EU: taking offence on behalf of women

The European Parliament has suspended a Polish politician for making sexist comments. Janusz Korwin-Mikke, leader of a marginal right-wing party, told fellow MEPs in a debate on the gender pay gap that ‘women must earn less than men because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent’.

While for most of us the reflex reaction would be to scoff with laughter at the ridiculousness of Korwin-Mikke’s claims, the European Parliament decided to ban him. Its president, Antonio Tajani, said he ‘will not tolerate such behaviour’. He’s suspended Korwin-Mikke for 10 days and forced him to forfeit his daily subsistence allowance for 30 days.

No matter how much Korwin-Mikke’s words make you want to squirm (or laugh) in disagreement, putting him on the EU naughty step for a bit achieves nothing. The only remedy to prejudice and ignorance is open discussion.

Moreover, by silencing Korwin-Mikke, the parliament is implying that we – the public – are incapable of rejecting his ideas ourselves. The theory goes that the parliament must step in to protect us, lest we catch the misogynist bug.

There’s no doubt that Korwin-Mikke’s views are deeply reactionary – and to most people his comments would fall on deaf ears. But the fact that he was banished for making them, told to leave and shut up because the mainstream disagreed, is worrying indeed.

The parliament defended its decision, claiming that ‘by offending all women, [Korwin-Mikke] displayed contempt for our most fundamental values’. But Korwin-Mikke did not offend me. Hearing his words did not make me feel insignificant, weak or worthy of less pay. It made me want to argue back. Apparently, the European Parliament doesn’t think I’m up to it.

Izzy Lyons is a writer based in London.

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