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It is a real pleasure to be in the Chamber to hear such powerful and interesting speeches in a debate that we agree across the House is one of the best that we have, every year. My hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) call International Women’s Day “feminists’ Christmas”, and one of our presents this year was the brilliant maiden speech by my hon. Friend Apsana Begum.
I am going to lower the tone and mood now by talking about misogyny, I am afraid. The dictionary definition of misogyny is
“hatred or dislike of, or prejudice against women”.
It comes in various forms and wears various guises—from the more subtle, everyday acts of sexism that chip away at the fragile, paper-thin walls of equality, to the cruder, more blatant, neanderthal acts that undermine half the world’s human population. Part of our job as women in Parliament is to receive it, filter it, weather it, police it, ignore it, highlight it, talk about it, help other women deal with it, tackle it so that other women do not have to, and fight it constantly with a view to eradicating it completely. But that task is not unlike having to sieve all the little bits of plastic out of our oceans.
At what point should we call it out? Should it be at the point where it starts to niggle and nag at us, something that we can just make out—a harmless little comment, a dismissal or exclusion from the conversation? Should it be in the face of never-ending mansplaining by men who know literally nothing about subjects that we are, in fact, experts in? Or should it be at the point where it stops us in our tracks, takes our breath away and fills our lungs with rage and indignation instead, such as when we see the leaders of nations treating women as second-class citizens, as less than men, as after-thoughts, commodities, arm candy and mere playthings?
Misogyny is not especially choosy. It is not confined to one particular class, specific cultures, institutions or political parties. Some may appear to be more blatantly sexist and some may appear to have made great strides in recent history—that, of course, is something to celebrate. The Labour party now has more female MPs than male ones for the first time in history. But the roots and very culture of so many organisations are so steeped in the history of men—male stories, male voices, male experience and even male portraits. It will take a lot more time and our patience will be tested quite a bit more, before we start to see and really feel meaningful change.
One place where it is not hard to find sexism and misogyny—it takes about a nano-second—is, of course, social media. The vitriol against, and hatred of, women is there for all to see. Rape threats, death threats or casual references to violence should not be commonplace, but we know that they are. It seems that any woman with almost any opinion or thought who dares to be bold enough to express it is in line for a world of fun. Brace yourselves, ladies—speaking your mind online is a bit like wearing a onesie made of raw beef while heading for a paddle in the nearest piranha tank! We do not need to have a blue tick next to our names to bring the hungriest of those piranhas to the tank, but it helps. Female politicians with a mind, some thoughts and the audacity to express them are fair game.