Recent headlines have been dominated with news exposing the prevalence of sexism among the most elite and powerful. From the Harvey Weinstein revelations to the Presidents Club scandal, it has been a period in which the harmful behaviour of a previously untouchable realm has been laid bare.
But while left-wing circles have been particularly vocal in denouncing such scandals which at first glance appear so estranged from their own politics, a closer look at the treatment of women within their own political bubble uncovers a seriously concerning situation.
In August last year, Labour MP Jess Phillips claimed that left wing men are “the absolute worst” in comparison to the “out and out sexists of the right”. The issue at hand is one where a significant portion of men with left-leaning views are keen to pay lip service to discussions about female empowerment, but in practice do little to advance feminist issues, or actively hinder them.
Phillips described male left-wing politicians as saying “they supported better female representation but, when it came to losing their own jobs, they would say, ‘Oh, you mean me? But I am so clever. I’ve got so much to offer the world.’” It seems that even men who present themselves as “loud and proud” feminists actually help to uphold the patriarchy by clinging onto positions of power.
Indeed, when it comes to entering politics, as well as their experiences when in office, women have a particularly hard time; this is in no way exclusive to the right.
In the US Presidential nomination process, the debate among Democrats focused on whether to support Bernie Sanders’ or Hillary Clinton’s bid for presidency. Most of Clinton’s opposition came from men. Her political views were of course criticised, but a significant amount of scrutiny she received revolved around her physical appearance and the way she spoke. This was a type of scrutiny that Sanders simply didn’t have to face. While she did eventually beat Sanders to the nomination, misogyny cannot be overlooked as one of the reasons why a large number of Democrats did not turn up to support her on voting day.
It is therefore not extreme to say that when combined, femininity and power frightens all kinds of men, even those on the left. Diane Abbott and Stella Creasy are two MPs who have spoken out about the misogynistic online abuse they have faced, with Abbott also being subjected to racism. As it transpired, much of the abuse came from Labour supporters.
In an interview, Emma, a representative from the Feminist Society, told the Glasgow Guardian that “often, you find that many people are ignorant to their own and others misogyny within left-wing groups because they think ‘the work has already been done’ and would consider themselves anti-sexist, without questioning their own unconscious biases.”
University campuses offer no respite from these hypocritical left-leaners. Subtle and insidious examples of sexism can be found in everyday examples of university life. Emma highlighted the issue of men frequently speaking over female students in the classroom as well as the issue of men occupying “the largest amount of intellectual and conversational space”. Indeed, reading lists are filled with books and articles written by men, even when it comes to studying the political left in subjects such as politics and philosophy.
On campus, the grave issue of sexual harassment and assault continues to persist. One third of female students in Britain have endured sexual assault or unwanted advances at university. Sexual violence bears no political identity, and is perpetrated by individuals regardless of their political alignment. Illustrating this is self-proclaimed feminist Aziz Ansari, whose alleged behaviour towards a former date sparked new debate surrounding the finer points of consent in the modern age.
Left-wing parties are no exception in failing to address instances of sexual abuse. Tweeting about the Liberal Democrat HQ’s process for dealing with sexual assault complaints, Sophia Nash, a party activist, claimed their approach is simply “report it to the police” and then “hush it up”. Bex Bailey, a Labour party activist, claimed that a party official discouraged her from making a complaint regarding her alleged rape by someone in the party.
Even when it comes to accepting donations, the Democrats still accepted over $1 million from Weinstein, despite it being an open secret in the entertainment industry and in elitist circles that he was a prolific sexual predator.
The real issue is the hypocrisy of the left. While quick to criticise the right for being sexist and misogynistic, they easily overlook misogynistic behaviour within their own political circles. Simply by parading inclusive policies, it is assumed that sexism is no longer an issue.
In the same way that Hollywood has decided to tackle sexism in the entertainment industry, and in the same way that harassment was called out in the Presidents Club scandal, it is time we began listening to the issues faced by female politicians and to start fixing these problems.
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