Commentary

U.S., U.K. vie to outdo each other in misogyny

56 M.P.s have been referred for sexual harassment, assault, bad behavior

May 9, 2022 7:00 am

Palace of Westminster. Credit: Colin via Wikimedia Commons

LONDON — Which country hates women more, the U.S. or the U.K.?

In America, a woman will apparently soon be forced to carry a child to term, even if she was raped, even if she was trafficked, even if she can’t care for the kid, doesn’t want it, and having it means ruining her life.

Women in Britain don’t face that prospect — not yet, anyway. Abortion is legal in this country up until fetal viability.

Hooray, right? British women control their own bodies. It’s almost like they’re full citizens and everything. The British have had two female prime ministers and boast a female Head of State, that 96 year-old lady with the hella good jewelry collection.

Boris Johnson. Credit: Office of U.S. National Security Adviser

Yet here in the Mother of Parliaments something smells bad. Putrid-flesh bad. No fewer than 56 M.P.s (members of Parliament) have been referred to a government misconduct watchdog for various forms of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and general bad behavior mostly toward both female colleagues and female staff.

Three of the accused are ministers in Boris Johnson’s government.

Over the past couple of years, Westminster has been a festival of political sleaze. In 2020, M.P. Charlie Elphicke was convicted of three counts of sexual assault against two women. He chased one of them around his house, trying to jump her bones, chanting, “I’m a naughty Tory.”

Naughty enough to get 24 months in prison.

It’s been downhill from there.

To be fair, members of Parliament don’t attack only women: Conservative Imran Ahmad Khan has recently been convicted of sexually assaulting a 15 year-old boy.

And it’s not just Tories, either: Two of the 56 parliamentarians in hot water are members of the “shadow cabinet,” high-ranking Labour politicians.

‘Pestminster’

Nevertheless, it is mostly women suffering the toxic masculinity of “Pestminster” (as some of the tabloids call it) and it is mostly Conservatives doing the harassing and molesting.

A month ago, another Conservative M.P. called David Warburton was suspended from Parliament over three allegations of sexual harassment, plus stories of cocaine use.

Then there’s the porn. Five years ago, Damian Green, an M.P. and top deputy to Prime Minister Theresa May, was removed from his office when a lot of pornography was found on his government computer.

You’d think that would have been a salutary lesson for other dirty-minded geezers working in the Palace of Westminster, but no. A week ago, two female Conservative M.P.s busted a fellow conservative M.P. caught watching porn on his phone in the House of Commons. Twice.

Neil Parish. Credit: Official photo

Neil Parish, a farmer from southwest England, claimed that, in the first instance, he was actually looking at tractors. Somehow those hot, hot, hot John Deere models morphed into scenes of enthusiastic fornication.

Then in what he called “a moment of madness,” he did it again, bypassing the tractors this time and going straight for the heaving flesh.

His wife insists he’s a “nice man.”

A couple of weeks ago, the Mail on Sunday, a xenophobic, sexist, racist rag that trades in conspiracy theories and gossip, ran a story in which a Tory M.P. claims Labour Party’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner tries to “distract” Prime Minister Boris Johnson by crossing and uncrossing her legs in front of him.

Wearing, the paper said, “a chic dress that showed off her thighs” Rayner “channeled her inner Sharon Stone,” implying that she flashed her, er, lady parts. The unnamed source said that Rayner “can’t compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training, but she has other skills which he lacks.”

‘Johnson’ government

Top (male) officials in the aptly-named Johnson government insist that even though women from all the political parties — Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrat, and Conservative — tell of male M.P.s with wandering hands, drunk guys trying to get them into dark corners, etc., there’s no “culture of misogyny” in Parliament.

As former Prime Minister David Cameron once told a senior Labour M.P., “Calm down, dear.”

A reasonable person might want to point out here that the United States Congress ain’t much better.

In recent years, Democrats John Conyers of Michigan, Bobby Scott of Virginia, and Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota were accused of sexual misconduct. Republicans behaving badly include Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania and Blake Farenthold of Texas, who settled sexual harassment claims with taxpayer money, and Trent Franks, R-Arizona, who propositioned staffers and offered a woman $5 million to carry his child.

Madison Cawthorn. Credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C. is running neck and neck with Florida’s own Matt Gaetz in the trashy bro stakes: In addition to his attempts to bring loaded guns onto airplanes, his possible insider trading, his driving with a suspended license, and his boy-crush on Vladimir Putin, multiple women have accused Cawthorn of sexual misconduct.

And now we have a video of this twit, as CNBC austerely put it, “naked in a bed and making thrusting motions on top of another person.” Cawthorn claims he was merely being “crass with a friend.”

But what do we expect? The nation’s head was for four long years the loud-and-proud pussy-grabber Trump, an accused rapist, a guy who boasted about walking into the dressing room at beauty pageants to “inspect” young girls, a guy who liked to call women “slobs,” “dogs,” “ugly,” and “crazy.”

It seems hard to believe today, but the U.S., along with the U.K., used to be much admired democracies, thought of as beacons of social progress.

‘A fish rots from the head’

Commenting on the Conservatives’ seeming reluctance to do anything about the godawful atmosphere women encounter in Parliament, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer reminds us, “A fish rots from the head.”

The head fish with the spreading stink is, of course, Boris Johnson himself, a womanizer who would not (or could not) until recently say how many children he has (it’s seven, with three different women); once proclaimed on the campaign trail that voting Conservative would “cause your wife to have bigger breasts;” said Muslim women in hijabs looked “like letterboxes;” and likened Hillary Clinton to “a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital.”

Johnson is under investigation over “Partygate,” the dozen boozy shindigs the prime minister allegedly sanctioned at 10 Downing Street or other government buildings during the worst of the pandemic when ordinary Britons were not allowed to visit family in hospital or have normal Christmas celebrations.

At one of the Downing Street parties, Johnson’s staff handed out a mock award for “Sexist of the Year.”

With so many candidates around, that must have been a tough contest.

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Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.

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