Handicapping women

Personally, I felt that the Mail on Sunday piece about Angela Rayner using her womanly attribute to distract the malignant child clown occupying the role of British Prime Minister was too ludicrous to be taken too seriously. I understand that to the extent that it is symptomatic of entrenched sexism it must be condemned. But it came across to me as something akin to a parody of those afflicted by this cognitive dysfunction. I realise that was not what was intended. It’s just that the allegation was so jaw-droppingly inappropriate I could help but reflect that it was designed to provoke precisely the reaction it has from the likes of Kirsty Strickland. I don’t like to think of the smugness of the author(s) of the article as they survey the success of their ploy.

Not that there is anything to disagree with in Kirsty Strickland’s column in The National today. Some things are better stabbed with the stiletto of satire than clubbed with the cudgel of choler. Ridicule can be a powerful weapon. Being scandalised by a scandal sheet seems like playing into their game.

Another potential weapon against such vile drivel might be forensic scrutiny. The perpetrators anticipate a knee-jerk reaction. They do not expect the allegation to be subjected to any real examination. They suppose their audience will make an instantaneous negative judgement and give the allegation no further consideration. It appears they were right to do so. That is, as far as I can tell, exactly what has happened. A corollary of this unreflective reaction is that commentators have tended to accept the writer’s framing of Angela Rayner’s alleged behaviour as offensive and wrong. I doubt that they considered the possibility that anyone would question this assumption. They reckoned without me.

I question everything. I aim always to ask every relevant question there might be. I doubt that I ever succeed. But the attempt takes me to places not accessed by those who decline or fail to ask any questions at all – particularly of their own prejudices and preconceptions. So it is that I come to question whether it is in fact wrong for a woman to use her feminine attributes to her advantage in the given context of parliamentary debate.

(I realise that even the language in which this question is framed may be offensive to some. But stay with me. I’m trying to make what I consider to be an important point here.)

Suppose the allegation is true. Suppose Angela Rayner did seek to distract Boris Johnson by crossing and uncrossing her legs in what we must assume to have been a discreetly seductive manner. So what? What exactly is wrong with that? Why should a woman not use whatever attributes she has at her disposal to prevail in this or any context?

I have never accepted the notion of women as the ‘weaker sex’. Statistically, women are certainly neither as big nor as physically strong as men. But this is to assess them using very male criteria. There are other kinds of strength. Women are not weaker than men. They are, to borrow a bit of jargon, ‘differently strengthed’. An ugly term. But I think it conveys the idea well enough.

We might assume that being bigger and physically stronger, the male participant in debate has the advantage of having a more powerful voice than his female opponent. Nobody suggests it is wrong for him to utilise this attribute to gain whatever advantage he might. Why then should a woman be criticised for using whatever advantage she may get from being female? If she has the kind of feminine attributes which might distract and confuse her male opponent then why should she not make use of this weapon? Who benefits from her flashing of a bit of shapely leg being deprecated? Who else but the male who has a weakness for shapely female legs that can be exploited?

What I am suggesting is that the most sexist thing about the allegation that Angela Rayner did a Sharon Stone on Boris Johnson is not the allegation itself but the assumption that it is wrong for a woman to use whatever strengths she has. This default handicapping of women may be regarded as part of the entrenched sexism referred to earlier. Perhaps something of the social imbalance occasioned by sexist bigotry will have been redressed when we are outraged as little by Angela Rayner crossing and uncrossing her legs as by Boris Johnson raising his voice to talk over her.

11 thoughts on “Handicapping women

  1. Fair point, why shouldn’t a woman use her charm to her advantage – men do if we have any. So yes, the criticism is wrongly based.

    Anyways, my wife reckons she’d make a good PM.

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  2. Firstly, Peter, you assume that all females have the charms of which you talk. Many females just want to be females without the wiles, although, granted, males and females will usually be attracted to each for purely biological reasons. The use of the word, tomboy, to explain a girl’s behaviour that is not simpering femininity in the stereotypical fashion, I have always found to be offensive because girls, left alone to realise their own potential, will almost always be ‘tomboys’ because it is natural for girls to like rough play, to climb trees and so on, just as it is for boys to do so. Very few little girls, in my experience, are ultra feminine Barbie dolls; most played with dolls and prams in between kicking a ball around or scaling the dizzy heights of the largest elm tree in the vicinity or picking up toads or running around with a mixed sex gang. In other words, before puberty, girls and boys are remarkably similar in many ways. Girls, then, have a very tough puberty that is exemplified by bleeding every month and growing bazookas that attract the attention of males of all ages. Eventually, they grow into themselves, as, I imagine boys do, too.

