Hearing deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner tell ITV’s Lorraine Kelly that she’s wearing trousers to avoid judgement, days after she was accused of “distracting” the prime minister with her legs, is yet another reminder of the pervasive workplace sexism women must contend with while simply trying to do their job.
The PM has been at pains to clarify that such accusations, reported by the Mail on Sunday’s political editor Glen Owen, were “not in his name” but it is surely a welcome shift in the spotlight, away from the scandals surrounding his own behaviour and on to Rayner’s, now sexualised, physical appearance.
Beneath the surface, this is a calculated smear against Johnson’s strongest female opponent. It’s humiliating and indicative of a culture in Westminster in which three Cabinet ministers and two shadow ministers have been accused of sexual misconduct.
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Rayner said she begged the Mail on Sunday not to run the article and has since been forced to spend time defending herself against the “categorically untrue” accusations instead of doing her job holding the government to account.
The scandal has brought up memories of when, as an eager-to-please 23-year-old early in my career, I was pulled into a meeting room by a senior female colleague. Couched in flattery – “aren’t you lucky to be young and slim? I wish I was!” – I was told that my dress was too short, too tight, and was distracting the CEO from his work.
It was unclear whether this had been raised as an issue by the man himself, or whether my older, ‘wiser’ colleague had stepped in as a preventative measure. But she made it crystal clear that my physical appearance – in its current form – was preventing the CEO from getting on with his very important work.