Owen Smith’s comments aren’t ‘just political banter’ – they’re sexist

It’s all classic as long as the lads are having a laugh eh?


Earlier this year, the Labour leadership candidate, Owen Smith, tweeted: “They’ve got the perfect present for @NicolaSturgeon too”, with a picture of the ‘world’s biggest gobstopper’ attached.

In July, Smith was forced to apologise for saying that he wanted to “smash her [Theresa May] back on her heels”. And at an earlier stage of his career, when referring to the Con-Lib Dem coalition, he likened the political arrangement to domestic violence in a household. “Surely”, Mr Smith said, “the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

On Monday night, Smith was once again called out for his sexism at a Labour women’s hustings in Westminster. Instead of apologising outright for accusations of sexism, Smith responded by saying: “I just think it was a bit of political banter”.

Ed Balls appearing on Strictly is “political banter”. A potential candidate for the Labour leadership and, in turn, for Prime Minister, propagating the use of harmful sexist language in both his workplace and the public domain is by no means banter.

By telling Sturgeon to shut up, Theresa May to get back in her place and light-heartedly toying with the idea of domestic violence, Owen Smith is showing himself to be a pretty unlikeable bloke who is out of tune with gender equality issues. But by implying that his words are nothing more than banter he is, worse than the aforementioned, propagating a culture of LadBible politics whereby women have to put up with degrading language and archaic expectations.

So-called jokes which demean and humiliate women in positions of power are simply unacceptable. They can affect the confidence and self-worth of extremely talented and high-powered women but also propagate and uphold outdated gender norms about what women should be and should do.

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This type of sexism, prescriptive sexism, sets about how women “should” behave. Any deviation from gendered norms in the workplace can lead to mockery or, in this case, supposed ‘banter’. The male leader of a country would never be told to close his gob but Owen Smith’s banter has the subtext that women should be seen and not heard.

Smith has said “to extrapolate from that that I am a sexist is untrue”. The reality of the situation, however, is that undermining how damaging what he has said can be, he is being sexist and is displaying himself to be a terrible example of how to empower women,not demean them.

As a man, I apologise on behalf of Owen Smith. And as a man, I can only say that if I do ever make a sexist gaffe or something I say is misconstrued and taken out of context, I will apologise wholeheartedly and not simply brush it off and conceal it with the lazy pretence of ‘banter’.