Why are we determined to see women as victims?

In politics, women are forced into the role of damsel in distress.

Joanna Williams

Vagina voting became a thing in 2016. In the run-up to the US presidential election, increasingly desperate Clinton-backers urged the sisterhood to get out and vote for Hillary because, they said, only a woman can represent the interests of women. It’s fair to say this strategy didn’t play out well. Nonetheless, the idea that when it comes to politics men and women do things differently lingers on.

Apparently, if a General Election were to be held tomorrow, more men than women would vote for the Brexit Party. In fact, according to a YouGov poll conducted at the end of May, the Brexit Party has the biggest gender gap of all political parties. It’s hard to get excited about this. After all, opinion polls are notoriously inaccurate. But even if it is true, so what? When it comes to elections, votes are not tallied up according to gender.

The lesson we are supposed to take from the poll is that the Brexit Party has a woman problem. Women are, apparently, caring and compassionate: they worry about hospitals and schools and the environment, not macho things like Brexit and the economy. These women are turned off by the blokey pint-swilling Nigel Farage and the pussy-grabbing Donald Trump. To win over women voters, politicians must drop the confrontation and work on their compromise game.

Greenpeace played on all these sexist old stereotypes when they selected activists to disrupt the chancellor of the exchequer’s Mansion House speech last week. Hannah Martin, one of the protesters, said: ‘It was clearly a peaceful protest, it was female-led in order to potentially create a calm atmosphere.’ But why does ‘female led’ equate to ‘clearly peaceful’? There’s a proud history of women fighting in the French Resistance, the Spanish Civil War and, most recently, on the frontline against ISIS. The insistence that delicate women are only capable of peaceful protest does all these brave women a disservice.

Janet Barker, the Greenpeace activist prevented from disrupting proceedings after being forcibly evicted by Tory MP Mark Field, has become a one-woman cause célèbre for today’s feminine politics. She’s a support worker who lives off-grid (except for when she’s giving media interviews), on a farm, in rural Wales. She has 31 rabbits! She knits with rabbit wool! She’s not angry with Field, but wants him to attend anger-management classes to address his inner demons. Listen to those now condemning Field and you get the impression he attacked an innocent child rather than a politically motivated adult.

It’s not just the protest itself but how we respond to it that is supposed to divide us along gender lines. Owen Jones, writing in the Guardian, argues that ‘social media abounds with predominantly men cheering the minister on, offering a disturbing and all too revealing insight into what male behaviour towards women they judge to be acceptable’. Women feel for the rabbit-hair-knitting activist in their ‘gut’, according to Suzanne Moore, while men fall over themselves to praise Field’s rapid response.

In the imagination of broadsheet columnists and Twitter feminists, Field’s grappling with a protester has become elided with Boris Johnson’s shouting match with his girlfriend, Carrie Symonds. Both are examples of the misogyny, male aggression and sense of entitlement considered rife within the Tory Party. Again, women are supposed to empathise with Symonds, the bright, articulate, political PR whizz, who is now to be pitied as a victim of domestic abuse. Men, on the other hand, are expected to break from being violent and aggressive towards women only long enough to insist that an Englishman’s home is his castle and they should have the privacy to shout all they like.

To see just how insidious this women-as-victims and men-as-aggressors narrative is, we need to look at what happens when a woman dares to transgress. Telegraph journalist and former colleague of Johnson, Allison Pearson, publicly criticised Symonds’ neighbours for sending a recording of the late-night row to the Guardian and arguing that those behind this invasion of privacy should themselves be named and shamed. The Twittermobbing that ensued was as predictable as it was ugly.

For criticising the saintly neighbours and defending the evil Boris, Pearson became the target of vitriol and condescension. The undertone to the rage was that Pearson’s comments were beyond the pale precisely because she did not bow to gendered expectations and emote with victim Carrie Symonds. Food critic Jay Rayner expressed his disappointment, asking: ‘When did you become this person Allison?’ David Aaronovitch implored, ‘Seriously, Allison? You want to out the neighbours? You’re not alone in this, but you have LOST it.’ No one knew at this point that the neighbours would readily out themselves, proud of their achievement and eager for publicity.

