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6 political exchanges that show the issue runs deeper than Jeremy Corbyn’s “stupid woman”

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Sarah Shaffi
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Male politicians just can’t resist calling women names, it seems.

Given the current state of British politics, it would be hard to imagine that the discourse could become more nonsensical.

Step in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and this week’s row over whether or not he called Prime Minister Theresa May a “stupid woman”.

The alleged incident took place during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

The politicians clashed over the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, and Corbyn was seen saying something under his breath in response to May’s comments on his own party not being impressed with him; Conservative MPs say they thought they saw him say “stupid woman”.

Corbyn has denied the allegation, telling the Commons: “During Prime Minister’s Question Time today, I referred to those who I believe were seeking to turn a debate about the national crisis facing our country into a pantomime as ‘stupid people’.”

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Speaker of the House John Bercow (more on him in a bit) has ruled that he could not be certain Corbyn did use the phrase “stupid woman”, so had to take the Labour leader at his word.

Later during PMQs, though, Conservative vice-chairman Paul Scully asked May: “This year, when we’ve been celebrating 100 years of women getting the vote, do you think it’s appropriate language to call people a ‘stupid woman’ in this chamber?”

May responded by saying that everyone “should be aiming to encourage women to come into this chamber, and to stand in this chamber and should therefore use appropriate language in this chamber when they are referring to female members”.

Hear, hear: as long as male MPs continue to hurl gendered and sexist insults at women, women will potentially be put off a career in politics, and men will continue to think such insults are acceptable. Unfortunately, this is not the first time a male politician has allegedly used a childish insult against a woman in power. 

Here, we take a look back at some of our country’s most sexist parliamentary exchanges in recent history, as well as one infamous incident from across the pond.

“Calm down, dear”

David Cameron

Cameron told an MP to “calm down dear”

During an April 2011 exchange in the House of Commons, then-Prime Minister David Cameron told Labour MP Angela Eagle to “calm down dear” during a row about NHS reforms.

It seemed to be a deliberate reference to a famous car insurance advert starring film director Winner, in which he ordered a female companion to “calm down dear, calm down, calm down.” And, as such, Labour MPs accused Cameron of sexism.

Although he initially refused to apologise and dismissed the comments as being “light-hearted”, Cameron changed his tune during an October 2011 interview with the Sunday Times, in which he admitted that he had “screwed up” and apologised to any woman he might have offended with the remarks. 

“Stupid woman” 

Before his work Angelina Jolie and Brad on preventing sexual violence in conflict, Hague was accused of calling an MP a “stupid woman”

In 2013, former Foreign Secretary William Hague was filmed apparently mouthing the words “stupid woman” after Labour MP Cathy Jamieson questioned his links to a Conservative Party donor in the House of Commons.

Hague was sitting behind then Prime Minister David Cameron at the time, and allegedly made the comment while Cameron was answering the question posed by Jamieson.

He denied wanting to cause offence after being asked to apologise, telling the House of Commons: “I mutter many things in this House. Others shout them rather louder than I do but I mutter many things under my breath and I never intend any offence to any other honourable members.”

“Stupid woman”, take two

John Bercow

Bercow was accused of calling Andrea Leadsom a “stupid woman”

Seemingly proving that politicians are in the business of never having an original thought, Speaker of the Commons John Bercow was accused of describing leader of the House Andrea Leadsom as a “f****** stupid woman” earlier this year.

Bercow made the alleged comments during a disagreement in the House of Commons, and apparently followed it up by swearing and calling her “useless”.

Although he admitted to using the word “stupid” in a muttered aside, he said it was not directed at Leadsom.

This week Bercow was separately accused by Tory MP Vicky Ford of calling her a “stupid woman” on an earlier occasion, an allegation he said had not been brought up before, adding: “I refute it 100%.”

The “washing machine”

Maybe Bercow should reconsider his job as Speaker of the House of Commons, given that he can’t seem to stop being rude to women?

In March 2015, he told Esther McVey (formerly the employment minister) that her answer to a question in the House of Commons was too long. But he didn’t say it politely, oh no. Instead, he said he was “reminded of the feeling when one thinks the washing machine will stop – but it does not”.

He apologised in the classic “if I caused offence” way, defending himself by saying it was an “off-the-cuff remark”.

The meeting “full of sluts”

Godfrey Bloom

Former UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom (hardly the most modern of men) was caught on camera in 2013 joking that a “women in politics” conference fringe meeting was “full of sluts” who did not clean behind their fridges.

He argued that he was using the word as it was originally intended, to mean a woman with low standards of cleanliness. But this usage is from the 1400s.

For much of the 20th century the word has been used as an insult towards women, and is based on their sexual activity.

Bloom was censured by UKIP for the comment, and soon after announced he was quitting the UKIP group in Europe, although he stayed on as an MEP until the end of his term in 2014.

And one from the US: “Blood coming out of her wherever”

Donald Trump

Trump has insulted a large number of women

It’s not just British politicians who have been caught insulting women in positions of power.

A whole list could be made devoted to the times President Donald Trump has insulted women – he has attacked Hilary Clinton, Maxine Walters and more, and of course was recorded talking about “grabbing women by the p****”, but one standout from when he was on the campaign trail in 2015 are his comments about former Fox News host Megan Kelly in 2015.

Trump was quizzed during a debate by Kelly on how he has called women he didn’t like “dogs, slobs and disgusting animals”.

Trump, with his notoriously thin skin, of course couldn’t let the question go, and took to Twitter after the debate to attack Kelly, saying she had “bombed”.

But it got worse. In the days after the debate he told CNN: “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”

Two days later Trump tried to say he meant Kelly’s nose when he said “wherever”, but Trump is far from the first man who has implied a woman who has stood up for herself or said a harsh word is on her period.

Images: UK Parliament, Getty, Europarl - EFDD Group