Sexism, Slurs, and Slanders: Women in Politics

In the light of upcoming general election spree, this article delves into the ugly side of ‘politainment’ that targets women politicians and belittles them through name-calling and slandering. With a plethora of examples from national and international politics, the topic analyses how sexism rests in the womb of politics worldwide and tries women at every step with filthy slurs, especially when they are strong leaders and thinkers. 

It was during the 18th century when the English literary circle of learned and intellectual women, frequently hosted by Elizabeth Montague, called ‘the Blue Stockings’, was described by Thomas de Quincy as a “female minority of mannish women.” These women were looked down upon for having interests in literature and politics, evidently dominated by men, meant for men alone. Their blasphemous sin was to have opinions and a stature for influence as elites. They were “othered” as a “treasonous, dissenter-led, vulgar mob” who didn’t behave as women were expected to. But today, in the 21st century, we assert our progress through the visuals of women actively participating in the intellectual spheres and otherwise. We flaunt the faces of women politicians on cover pages to brag our faith in gender equality. Pausing at this façade, what about those dirty remarks to character assassinate and belittle the women politicians? Demonizing, mocking, and slandering them proves that male politicians take pride in perpetuating stereotypes. Sexism and sexual slurs are kindled in everyday politics, unapologetically.

Be it BJP MP Mahesh Sharma’s “pappu ki pappi” remark against Priyanka Gandhi, or calling Brigitte Macron a transgender, or calling ex-PM of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern “Aunty Cindy”, disparaging women politicians is not a newborn sexist habit. Male parliamentarians often use foul language to impose silence on women politicians, even when the latter are senior officials and ministry-holders. In an interview, Union Minister Smriti Irani asserted, “The problem is that when a woman is attacked, she gets attacked for her character, but never for her policymaking,” There were vulgar rumors of a tunnel running between her and a senior leader’s home, as written by journalist Nidhi Sharma in her recently published book ‘She, The Leader: Women in Indian Politics’. To the embarrassment of the world that haughtily displays faith in gender inclusivity and importance of women’s political participation, the idea is merely sold to win back votes.

The ludicrous industry of “politainment”, media collectively dealing with politics and entertainment, is always on a spur with a keen interest in reading and watching the mockery of women in politics. From memes establishing romantic relations between senior women leaders with male leaders to dubbed videos infantilizing their ideas and concerns, everything of that sort proves that most of the people do not take women politicians seriously. During her tenure, Jacinda Ardern was often reduced to being a little girl in local and international articles. She, like many other female politicians, has been projected as sentimental and weak, unsuitable to lead. Despite her strong leadership during COVID-19 and Christchurch terror attack, she was pulled down and forced to resign amid tremendous criticism owing to cost of living issues. It is evident that women have to bear the burden of unrealistic expectations, especially in the arena of politics.

Michelle Obama, in her memoir ‘Becoming’, tries to reason through the label of “angry Black woman” over her public image. She writes, I’ve wanted to ask my detractors which part of that phrase matters to them the most—is it “angry” or “black” or “woman”? Her strong commentary reflects upon the fact that no matter how high women are placed in hierarchy, prejudices in every strip of the spectrum remain to haunt them. Obama is looked upon as a strong influential feminist icon but one can never ignore how much she has tolerated when it comes to ruthless sexist jokes and pejoratives. Far-right conspiracy theorist and owner of website Infowars ridiculed Michelle Obama by using his disrespectful confidence to abruptly conclude that she has a penis. This is one among infinite examples to show how women are objectified as tiny beings meant to be laughed at.

A few years ago, senior Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan was booked for using the following derogatory remarks against BJP Jaya Prada: “I brought her [Jaya Prada] to Rampur. You are a witness that I did not allow anyone to touch her body. It took you 17 years to identify her real face but I got to know in 17 days that she wears khaki underwear.”

Can we really believe that such are the words of a politician of a significant political party of our country? Is it sane at all to use such a reference to debate over a political matter? BJP’s Vice-President in Uttar Pradesh Dayashankar Singh once called Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati as, “worse than a prostitute”: “Even a prostitute fulfils her commitment after she is paid. But Mayawati sells party tickets to anyone who paid her the highest amount.”

As one reads these offensive instances, it feels severely unpleasant to believe that these obnoxious remarks have been uttered by male parliamentarians, eager to take the responsibility of an entire nation, who may think that all it takes to criticize a woman politician’s ideas or policies is a foul mouth targeting their characters. There are several ruthless ways by which women politicians are attacked such as by demonizing them, calling them with childish and filthy names, portraying them as a crazy and hysterical good-for-nothing figure.

In one such case, Brazil’s former President Dilma Rousseff was shown in a denigerating sexual position on car stickers, followed by which UN Women Brazil condemned this act as a form of sexual violence. There are no limits to belittling women politicians in public so that the opinion formed is very much in the favor of the slanderers. This was even evident in a study conducted by Amnesty International during the 2019 General Elections in India. The analyses found that 13.8% of the tweets that mentioned 95 women politicians in the study were either “problematic” or “abusive.”

Credits: Instagram
Credits: Instagram

Sexism is the enemy of feminism. Even in disguise, sexism shows a community filled with prejudices against women and girls. In politics, it is wide open and always ready to eat away the strengths of women who try bringing reforms by representing the ones who are shut and wronged. But what’s worse? These women leaders face the ugliness of those who don’t take them seriously, mock them, use sexual violence to silence them, yell nasty things to make up the minds of people until they firmly believe that women are pathetic, emotional, vulnerable, and indecisive when it comes to the clumsy world of politics. In fact, it is a structured way of perpetuating prejudicial mindset towards what Beauvoir aptly identified to be treated as “The Second Sex.”

Hardika Sachdeva is a student pursuing Masters in Human Rights from Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Ambrisha Zubeen

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Written by Hardika Sachdeva

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