First, there was of course Watergate. The 1972 scandal involving a break-in at the Democratic National Convention’s HQ, leading to the unravelling of a conspiracy that led to the heart of Richard Nixon’s presidency.
Many years later in 2015, there was ‘Emailgate’ where Hilary Clinton was found to have been using a private email server out of her New York basement whilst serving as Secretary of State, flagrantly violating transparency regulations.
Now for the serious ones. Crossing the pond to the UK, there was, of course, the infamous ‘Plebgate’ or as some liked to call it, ‘Gategate’ – where the Tory MP and Government Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell called some police officers at the gates of Downing Street “fucking plebs” and told them to “learn your fucking place” when they asked him to dismount his bicycle. Ouch.
I could go on because of the sheer amount of “-gate” scandals are so great that I assume most people have actually forgotten the original, and most important. But for both your sake and mine, I will only discuss one more which to me is both trivial and vital in equal measure.
A few months ago, at a session of Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, Jeremy Corbyn was accused of muttering under his breath that Theresa May was a “stupid woman” after May had finished responding to Corbyn’s questions. This was obviously jumped upon by every Tory MP under the sun, and some on the Labour side too.
There were back-and-forth debates about whether that is what he said, with lip readers from all corners of society drafted in to give the verdict.
As ever in UK politics, it was a childish frenzy that just sucked up all the political energy and capital for about a week, literally a week after 117 Tory MP’s had voted against May in a vote of confidence in her leadership and the government had been found in contempt of Parliament for the first time in history.
For me, a staunch and unapologetic Feminist, I was torn as to what to think about all of it. Despite some on the left racing to Corbyn’s side to defend him and basically excuse him on the grounds that he didn’t actually say ‘stupid woman’ but ‘stupid people’, I do actually think he said it.
But I think he should have come out and owned it; not created more of a story by denying and evading like he usually does.
The question is, is it sexist to call a woman stupid? I am happy to hear arguments who agree that it is, but for me, I’m not so sure.
My primary concern with the notion that it is is that to me it seems small-fry, and this was only amplified by the frenzied reaction to it.
Now I think there are two ways of reading the phrase ‘stupid woman’. The first is to read it as a woman, who happens to be in your opinion, stupid. Or, the second is that she is a ‘stupid woman’ with the implication being that all women are inherently stupid.
Do I think that Corbyn would imply that women are stupid? For all his flaws (which are plentiful), I don’t.
Let’s consider the fact that Corbyn was the first leader of a UK political party to have more women in his shadow cabinet than men and has consistently championed diversity within the shadow cabinet. By no means is it perfect.
The next leader should unarguably be a woman, as well as the deputy, the chancellor, nay, any position really. I am all for positive discrimination and affirmative action, it is long overdue.
The broader issue with ‘stupidgate’ as it was labelled, was the Tory response. The Tories constantly bang on about the fact that two of their leaders and Prime Ministers have been women as if that alone is evidence enough that they are the ‘Monster-raving’, radical Feminist party ready to burn their bras and smash the patriarchal status quo.
That fact actually means nothing when you look at the Tory impact on women in this country, and specifically Theresa May’s record.
86% of the reduction in government spending since 2010 fell on the shoulders of women. That’s cuts to Child Tax Credit, other benefits, women’s refuges, mental health services, nurseries and much else that is disproportionately used by women, and even more alarmingly women of colour.
What about the treatment of female refugees at detention centres such as Yarls Wood, both whilst May was Home Secretary between 2010 and 2016 and since she’s been PM?
What about the fact that May reinstated two Tory MP’s accused by multiple women of sexual assault and rape, to vote in the Tory vote of confidence in December?
Or her rolling out the red carpet for the likes of the ‘Pussy-grabbing President’ Trump, and the Saudi Crown Prince Salman whose country treats women as second-class citizens and locks up Feminist activists?
This is not the record of a Feminist or a female icon. These are the actions of someone who is totally indifferent to the struggles of women in society, and someone who actively makes those struggles worse.
So, let me say this. Don’t ever take a lecture on feminism and sexism from this Conservative party. They are not models of gender equality and sexual liberation. They are but the bastions and guardians of patriarchy, and Thatcher and May? They are simply Trojan horses, who have destroyed the lives of millions of women across this country.
Being a woman doesn’t automatically make you an advocate for women, or a female icon. In this era of so-called ‘Identity politics’, we become obsessed with the symbol over substance. The symbol: Theresa May, second female Prime Minister in UK history. The substance: a record that has caused immeasurable damage to millions of women.
So, let’s not allow the Tories to take the moral high ground on gender equality. They don’t deserve it.
Originally published on PRBLMTC blog – https://prblmtc.com/