LONDON (AP) — Women from across British politics called Monday for action to tackle misogyny after a newspaper ran a story accusing the deputy opposition leader of trying to “distract” the prime minister during debates by crossing and uncrossing her legs.
The Mail on Sunday quoted an anonymous Conservative lawmaker as saying Labour Party Deputy Leader Angela Rayner tried to throw Prime Minister Boris Johnson “off his stride” as she sat across from him in the House of Commons. The article likened it to a scene in the 1992 thriller “Basic Instinct” in which Sharon Stone is interrogated by police.
Rayner accused “Boris Johnson’s cheerleaders” of using “desperate, perverted smears."
“I stand accused of a ‘ploy’ to “distract” the helpless PM - by being a woman, having legs and wearing clothes,” she wrote on Twitter.
“Women in politics face sexism and misogyny every day — and I’m no different.”
Rayner, who comes from a working-class family in northern England and left school when she was 16, makes a sharp contrast to Johnson, who was educated at the elite private school Eton and Oxford University. Johnson has sometimes struggled to parry her attacks during debates.
The prime minister condemned the article, writing on Twitter: “As much as I disagree with Angela Rayner on almost every political issue I respect her as a parliamentarian and deplore the misogyny directed at her anonymously today.”
Technology Minister Chris Philp said "nobody should have to suffer the kind of misogynistic abuse that sentiment amounts to.” He told Sky News that the anonymous lawmaker in the article would be disciplined if identified.
More than a century after the first female lawmaker was elected to Britain’s Parliament, women make up 34% of the 650 legislators in the House of Commons. Long known for its boozy, macho atmosphere, Parliament is now a more diverse place.
Some say change has not gone far enough. Many female politicians said the article was an extreme example of the sexism they encounter daily.
“I hope that some good can come out of this awful article in The Mail on Sunday, and that is that people see what it is like in Parliament and people call out this misogyny and sexism for what it is and that we get some change because Angela and no other MP should have to put up with this sort of rubbish,” said Labour legislator Rachel Reeves.
Senior Conservatives also condemned the remarks. Health Secretary Sajid Javid tweeted: “No woman in politics should have to put up with this.”
Conservative lawmaker Caroline Nokes, who heads Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, said she had asked the Speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, to censure Glen Owen, the journalist who wrote the article.
Jill Lawless, The Associated Press