Allison Morris: Sexism rife in politics but misogyny should not be used as deflection

First minister Arlene Foster says she was intimidated by Jonathan Bell during a disputed conversation.

ARLENE Foster is a women who prides herself on strength of character and almost never plays the 'woman' card.

It's however, a sad reality that almost all successful women in business or politics have to surrender a degree of their femininity in order to rise through the ranks.

After all any sign of weakness will be seized upon and exploited, the first hint of emotion and risk being labelled 'hysterical' and overlooked for promotion in favour of a male colleague.

Have children you're accused of not being up to the job, don't have children and risk being labelled ruthless and power hungry.

Arlene Foster did not get to lead the male dominated Free Presbyterian party of Dr Paisley and become Northern Ireland's First Minister by being a walk over.

It's hard to imagine any man being brave enough to tell her to 'stick the kettle' on.

So her astonishing claims to the BBC's Stephen Nolan that she felt bullied by former minister and RHI fall guy Jonathan Bell raised a few eyebrows.

Misogyny is rife in politics and women who are subject to either casual or overt sexism are more likely to remain silent rather than risk damaging their career by being seen as a 'troublemaker'.

And so to dismiss the First Minister's claim that she felt intimidated by Bell's behaviour during a much disputed confrontation is to assume that being a strong woman immediately means you can't be bullied, and that's simply not true.

I like to think I'm pretty tough, but there are times I've felt intimidated by men while trying to do my job and it's a deeply unpleasant experience.

Having been comfortably returned after the last election as First Minister, Arlene Foster did not return Mr Bell as a minister, something his pal Peter Robinson had gifted him with since 2011.

This could have been read as a sign that all was not well between them. They met as university students and went into the Ulster Unionist Party together before both defecting to the DUP.

If this was a result of his alleged bullying will no doubt now be much debated, but it does raise serious questions for Mrs Foster.

If, and it's a big if, Mr Bell was intimidating his female party colleagues then why was he not reprimanded earlier?

The DUP has a duty of care to protect all it's staff from bullying and sexism and not wait to only address the issue when there's a £400m scandal to deflect from.

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