Foster’s ‘blonde’ comment: only one piece of a bigger picture of sexism within DUP?

Finn Purdy is an A level politics student in Belfast with a particular interest in local issues

Instances of sexist remarks by DUP politicians are too frequent to be put down to an occasional badly worded comment, especially when you consider the team that each of these politicians have around them to carefully control the messages they put out.

It is the job of a politician to say what they mean and there can be little room for ambiguity when it comes to an issue as important as a basic respect for women.

Foster’s choice of words to describe Michelle O’Neil as “very attractive” and someone who “presents herself very well” may have been a direct attempt to undermine her credibility. Even the least cynical assessment of the what the DUP leader has said leaves us with the uncomfortable conclusion that the underlying, almost subconscious, sexist attitudes that run through so much of the DUP extend to Mrs Foster.

Another recent example of this is Sammy Wilson MP attacking the Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson, describing her speech to the European Parliament as “ranting like an old fish wife”. The speech Anderson gave – while it could have been delivered in a much more diplomatic manner – was addressing a concern held by both unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland about then possible return to a hard border with the south. But what Sammy Wilson did was to attempt to undermine her words by levelling a criticism at her that I can’t imagine he would never use with a male politician.

What Wilson did, was a frequently used ploy to label the opinions of women as over-emotional rants in order to dismiss them without needing to address their substance.

The DUP may ask how they can ever be described as sexist when they have a woman as their leader. However, putting women in high-up positions does not necessarily translate to progressive policy on women’s issues. Foster herself, when under pressure for her role in the RHI scheme, cried misogyny for the scrutiny she received for her actions. Misogyny is a serious issue and something that our society witnesses and women experience daily, and should therefore not be something employed as a move to shut down legitimate discussion and scrutiny.

Perhaps one of the most telling examples comes from shortly after Foster became leader of the party. While congratulating Foster on becoming leader, DUP MLA Edwin Poots said her “most important job” remained “that of a wife, mother and daughter”. This comment was made not with malicious intent or with the objective to undermine Foster in any way. Poots was a simply stating his world view and in doing so revealed the sexist nature of his thinking.

Often these comments may appear inconsequential but they do act to reveal the true motives and thinking of the people who make important decisions in our society that can affect the lives of everyone.

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  • Nevin

    jl, I’m not greatly interested in majority views; the word I chose was envious. Has anyone else used that?

  • johnny lately

    “its protection of criminality to try to save your reputation”

    Whats it called when politicians do it at Westminster, or when RUC officers protect and use as agents for the state rapists who then went on to murder their victim ?

  • Granni Trixie

    I haven’t a clue what you’re on about.

  • The Living End

    “It may be an unpopular opinion but it is true”, AKA “People may not like me but I’m right!”

  • Granni Trixie

    Quite right too. But in professional context Poots statement was inappropriate with reference to his boss.

  • johnny lately

    “But isn’t there a condridiction with a tap-on-the-shoulder system for selecting Leaders and claims to be ‘progressive’, modern or a democratically run organisation”

  • grumpy oul man

    I think that a much more interesting point, that despite the desperate attempts by unionists to pick faults in MO’N all they can come up with is this Blondie nonsense!
    If I was a unionists i would be more concerned that after causing a election by not doing the right thing and standing down while RHI was looked into, and mobilizing the nationalist electorate with the crocodile quip and delivering the worst result in a election for unionism in history, she doesn’t have the wit to keep her mouth shut and insists on carrying on with the causal insults.
    I would be more concerned about the future of unionism than Mo’N hair color if i was you.

  • the rich get richer

    You couldn’t be certain with Sinn Fein but they may come out with a Statement…….

    Michelle was Never a Blonde……..

  • grumpy oul man

    I don’t think the shinners think winning ac election is a end in itself, A UI is the end in itself for them.
    so all SF voters are thick then, sectarian nonsense in itself,
    and AF by refusing to do the proper thing caused the last election not SF.
    this one was called by Mrs May, are you suggesting that a political party should not fight elections.
    And i also believe that unionists are the real master of getting the sectarian vote out (remember the flags old chap the flags and the east Belfast seat) but is nice to see that AF’s foot still knows its way to her mouth and the faithful will vote for anybody as long as they insult the Taigs, thicko’s eh!

  • Skibo

    Ted there is an element of mocking of Arlene particularly on facebook and it is particularly bad, worse than being called blonde but it is not the front bench of SF that are doing it. leaders should lead by example and should pull lower ranks in line when they step over it, not showing others how to throw in sexist digs.
    I think it is time we look into the reporter who goaded Arlene into this comment.

  • grumpy oul man

    “a ‘trailer trash’ look” boy you are classy!

  • Gopher

    Perhaps they should have played the word game in reverse to avoid contravesy

    Gin
    Murderer
    Tout

  • chrisjones2

    Was she that smart or talented in Health. Its still a basket case

  • chrisjones2

    No the agenda of SF

  • chrisjones2

    But it was her Department that ran over 100 seminars promoting it and getting farmers to apply. Her Department was critical to the volume of claims!!

