Misogyny lives! It’s not surprising, really. In a week that saw David Cameron’s comments on racial tolerance clutched fervently to the hearts of the English Defence League, the fact that vast proportions of his party think women should be seen but not heard barely raises an eyebrow.
You see Sally Bercow has a voice – and a twitter account – and she is not afraid to use it.
Admittedly she would be peripheral on our radars were it not for John Bercow’s appointment but all the more reason why she should not feel obliged to shut up. She has not used her husbands position to get into the limelight, she has used the limelight to get into the limelight. She has been politically active since her university days and she has never shied away from being the centre of attention. If an opportunity arises to have her say, Sally grasps it. And why not?
No, not every word that comes out of her mouth is a paragon of profundity but I’m not here to defend her style or even her opinions. The fact that she sometimes says or does things that are less than sage is by the by. What concerns me is the attitude of many politicians and even more members of the media and public.
Last week Sally Bercow spoke candidly to the Evening Standard about her life and love with husband, Commons Speaker John Bercow. She also agreed to pose in a bedsheet in a hotel room overlooking the Houses of Parliament. Upon publication she admitted to having a momentary pang of embarrassment but she quickly got over it… unlike a frightening majority of the Conservative party.
That the revelation that John and Sally Bercow enjoy their sex life is seen as an affront on the dignity of the former’s role in Westminster is frankly baffling but that is a whole other cultural dilemma not to mention a whole other blog post. The issue here is the systematic disparagement of a woman who refuses to simply be her husband’s wife.
In 1906 Otto Weininger concluded that women “cannot grasp that one must act from principle”. In 2011 the British political sphere seconded this view. The comments from Westminster ranged from the frustratingly antiquated to the downright sinister. Words like “dangerously unhinged” were bandied about with no trace of conscience. They spoke of his weakness in not being able to “contol her”, of the “laughing stock” he would now become. The speaker, they said, is expected to discharge his office with dignity and in saying so implicitly packaged Ms Bercow up into that office. She is just another asset belonging and responsible to her husband. Prejudice, discrimination, banter, ribbing, call it what you will, the narrative remains the same: the shame brought on a husband by his hysterical wife.
All this goes to show not only the sexism at the heart of the Tory party but a latent, and frankly more disturbing, cultural misogyny. The media were only too eager to jump on the irreverent bandwagon but while they might have condemned the outright discrimination (or at least glossed over it) they remained quite happy to mock.
In the same way that Freudian psychoanalysyts used the diagnosis of hysteria to negate female rebellion, so the ridicule of the British media seeks to demean and suppress Sally Bercow.
She, of course, takes it on the chin, calling it a “storm in a bedsheet” and merrily tweeting that “in the real world people have more important things to worry about”. But of course, this post was never really about her. It is about a political class, a culture even, whose ingrained prejudices spring all to enthusiastically to the fore when confronted with a woman who wants to be both seen andheard. Sally Bercow may not need to be reminded she’s an individual but there are plenty out there who do.