We can contrast the treatment of Allison Pearson with that of Labour MP Stella Creasy. Creasy is pregnant and has gone public with her previous history of miscarriages in order to campaign for female MPs to have better maternity leave provision, including additional funding to pay for staff to take on additional constituency work. No one who hears Creasy’s story can fail to be sympathetic and wish her the best for her pregnancy. But what’s interesting is how her crusade on behalf of what can only ever be a tiny number of elite women has been taken on board by the media and even senior Tories.

Today, feminist campaigns to get women into politics, either through standing as an MP or speaking out in public debates or appearing on news shows, abound. But the message of recent weeks is that politics is only welcoming of certain kinds of women. We must be caring and compassionate or we must have suffered, either at the hands of men or because of our biology. Bolshy women who back Brexit or Trump, who think a couple arguing in their own home doesn’t warrant acres of press coverage, and who believe that protesters might reasonably expect to be removed from private dinners, must learn to know their place.

Women who politically transgress challenge the elite notion that everything supposedly wrong with the world is the fault of old, white men. This means that women end up being written out of politics altogether and robbed of the opportunity to own the choices they have made. Despite the alleged gender split shown in polls of Brexit Party supporters, in the privacy of the polling booth millions of women did back Brexit, or Trump, or the Conservative Party. Democracy means accepting that both women and men hold a full range of views.

Joanna Williams is associate editor at spiked. Her new book, Women vs Feminism: Why We All Need Liberating from the Gender Wars, is out now.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Stephen Wilde

29th June 2019 at 4:37 pm

On the basis of various reports, Boris spilled red wine on a valued light coloured sofa and it was Symonds who threw a wobbly. One report said that the male voice was relatively calm.
Boris may be protecting Symonds by refusing to comment.

Kristof Roth

28th June 2019 at 5:54 pm

“Democracy means accepting that both women and men hold a full range of views.”

Democracy is the least evil political regime, not the ideal socio-political moral order. It is not the condition of collective enlightenment. Popular representation does not exclude popular misconceptions.

Hugh Gibney

27th June 2019 at 12:16 am

Regarding the case of the female Greenpeace protester who was ejected from the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s recent Mansion House speech by a government minister (Mark Field), a question that can be asked is: which of the two individuals involved (Mr Field and the protester) showed, in terms of their behaviour on the occasion in question, (a) a properly developed adult sense of responsibility, and (b) an absence of such a sense?

Taking both the particular circumstances of the occasion and the general circumstances of the times in which we live into account, the correct answer to (a), above, is, surely, Mr Field, regardless of the fact of his gender or the gender of the protester (whatever Owen Jones, et al, may say about the matter – and it’s interesting to see some writers in the ‘Daily Telegraph’ as eager as their counterparts in the ‘Guardian’ to show that their hearts are in the right-on place here). Consequently, there’s no need to spell out the answer to (b).

Therefore, those, including the Prime Minister herself, who rushed to criticize Mr Field’s actions have put themselves in the position of condemning what has all the appearance of being, in the circumstances, an entirely reasonable and responsible course of action and, conversely, effectively condoning what was, under the same circumstances, highly irresponsible behaviour – which someone with a properly developed adult sense of responsibility would have known was irresponsible – irrespective of whatever may have been the motives for the said behaviour.

D. C. Morrow

26th June 2019 at 7:58 pm

Because it enables women to get others, usually men, to work at solving their problems while enabling them to avoid personal responsibility.

James Knight

26th June 2019 at 5:56 pm

I don’t know why. But the narrative seems to have enduring appeal. Something in our culture. Look how true crime TV disproportionately focuses on female victims. Especially if white, young and photogenic. Or how charities now advertise opportunities to sponsor or save third world girls. Very specifically girls you can help to save. Boys are not forgotten, as your money will also go to educate boys on the importance of girls.

I suppose the real question is why do people nominally committed to equality buy into that kind of fairy-tale narrative. Maybe that is part of the answer, because it is so simple. A ready made, out of the box, go to ideology for those who don’t want to think too much or just have a totalitarian mindset.

John Welsh

26th June 2019 at 3:00 pm

Aaronovitch compared Boris to Lord Lucan. That guy has completely lost it.
Virus derangement syndrome is here..

