You can tell it’s slow-news season.
Labour front-bencher Chris Williamson retweeted the SKWAWKBOX’s article on Corbyn’s prescience, in 2015, in saying the idea of women-only carriages on trains was worth exploring, because sexual assaults on women on trains have more than doubled since. It was only a short article and not one we expected to go viral.
That’s all it was by Chris – a retweet, with not even a comment added.
PoliticsHome clearly saw an opportunity to fill some space and contacted Chris for a comment, which they turned into an article:
To be accurate, Chris didn’t ‘suggest’ it. He retweeted an article and it looks like he was asked for further comment. But – it being slow-news season – the Huffington Post ran with it, too. Then so did the BBC, with probably the most balanced headline:
Of course, Chris being a staunch and vocal supporter of Corbyn and a front-bencher the media is interested in hearing from, a few ‘usual suspects’ on the Labour right couldn’t resist the chance of a bit of outrage and a little rare media attention. The problem is, suggesting an idea is worth looking at doesn’t generate much outrage – so a ‘straw man‘ was needed.
Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy was quick to construct one:
The straw man, of course, is ‘restricting where we can go’ – nobody has suggested restricting where women can go. A women-only carriage is a carriage women can choose to get on and men can’t – if women want to sit somewhere else, they’re entirely free to do so. But Ms Creasy had chosen her theme and she hammered it home in a number of tweets.
The straw man was too good an opportunity to waste for those interested in a bit of front-bencher/proxy Corbyn-bashing. Jess Phillips was next, with her own added twist:
Jess’ ‘hot take’ was more like a ‘crap take’, since nobody suggested giving up on prosecuting assaults and there is no logical connection between women-only carriages and giving a free pass to men who assault women.
One or two other fellow Labour back-benchers joined in with brave comments like ‘Well said’, but the response wasn’t limited to ‘centrist’ Labour MPs. Catherine Mayer of the Women’s Equality Party jumped in to score a cheap political point:
Of course, Corbyn never ‘suggested’ it, but said it was worth examining when he was asked about it specifically.
Others joined in with the ‘restriction’ straw-man – and worse:
Others even compared the women-only carriage idea to apartheid, segregation and a curfew – missing, or more likely ignoring, the fact that none of those things was about giving people a choice in what they do.
A quick online search for “women-only gym” will reveal an abundance of places offering women the choice to exercise in a place separate from men if they want to. There are more gyms where you’ll find men and women exercising happily alongside each other, but most people seem comfortable with the idea that it’s good, or at least ok, for women to have the option.
Then again, a pro-Corbyn MP hasn’t spoken out about women-only gyms – if one did, the ‘outrage’ might build rapidly.
It’s just possible that Chris Williamson’s ‘crime’ wasn’t really in daring to suggest that women-only carriages might be an idea worth examining. His real ‘crimes’, in the eyes of right-wing Labour MPs are more likely to be twofold:
- being a vocally pro-Corbyn front-bencher
- retweeting a SKWAWKBOX article – we know they’re not keen on MPs interacting with this blog, with the likes of Barry Gardiner receiving furious abuse from so-called ‘moderates’ for speaking to us
Add those to the slow-news season and the opportunity to self-promote and the ‘furore’ over women-only carriages isn’t too hard to understand.
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