  • chrisjones2

    Care to name them?

  • chrisjones2

    “put it behind you and move on with your life”

    “Dont seek therapy as it might expose the IRA”

    you really think those arent sexist and abusive?

  • chrisjones2

    Your forgot the ‘tortured bit ie “kidnapped, tortured, killed and buried”

  • johnny lately
  • Old Mortality

    ‘It’s a nonsense, OM, no doubt based on a few election posters you have seen.’
    Strangely enough, I don’t pay much attention to election posters. It’s perhaps more the excessive and unsubtle use of cosmetic substances.It seems somewhat out of keeping with a party which claims to disdain sexism.

  • mac tire

    Excessive and unsubtle use of cosmetic substances? LOL. Are the members of KISS in SF now?

  • murdockp

    Agreed.

  • murdockp

    Able – have seen little evidence. Smart – agreed. Talented – not so sure. If she was a man she would not have got the job.

    She is there to confuse the DUP. And their ruse is working.

  • murdockp

    Adams ajenda? Irish president I reckon.

  • james

    Nobody, hmm?

  • johnny lately

    Indeed I did Chris, most of what you point out I omitted was personally carried out by a paid British state agent.

  • chrisjones2

    …or she wasnt unelectable

  • chrisjones2

    …on the orders of ,,,,,,,,, ? Was he a paid agent at that time?

  • ted hagan

    I don’t know if she was goaded. Perhaps Foster shouldn’t have fallen for the bait. What I found moving, and more interesting, was Foster’s sensitivity for her children and the hurt they felt over cruel posts. The journalist herself emphasised these points whereas other journalists, ie Irish News, tabloids, etc decided to go for the more sensational ‘fresh crocodile shock, horror’
    slant on the story. Perhaps newspapers and shock jocks like Nolan should quit fanning the flames in their quest for a larger audience.

  • eireanne3

    uda -linked “romper room” killings also happened in the same time period

  • WiseJeffrey

    Are the UDA in Government ?

  • hgreen

    It was clearly sexist. It was a man telling a woman what her priorities should be.

  • Pete

    So if a woman tells me what my priorities should be, that’s sexist?!

    So any time a female or male politician disagrees with a political opponent of the opposite gender’s policy on something, thst is sexist?!

    You can’t seriously believe that.

    Plenty of male politicians make comments about how their role as a father and husband far outstrips their role as a politician.

  • Hugh Davison

    GT and JimM: This discussion is about sexism in the DUP. What has Martina Anderson to do with it?

  • Hugh Davison

    The words you chose were ‘though our paramilitary ‘heroes’ could hardly be classified as gentlemen or their ‘kangaroo courts’ as fun.’. What this has to do with the OP is beyond me.

  • Pete

    “In contextualising this current gaff with others from the DUP however he might have included the continual low numbers of DUP female candidates (think in this election there are only 2or 3) which shows the DUP aren’t even trying to modernise.”

    So is the nursing profession sexist because only around 10% of nurses are men? Should they be trying to “modernise” too?

  • Granni Trixie

    As I have explained elsewhere in this thread, placing an incident within The bigger picture often reveals pattern. In this case it is easy to show that the DUP has form Including that of not selecting women as candidates. In this day and age that doesn’t just happen but points to a culture which does not treat women as equals or is only accepting if they act like men who make up the majority. (Same as applies to chill factor on religious grounds).

    Some professions tend to retain a chill factor because of traditional attitudes to the roles of men and women. The caring professions such as nursing is one of those. interestingly I was reading that when men do enter that profession they tend to accelerate to management level more than female counterparts (again possibly traditionally more ambitious or less home responsibilities). Primary school teaching is another such profession where the same pattern prevails infact it’s got worse in recent years because the additional factor of abuse scandals says to many men it is just too risky.
    What these professions have in common with political parties is that in this day and age it is appropriate to analyse the problem to take measures to overcome barriers to participation.

  • Granni Trixie

    I was joining up the dots regarding bad behaviour by public representatives in MA case v bad behaviour. We deserve better.

  • chrisjones2

    Politics is just show business for ugly people

  • johnny lately

    How did that go for Pengally ?

  • johnny lately

    Its the puppet master who pulls the puppets strings Chris so you tell me, who do you think is responsible for the actions of the puppet and yes he was a paid agent.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Granni, I’m always interested as to what message a glance at political graphic or slogan on public display brings up from ones unconscious through encoded word/image association. I have occasionally (on Slugger) warned Alliance about the yellow angled lower area which usually marks out their posters (except for the very powerful all yellow Anna Low ink drawing concept) as it instantly is recognisable as the familiar guillotine blade image which endless exposure to that “Tale of Two Cities” film has ensured comes up in the minds of a certain generation. I’m glad to seed that Alliance is using a new very straightforward “words on yellow” concept recently, which strongly puts across their message.

    But far more telling effect was a window display a few years back on SF’s Ormeau road office. As one drove or walked by, the strong message left on a casual passerby was the shop header “Sinn Féin” and the strongest words on the black/white poster displayed in the window “We All Deserve Better”…………….

