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Top 10 sexist moments in politics

The ‘Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail’ menu is the latest sexist attack on Oz PM. But it’s same for women in politics everywhere. HT reports.

world Updated: Jun 17, 2013 15:14 IST
Hindustan Times
politics sexist attacks,world@weekend,Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail

1. David Cameron’s ‘Calm down dear’

The best that could be said for the way David Cameron tried to put down then shadow Treasury secretary Angela Eagle at prime minister’s questions in April 2011 was that it was a terribly misjudged “joke”, stolen from that most banal form of “comedy” – a TV advert.

But many commentators felt the patronising off-the-cuff “Calm down dear” revealed Cameron’s true nature; years of careful modernising of the Tory image undone with a single remark that instantly conjured up the age-old idea that women were hysterical creatures incapable of rational thought.

He was still apologising months later.

Perhaps still wary of ongoing damage control, Cameron makes fairly regular statements about promoting women but so far it hasn’t been backed up – there are still just five female cabinet ministers.

2. Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi ... where to start?

It’s hard to know where to start with the former Italian prime minister. On tackling rape, he said: “We would have to send as many soldiers [for protection] as there are beautiful girls.”

He was quoted as saying that he thought rightwing women were “more beautiful” and that “the left has no taste, even when it comes to women”. In 2008, when Spain’s prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero appointed a female-majority cabinet, Berlusconi said: “Zapatero has formed a government that is too pink.”

Perhaps the key moment, though, was in 2009, when he said to Rosy Bindi, the president of the Democratic party, on live television that she was “more beautiful than intelligent” – itself a sarcastic comment, given he had attacked Bindi’s looks before. The remark drew a petition signed by more than 1,00,000 people.

3. The South African ‘tea girl’

South African politicians got excited this week about the dress sense of the opposition leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko. She was criticised during a budget debate by two ANC MPs, with one, John Jeffrey, saying “while the Honourable Mazibuko may be a person of substantial weight, her stature is questionable”.

It is still unclear what exactly was wrong with Mazibuko’s conservative black tights and dress, and red jacket.

In 2011, Julius Malema, then ANC youth leader, refused to debate with her, saying she was “a nobody, a tea girl”. And last year, Koos van der Merwe, a long-serving IFP politician asked her what she had done to her hair.

4. They heard, ‘Take out the garbage’, when Hillary talked

She is not strong, she’s a "bitch"; she’s not angry, she’s "shrill". She’s either too "emotional", as John McCain said recently – that classic put-down of "hysterical" women – or not emotional enough (in other words, not very feminine or motherly).

The sexism she had to endure during the presidential race was quite something. Nutcrackers were made in her image, and a heckler repeatedly shouted “iron my shirt” to her at a rally.

Airtime was given to people such as author Marc Rudov, who said: “When Barack Obama speaks, men hear: ‘Take off for the future.’ And when Hillary Clinton speaks, men hear, ‘Take out the garbage.’” Glenn Beck said: “She is like the stereotypical bitch, you know what I mean?”

Radio host Rush Limbaugh said: “Will this country want to watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?” But it wasn’t just the rightwing media – serious newspapers gave much attention to her cleavage, clothes and hair.

5. Chile president’s ‘jokes’

What’s the difference between a politician and a "lady", asked Chilean president Sebastián Piñera in 2011.

“When a politician says yes, he means maybe, when he says maybe, he means no, and if he says no, he’s not a politician,” said Piñera. “When a lady says no, she means maybe, when she says maybe, she means yes, and if she says yes, she’s not a lady.”

He was criticised by many, including opposition senator Ximena Rincon, who said “remarks like these are an affront to women and an embarrassment for this country; in terms of gender politics, they set us back some 20 years.”

6. The Sri Lankan beauty queen

Rosy Senanayake is a member of Sri Lanka’s opposition United National party. When asked a question by her in parliament, Kumara Welgama, the transport minister, said he was “choked” by her beauty.

“I am so happy to answer a question by a beauty queen,” he said (She is a former Miss World). “I cannot explain my feelings here. But if you meet me outside Parliament, I will describe them.” Surprsisngly, she was impressed.

7. South Korea’s sexist attacks

South Korea’s Park Geun-hye had to endure many sexist comments in the run-up to the elections last year.

A spokesman for rival presidential candidate Moon Jae-in attacked Park for not having had children, saying she “has no femininity. She has never lived a life agonising over childbirth, childcare, education and grocery prices.”

8. The French MPs’ wolf-whistle

Cecile Duflot, the French housing minister, endured wolf-whistles as she delivered a speech in the national assembly.

Defending the incident, Patrick Balkany, who is close to the former president Nicolas Sarkozy, said he was merely “admiring” Duflot, adding that she had chosen the dress she was wearing (a fairly conservative floral dress, if it matters) “so we wouldn’t listen to what she was saying”.

Another politician said the wolf-whistles had been “in tribute” to her.

“I have worked in the building trade and I have never seen something like that,” Duflot said afterwards.

“This tells you something about some MPs,” the French housing minister added after she endured the whistling,

9. ‘Deliberately barren’ … and we’re back in Oz

The “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail” served at a fundraiser for the Liberal National party is merely the most recent sexist attack on Australia’s first female prime minister, who also had to contend this week with a radio presenter quizzing her about her partner’s sexuality.

The main source of ire towards Gillard appears to come from her decision not to have children. “Anyone who has chosen to remain deliberately barren they’ve got no idea about what life’s about,” said senator Bill Hefferman in 2007.

Then last year, Mark Latham, the former Labor leader, said: “Having children is the great loving experience of any lifetime. And by definition you haven’t got as much love in your life if you make that particular choice. She’s on the public record saying she made a deliberate choice not to have children to further her parliamentary career.”

10. ‘A good wife …’ Austin Mitchell to Louise Mensch

When Louise Mensch resigned her Corby seat, she said the difficulty of maintaining a family life was her reason. Then, in October, in a Sunday Times interview, her husband suggested she had also been worried about losing her seat.

The Labour MP Austin Mitchell took to Twitter: “Shut up Menschkin. A good wife doesn’t disagree with her master in public and a good little girl doesn’t lie about why she quit politics.”

Mitchell was criticised by Mensch – and many Labour party supporters. He later said it was “irony” and meant as a joke.

First Published: Jun 16, 2013 00:42 IST