Fury in Britain after Prime Minister David Cameron, responding to a question from Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Anne Eagle, told his interlocutor—who is a woman—to “calm down, dear.” (This is apparently a line from a popular Knifecrime Island commercial starring the guy who directed Death Wish.) The Guardian‘s Cath Elliot is not amused.
“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.
No doubt we’ll hear over the next few days how Cameron doesn’t really think like that at all. We’ll probably be fed stories about how both his mother and his wife have had an enormous influence on his life, and about how he truly believes that women are just as capable as men at doing all kinds of things, including holding down high-powered jobs and representing their constituents’ best interests in the Commons. But the cat’s out of the bag; it leapt out the moment the prime minister of this country decided that channelling Michael Winner, or that “sexist bore” as he’s more commonly known, would be a good move to make in the mother of parliaments.
The New Statesman sees it as part of a larger pattern:
Winnergate (the near-universal media term for David Cameron’s “Calm down, dear!” to Angela Eagle during PMQs) is unfortunately not a lone incidence of patronising sexism on the part of the Prime Minister. When I interviewed her recently, Yvette Cooper remembered Cameron’s pointed taunts about her decision not to stand for the Labour leadership – he assumed her husband, Ed Balls, had prevented her from doing so. According to Cooper, it points to a “blind spot” the government has on women.
Even the conservative (that word could also be capitalized) Spectator recognizes that the remark was, at best, impolitic:
There is already a rather over-blown debate going on about whether the remark was sexist or not. But whether or not it was, it was certainly ill-judged. It was a tad too patronising and directing it at one of the more junior members of the shadow made it seem bullying.
Still, there are those who find the whole thing remarkably inoffensive. Take, for instance, Michael Winner, who originated the phrase in the above-referenced advertisement:
But speaking from the south of France Mr Winner, a film director, writer and producer, told the Daily Telegraph: “It’s ridiculous that people should talk about this seriously. It’s a comedy phrase that I wrote about ten years ago.
“What planet is [Labour MP] Harriet Harman on if she thinks this is demeaning women and defiling the nation?”
He called on Labour to “get a sense of humour” adding: “There’s a enough gloom in the world.”
There you have it, British ladies. Cheer up, it’s just a joke! No need to get out the knives.