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Misogynistic Claims Against MP Angela Rayner Highlight Broader Problem in Politics

Misogynistic claims against MP Angela Rayner, dismissing her political attributes, are a sad reminder of the everyday sexism women face in and outside of politics.

Misogynistic claims against Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner have been widely condemned by MPs, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Claims were made by anonymous conservative MPs to The Mail on Sunday suggesting Ms. Rayner tried to distract the prime minister in the Commons by crossing and uncrossing her legs.

The newspaper 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.”

Ms. Rayner dismissed this as a “perverted smear” that showcased how women in politics face misogyny every day.

On Sunday, Mr. Johnson criticised the comments tweeting: “As much as I disagree with Angela Rayner on almost every political issue, I respect her as a parliamentarian and deplore the misogyny directed at her anonymously today.”

Speaking to reporters in Bury, Mr Johnson stated: “If we ever find who is responsible for it, I don’t know what we will do, but they will be the terrors of the earth.”

A Downing Street source confirmed to the BBC that the Prime Minister had contacted Ms. Rayner privately by text message to reiterate what he said in his public tweet.

Endemic Misogyny

Some MPs felt the Prime Minister needed to go further in his disproval, to spell out how this sort of behaviour was completely unacceptable and fed into a misogynistic narrative against female MPs.

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves told the BBC: “instead of just tweeting, the prime minister needs to get his house in order” and ensure that his MPs did not think they had a “carte blanche to be saying this sort of thing”.

“This is endemic,” she added, stating that she did not believe there was a single female MP or staff member in the House of Commons who did not have their own stories of misogyny or sexism.

“To be honest I am sick and tired of the way that female MPs and women are treated in Parliament and if this story and this outrageous slur on Angela gets things changed that would be a good thing.”

Ms. Reeves, who has written a history of women in Parliament, stated comments like this were indicative of a much wider parliamentary issue.

However, Downing Street will not be asking for an inquiry into who made the comments to the Mail on Sunday, with a source stating this was because such inquiries rarely found the person in question.

The Mail on Sunday

The Mail on Sunday, which has now been changed to headline on Ms. Rayner’s response on Twitter, has not commented on the issue.

A host of MPs have since come out to not only condemn the suggestion made but also the misogynistic tone of the newspaper’s reporting.

And Ms. Nokes, who chairs the women and equalities committee, confirmed on Twitter that she had contacted the Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, to ask if the political editor who wrote the piece should have a press pass for Parliament.

The article quotes an MP as saying: “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 Ms. Rayner’s background as “a grandmother who left school at 16 while pregnant and with no qualifications before becoming a care worker”.

Ms Rayner condemned the article in a thread on Twitter as “gutter journalism”, and accused the sources of “spreading desperate, perverted smears in their doomed attempts to save [Mr Johnson’s] skin” amid the partygate scandal.

She added: “I won’t be letting their vile lies deter me. Their attempts to harass and intimidate me will fail.

“I hope this experience doesn’t put off a single person like me, with a background like mine from aspiring to participate in public life. That would break my heart.”

Angela Rayner, thanking people for their solidarity and support, April 24 2022

Widespread Condemnation

The misogynistic report led to a huge backlash on social media and support for the Labour party’s Deputy Leader.

A raft of politicians, including female Conservative MPs, have also spoken out in support of Ms. Rayner.

Scotland’s First Minister and SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “It’s a reminder of the deep misogyny women face every day.”

Conservative Caroline Nokes said far too many female MPs of all parties had been “on receiving end of vile articles”, while former minister Andrea Leadsom tweeted: “Really sorry Angela. Totally unacceptable comments and reporting.”

Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson described it as a “disgraceful story”, saying: “I can’t even believe it made it into print.”

Labour’s Shadow Leader of the Commons, Thangam Debbonaire, added: “This all shows we need more women in politics and that when we work together, we are mighty and fearsome and some pathetic men feel threatened by it.”

Final Thought

The misogynistic sentiment of the comments highlights a much broader institutional sexism that women in and outside of politics must face.

For Ms Rayner’s political attributes to be dismissed to support an offensive and untrue narrative about herself and other women in Politics is highly problematic.

The culture and discourse within Parliament is in need of change. It is sad reality that such experiences are not uncommon among female politicians. To reiterate Ms Raynar’s sentiment, it would be disheartening to see sexist incidents deterring aspiring female politicians.

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