Westminster is “without question” a sexist environment, but despite being “largely built for men by men” it is getting better, a Labour frontbencher has said.
Jess Phillips spoke out about how female MPs receive more abuse than their male colleagues, which can be sexualised or graphically violent, in an interview marking International Women’s Day.
She told the PA news agency that “without question Westminster is a sexist environment” – and said she has been “shushed” in debates by male MPs and received “sideways slurs” about being passionate about issues.
“People have been directly sexist to me, but people are terrified of being directly sexist to me so a lot of people try and avoid me because they know that I will say ‘that’s really sexist what you’ve just said’.
“So I definitely don’t suffer it in the way that others maybe do who are less likely to call someone a knob for doing it.”
She said she encourages female colleagues to make being an MP “what it is for you”, and reminds them that “for every single time you’ve missed your child’s birthday, there is a man who didn’t turn up to vote because he was at a cricket match”.
She added: “It is still an environment largely built for men by men, but it is getting better, and it is getting much more heart.”
The shadow domestic violence minister said that she continues to receive death threats, with several cases in court at the moment – an experience more common for female MPs.
She said: “It’s not par of the course for my male colleagues, and it is never sexualised – it never turns to sexual violence in their cases, as best I know – and it is rarely as graphically violent.
“But it is racist and it is offensive, and they do get death threats… but never at the same level I don’t think.”
She also spoke about how women suffer more “lower level” abuse, such as being constantly “picked up” on things and receiving comments about their appearance.
She said: “All of that on the next layer down – it’s all of it together that makes it really, really tiring and that’s why it is worse for women because we get more volume at every level.”
Ms Phillips also condemned the criticism of and negative briefing against the Prime Minister’s fiancee Carrie Symonds as “sexist” and “ageist”.
She said there had been briefing by “men who don’t like Carrie Symonds because they don’t have the influence they want to have”.
She added: “I have literally seen no evidence in my day-to-day life that Carrie Symonds (has too much influence). In some regards, maybe I’d like her to have more – she’s quite a feminist.”
Ms Phillips questioned what evidence there is that Ms Symonds has more influence than any partner of a previous prime minister.
She said: “It is sexist and it is ageist. It is because she’s a young woman and she’s attractive, and therefore she must be stupid or evil. She might be both – I don’t know, I’ve got no evidence.
“She could be evil and stupid but it makes no difference to me. Her partner is the elected representative of the people and I will hold him to account. I don’t need a sideshow, I’ve got him and he’s sideshow enough all by himself.”