Puddy Cat

26th June 2019 at 10:43 am

Did we ever establish whether or not it was Boris being attacked? The whole confection of men being in league seems to exemplify the socialist view of dependency on the state and the faceless masses. In the socialist view women are having to come together to fight the monstrous army of Orc-like blokes.

The evident danger is that a phalanx can be created and come the time its leadership can be usurped by unknown forces parroting the old slogans and configuring emotions. They lay themselves open to other contrivances which are equally sapping because they offer others control over themselves. Best stay away from mass movements. Do we actually know what their leadership has at heart?

But as Brexit and climate change demonstrate, they are the Keep into which those oppressed and defenceless can run for protection from the horrible world of independence and threat. Bump-up the threat level enough and you have the hearts and minds. Thatcher referred to climate change as, ” a marvellous excuse for worldwide, supra-national socialism”. Alas she set it off and what started out as enquiry, science, turned into irrefutable fact and Scientology, serried ranks of Puritans marching to the drum of doom (how much Co2 do we actually need? Is there a number?). Did Ratner ever castigate himself for calling his products ‘crap’?

The secret pact between all men is exposed, we are and always have been undermining women, in league (and yet back in the 16th century Thomas More was stating that both his girl and boy children would receive equal opportunity in education, it just so happened that Margaret Roper was more brilliant than the rest).

I cannot defend men I don’t know them all. I sometimes wonder how leader writers can be so glib, so sure about the male clone. It might not just be that they are bad judges of character, faulted individuals (or short of copy) and sloughing off their errors under a blanket description to excuse themselves and their error.

christopher barnard

26th June 2019 at 8:29 am

Women now have equality and they’ve found out that it means wage slavery and less time for family life for most of them, just like men have always endured.

So now they want special treatment, not equality.

Hana Jinks

26th June 2019 at 6:11 am

Given how much Northern Europe would benefit from being a bit warmer, …just how does the Green Slime get a look-in there?

Brandy Cluster

26th June 2019 at 12:50 am

The women as victim trope is there for the sole purposes of wealth transfer and redistribution. Think about it.

James Hillier

25th June 2019 at 5:28 pm

Victimhood is now both a weapon and a shield. When Jess Phillips got herself into trouble by being rude and unparliamentary about the possibility of a debate on men’s issues, she — or the Labour PR team — dug her out of the mess by finding some nasty posts (vile, but not threats) about her on an obscure Swiss Reddit clone called Voat. Despite the fact that virtually no one would have seen these posts without her drawing attention to them, and it’s very hard to believe that Ms Phillips herself spends much time on Voat, this was enough to have the press recast her as a victim. From that point on, she could do no wrong. The same MO has now been used again and again by other feminist campaigners. They can say and, to a large extent do, things that would cause outrage, from others (privilege, much?) and if they are criticised, they play the victim. The press unfailingly and uncritically amplifies their claims to victimhood and very soon we are discussing not what they, who are often powerful individuals, have said or done. Instead, we’re discussing what a few trolls have said on Twitter. It’s all so transparent but the media keeps falling for it, probably because it wants to.

John Reic

25th June 2019 at 2:26 pm

I agree Take Boris Johnson
No defender if his but his speech in Watermelon smiles
I get the idea that Boris Johnson was talking about Blair being A white Saviour of the Congo to talk of black People holding plastic Union Jack flags

And where the Labour Party love a female victim be they Johnson’s wife, the greenpeace lady
Or Jess Phillips after Sargon Akkad said he wouldn’t wake her ,or Jump to the defence if Jo brand
Let alone say labour should have a female leader and only list white middle class females , as
They ignored black working class ones
They also ignored BAme middle class labour females like Afua Hitsch snd Shami Chakrabarti
Where the real white working class females if the muslim Rotherham child abuse scandal were lower down the Totem poll than Black Working class females
So their victim status wasn’t a concern

gershwin gentile

25th June 2019 at 2:02 pm

Remember when Gloria Steinem wrote an article backing up Bill “A Blow Job Isn’t Sex” Clinton? BAcking up Hillary’s hit pieces on victims of her husband?

Or how Trumps wife was constantly referred to as a stepford wife, or a robot, or lots of other things.

And how about Susie Boniface, referred to the man she domestically abused as Twatface?

Wimmin only wimmin when they have rightthink.

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