Yes, I know Osama Bin Laden was killed today or yesterday or overnight but I have a feeling that’s been done to death (pun intended) at this stage. Frankly, I’m trying to avoid seeing any more menacing crowds full of people who seem to be delighting in the bloodlust. It’s stomach-churning.
And I want to write about something else anyway.
Many of my betters have commented on calmdowndeargate before me (and have done so better than I could hope to) so I won’t labour over it again in much detail. For those of you who have been in hiding, or who have genuinely not read about or watched anything but the royal nonsense for a week, you may not know that our delightful PM, David (“Call me Dave”) Cameron, last week instructed a member of the opposition in the Commons to, “calm down, dear” during Prime Minister’s Questions. It will not come as any surprise to you that said member is a woman.
Cath Elliott wrote a wonderful piece in Comment in Free which lambasted Dave for his sexist remark. In the piece, she discusses Cameron’s categorical denial that he’s a sexist pig by rightly arguing that if he were not, such a remark would not have just rolled off his tongue. Sexism (just like racism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, etc. etc.) does not just “slip out” if you’ve never considered it before. Dave has all the trappings of a would-be-sexist, of course: old Etonian and member of the Bullingdon Club in Oxford (I went to Oxford; I’ve had some of the misogyny from those charmers first-hand), so the evidence is already stacked against him. Add into the mix his brutal budget cuts, most of which impinge on women most severely, and his virtually all-male cabinet, and there’s little point in him denying his sexism further. That, Dave, is a cert.
But why the vehemence of the reaction, you ask. Well, it’s because we’re fucking sick of it. Women have been told to “calm down” since time began, normally when they’re trying to make a point, argue a perspective, or offer an opinion. To do so, and to do so passionately, is hysteria, you see. Women shouldn’t have discussions because they get too damn emotional and invariably need to, yes, calm down. From Cath Elliott again:
Whatever his excuse turns out to be though, any woman who watched [Wednesday’s] exchange will be able to attest that “Calm down, dear” is neither humorous nor edgy; it is instead a classic sexist put-down, designed to shut women up and put them back “in their place”. “Calm down, dear” is what women hear when we’re allegedly being “hysterical” or “overemotional”. It’s that tired old gender stereotyping, the sort that implies that if we can’t even keep our emotions in check, then we obviously aren’t cut out for the more serious male world of politics and debate.
I have a colleague – a classic misogynist who thinks he’s a feminist because he “likes” women and supports them in their little endeavours – who tells his female colleagues to calm down all the time. He doesn’t realise (or doesn’t care) how utterly offensive and silencing those two little words are. I’ve told him, but it doesn’t need to matter to him. He and Dave are never told to calm down because they’re educated, privileged, white men who are allowed to have opinions and to express them in whatever way they please. Their faults, whatever they are, could never be called “uncalm”.
Women, on the other hand, have to checked, reprimanded, and reminded of their place all the time. That’s the first rule of the patriarchy. Let’s face it, they’d be better off not speaking in the first place if they can’t avoid being hysterical, amirite? ‘Course I am. And wouldn’t that be a happy day for you, Dave?