Politics 19 December 2018 | 17:56

Stupid woman? Nope – sexist, hypocritical man

19 December 2018 17:56

In today’s episode of MPs Get Away with Behaviour the Rest of Us Would See the Dole Queue For, Jeremy Corbyn has been caught mouthing ‘stupid woman’ during Prime Minister’s Questions. Referring to Theresa May. The Prime Minister in question. Only the second woman to ever hold that office.

Hypocritical? Laughable? Recklessly unprofessional? Tick, tick, tick – the Corbyn trifecta.

I’m not unsympathetic. Who hasn’t wanted to call someone an idiot during a meeting? But it’s precisely because of Theresa May’s relentless incompetence – which has led the country to the brink of a no-deal Brexit – that I find it hard to forgive Corbyn for the breathtaking arrogance, or at least the timing, of his outburst today. Here I am stockpiling tinned foods and paracetamol under the bed, whilst this man’s party is dragging behind the worst government in recent history. Him calling anyone else a stupid anything is guaranteed to grind gears.

‘Ah,’ say those with absolutely nothing to lose, ‘but is it sexist?’ It may not be intended as such – just like it’s not necessarily intended as hatred of Jewish people to support the artist behind an antisemitic mural – but it fundamentally is, isn’t it?

Enter the immediate hot take from almost every man I spoke to – plus one or two women, admittedly – asking whether a woman calling a man ‘a stupid man’ would also be sexist.

Context. Context is key. It’s intellectually flimsy at best, flagrantly dishonest at worst, to pretend that calling your female superior a ‘stupid woman’ doesn’t come from a context of sexism; that it doesn’t reflect several millennia of structural inequalities and power imbalances that, up until very recently, would have kept May out of PMQs altogether.

This same puerile whataboutery would have you believe that violence perpetrated by a woman against a man is the same as that of a man against a woman. I’m certainly not arguing that one is worse than the other, but the crime is different. To equate what men do to women with what women do to men is to ignore all relevant factors of cultural socialisation, historical weight and, in the case of Westminster in particular, a persistently pervasive milieu of sexism, harassment and male impunity.

Corbyn, like many of the men in that room, grew up in a time and place where women were regarded as social and political inferiors. Many of them still do. And he said it at a time (and in a place, actually) where women are still consistently paid less and promoted less than men, and where they receive more disrespect and more death threats.

He could have – should have – retracted it immediately.

Even if you’re happy to call May a ‘stupid woman’ in the privacy of your own home, or write it on your blog, or indeed shout it from the rooftops, you cannot pretend that this is the same as the leader of the Opposition calling the Prime Minister a ‘stupid woman’ in the House of Commons.

What’s worse, he denied saying it. He could have – should have – retracted it immediately, and we stupid women could have chalked it up as just another day at the office. As Andrea Leadsom reminded the Speaker in a rather dymanite dig, John Bercow had previously called her a stupid woman and she was forced to swallow it.

Enter my new favourite form of political analysis: the well-timed lip read. Once the remit of the tabloid ‘body language expert’, analysing break-up potential in celebrity couples, now we have actual, certified lip readers pointing out that Corbyn did actually say what we all saw him say.

Ready yourselves, too, for a sickening display of fauxminism from a bunch of Tories taking a break from grabbing thighs to denounce Corbyn for his remark. Perhaps Ken Clarke will get involved, pointing out that ‘bloody difficult woman’ is, at least, slightly more respectful than stupid. Meanwhile, the blood from their last backstabbing isn’t even dry on her jacket.

Young women everywhere will internalise the fact that a woman can reach the very pinnacle of power in the country, and still face public derision from male inferiors while trying to exercise authority. How many of us watched that moment and thought, ‘I could literally rule the world and still have this bearded loon call me an idiot while I’m talking?’

Perhaps the most stupid people of all are the ones still watching this pathetic schoolyard bullying, unprofessionalism and political masturbation that is PMQs every week and calling it government. Oh wait, that’s us.