This is not the blog I expected to write today. I was almost sure I wouldn’t be able to harness the enormous theme of ‘respect’ into something brief and engaging enough for a #DailyWritingChallenge entry… and then a very good friend, an NHS paediatric nurse, brought something to my attention that boiled my blood.
For context, the lady in the video above is Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP. She is the Labour MP for Tooting, the Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health, and (arguably most importantly at present) an A&E doctor in London. She made two valid points, with confidence, manners, eloquence and intelligence. I could compare her to many politicians I have seen who attempt to make their points by gesticulating wildly, getting angry and shouting. She did none of these, and her points were put exceptionally well to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Primarily, it was to tell her that she ought to “watch her tone.”
He dismissed her truth, gained from her experiences on the very front line he claims to respect so much, with a disrespect I found breathtaking. At first, I was cross because it just doesn’t sit right with me to speak to another person like that. As it played over in my mind though, I realised what irritated me so much: it was the way that he dismissed her, speaking to her as though she was ‘hysterical’ (to draw from historical slurs against passionate women.)
I was initially afraid to call this exchange out for what it was, especially on the internet. I was worried about backlash – it wouldn’t have been the first time a tiny-voiced blogger had been thrust into the limelight by virtue of trolls and hate. But that’s just my catastrophising talking, I think! But what was silencing me, was precisely what was evident in the clip of Dr Allin-Khan and Mr Hancock.
In 1928, the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act was passed at long last, allowing women in the United Kingdom to vote with parity to men, meaning all adults over the age of 21 had the right to vote, some 10 years after many people believe it happened! Women were afforded this respect.
Across the globe there are still many barriers to women’s voting, despite there only being one country that does not allow women to vote (the Vatican.)
In 1967, the Abortion Act was passed, allowing women in England, Wales and Scotland the right to maintain autonomy over their bodies and decide for themselves if they were able to go through with a pregnancy and motherhood. Women were afforded this respect, and were shielded from the disrespect of unwanted pregnancies, or worse, lethal backstreet abortions.
In Northern Ireland, a part of the UK no matter your political standing on this, women were only afforded the respect of having this choice in October of last year.
In 1970, the Equal Pay Act was passed. In brief, this means men and women are paid equally in the UK for equal work.
But you guessed it, I’m going to dispute this too. Equal Pay Day fell on 14th November in 2019 – this is the calendar day calculated to be the one from which women in the UK essentially continue to work for free, due to the imbalance of pay between men and women that still exists in this country.
Systemic gender inequality is appalling, but what is worse is what inspired me to write this article at all, the two words I used before launching into political examples of inequality: everyday sexism.
This is not sexism with a legal backing such as that seen at the Ford Machinists’ works in the 1960s, where the women who made car seats for Ford were deemed ‘unskilled’ even though men doing ‘lesser’ work were deemed ‘skilled’ and therefore paid much better. If you’re daunted by the idea of spending your days putting together pieces of leather to form immaculate car seats, then you have a reasonable understanding of why those women should never have been disrespectfully categorised as unskilled workers.
Sexism of the everyday sort is everywhere. The Everyday Sexism Project, curated by Laura Bates, is a collection of women’s stories from around the world of the small (or vast, if you read them) acts committed against them purely because they are women.
Everyday sexism is the reason why girls in their school uniforms are afraid to be catcalled in the street. The length of their skirt is not an excuse or a justification for this. I experienced it at age twelve, and I’m absolutely certain that my dad would have defended me to the ends of the earth even if I had been sporting a skirt to rival the shortness of the costume department at Waterloo Road.
Everyday sexism is why I was reduced to tears on a Liverpool bus at age twenty, because I was treated as a stupid little girl for forgetting to show my student ID when I asked for a student ticket. I was a student (obviously) and drivers were so inconsistent with asking for ID’s that no-one ever had them immediately ready for show. I didn’t hear at first, and was then rushed loudly with the same impatience and disrespect that our Health Secretary showed in that video earlier. I am not hiding behind this as my ‘excuse’ but I was also mid mental health crisis and still battling on with every day, so my brain was fuzzy, my senses were all over the show and my co-ordination was lacking to say the least.
At least three young men of a similar age had got on the same bus ahead of me, asked for student tickets and not been given a second glance. I don’t believe the bus driver would have assumed the same level of female stupidity of them, had they taken a moment too long to produce their ID.
My point with all of this is that I really believe Mr Hancock only spoke to Dr Allin-Khan that way because she is a woman. She did not choose to be born a woman, and yet because of her gender, there are far too many people who throughout her life will have treated her a certain way because they think they can get away with it. Millions of other women stand with her tonight, on seeing that video clip as it goes viral. We stand with you Rosena, because we all deserve the respect that doesn’t always come our way.