A Labour frontbencher has alleged overhearing male MPs claiming that women often make up sexual violence allegations in an attempt to make money.
Jess Phillips said she was “stunned” by a Westminster survey this week which found just 38 per cent of male MPs said they had witnessed sexism in parliament, compared with 69 per cent of women – despite numerous politicians being hit by bullying and sexual harrassment allegations in recent years.
In a shocking retort to those colleagues claiming not to have seen such behaviour, amid dire levels of prosecutions for sexual offences, the shadow minister for domestic violence alleged: “I’ve directly heard male MPs saying ‘loads of women make up sexual violence cases for money’.”
Writing for The Independent, Ms Phillips detailed sexist remarks she has personally faced in the past month alone, recalling one MP telling her that women are “just better at caring jobs” and being an MP “might be too tough” for many.
Echoing the grim testimonies given by crossparty colleagues to The Independent this week, the Labour frontbencher illustrated the mysoginistic bind facing female MPs, “regardless of how they act”.
“We can’t be too rowdy, nor should we be too emotional,” Ms Phillips said, describing being told to “shush” by opposition MPs who deemed her too “rowdy” in the Commons, which they would “never in a million years” say to a man.
“Both responses are, in my view, incredibly patronising – women in Westminster are far too often treated like children; when we are, in fact, not only adults, but elected representatives of the people,” Ms Phillips said.
While not unique to Westminster, Ms Phillips said she “very rarely come across this type of sexism in my role as a constituency MP”, and questioned whether this was “because we’re not in a traditional and austere place of power”.
“There does seem to be something about the Commons (and the level of reverence some have for it) that brings out the spirit of the 1950s in some of its inhabitants,” said the Labour MP.
This was evidenced in the Fawcett Society survey this week which found that just four in 10 women MPs believed parliament’s working culture was “inclusive for people like me”, highlighting an “exclusionary” and “toxic” culture at Westminster.
As MPs warned of the resulting impact upon the shortage of women in Westminster, six politicians told The Independent of their experiences of sexual harrasment and misogyny at the heart of British democracy.
Labour’s Dawn Butler said she had endured sexualised comments for wearing fishnet tights, recalling: “I spoke to a more senior female MP. She told me to ignore it saying, ‘it’s all banter’. She told equivalent stories women MPs have been through. There were lots of stories of MPs looking up their skirt.”
The Conservative chair of the women’s equality committee, Caroline Nokes, said she had been touched inappropriately and that a minister told her she had only been appointed because she has “t**s”.
“The thing that shocked me is, if they are saying that to your face, God knows what are they saying behind your back,” said Ms Nokes.