Well, if you will have women MPs…

// 14 September 2008

The Telegraph has decided to build a whole story around the fact that some of the Labour MPs calling for a leadership election happened to be women.

Here’s the photo they used to illustrate the story:

And here’s the lede:

It began as Siobhain McDonagh stood nervously on College Green outside the Houses of Parliament explaining live on television why she had requested leadership nomination papers to be sent to her before the Labour party conference.

The development was slightly surreal. After all the Labour big beasts who have stirred trouble to no lasting effect – David Miliband, Charles Clarke, Alan Milburn, Stephen Byers, to name a few – could a former Blair babe be the catalyst for a real rebellion against Mr Brown?

But the two notable thing about it being Siobhain McDonagh that has kicked off this particular rebellion are that a) she has been completely loyal, never voting against the government in 11 years, and that b) she is a minor political figure – her biggest role has been assistant whip (note to readers outside the UK: whips are responsible for getting MPs to vote with the government), and Wikipedia lists her noteable moments as spending the most on postage of any MP, and getting a hospital relocated so it served her constituents better – no doubt a very good thing to do, but not a memorable moment in British politics.

Which makes it hard to understand why the Telegraph chose to make this all about her being a woman – or, even worse, a “Blair babe”.

Then we get this line:

She sounded like a woman facing an emotional crisis, not a government minister in the midst of knifing the Prime Minister.

I mean, what the fuck? Silly McDonagh gave away she’s a WOMAN, and even worse she had untidy emotions (only women have emotional crises) – and it’s totally ridiculous that a minister that has been absolutely loyal (to a fault) to her government might get a bit emotional at a moment like this?

If you look at the actual photo of “Blair’s babes”, you’ll see only three out of all the women in the photo have been circled. This isn’t a story of women “weilding the knife”, or turning on the government en masse, it’s just that this rebellion just happens to have a few women involved. But I think the Telegraph’s agenda is pretty clear – Labour put the emphasis on women’s representation in Parliament; now look what happened, they got stabbed in the back by those untrustworthy “Blair’s babes”.

Even the Telegraph’s main coverage of the unfolding political drama tell the lie to the idea that women “weilded the knife” – naming the ringleaders as two male MPs: Jim Dowd and Graham Stringer. Of the eight MPs who have asked for nomination papers, half are men, half are women. Perhaps the presence of so many women’s names in a political story has the newspaper a bit befuddled?

Comments From You

Fran // Posted 14 September 2008 at 3:25 pm

Ah, another wonderful Telegraph story about women — sorry, *babes*.

As we were watching Samira Ahmed talking to Siobhain McDonagh on C4 news, my mother’s friend (an intelligent woman in a powerful position in a university) started to make comments about “catfights” and “the handbags coming out” before launching into an attack on McDonagh’s age, hair and weight. She talked over the entire interview. Who’s going to take women seriously if we don’t even take ourselves seriously?

Tony Moll // Posted 14 September 2008 at 7:45 pm

Hi Jess,

You failed to mention that the writer of the article was a woman – Melissa Kite, Deputy political editor.

If she said that ‘she sounded like a woman facing an emotional crisis’ that is just her casual observation and I don’t see why she should not be allowed to express it.

In anycase I’m happy for the women MPs who ‘weilded the knife’. I’ll consider voting for them if any of them is my consitiuency – otherwise I’ll vote tory.

Shea // Posted 14 September 2008 at 8:49 pm

@ Tony Moll — why is it relevant the writer of the article is a woman? Some of the biggest misogynists are women, just like biggest misandrists are men. You have just missed the point of the post entirely.

No one is saying she shouldn’t be able to “express her opinion”. Jess is questioning why it is necessary to continually play on irrelevant & tired stereotypes that view women as volatile and emotional, and therefore devoid of professionalism or the nerves of steel able to survive the cut and thrust of politics. (Its interesting they didn’t talk of Prescotts “emotional crisis” when he hit a man who threw an egg at him– but I guess boys will be boys won’t they!)

