Tag Archives: sexism

Channel 4 News’s problem with women

Channel 4 News(Disclosure: I am friends with both a number of the women who have made allegations against Lord Rennard and Jo Swinson.

Channel 4 News’s interview with Sarah Teather summed up the misgivings I have had with its coverage of the whole Chris Rennard scandal.

Ostensibly about the coalition’s increasingly harsh line against immigration and welfare, on which Sarah Teather is outspoken, interviewer Matt Frei midway switched topic entirely to instead focus on the Lib Dems’ “women problem”, attempting to link her experience within the party with those women who have made allegations about Chris Rennard of sexual harassment. Two weeks ago it emerged that the Metropolitan Police had dropped its investigation into Rennard’s conduct.

Channel 4 News’s Cathy Newman of course broke this story earlier in the year, and so I suppose it is understandable that they feel a sense of ownership of it, but it is hard to see how ambushing Sarah Teather in this way is justifiable. She had agreed to appear to discuss immigration policy, something which has implications for far more people (including women of course) than the Lib Dems’ internal culture. Teather’s sacking last September served to highlight Nick Clegg’s failure to include enough women in his own frontbench team, but there is nothing to suggest that Teather was sacked in any way because of her gender. It is equally hard to see how, had Teather been a man, Matt Frei would have spent half the interview wanting to discuss this issue at all.

That double standard has, sadly, undermined Channel 4 News’s coverage throughout. Going right back to Cathy Newman’s initial piece, it was clear that Channel 4 News had identified Jo Swinson and Ros Scott as their main targets, despite the fact that the allegations focused around two complaints made to Bridget Harris’s manager and the Chief Whip Paul Burstow. Newman continued to focus on Swinson in her subsequent reports and Telegraph columns.

Now, it is true that Swinson was the equalities spokesperson at the time the allegations were put to her. However, this is largely irrelevant because the role of a spokesperson is to focus on policy matters, not on personnel matters. We are also talking about someone who, in 2007, had been an MP for a grand total of two years and had just been sacked by the then leader Menzies Campbell as the shadow Scottish secretary. I have no doubt that neither Jo or the women making these allegations made no mistakes in their conduct but regardless of how she did respond, one thing that is not in doubt is that when the allegations were first made, she lacked the authority to do anything about them. The people who did have that authority at the time – Paul Burstow, (then president) Simon Hughes and (then leader) Menzies Campbell – entirely escaped media scrutiny.

Channel 4 News, and especially Cathy Newman, have consistently applied a double standard in this story, whereby the implication has been that in issues concerning sexual harassment, women should be expected to behave to a higher standard than men. That theme came up repeatedly in Newman’s coverage, and Matt Frei returned to it yet again this week. It is a repellent world view that ultimately undermines both men and women; if scandals such as this are to avoid getting dragged into a blame game then the focus needs to be on the people with authority at the time and what they did; not, as the media likes to play it all to often, on whoever knew anything regardless of what position they were in to do anything about it.

In terms of the allegations themselves, I declined to blog about it at the time, but following the Metropolitan Police decision I feel the need to state for the record that I don’t personally doubt the integrity of any of the women who made allegations against Chris Rennard; nor can I understand what possible ulterior motive they might have for making them. I’ve known about these allegations for years and offered to give a formal statement to the police, but they declined my offer (not entirely surprisingly as all I could really do is corroborate dates and facts; I’m not a primary witness). I didn’t decide to leave the Lib Dems for any specific reason, but it is fair to say that this debacle was one of the various ones which lead to my disenchantment of it, inexplicably linked as it is to the narrow campaigning focus which Rennard represents.

In fairness to the party however, since these allegations were made public and Nick Clegg’s initial appalling mishandling of it, the party has done much to pull itself out of the quagmire it had got itself into; much credit for that must go to Tim Farron. And even after the Met decision, it has been made quite clear that the party is continuing to take those decisions seriously.

A Lembit Blog! Of sorts.