  • mickfealty

    Blokes legislating for when women are or are not being misogynist, eh Neil? This can only be Northern Ireland.

  • Neil

    Legislating? Is someone coming up with some new law Mick? Most of the complaints I’ve seen came from women, but in this modern age of equality men can express an opinion also. Do you believe Arlene was describing MON’s hair, for the benefit of a journo who probably had seen MON in the past and was aware of her hair colour?

    Arlene was quick to call misogyny herself over RHI, her wee bit of fun with the Indy journo was political cack handedness of the kind Arlene seems to specialise in. People are going to draw attention to that.

  • mickfealty

    Strictly in Shelley’s “Defense of Poetry” sense Neil. What I struggle with is the sheer emptiness of the whole exercise.

    It might have escaped your notice, but Ms O’Neill IS blonde. And, for the record, I DO NOT mean that in ANY pejorative sense. Mrs F should probably not have gone there,

    But for a forty two year old (in her own words) ‘wee girl from Clonoe’, she’s VERY blonde. But again for the record, that does not feature in my own estimation of her as a politician.

    I judge her and Foster in the same terms, ie against their achievements and screw ups. Both women have a racked up a few of each (no more than the less favoured men around them).

  • Neil

    The Shelley reference is a new one for me, so thanks for that. I do love that your posts tend to send me scurrying off to wikipedia to try and figure out what I’m talking about. 😉 I choose a slightly less generous interpretation of the intended meaning of the response, however that aside we’re in agreement more or less. She shouldn’t have answered the question, precisely. In so doing she opens herself up to criticism from the many non-friends of the DUP. Poor political judgment as I say.

    I stand over my assertion that any male who had been chosen as leader of SF in NI would not have had so many commentors suggesting that he got there on the merits of his looks or dress sense.

  • mickfealty

    I don’t disagree with that last point of yours. But there’s questions over the degree to which any ‘junior’ politician has power internally inside SF.

    I can see some southerners, like Louise O’Reilly, being hard to contain or repress over the long term.

    But the inert game the party is playing in NI is such that Ms O’Neill has few opportunities of disproving the more pejorative assumptions people have come to.

  • Skibo

    Ted what Arlene said was she didn’t want to be sexist, she can’t be sexist.
    The reporter said sure it can’t be sexist if it is true.
    That is what I call goading.
    Arlene gives the impression that she is trying to keep her guard up and not make slips but this was a slip, not a serious one but she should have come out right away and said she meant no offence and if offence was taken, she apologises.
    That puts her back on the moral high ground and makes Niamh Horan look a class pillock.

  • The Living End

    Do you believe Colum Eastwood was selected for his boyish charm? Did it occur to you even once?

  • Eoin O’Donnell

    So would it be unfair to describe Arlene as “bitter orange” in hue?

  • Eoin O’Donnell

    And I mean that entirely in the sense of the her basking in the dusky light of a cold Fermanagh eve, as the sun sets over the rolling hills. Nothing derogatory obviously.

  • mickfealty

    Bye Robin.

  • Pete

    Yes I think male politicans’ appearance plays an important role. Why do you think male party leaders are usually tall and good looking?

    You don’t normally see a short, obese bald man as party leader, do you?

  • Granni Trixie

    Brings up again the question of what does “progressive” mean. ..in your case “progressive looking”.

  • Granni Trixie

    Who is going to police the ‘unsubtle use of cosmetic substances’?

  • Granni Trixie

    You are wrong – Sam McBride has covered it.

  • Granni Trixie

    I know it’s wrong but I can’t help laughing at some of the ridiculous remarks this topic has elicited. Are people winding us up? Or plain stupid?

  • Granni Trixie

    It will never happen.

  • mac tire

    I’m actually afraid to ask that question, Granni.

  • Granni Trixie

    He knew what he was doing. AF was ‘promoted’ to Leader. I presume she has her values right and that above all else she values her family. Yet instead of praising her for her professional attributes Poots highlights his much she cares for her family. Patronising, which I’m sure was not lost on her.

  • Granni Trixie

    As regards appearance, I think a politican is wise to present themselves as clean, neat and tidy. You know what they say,if you want to be radical wear a suit ( and note how Jeremy Corbyn has smartened up …no more whispery bits peeping out behInd his ears…hope I’m not doing an Arlene here…)

  • Pete

    No, what I really meant is that they thought an attractive-looking politician would look “fresher” etc.

    Perhaps my use of the word “progressive” was a confusing choice of words.

    The same applies to male leaders too. As I said to someone else on this thread, you don’t see too many short, fat, ugly male party leaders. They tend to be tall and good-looking.

  • npbinni
  • Granni Trixie

    So really you are saying that looks matter in public life ? I believe that attractive is as attractive does and the public can suss out who is the real deal,and who is not.

  • Nevin

    Any thoughts on the Sindo leaving out the ‘bad hair day’ context in its online edition?