Complacent and complicit: the tale of Labour and its women

No flowing, roundabout introduction to see here. It’s time to be blunt.

It’s time to wake up and start taking action on the Labour Party’s sexism problem.

It’s time we stopped just calling it out and thinking that’s enough anymore. Something desperately needs to be done. 

Our women MPs are fearing for their safety and for their children’s safety. Jess Phillips just had a locksmith around for six hours making her home safe, for god’s sake. Just two weeks ago she submitted 96 pages of abuse to a Labour investigation. Women in our party now have to question what they post, pause for a moment before they tweet or post a status, and question whether it’s worth the torrent of abuse they anticipate. 

When I wrote this blog post back in May, oh boy, I hadn’t seen the half of our sexism problem.

Anecdote: on my last day of work, I had orchestrated an entire polling day, pretty much single handedly. I offered people cups of tea late in the day, at pretty much the first opportunity I had to “relax” and without thinking looked at the kettle and went “oh I haven’t even used this today, I don’t even know how to switch it on”. To which the man I had kindly offered to make tea for goes “A woman who can’t use a kettle…you don’t get many of those” I looked at him with disdain. ”Oh don’t spit in my tea, love…I’m old Labour me”

YES. We have people in our party who are that backward. We have men in our party who seek to undermine the achievements and intelligence of women on the basis of their tea making abilities apparently.

On an even more sinister note, on several occasions I had to ask a male colleague to come to some of my campaign sessions with me because I was that creeped out by a volunteer. It’s not ok. It’s so very not ok.

This isn’t a time for any sort of token gesture. We can’t afford to be complacent anymore. For now it’s threats, but whose to say those threats are empty, who is to say that one of these women won’t be raped or murdered? Would it really take that to happen for us to start taking action on this? We must take many lessons from the murder of Jo Cox, and one of those is that our MPs are actually a lot less safe than we previously presumed them to be. The party needs to get drastic about this. This isn’t me being hysterical. Serious action needs to be taken and fast.

A brief comment about Jo Cox, because I don’t want to in any way use her death simply to prove my own points, but equally I believe it’s something we need to learn from. I really thought Jo’s death would be a turning point in the Labour Party’s culture. A woman of our party was murdered, a woman who in life, sought to remind us that we have more in common than that which divides us. Yet members of our party continue to unleash sexist, misogynistic, divisive abuse at women. If the death of one of our most dedicated, caring and passionate MPs doesn’t cause some of our membership to stop and think about how we have more in common before they post that tweet or Facebook comment, what on earth will?

Some ideas on where to go from here:

1. We need structures in place in every region of the country that make reporting and dealing with sexism and misogyny easier. We need to make sure that women are aware of what structures are in place, so that as soon as they do experience any sexism or misogyny, they know where to go. 

2. We need to start creating a culture of reporting rather than tolerating sexism in the party. We shouldn’t let women tell their tales of sexism and simply go “oh that’s awful”. We need to start changing our response to “That’s awful. Report it to compliance/(some other structure we might create).”

3. We need to encourage a culture where men aren’t allowed to justify their actions with “I’m old Labour me” (or similar, or just by being men) and it’s all brushed off with a laugh. Men who consistently make sexist remarks have no place in our party and as far as I’m concerned, they should face expulsion. 

4. We also need to come together and put pressure on social media sites like Twitter to take a serious stand against misogyny and sexism. Jess Phillips should not have to spend hours of her life blocking trolls. Make some algorithms. Tackle trolling. Or it’s only going to get worse.

We need to start ensuring women feel comfortable and valued in their own party. We need to do that because every woman deserves that, as a human being. But we also need to do that because until we resolve our own issues surrounding women, we cannot hope to be a credible opposition and one day, government if we cannot be champions for women. It’s all well and good calling yourself the party of social justice, but if your idea of social justice does not include women in our own party, what’s the point?

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