Thanks to the diligent detective work of Costigan Quist (something which perhaps we should draw a veil over), I can reveal that Lembit’s Daily Sport columns are now available online (Warning: NSFW).

So, given my call for him to have a blog, is this mission accomplished? Well, the very fact that I have to label it NSFW suggests that there is more work to do (if I never have to look at Jo Guest’s starry chuff hole ever again it will be too soon), and it would be nice if he didn’t have to bang on about the Daily Sports’ ‘babes’ in every other sentence. Frankly, I’m a bit sceptical that the hairy-of-palm need politicians to connect with them. They seem to be more than adequately represented on the benches of both Houses of Parliament already in my experience.

Still, at least we can now read the column now. The fact that it doesn’t include even the basics such as an RSS feed suggests that the cash-strapped Daily Sport may not be around much longer.

Pallin’ around with sexists?

So is the left condoning sexism against Sarah Palin? Kira Cochrane thinks so, and cites numerous examples. I’m less convinced.

Is there sexism out there about Sarah Palin? Absolutely. But what is so remarkable about Larry Flynt making a Sarah Palin film, as opposed to all the other porn films he has produced over the years?

The more serious charge is that progressives are indulging in misogyny to attack Palin. Here, Kira has an ally in Peter Hitchens who was making such claims as early as late August, loudly applauded by Iain Dale (Iain has since changed his mind about her), and it is certainly true there have been the odd attack that sneaks into sexist territory. I’ve been looking through the Sarah Palin Sexism Watch pages on Shakesville and some of them are on the money while others, not so much. But here’s the thing: people have been openly discussing Palin and misogyny pretty much since the day she entered the world stage. It’s one of the most hotly contested subjects out there at the moment. Cochrane’s article implies somehow that there is a conspiracy of silence to not talk about it; I simply don’t accept that.

We also get into very murky territory; where does legitimate criticism end and sexism begin? It is surprising for an article on the subject for Cochrane’s not to mention the whole lipstick on a pig/pitbull debacle, yet this was one of the iconic moments of the campaign so far. Is “Caribou Barbie” sexist? Yes, actually, although it is something Palin herself referred to on her SNL appearance. What about the reports that she has spent $150,000 on clothes for the campaign? On one level, this is a simple story of a grasping politician. On the other hand, it feeds into the “Caribou Barbie” sentiment. So should we not mention it, or that she spent the money on clothes? For feminists, Palin’s attitude towards abortion is a particular talking point. Somehow the fact that it is a woman expressing those views is more provocative than if it was a man (cf. Nadine Dorries). How to do ensure that criticism of the candidate is entirely ungendered without muting that criticism? This is a more interesting discussion in my view than a handful of anecdotes of people clearly crossing the line.

When it comes to Palin and sexism, what I don’t see is any particular trend. By contrast, when it comes to discrimination I have seen far more ageism in the media (both MSM and amateur variety) about McCain. Regarding Palin herself, I’ve been uncomfortable on more than one occasion by the way she is attacked not for being a woman but for being a hick. From this side of the pond, the US looks like a pretty divided nation at the moment – something which Palin herself is particularly responsible for. But her opponents have been happy to go for the bait. And again, is it really fair to say that the attacks on her intellect are gendered when we have just had eight years of abuse heaped upon the current US President, who happens to be male?

Finally, Cochrane writes that one of her interviewees has received emails from women who were considering entering politics who have been put off by the attacks made on Palin. But how many women will have seen Palin and been inspired? We don’t know and it is an entirely moot point at the moment, but I do think we are seeing a sea change. Even twelve months ago, the idea of having a male-female ticket was not even on the agenda. Despite failing to secure a place for herself, Hillary Clinton changed this (irrevocably? We’ll know in four years). I simply refuse to believe that any woman worthy of political office could not have seen that, and the obstacles that Obama has overcome, and not find some inspiration. Whatever happens on 4 November, history will be made. The question is, will attempts be made to capture that inspiration, or will key opinion formers and campaigners purely focus on the negative? The history of the political women’s movement suggests that there will be a bit of both.