Referring to any female MP as a “babe” better yet as a “Blair babe” (patriarchial ownership) is insulting and belittling. This talk of “wielding the knife” plays into assumptions that women are inherently devious and untrustworthy, nevermind that other far higher ranking male MPs have previously attacked theBrown premiership, lets focus on the women here, the modern day “Delilahs”.

Its a lazy, ignorant piece of journalism. Frankly anyone who considers voting Tory is anything but “feminist friendly”.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 14 September 2008 at 8:55 pm

Yes the writer is a woman but do not forget this writer is adhering to the patriarchal line. Individual writers themselves do not have the final say with regards to content of their articles. I’ve no doubt the editor of Daily Telegraph wanted this article written so that the female MPs once again are portrayed negatively. Male MP’s are not subjected to misogynstic appraisals.

Also, many women are still socialised as girls to believe only the male sex is really human and women as a group are deficient in relation to men. This is how patriarchy works in a very subtle manner so that it appears ‘natural’ for women to put other women down. But women are taught to devalue other women compared to men in general. Not all women believe these myths but nevertheless they are very powerful ones.

sam d // Posted 14 September 2008 at 9:00 pm

I was unfortunate enough to hear the whole issue refered to as a ‘stilleto coup” on bbc news on Saturday morning. It is irrelevant what gender the rebels are- it would certainly not be mentioned if they were men- thats the ‘norm’ apparently.

Tony Moll // Posted 14 September 2008 at 9:28 pm

As for ‘weilding the knife’, I see that as positive. In fact I noticed that women played a large role in this early knifing of Brown and I am proud of them. Not because of their gender but their actions.

And as a reader, it does matter that the author was a woman especially if ‘sexism’ is being charged.

On many blogs when I criticize black ‘community leaders’, I get called racists – and then I realize that they know don’t I’m black. So I have to begin with something like ‘I am black but I still think….’

Essen // Posted 15 September 2008 at 10:23 am

It’s another brilliant example of how society ‘miscounts’ women. 50% of the ‘plotters’ are women – OMIGOD! THE WOMENZ ARE TAKING OVER! (Though they might have a point IF they bothered to mention what a small percentage of women are MPs to begin with, so having 50% women is a lot in that context.)

Just like when poor old Jeremy Paxman thought the BBC was being taken over by women, even though men still outnumber women by a large factor.

Wasn’t there some research done once which showed that once any group has more than 30% women, a lot of people see women as being ‘overrepresented’?

Anne Onne // Posted 15 September 2008 at 12:34 pm

Wow, something else to blame the women for. Never mind the fact that most people could have guessed something like this has been on the cards for a while because of the situation Gordon Brown’s been in lately. This isn’t a surprise. It seems that to make a story like this ‘interesting’ (since it isn’t surprising) they’ve resorted to pretending that a sea of female MPs has staged a coup. Bad idea, because whilst everyone would love to blame female MPs for everything, they make up only half of the people in question.

On the women being patriarchical issue: on the one hand, yes, there is definitely a pressure on women to tow the line and defend the patriarchy and be harsh on other women. Women are rewarded for this by being given an easier time and not being suspected of being a feminist. It’s no coincidence that of the women who are in the public eye in journalism or otherwise, the vast majority are not threatening to the status quo. The pressure on women to conform is a very powerful tool.

On the other hand, the very reason the patriarchy loves using women to spout misogyny is the very reason we need to fight it: this idea that Tony Moll picked up on, that you can’t be misogynist if you’re a woman, or racist if you’re a POC. Getting someone from minority to insult their group implicitly or explicitly and then say ‘they’re just telling the truth!’ is an underhand tactic, and one that doesn’t really pull any weight. It’s something we need to address, because whilst most people still believe anything they read without analysing or thinking, people will just believe whatever they are told, no matter how illogical it is.

Now this:

”If she said that ‘she sounded like a woman facing an emotional crisis’ that is just her casual observation and I don’t see why she should not be allowed to express it.”

