Ed West Ed West

Real feminists stand up for women

As Edmund Burke wrote: ‘Manners are of more importance than laws. Upon them, in a great measure, the laws depend.’

Testify, brother – and if our lawmakers have no manners, then we are really up a creek. As Spectator columnist James Forsyth noticed yesterday: ‘Quite remarkable that no MP has offered Jo Swinson, who is seven months pregnant, a seat. Really shocking manners and decency.’

Swinson didn’t help matters when, according to the Mail, she said it would have been ‘quite sexist’ to suggest she was not capable of standing. I wonder how damaging that sort of attitude is to feminism in general? One of the persistent grumbles I hear about feminism is that it makes women react negatively to acts of chivalry, although I’ve never experienced this. But then again when I’m on public transport I’m too busy ostentatiously reading the Guardian while being rude to ethnic minorities to notice.

Feminism, when you think about it, should have two strands, one the battle for legal equality and the other for manners ie making men behave better, from stigmatising violence against women to doing their fair share of the housework. Sometimes the latter can be mistaken for condescension, but much of life is balancing two conflicting good things, and legal equality has pretty serious diminishing returns.

But then again, Swinson is an equality minister. Because human beings are basically frogs in a pot who tend to accept their surroundings, however absurd, as a mental exercise I sometimes try to see things as someone in another time or culture might, and realise just how odd it is we have equality ministers. If someone had gone into a coma in 1985 and been told upon release that the Cold War was over, he might be confused about who won judging by the titles our political masters give themselves.

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