Sarah Palin: are the democrats worried?

That’s Iain Dale’s rather improbable analysis, over a series of increasingly aerated posts this weekend, based on the fact that, erm, a lot of people on the left are talking about her surprise nomination in its immediate aftermath. Who’dathunkit? The most surprising political event in months has happened and people are actually talking about it? They must be pooing themselves!

More hilarious is Iain’s transformation into a feminist, citing Peter Hitchens as a fellow traveller. According to Iain and Peter, the left hates women because the left like anti-women policies such as abortion. Genius analysis there. Suddenly, the brains behind “it’s DD for me!” has become super-concerned about how sexist the coverage of Sarah Palin is in the sunday papers. Funny that I don’t recall him having similar concerns about the media’s portrayal of Harriet Harman, Jacqui Smith and Hillary Clinton.

As for the claim that “[the left] cannot stand it when a black person becomes famous as a Conservative – remember Ray Lewis?” – it wasn’t the left that took down Ray Lewis but the Church of England. And despite having defended him here in the past, what I’ve heard since suggests that they were right to do so. Can’t Iain think of a better example of the left’s alleged racism? And you simply can’t imply that Ray Lewis must be innocent on the basis of his skin colour (and political views), and expect to be taken seriously, whilst simultaneously writing this.

Speaking personally, I think appointing Sarah Palin was a mistake which smacks of panic. I think Iain thinks that too, given that a week ago he was citing Mitt Romney as a dead cert. Iain’s subsequent attempts to tar Obama with the Palin inexperience brush simply doesn’t wash: she has been governor of one of the US’s smallest (population-wise – Alaska has roughly the same population as Glasgow) and certainly most isolated states for two years.

Her appointment comes across as too calculated – to be blunt, she ticks far too many boxes. It is too ‘cute’. And many of these boxes are mutually exclusive – how many disaffected Hillary supporters are likely to be wooed by a shootin’, fishin’ and anti-abortion candidate? How many sanctity of marriage obsessives are likely to be convinced that a woman with five children is fit for the job? They certainly have the anti-corruption line in common, but if I were running McCain’s campaign I’d be worried that she reminds voters about what McCain is not, and not in a good way. Do the democrats really need to do more than show the screen of a heartbeat monitor superimposed with her face to get their point across?

I didn’t read any of the allegedly sexist stuff out there about Sarah Palin this weekend, but I did read a perceptive piece by Michael Crowley in the Observer. However much they might try to keep open the rapidly healing Clinton-Obama wound, it is the Republicans who are divided in this election, not the Democrats. Sarah Palin’s appointment on Friday very briefly looked like a masterstroke, but the shock of the new is already diminishing and she has just been dropped in at the deep end. Things like the Daily Kos’ allegations over the maternity of her fifth child may be unfair (the picture of her daughter Bristol does look incriminating but I’m not so sure that the pictures of Palin herself are that convincing – Alaskans tend not to walk around in bikinis in spring), but surely in this post-Rove era no McCain supporter can really convincingly put on the ingenue act? After eight years of humiliation, the Democrats are in to win this thing and at the moment Palin looks like a pretty big target. They might cross the line occassionally, but going for the kill is not a sign of desperation, but rather indicate that the gloves have come off at last. And based on Iain’s rather hysterical reaction, the right just won’t be able to take it.

Right royal sexism

Lynne Featherstone has launched a campaign against the institutional sexism of the British monarchy, referring Prince Edward’s demotion of his daughter Louise in line to the throne in favour of her newborn brother (see the New Statesmanperson for more details).

It’s an excellent idea; the equalities post is a worthy one but one that rarely makes it to the column inches. This is a brilliant way of vicariously having a debate about prevailing sexist attitudes in society.

The only slight flaw I can see in the argument however is that since age discrimination has now been outlawed as well, why should her little brother be put at any disadvantage. Shouldn’t they be forced to toss for it, or do a job share?

And if they are being discriminated against, then what about the rest of us…?