Sexism is not merely foolish behaviour

By Seema Chandwani | Twitter @SeemaChandwani

The debate on whether what Danczuk has been accused of (accurately or otherwise) is worthy of suspension [and investigation] is a worrying one for a party that proclaims to be progressive. There appears to be, in some quarters, no real understanding of what the concern is.

Two examples of this can be found firstly in Danczuk’s apology where he states “there is no fool like an old fool”. And later in the John Stapleton LBC interview with Ken Livingstone, where John talks about Danczuk “being a much older man who has just fallen for a ‘nice pair of ankles’” (whatever that means?) he then went on to ask Livingstone “is it really justifiable to suspend him from the Labour party, we’ve all done daft things”.

What we see demonstrated is a traditional pillar of sexism that believes men have uncontrollable sexual desires which women are responsible for unleashing through the way they behave, dress and provoke. There is an undertone that as an older man he was seduced and manipulated by a younger woman (and her ankles!) making him the victim of her behaviour. Danczuk’s ‘old fool’ remark a code to other men who have either previously fallen or know the struggles of resistance to women who entrap them. He is sorry to be fooled by her. His actions would somehow be understood as a natural flaw in how men were created that should gain him empathy.

As typical in these situations, the reputation of the woman must be called into question, her deep cleavage pictures published similar to how we have seen victims of police shootings posing with gangster signs. The painting of character psychologically justifying the act as deserving and self-inflicted.

Over the past few days we have had a plethora of men inform us that it is a ‘private/personal matter’ of two consenting adults. An insinuation that those angered by Danczuk’s alleged behaviour is based purely on our prudish attitudes and shock that people even have sex or sexual engagement. That we should understand the normality of the situation and our irrational reaction to it is based on our inability to accept babies are not actually delivered by storks (and whilst we’re having this patronising conversation, Santa isn’t real either!).

We have also had those that inform us that he has not ‘committed a criminal act” – like we can only be polarised by the definition of right and wrong solely by whether it is criminally legal or illegal. Yet, many of the same people were outraged 24 hours earlier by Letwin’s moral standing on race (which I totally agree with) even though not criminally illegal.

Only male privilege and deep rooted patriarchy can rely on these conclusions and ignore that this young woman made contact with Danczuk for employment. Their interactions appear to continue with that initial objective still being part of the engagement. The dismissal of the primary accusation that this woman was subjected to an additional layer of assessment based on sex as part of a recruitment process to obtain employment with Danczuk demonstrates how far women still have to go to obtain equality.

Institutional sexism is still rife in many professions/industries and this current accusation is a typical example of it in practice. No woman should have to, or feel they have to, engage in sexual dialogue to obtain employment.

Unless we are saying that this is standard recruitment practice for all (regardless of age, gender, sexuality) those wanting to work for an MP, it is clearly obvious that there is currently grounds for the Party to investigate and the NEC were absolutely right to suspend Danczuk [and allow him to defend himself] for what he has been accused of.

Sexism is not merely foolish behaviour, it is one of the key diseases of inequality in our society and I for one am proud our party has taken it seriously.