    However, the disparity in physical strength puts females at a grave disadvantage, and, yes, I do think that Mother Nature endows us – at least up to the age of around fifty, with certain allures that we can use or not – when we become largely invisible to most of the male populace and, indeed, to the younger members of the female populace. That can be an advantage in itself or a disadvantage, if your whole existence is primed to attracting male attention instead of living your life. Many females are so desperate for male attention that they would sell their souls, which is why they are the prime target of scammers and con merchants. I think we are entering a phase in human existence when the female of the species is starting to really question the underlying misogyny across the board in every society, but particularly the Western one, and, frankly, we’re just a collection of ‘h**es’ is becoming extremely tiresome. The trans issue has thrown this into stark relief, with its deep-rooted ‘woman facing’ misogyny which is just another shade of the same thing as this. Sometimes, Peter, you just get so tired and sick to death of it all that laughing or smiling about it becomes a grimace of anger and despair.

    Men are most of the geniuses, we’re told because they invent things, but no society in the history of the planet has ever looked at what makes women geniuses in womanhood, not manhood terms. We are also told that women are less clever than men, but only on male terms of reference. Imagine Peter, that Angela Rayner crossed and uncross her legs because she was bored to death of the droning and couldn’t sit still or was simply uncomfortable sitting with her legs firmly closed? Men get to sprawl. Why shouldn’t women? Maybe women should start wearing trousers in all work situations? Maybe businesses and corporations should allow women and men to wear what they want instead of having different workplace rules for males and females, while maintaining legal boundaries? Maybe men should toy with the idea that women are autonomous human beings with inner lives and, often, outer lives, that does not involve them at all, just as men have and do?

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  3. How odd (or not actually) this ‘story’ has turned into a condemnation of the telling of it. Its really not hard to imagine its true. A bunch of boak-inducing Bullingdon club toffs make remarks about a ‘wench from the lower orders’ (because of course thats what youngish attractive women from the pleb class are there for, and a lot, lot nastier….)

    So what of Soames ‘woofing’ at former snp MP Tasmina in the HOC? WTAF on so many levels! Just as well I wasnt there – a kneejerk reaction in the bollocks, no doubt resulting in assault charges or charges of mental illness on the assaulted party? Because thats what this nauseating, creepy, demeaning behaviour is – an assault.

    If you’re born in a female body, ugly or not, young ‘fair game’ or aging ‘hag’, the bullshit doesnt stop. And its much, much more damaging that ‘just words’.

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    1. The story is that she, Ms Rayner, used her womanly wiles. The question is: did she? To some men, as you say, Annie, female flesh is a commodity that is always using wiles. That, in a nutshell, is the problem right there: some men cannot think of women in terms of anything other than a commodity to which they must have access at all times; they must be the centre of all things female. The fact is that most women don’t even think about men for much of the time: they are not the centre of our universe, much as many men would not believe that.

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    2. I quoted you – anonymously – in a BTL comment on The National’s website.

      Commenting on an article about this affair on my blog a female(?) reader said – and I paraphrase slightly –

      “How odd (or not actually) this story has turned into a condemnation of the telling of it. It’s really not hard to imagine it’s true.”

      By which she meant – as was made clear in the full comment – that it was true that an MP had made the allegation. She’s right! It really isn’t at all difficult to imagine a member of the British political elite speaking in such terms about a fellow parliamentarian. And what is true of British politicians, in general, goes double (at least) for the Tory breed.

      But is it so odd that the outrage has been craftily directed at the newspaper reporting the remarks rather than the MP who made the allegation? Isn’t that rather convenient for the MP and his party? I’m no conspiracy theorist. But I see the spoor of a capable media relations adviser all over this.

      https://www.thenational.scot/news/20096346.daily-mail-editor-rejects-speakers-call-angela-rayner-story/?action=success#comments-anchor

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  4. Anybody wonder about Boris’s X-ray eyes?Able to see MP Rayner’s legs through a solid wooden table and a despatch box?

    From photos of the Westminster chamber with Boris bobbiing up and down, all he can see of MP Rayner sitting opposite is her head!

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