Comment: Misogyny can only exist in a vacuum
The news that a government frontbencher was allegedly spotted watching porn in the Commons has led to two perfectly understandable reactions: revulsion and disbelief.
Disbelief that someone who literally has a seat at the coalface of UK politics could be so stupid as to think watching porn in a debating chamber is acceptable, but also disbelief that they thought they wouldn’t get caught.
The same can be said of the 56 (yes, fifty-six) MPs who are currently under investigation for sexual misconduct. Although some may be cleared of wrongdoing, the same picture becomes apparent – of powerful men, in the centre of the public eye, being oblivious to the world around them.
It begs two questions: do they think it’s acceptable? And do they think they can get away with it?
To answer 'yes' to either of those questions can only mean these men live in a vacuum, sealed away from the attitudes of women, law makers, and apparently common sense.
It follows, too, that the men around them are either lacking in backbone or morals – and the former is just as bad as the latter.
Allowing other men to harbour unchallenged sexist attitudes is one of the major contributors to a culture of toxic masculinity – the suffocating, but often intangible code of conduct men feel they should abide by in the presence of other men. For so many male MPs to think their misogyny will go unnoticed, or at least unpunished, implies that many more do not challenge their peers’ sexist attitudes.
The blatant sexism exhibited by the Mail on Sunday this week also smacked of a culture in Westminster that gives little influence to the voices of women and allies. The article about Angela Rayner, in which an anonymous Tory MP accused her of crossing and uncrossing her legs to distract the Prime Minister, went through the Mail on Sunday’s political editor Glen Owen, who wrote the story, and assumedly the MoS’ editor David Dillon. Would that story have made it to print if a woman, or at least a courageous man, had the opportunity to say something was wrong at any stage?
Having the courage to break the silence, and understand that the majority of men cannot tolerate abusive attitudes towards women, is the only way masculine cultures can change.
A culture of misogyny and sexism allows men who harbour much more sinister intentions to women to live and work unnoticed. At the bottom of the pyramid is sexist language and ‘lad banter’, at the top is violence against women.
Men must break the cycle and call out sexism, even when it’s uncomfortable, and especially with those over whom we have influence – otherwise we allow a culture which excuses men’s behaviour until it is too late.