class prejudice was thrown in too, with what the newspaper referred to as “mischievous” quotes from anonymous MPs such as ‘She knows she can’t compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training, but she has other skills which he lacks”. Her debating style was described as “flirty”, and her comprehensive education contrasted with Johnson’s privileged background and Eton education. The article pointed out that Rayner left school at sixteen, whilst pregnant and with no qualifications, going on to become a care worker.
The article has been widely condemned including by Boris Johnson. With “Partygate” rumbling on and his position remaining tenuous, he was quick to respond to the mood of disgust among ordinary people in the wake of this story – aiming to avoid a fresh crisis for his party. He tweeted “As much as I disagree with @AngelaRayner on almost every political issue I respect her as a parliamentarian and deplore the misogyny directed at her anonymously today” and contacted Rayner personally to call the article “the most appalling load of sexist, misogynist tripe.”
This seems somewhat hypocritical coming from a man who has not shied away from expressing archaic attitudes towards women himself in the past. For instance in a column written for The Spectator, the Tory leader said it was “outrageous that married couples should pay for ‘the single mothers’ desire to procreate independently of men”. He went on to suggest that it was “feeble” for a man to be unable or unwilling to “take control of his woman”, arguing that children of single mothers were “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate”, and that Britain needs to “restore women’s desire to be married”!
This sexist attack on Rayner coincides with the recent, shocking allegation that a Tory MP was caught watching pornography on his mobile phone in the House of Commons chamber whilst sitting next to a female MP. When interviewed by Sky News, Defence Minister Ben Wallace seemed to place the blame on “the overall culture of the House of Commons,” saying “We all know what happens when you mix long hours, drink and pressure environments.” And this is just one of many other allegations of sexual misconduct and wrongdoing – 56 MPs including three cabinet ministers are currently under investigation by the Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance scheme. There are only 650 in total!
Clearly there is a serious problem with the culture that exists in the Tory party and in Parliament itself, but it goes far beyond that. Women from every walk of life face sexism and misogyny every day. Protests should be organised outside the headquarters of the Tory Party and the newspapers printing this bile, making it clear that sexist behaviour and comments are unacceptable.
Angela Rayner has shifted to the right politically in recent months, including calling for Labour to be tough on crime, saying the police should “shoot first, ask questions later”. She should be criticised for these policies, not for the fact that she is female or for how she dresses. But this is not about her political views: it’s a message from the dinosaur representatives of the capitalist class about where they think women really belong. This will always be the case under capitalism, where institutions including the media work in the interests of the ruling class and a privileged elite, promoting ideas that stoke division and reinforce sexist and misogynistic attitudes, highlighting the need for a fundamental transformation of society.