Earlier this week, a female political journalist revealed that she had reported a male MP for addressing her as “totty”.
Isabel Hardman, who is assistant editor at conservative magazine The Spectator, tweeted that she had been unsure about whether to go public with the story after the unnamed MP told her, “I want to talk to the totty” in the Westminster lobby.
“Have been thinking about whether or not to tweet about it, but actually that is NOT on and lobby women shouldn't have to put up with it,” she wrote on the social networking site. “So I have passed the MP's name on to a whip. I don't betray sources. But I will betray sexists.”
Later, she posted another tweet saying that the MP had been reprimanded and was "v. contrite” [sic].
But according to the Daily Mail's associate politics editor, Hardman “should have been pleased” at the attention. Isabel Oakeshott wrote that she thought Hardman was wrong to complain to whips over a “trivial incident”. Oakeshott is also the co-author of the David Cameron biography in which it was alleged that the PM once put a "private part of his anatomy” into a dead pig's mouth,
She added that the relationship between MPs and political journalists would be undermined if journalists went public with MPs' “off the record" remarks, and appeared to suggest that female journalists could use their gender to their advantage, writing: “If a handful of male MPs are a little more forthcoming because we wear skirts, who are we to complain?”
Like politics itself, political journalism is overwhelmingly dominated by men. Less than a quarter of MPs in the House of Commons are women; similarly, data obtained by The Guardian in 2013 revealed that only 23 per cent of parliamentary lobby journalists are women.
And plenty of female journalists have similar stories to Hardman's. Earlier this week, radio host Julia Hartley-Brewer said that a Tory MP repeatedly placed his hand on her knee at an event when she was political editor at the Sunday Express.
She told Sky News: “The third time I removed his hand and said it is very simple, either you don't put your hand on my knee again or I am going to punch you in the face.” She added that there were “quite a lot of grey areas” regarding appropriate behaviour in the House of Commons.
Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman said that Hardman had “done exactly the right thing” in reporting the MP. She wrote on the Channel 4 website: “So many of us have been forced to put up with sexism in Westminster – the lascivious texts from a well-known peer; the ‘noble Lord’ whose hand found its way to my bottom in a crowded bar; and the select committee chairman who assumed I was a secretary because I was the only woman in the room.
“I never complained about any of it when I was working in the lobby five years ago. But I wish I had. It reflects badly on me that I didn’t.”
Pictures: iStock, Rex Features