Jo Swinson could change everything; this is perhaps the most pivotal moment for the Lib Dems since the disastrous apologies of Nick Clegg. Whilst Tories are jumping to the yellow ship, and Labour loyalists can’t bear to have PM Corbyn on their conscience, this is the most feasible opportunity the Lib Dems have had in a long time to gain a majority, or at least overtake Labour as the official opposition.
And yet, amongst the uproar in parliament this week, the votes and the jibes and the possibilities of yet another general election, Jo Swinson, a party leader, was told to “sit down love”, during her speech. Nobody would belittle Johnson or Corbyn in this way. Yes, of course, others have been heckled – Parliament appears to be full of playground bickering at this present moment – but no other party leader has received such a gendered retort.
My respect for Swinson shot through the roof when she did not even bat an eye at the comment. Her continuation of her reasoned, intellectual, and warranted discussion in the face of pathetic, childish attempts to make her feel like she does not belong, is applaudable. Whenever I am in this sort of situation, my immediate reaction is defence, anger, and response. This week when Marco Pierre White stated that women are intrinsically worse chefs than men, I was personally riled to the point of making very lengthy rants, despite only ever working part-time as a chef. But this kind of comment, though unfortunately commonplace throughout large sections of society, should not be accepted within Parliament.
Jo Swinson is not only an elected MP, but she is also an elected party leader. The people made a democratic choice to raise her voice within our government, and yet she is being publicly patronised. There are those who call women dramatic for showing discomfort when being called things like “love” and “sweetheart” by men we do not know, but they clearly do not understand the historic, patronising implications of these ‘terms of endearment’.
The unidentified elected member of Parliament who took it upon himself to heckle Swinson in this way did not call her “love” in order to endear her. He did not tell her to sit down out of concern or compassion. He did it because he does not respect what she has to say and feels more validated in his disrespect by the fact that women have not always had a place in political arenas. Let’s face it, you’re more likely to hear “put the kettle on, love” than you are “go win that parliamentary seat, love”.
The sad fact of it is, despite the fact that we have now had two female Prime Ministers, despite the fact that the First Minister of Scotland is also a woman, and pretty much every mainstream party – bar Labour, might I add – has had a female leader at some point, we are not past sexism in Parliament. Not too long ago we were looking at headlines about (all female) “childless politicians”, “Blair’s Babes”, and “Legsit” over Brexit.
Though we have seen massive increases in women in politics, we are yet to see a complete removal of sexism among male politicians, media representations of female politicians, and acceptance that having a penis does not automatically make you more suited to a position of leadership. And let us not forget that the most recent female PM was given the position when the impossible job of a Brexit deal suiting everyone was on the table. Can we really believe that it wasn’t deliberate that she was given the power to do the impossible, whilst a man has now been given the power to see through everything that she painfully set in motion?