Last Wednesday, during Prime Minister’s question time, Nadine Dorries, member for Mid Bedfordshire, stood up during the 30 minute session to ask a question (one of six women who spoke), and asked about the Liberal Democrats relative influence in coalition. In response to a valid (if loaded) question, the David Cameron said: “I know that the hon. Lady is extremely frustrated”, at which point there was a pause, then laughter from the commons and the PM himself, and he sat down again.
First, a sort of disclaimer: I find parts of Dorries’ politics anti-feminist (for example, abstinence education for girls only), I occasionally find her manner to be offensive (see her ‘logical’ implications that people who were against her abstinence-education programme for girls were in favour of having sex with 13 year olds) and I find her religion to be over influential on issues such as abortion.
However, she is an elected politician, she has worked hard to get where she is, she is clever, determined, dedicated, she faces a whole lot of bile in the press and she doesn’t let it stop her. She certainly belongs in politics.
And yet, when she stood up to ask the Prime minister a question, the only response she got was an innuendo and a roar of laughter. And, on top of that, the papers have had field day with her ‘storming out’, like she’d thrown some sort of hissy fit, stamped her dainty little feet and said ‘all men are bastards!’ before rushing off to buy some chocolate and to watch a chickflick.
It has always been the case that a woman with a political opinion is seen as uptight, or controlling, or cuckolding, or domineering (as if a woman doesn’t have the right to be domineering). As feminists, we are accused of being bitter and single women, of not getting ‘enough’. It’s like the ideology of feminism somehow only came about because women were sick of men not giving them orgasms. (The other accusation is that we are all lesbians, but that’s another topic entirely).
The implication is that if a woman was getting a decent shag every once and a while, then she’d stop trying to talk politics, she’d be sated, slumped, happy, in her lover’s arms, and wouldn’t worry her pretty little head about women’s unequal status in society. Because, to be honest, why would you worry about unequal pay when every night you get an orgasm?
For non-feminist women, why would you worry about war, or police numbers, or economic stagnation, or benefits, or disability living allowance, or world famine, or any political issue you can think of – why? Why should a woman have a strong opinion on something so serious as politics? Something so outside the home, something so far away from girl’s nights in, so estranged from shoe-shopping.
So she ‘gets her knickers in a twist’ because she’s not getting satisfaction at home. And in public, too, like a woman should only get cross behind closed doors, she shouldn’t ‘make a scene’ (it’s ‘making a scene’ when a woman does it, with her shrill voice and flapping hands. A male politician can shout in the commons all he likes, because it’s manly and passionate and he belongs there). Like politics is something women take up to fill the gaps between being feminine and looking for a man or trying to keep her man, something they do only when they’re bored of doing washing up (unwaged labour), or bored of personal grooming, or when they decide that from now on, they’re swearing off men, they’re going to take up politics (gee, thanks a bunch Bridget Jones. Yes, it is terrible about Chechnya. Funny how you didn’t notice when you had a boyfriend, but I guess coitus does prevent women from reading newspapers, doesn’t it).
Just think about that logic for a second: women only ever have political opinions when they’re frustrated sexually. So a woman has never felt frustrated at injustice, inequality, war, societal violence, politics, no, they are only ever frustrated because men are so useless at clitoral stimulation. If that was fixed, feminism would collapse in on itself because all the silly, vocal, whining and wittering feminists would finally be happy. We’d forget about unequal pay, rape convictions, FGM, sexualisation, we’d all just slink back to our bedrooms, and stop going on and on about it: the act of cunnilingus would make feminism redundant.
Politics is still thought of as a male pastime or career, and comments like Cameron thought it fit to make do not help the situation.
And I know, I know, people may justify what he said by claiming the PM would have said the same to a male right-winger, in the same way they justified ‘winnergate’ (‘calm down, dear’, directed at the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Angela Eagle) by claiming he’d said it to Ed Miliband before. Well, he may well have done, and I’m glad he is so egalitarian in his patronising, but the fact is, he still felt it appropriate to tell a woman her opinion was not justified, like it didn’t belong in the House of Commons, like she was worrying over nothing, like she was only expressing an opinion because some other aspect of her life was lacking.
It is not a harmless innuendo, it is the ridicule of a woman politician that feeds into a stereotype that is so widespread in mainstream media that women are not political beings – that they’re a novelty, or a source of hilarity, that they’re incompetent, or frigid, or bad mothers, or unattractively ambitious. Little wonder we’re still, in 2011, getting stories about how women politicians are being mistaken for researchers or secretaries; hearing sexist ‘banter’ at the dispatch box; getting told feminism is ‘obnoxious’ and seeing bodies that fight for women’s rights abolished or dismissed as ‘red tape’. Why is the equality of women a political issue, if women themselves are not political beings?
I wouldn’t be surprised if Dorries is frustrated: she doesn’t have testicles and is therefore still a novelty in the House of Commons. It doesn’t matter what her questions are on – and I’ve heard Cameron give answers to more ridiculous, less political questions than hers – she has the right to ask a question without being mocked because of her sex or her sexlife.
I’m tired of women’s political beliefs being dismissed as the words of sexually repressed lunatics. My sexlife has so, so little to do with the fact that I vote or read the Guardian or watch Question Time and the Daily Politics, or shout at BBC Parliament, Dorries’ sexlife has so little to do with the fact that she’s an elected member of the Conservative Party, that she votes ‘aye’ or ‘no’ on any issue, that she tables amendments and speaks in debates.
We, women are political beings because we think and feel like everyone else, not because we go through dry spells between the sheets. We have opinions and ambitions and beliefs, whether they’re feminist or misogynist, we have them and we have a right to speak about them. Our frustration comes from being so excluded from politics, from being regarded as a minority, as special interest, as quasi-fascistic, from being laughed at, from being objectified and hated, from being beaten and raped, from being called ‘bitches’ and ‘whores’ and ‘sluts’, from being underpaid, from being stereotyped. That’s why I’m frustrated, that’s why I’m political. Sex or lack of it is pretty fucking irrelevant.