The thing is, ‘casual observations’ (which I’d call slander, really) may or may not be actual observations. This isn’t a novel she was writing; nobody asks a reposrter to vouch for the mental health of whoever they are writing about. We expect fact. But, in serious articles and interviews, we get bombarded with small, sly throwaway descriptions that tear down the very person being talked about, even if they are being praised or otherwise described as good. This is a big problem, and if you look closely at most journalism and notice how frequently the author tries to subtly bias the reader against the person in question with emotive language, you’d be worried that we allow such manipulative and underhand ad hominem attacks pass by, whilst they are all the while impacting anybody who reads the article.

In this case, it’s the words ‘woman facing an emotional crisis’ that are the problem. After all, we’re talking about a tough time for Labour politicians, so they could be forgiven for being stressed. but instead of highlighting the fact that it would not be unusual for a politician to be stressed in a situation like this, the journalist decides to play the ‘women are emotional creatures who can’t cope’ card.

She deliberately chooses to point out that in her opinion, the politician didn’t act/look like a stressed politician was supposed to look, but looked like she was in an ’emotional crisis’. Now, an emotional crisis is a lot worse than being stressed at work, and I’d be quite surprised how one could look like one was in an emotional crisis without looking completely run down and in need of a break. So how did this presumably intelligent journalist get that idea? One way one would assume someone was in an emotional crisis would be context: if they had been taken hostage, lost a close loved one, were facing an inquiry or something extreme, then evne milder behaviour might lead one to assume that there was still a huge emotional impact. But that is not the case here.

It isn’t only that she’s suggesting a politician is losing it (after all, an emotional crisis usually requires time off, since it’s a major problem) and therefore not really fit to work, it’s the fact that this accusation is often flung at women every time they do something that other people don’t like. Women are assumed to be more emotional than men (not true, since people aren’t robots!), but simultaneously they are judged very harshly for any emotion they do display, on the grounds that they are being too emotional and therefore irrational and unfit to do anything remotely important.

Based on this context, when someone is saying a woman is emotional, they’re not merely stating that she has emotions, or putting forward an observation. They are making a value assumption about the woman and her ability to make decisions because she doesn’t come up with the answer they want. They are trying to discredit the woman by claiming that she is irrational, and that her conclusion is wrong not on the merit of the argument, but on the fact that women are emotional, and emotions are therefore irrational.

That is why this wording is completely NOT cool. It’s a calculated comment made to undermine the politician on the grounds that she’s a woman. It’s a dogwhistle to misogynists. It’s anything but an innocent throwaway opinion.

After all, notice all the men involved aren’t being called emotional or having their mental health questioned. Because apparently if women complain about ANYTHING, it’s because we’re crazy*. Not because there might actually be something that needs to be addressed. It must be our hormones or something. *rolls eyes*

* And of course, people with mental health issues still have a right to a voice. Whilst a small proportion are completely irrational, most people with ‘issues’ are perfectly capable of making their choices, and shouldn’t be slighted, either.

Fran // Posted 15 September 2008 at 2:18 pm

Women can be just as misogynist as men — see my earlier comment for an example. It’s worth noting that the author of this piece was a woman, but that doesn’t put her words above feminist critique, just as posts by women decrying the loss of “real men” and “feminine women” aren’t above criticism simply because they were written by women.

Northern Jess // Posted 15 September 2008 at 2:37 pm

Tony, if you belittle a person of the base of their gender then that is sexist, no matter what your gender is, same as if you belittle a person on the basis of race, then that would be racism, no matter what the race of the person who is making the comments.

The point is that this article used words that are deliberatly belittling the actions of a group of people based on their gender. This is sexist. Therefore the article is sexist, it doesn’t matter if a woman or man wrote it. If a woman expresses views that demean other women, including herself, then she is being sexist. I know a LOT of women who atre incredibly sexist about women, and this is the saddest thing.

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