Anne Hailes: Misogyny and what women can do about it

Misogyny has been blamed for the story suggesting that Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner was distracting Boris Johnson with her legs. Picture by UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor.

Recently the 'in' expression was 'Oh my god', hand over mouth in disbelief, eyes wide, squealing 'OMG'. Then 'amazing' came into fashion - everything was amazing. Now the word is 'misogyny', thanks to Angela Rayner's legs. What does it mean?

Misogyny is a hatred or contempt for or prejudice against women. It is a form of sexism that keeps women at a lower social status than men. So, nothing new.

Apparently 92 per cent of us women have been sexually harassed in our lifetime - banter, insult, touching, the dreadful cases of domestic violence, rape and murder.

The majority of men are gentlemen and I'd point out that they too can suffer from sexual harassment.

An engineer told me of his misfortune of attending a piece of factory machinery and the women's initiation for the new young visitor: it was the most awful experience of his life.

But misogyny deals with women and it's the little things that can lead to extremes. It came to the fore when someone reckoned Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner was distracting Boris Johnson by crossing and uncrossing her legs. Did the dispatch box not block his view?

When I started work at 17 all office desks had a modesty board on the front to stop men seeing our legs.

Then we had the news that a Tory MP has been watching pornography on his phone in the House of Commons whilst sitting beside a woman minister.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace has a glib response to this: "I've seen things over decades that no longer shock me. The problem is the overall culture in the House of Commons, long hours, bars and people sometimes under pressure and that can create a toxic mix that can lead to all sorts of things." So that's all right then...


Modesty doesn't seem to apply any more. Take the case in 2020 of Tracy Brabin, a Labour MP at the time.

She was called all sorts of dreadful names for wearing an off-the-shoulder dress during a Commons debate. Some women commentators were outraged at the vile comments but asked, would you go to a job interview dressed in a way more suited to a night club? Brabin's reply: "People should listen to what women say not what we wear."

A female journalist replied: "Much easier to hear what women are saying if their clothes don't speak louder than their words."

Current news stories have opened up a door to the sleaze in Parliament, and there may be many sitting on eggs, just waiting to be exposed.

I worked in Parliamentary circles a few years ago and a prominent London MP started chatting me up - no problem, he was so pompous it was easy to send him up. Then he homed in, up close and personal, and delivered the killer line: "My dear, you must come and have dinner with me."

Well you've got to laugh, and I did. He was highly offended that I was passing up such an 'amazing' invitation.

I've been asking around for first experiences of sexual harassment - too many to quote.

I began with me and the vegetable man who called for his regular order. Mummy was out, I was on my own and he must have known, so he put his hand up this 12-year-old's jumper before I slammed the door on his face.

I told my Mum and he was never seen in the neighbourhood again. That was the beginning of many experiences.


What of the entertainer who, when fans approached him for an autograph, would ask them to kiss him on the cheek and as they were about to make contact he spun his head round and kissed them full on the lips? Not funny.

Jo worked in an office with an elderly gentleman. She couldn't believe it when he bent over her shoulder to see what she was typing and began kissing her neck. She jumped up and confronted him, and it never happened again.

She was old enough to have that confidence but in many cases when a junior is harassed she is scared to protest, especially if she likes her job and needs the security.

What to do in that case? I think, as is done in some schools, there should be a woman mentor, a respected friend or colleague to go to and share concerns.

Power and control in the wrong hands can be extremely disturbing and if not checked can lead to serious consequences.

Joan was at a company dinner sitting beside the big boss who kept dropping his napkin on the floor then, when reaching down for it, he drew his hand up her leg as he replaced it on his knee.

Another young woman was horrified when a colleague, through her clothing, circled her nipple with his finger, so horrified that she slapped his face, he laughed. She never spoke to him again but did he get the message?

Perhaps she should have reported him or at least told someone she could trust what happened. She told me she didn't want to make waves.

If you're getting a lift somewhere unless you know them well, make sure you tell someone where you are going, who your are with and keep your phone charged - don't be afraid to reject invitations.

I'm only highlighting some of the typical 'boy's own' behaviour but if these aren't checked in the early stages, that man or boy could gain power and control and misogyny could lead to torture, rape and murder; memories of all unwanted sexual experiences last a lifetime.


The Rowan is a sexual assault referral centre based on the Antrim Hospital site. It is there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for children, young people, women and men.

If you have been sexually assaulted you can report this to the police who can arrange for you to visit The Rowan but you can also make a self-referral (without police involvement). Freephone 0800 389 4424 and the website is

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