In recent years, Labour MPs Stella Creasy and Jess Phillips have been some of the most passionate and prominent feminist campaigners. Creasy has famously promoted abortion rights in Northern Ireland and cautioned Toby Young several years ago on his misogyny. “I really hoped that you would get with the 21st century and stop tweeting about women’s tits in Parliament”, she told Young on Newsnight, receiving much praise. Phillips has her own book – Everywoman – to remind the sisterhood they can “kick-ass”. In a blog for The Huffington Post she once wrote that “gender equality is the key to solving so many of our current national challenges”.
Fair enough, but with all this in mind, it did seem odd to me yesterday that these two MPs accepted an invitation, along with Lucy Powell, to speak on This Morning. It was not for any intellectual discussion, instead to muse over the proceedings of ITV’s Love Island. “Oh yeah, I’ve watched it with Harriet Harman in the Lady Members’ Room”, boasted Jess Phillips. I’m sure Harman has never been so grateful for the mention… Afterwards Creasy, Phillips and Powell pouted for a photograph.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with MPs relaxing over Love Island. The question is: why do women get asked to talk about it on television? Would Margaret Thatcher, for instance, have pondered Dani and Jack, or Megan’s buoyant boobs? One imagines Dennis Skinner being asked to comment on The Hideaway, and the mind boggles. A male MP wouldn’t have been asked to chat about such matters in the first place.
As a society, we are often reminded that sexism has many discrete and subtle forms. The depressing reality is that not even those who are most informed and educated on it can see it staring them in the face. In journalism I see similar instances of sexism in the tasks women are asked to carry out. Why is there no demand for men to discuss their sex lives, dating disasters or mental health in the same way women are encouraged to? Female suffering has become a type of currency – all the while men are expected to do Brexit and economics. This double standard will not stop until women learn to say no to an opportunity or two.
Creasy, especially, ought to know better. As one of the most talented, articulate parliamentarians, her energies are wasted commenting on a series that barely passes as low-brow entertainment. The pity is when women take up these opportunities, they reinforce limitations on what all of us are allowed to comment on. Next time ITV rings, the sisterhood would be thankful if the Labour ladies hang up the phone.