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MURRAY CHALMERS: We’ve had enough of straight white men putting women in their place

The Scottish Greens'  Lorna Slater, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Labour's Angela Rayner have all been on the receiving end of barbs from straight white men desperate to cling on to power.
The Scottish Greens' Lorna Slater, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Labour's Angela Rayner have all been on the receiving end of barbs from straight white men desperate to cling on to power.

My first active engagement with feminism came in 1971 when I discovered a copy of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch hidden in a brown paper bag in our corner cupboard.

This seminal, explosive tome rubbed furtive spines with a self-help book published by Alcoholics Anonymous.

I have no idea who bought each volume – or whether they were to help mum deal with my dad’s alcoholism, or dad get to grips with the principles of feminism.

It’s possible this hidden library was shared – just not willingly with the 12 year old me.

Naturally, as soon as my parents went out for the night I’d uncover their forbidden fruit, devouring as much as my adolescent mind could take before it felt well and truly blown.

Understanding the basic principles of feminism proved a reasonable bedrock for my early life, especially when combined with platform shoes, Oxford bags and a Bowie feather cut.

My later career would be in music and I remember a 1978 front cover of the magazine Sounds proclaiming “The Future Is Female”.

It might smack of tokenism now but it brought punk’s equal opportunities into the light.

And about time too.

A time for women to push boundaries

For much of the 1970s feminism was a dirty word.

What hope was there for women in a patriarchal society that only allowed them the right to vote in 1928?

Punk inspired a new, angrier generation, already evolved from Greer’s ground-breaking polemic.

It was led by women whose rubber bras were not for burning – unless it was on a pyre of sexism, bigotry, misogyny, racism and homophobia.

Siouxsie Sioux, centre, frontwoman of the Banshees and no shrinking violet.

Even the names of these warrior women seemed to celebrate a new age of equality in sexual politics. The Slits, Penetration and Siouxsie Sioux were never going to be subservient puppets.

Not for nothing did Yoko Ono call an album Yes, I’m A Witch.

But while Ozzy Osbourne bit the head off bats and Gary Glitter and Jimmy Savile were sold as bastions of family entertainment, women were still kept in place by a media complicit in a hierarchical, class-driven society, intent on keeping the status quo.

A decade later Madonna would push boundaries so far she was banned by the Vatican.

Sinead O’Connor’s commercial career tanked when she ripped up a photo of the Pope on US TV in 1992.

By then Frank Sinatra had already said he would “kick her in the ass” because she refused to perform if the American National Anthem was played before she went onstage.

Really, you have to ask yourself – what is it about men?

Unfair attacks are a symbol of how far we have to go

If recent events have taught us anything it’s that, for all the women challenging the norms, straight white men still rule our world and they will hang on to this power with every fibre of their being.

It’s called conservatism, and it isn’t always confined to the Tories.

Rather it’s a way of thinking that is regressive, reactionary and responsible for many of the injustices we see around us.

This is a boys’ club where dog eats dog – but with special relish if he can call it a bitch

Now, more than 50 years after Greer’s incendiary brick of a book was lobbed into a patriarchal society, I wonder how far we’ve actually come?

In recent days we’ve seen Lorna Slater from the Green Party castigated by media and rival Scottish politicians for being “a diva” – all because she didn’t want to work 14 days without a day off.

And she expected to eat.

Grown men hoping to score political points because a woman wants time to eat. Just think about that.

Scottish Greens
Scottish Green co-leader Lorna Slater was criticised for “diva”-like behaviour for asking aides to arrange two days off during the 14 days of COP26.

Unfortunately this kind of demonisation is all too common.

At a time when we should be encouraging more young women to become politicians they are being sent not-so-subtle reminders that this is a boys’ club where dog eats dog – but with special relish if he can call it a bitch.

What if the future was female?

Increasingly though, it’s female politicians that I look to for strength and sanity in this crazy world.

It’s been hugely gratifying to see Angela Rayner square up to Boris Johnson.

The deputy Labour leader is an impressive defender of decency and truth.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner. Many say she’s tougher on Boris Johnson than her party leader Sir Keir Starmer. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Yet this strong, brilliant woman was criticised because she made a few grammatical errors in her attacks.

Is this what we’ve come to?

A working- class woman is pilloried because she didn’t go to Eton and occasionally gets her tenses wrong?

Is it really progressive to ridicule Nicola Sturgeon as Elsie McSelfie because she engaged with other world leaders at COP26 and had some pictures taken?

And in the wider arena, is it really wise of Prince Andrew to victim blame Virginia Giuffre and claim she suffers from “false memories”?

These people know what they’re doing.

 

They think that as long as they make enough noise we won’t hear the world falling apart.

We have to prove them wrong.

It’s 52 years since The Female Eunuch attempted to sweep away the patriarchy.

There’s still work to do.

But it’s still my hope and belief that the future can be female.

In fact, while we’re at it, why not make it multi- racial, multicultural, gay, trans, old, young, disabled and equal?

As mixed and as wide as the world we live in and a sight better run too.


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