Monday, 28 October 2013

Sexism in the Lib Dems

Something which is really pissing me off at the moment is the way that overt sexism can continue to get a free pass in the Liberal Democrats.

I mean, the vast majority of liberals would say they're against sexism and would claim that they wouldn't tolerate it but actions speak louder than words. And when it comes to actions, things are pretty disappointing. Of course, this isn't unique to the Lib Dems as sexist double standards and hypocrisy are par for the course in every political party and across society as a whole but it still sticks in the craw when the Lib Dems are a party meant to be founded on the principle of the fundamental equality of every human being.

What's triggered this rant is a report in the Independent that Nick Clegg is considering supporting introducing All Women Shortlists (AWS) if the proportion of female Lib Dem MPs (currently 7 out of 57) doesn't improve significantly in 2015.

(As a quick explanation, an all women shortlist is where only women are allowed to be considered as candidates for a particular seats in order to guarantee that a woman is selected).

Now, whether or not people support AWS is one thing. Personally I tend to support the introduction of them (or preferably, all diversity shortlists). But what is clear to everyone is that the party has a big problem with gender balance at a parliamentary level - and also in fact at every other level apart from a European one where positive action was taken in the first election in order to obtain a gender balance which has maintained itself ever since.

So that's why comments like this underneath the Lib Dem Voice article on the story are so frustrating:
I would suggest that most women are far too sensible and considerate to their families to put themselves and their loved ones through the terrible strains required by the prolonged self-exploitation required to be a Lib Dem candidate in anything other than a ‘safe’ held succession seat. This doesn’t leave many seats for them to ‘go for’. Not all men are basically more selfish and inconsiderate but more than enough are.
Now what this is is a spectacular example of "benevolent", paternalistic, patronising sexism. It's basically saying that women are much "nicer" and more "gentle" (subtext: weaker) than men and that's why not so many women don't stand as candidates. Or, basically, it's saying that women are too weak compared to rough and tough men to get involved in politics and this is the source of the problem rather than sexism within the party which prevents and discourages women from standing to be elected.

Yes, sure, benevolent sexism like this can sound friendly, and even complimentary - after all, this guy is just saying that women aren't selfish and inconsiderate, what's wrong with that?

Except this is the exact problem with benevolent sexism. It sounds friendly so it tends to get less scrutiny and yet the underlying assumptions of it, that women are all have families and are focused mainly on them, that women are weaker and less interested in involvement in "tough" subjects like politics, are just as awful and harmful as run-of-the-mill sexism.

And the guy who said this is a Lib Dem councillor in Southport. His name is Tony Dawson.

Cllr Tony Dawson
So here we have someone in a position of authority in local government, who is an elected office holder representing the Lib Dems and who, by virtue of being a councillor, will have significant authority in his local party compared to an ordinary member.

Yet this kind of comment by him gets a free pass. I'm the only person who bothered to challenge him in the thread on his sexism. And when I did I got this comment from another person who rushed into defend Tony Dawson:
You can put silly words into Tony’s mouth if you want to, but when you have been around as long has he has, and have seen what it involves, you will realise he is telling the truth. You may not like it, but there it is. 
P.S. You can call us ageist if you wish, but the one place you get experience from is having seen your own and others’ youthful naivety fail before. You may not like that either …
Yup, you heard it here first ladies and gents. Saying that women are "far too sensible" and "considerate to their families" to get involved in politics is just a statement of fact about reality. And only naive, silly young people would think otherwise.

Well bollocks to that kind of sexism and bollocks to that kind of ageism. I've been an active party member for four years, I sit on a regional executive, I'm policy officer for the Lib Dem Disability Association, I've stood twice as a council candidate, I'm secretary of my local party and I'm a member of my local party's campaign committee as well as chairing our membership development and events committee.

And in all of those four years I've had first Sue Doughty and then Kelly-Marie Blundell as my local Lib Dem parliamentary candidate. Both of them women. Both of them fantastic, amazing candidates. Both of them considerate and sensible people who care about their families. And both of whom have been fantastic standard bearers for the Lib Dems and as good as any a candidate a local party could ever ask for.

So, I'm sorry to the benevolent sexists and ageists out there but women are just as good as men, just as capable as men and the fact that we have so few women MPs is a problem with sexism in the party - not with women being innately too shy and passive to stand for election in the same numbers as men.

And, while I'm at it, any twazzock who thinks that just because I'm under the age of 25 my opinions can't be valid can go fornicate themselves given that the likes of them seem perfectly happy to exploit young people as leaflet deliverers and general campaigning canon fodder whenever they need us but can't stand the idea of us having opinions of our own and being entitled to the same respect for them that anyone over the age of 25 is entitled to.