“Only One Sexist Comment”

kuenssbergOkay, so yes, Laura Kuenssberg is exhibiting political bias.  That’s one problem for and about the BBC for sure.  But, so are many journalists. When Nick Robinson was attacked by Scottish Nationalists for his Indyref reporting, there were several petitions which didn’t attract many signatures.  One on change.org gained 19,000, although it didn’t reach its target, compared to the speedily reached 35,000 on the now removed 38 Degrees petition calling for Laura Kuenssberg’s sacking.  And the Robinson petition asked for his suspension, not for him to lose his job and whole career. Go figure.

The question is, what is the appropriate level of response to this bias? And it is not insignificant that we’re having this conversation about the BBCs first female political editor.

This morning, blogs and news sources are sharing this link to the comments on the removed petition – stating that only one comment was sexist, and therefore it shouldn’t have been taken down.

Aside from the more extreme defamatory language used about Kuenssberg, especially on Twitter,  a quick skim of these comments (I haven’t included all of them) reveals more than one sexist, gender biased statement, such as:

‘She almost spits and gurns whilst attacking them. She was at it again last night!’

‘She is entirely bias towards the Tory Party, Cameron in particular I think they may have had or are having a thing. There is definitely something there’

‘The bias this woman shows on repeat is repugnant.’

‘Laura is not a political commentator. But she can be a very good gossip columnist’

‘this woman is an insult to the general populace’s intelligence and spouts utter drivel.’

‘She sucks badly’

‘The woman is an utter disgrace’

‘She’s a Jewish extremist.’ (Oh, so a bit of anti-semitism in there too.)

‘She’s a Scottish cow who should keep her name out of UK politics.’

‘mad woman’

‘Like a whippet curled up in the lap of George Osborne. He feeds her a Corbyn bone and she gnaws at it savagely.’

‘She is a self centred witch’

‘daddy donates to red tories..’

‘Look at that mouth. It matches the rhetoric.’


‘she’s rubbish – bring back Nick Robinson’ (Who also has a politically biased opinion … but is safely male?)

‘If she were an ex-, you’d have taken out a restraining order – her Twitter feed reads like a stalker obsessed with Corbyn.’

So only one sexist comment, then?

We should have a zero tolerance approach to any form of sexist language. Here we have the continual reference to ‘this woman’ (would you say ‘this man’?), the comments on her physical appearance, her father, clear sexual innuendo and the old favourite, comparing her to a witch (witch-hunt anyone?). It’s the same effect as calling girls and women ‘bossy’.  The language is based in negative gender assumptions, and it creates a negative discourse.

It’s a very significant issue that we think we can talk about women in this way (and defend others talking about women in this way).  Arguably, this is actually a bigger, more destructive and socially ingrained problem than one person’s reporting of one politician.  Because if we let this way of speaking continue, about any woman, whatever her perspective, it harms all women, for a long time, and shapes the language we use about women in all contexts.  Check yourself!  And the language you use and support.


11 thoughts on ““Only One Sexist Comment”

  1. I’m glad you’ve raised this because I also get really frustrated at the blatantly sexist comments driven at female reporters in particular – especially when they’re criticised for being too ‘pushy’ when Jeremy Paxman gets away with much worse without any comment.

  2. I don’t watch the BBC much now, precisely because I got sick of the flagrantly biased reporting. I find the Today programme particularly off-putting, with all the sneering upper-class voices (often cutting in when interviewees refuse to answer loaded questions) and the reference to pro-establishment views as “sensible” or “mature”, particularly as regards the Labour party. I find the men more offensive than the women in this regard. I never thought to set up a petition to get anyone sacked, but then I’ve never started a petition for anything else. I do think the BBC needs some new blood and perhaps should be casting its recruitment net a bit more widely.

    I think the issue of ‘sexism’ behind the Kuenssberg petitions (there is one still up on Change.org) has been exaggerated on purpose. I did a search for Tweets mentioning Kuenssberg’s name and words commonly used in sexist abuse (bitch, whore, cunt and rape) and I found ten in total from the past week that actually used these words in relation to her (as opposed to talking about others doing so) and none for rape. I found none of them in that list of comments you linked (two that called her a witch). There were 36 that called her “this woman”, but many of them were from women, and yes, I have heard “this man” used in insults. Given the thousands of comments that had no references to her sex at all, this hardly proves that the petitions against Kuenssberg are motivated by sexism.

  3. So even referring to someone using the words “she” or “woman”, when they are quite clearly female, is “sexist”? And following your logic, you would regard any use of the words “he” and “man” as sexist too? You really are getting desperate. And, looking at the grammar, phrases such as ‘She almost spits and gurns whilst attacking them. She was at it again last night!’ and ‘Look at that mouth. It matches the rhetoric.’ could (with replacement of she->he) easily refer to a male target, so there’s no sexism there. There’s nothing sadder than an amateur blogger who blights their own credibility by seeing things which aren’t really there.

  4. you missed one:

    “Not just her attitude to Corbyn, but the complete absence of critique of government actions and behaviour.”

    clearly making an issue out of her gender. disgusting.

  5. on closer inspection, i suspect this article may be a work of fiendishly subtle satire. 5/7

  6. I agree totally! Thank you for your comment. We should treat all journalists equally, if we’re going to accuse them of anything.

  7. I think we’re potentially setting the bar a bit low there. We don’t need to stoop so low as to use such blatantly sexist or offensive language to be, nevertheless, sexist through our choice of words or through our implication. The word “witch” is pretty offensive, whether used once, twice, whatever. Would you call a man a ‘vile collaborator wizard’? In terms of the use of ‘this/that woman’, why not ‘presenter’ or…her name? The words ‘that man [is vile / incompetent / whatever] are not as commonly used.

    And I’m afraid, to say a woman said/wrote it does not make it not sexist – women can be sexist.

    In terms of whether the petitions are motivated by sexism…to call for the first female political editor at the BBC to be simply sacked (whether or not one refers to her as a witch at the same time) is at best uncomfortable. If you compare this reaction to those towards male journalists, it seems decidedly OTT and disproportionate.

  8. As mentioned above, the words ‘that woman’ are used more often and more negatively than ‘that man’. And yes, we should be aspiring to use gender neutral language where possible. Would you dismiss the other comments (witch, cow, various levels of sexual innuendo) as similarly non-sexist? Or the fact that reactions to male journalists are nowhere near as vicious? I’m not sure why people are so ready to take offence at the suggestion that women may find such comments offensive, or why people feel the need to ridicule or insult those who do.

  9. Ahh, the non-sexist comments clearly dilute the offensive ones. Forgive me….let’s just tolerate sexism for the greater good. Or do I satirise you?

  10. I think you had a point but then just used too many examples that are in no way sexist. Rude, yes, sexist no. Saying “she” as in “she sucks badly” is simply not sexist unless they were talking about something else entirely. Another example is you assume that the writer think Nick Robinson has a bias therefore you conclude it much be sexist. You fail to appreciate they might not share your feelings towards him (and saying “him”, like “her” is not sexist, its saving time from writing the persons name out continually)
    Some of these examples really don’t help with the main point, which is a shame because you do have some good examples, just a shame you ruin it with about half that clearly arent.

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