Rachel Reeves says female MPs deal with sexism and misogyny ‘every day ...
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Female MPs have to deal with something their male counterparts do not - sexism and misogyny.

It is noticed every so often then apparently forgotten but the issue is back in the news agenda in its cyclical fashion because the Mail on Sunday made it so, by publishing an article carrying allegations that Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner tries to distract Boris Johnson in Parliament by crossing and uncrossing her legs like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.

We'll get into the bizarre story properly in a bit after repeating this point: female MPs experiencing sexism and misogyny is not unheard of at all.

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The numerous examples of these incidents happening speak for themselves.

1. Mail on Sunday accuses Angela Rayner of 'Basic Instinct' tactics

Let's honour that promise to get into that Mail on Sunday story properly. Despite it being 2022, the paper really did run a story last weekend claiming unnamed Tory MPs say Rayner distracts the PM with her legs.

The article said: "Tory MPs have mischievously suggested that Ms Rayner likes to distract the PM when he is in the dispatch box by deploying a fully-clothed Parliamentary equivalent of Sharon Stone's infamous scene in the 1992 film Basic Instinct."

The paper added: "It is also suggested she employs the tactic when sitting next to Sir Keir when he faces Mr Johnson at PMQs."

The piece quotes one MP as saying, apparently with no irony at all: "She knows she can't compete with Boris's Oxford Union debating training, but she has other skills which he lacks.

"She has admitted as much when enjoying drinks with us on the [Commons] terrace."

The article also described the Labour MP's background as "a socialist grandmother who left school at 16 while pregnant and with no qualifications before becoming a care worker".

It was widely slammed by politicians including Labour leader Keir Starmer who said: "The sexism and misogyny peddled by the Tories is a disgraceful new low from a party mired in scandal and chaos" and even Boris Johnson called it "the most appalling load of sexist, misogynist tripe".

Given that Johnson campaigned for election to parliament in 2005 by saying "voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts", that is quite the intervention.

And Rayner herself said:


2. Rachel Reeves' status as a mother and a politician causes Tory meltdown

Reacting to the Rayner story on LBC, Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, said she was "not surprised" by the story before sharing an incident of misogyny she had experienced a few years ago.

"It's a great sadness that I'm not surprised," Reeves said.

"This sort of sexism and misogyny, it's frankly the sort of rubbish that female MPs and female staffers in the House of Commons have to put up with every single day."

Then she recalled a time a Tory MP got way too interested in her having a baby. “I remember a few years ago when I was pregnant with my second child," she said.

“Conservative MPs said that if Labour won the election, I shouldn't be in the Cabinet because I wouldn't be able to concentrate on having a new baby and a big job.

“Nobody says that about fathers in the House of Commons, ‘you can't have a big job and be a dad’. But people do say it about women.”

The incident took place in 2015 and Tory MP Andrew Rosindell told the Daily Mail at the time: “I don't want to say someone who is having a baby is not eligible to be a Cabinet minister.

“But I certainly think perhaps the demands of that particular job will require someone to give it their full attention."


3. David Cameron tells a female MP to "calm down dear"

In 2011, the then prime minister Cameron triggered a backlash after he told Labour MP Angela Eagle to "calm down dear".

He was using a catchphrase made famous by Michael Winner's car insurance adverts during a row about NHS reforms.

Labour's deputy leader at the time Harriet Harman said Cameron's "contemptuous response" to Eagle showed "his patronising and outdated attitude to women", but Number 10 insisted it was just a joke.


4. Jess Phillips receives sexist email while talking about misogyny on TV

Labour MP Jess Phillips received a sexist email during a Politics Live appearance in January this year.

Explaining that she could see emails pinging in while she spoke about the House of Lords defeating the government and voting to make misogyny a hate crime, she said she had received a message calling her a "dirty wh*re" as she was talking.

"That won't be the only message I get because I'm currently on the television, if I appear on anything this is the kind of thing that I get," she said.


5. Matt Hancock accused of sexism for telling Labour MP to watch her "tone"

Hancock caused a row in 2020 when he questioned shadow health secretary Rosena Allin-Khan's tone in a debate in parliament.

He said “she might do well to take a leaf out of the shadow secretary of state’s book in terms of tone” after she questioned him on whether “a lack of testing” had “cost lives” during the pandemic.

It caused a huge backlash with clips of the incident going viral on social media. People rushed to support Allin-Khan and criticise Hancock respectively, so you would think that moving forward Tory MPs would be more careful about their tone.

But unbelievably, in November 2021, health secretary Sajid Javid made a similar jibe and said she had “misjudged the tone of this house” after she asked the minister about the government's mask policies.


6. Stella Creasy told off for bringing her baby into parliament

When Labour MP Creasy brought her baby into the commons in November 2021, she got told off for it being against the rules and she spoke out against the treatment of mothers in the chamber.

People thought it was ridiculous. Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, said the rule is “absurd” and “absolutely needs to be challenged”, adding that babies are “far less disruptive than many braying backbenchers”.

Later, she was criticised for her outfit in parliament...


7. Legs-it

Speaking of outfits, who remembers a 2017 Daily Mail cover article headlined: "Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!"?

Apart from failing to make much sense, the article - which showed an image of the then prime minister Theresa May and Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon sitting down for talks at a Glasgow hotel - sparked controversy for being sexist.

Author Sarah Vine wrote in the piece: "What stands out here are the legs - and the vast expanse on show.

"There is no doubt that both these women consider their pins to be the finest weapon in their physical arsenal."

May's are "demurely arranged in her customary finishing-school stance", she wrote.

"Sturgeon's "shorter, but undeniably more shapely shanks are altogether more flirty, tantalisingly crossed, with the dominant leg pointing towards her audience".

The piece was heavily criticised at the time:

But a spokesperson for the Daily Mail told the BBC at the time that the piece was "light-hearted".

They added: "It appeared in an 84-page paper packed with important news and analysis, a front page exclusive on cost-cutting in the NHS and a health supplement devoted to women's health issues.

"For the record, the Mail was the paper which, more than any other, backed Theresa May for the top job.

"Again for the record, we often comment on the appearance of male politicians including Cameron's waistline, Osborne's hair, Corbyn's clothes - and even Boris's legs.

"Is there a rule that says political coverage must be dull or has a po-faced BBC and left-wing commentariat, so obsessed by the Daily Mail, lost all sense of humour… and proportion?"

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