Imagine a man who shouts and swears at work.
Someone who belittles his staff, who demands to know why everyone is so useless while trying to force an organisation of 35,000 people to make radical changes in 10 months.
He’d be called determined. Ambitious. Fierce. His wife, friends or boss might refer to him as a shark, a tough guy in a sharp suit.
And yeah, he’d get some industrial tribunals flying his way. They’d be paid off, and he’d keep climbing the ladder.
Priti Patel is accused of the same. But she is “awful”, she appears “bad at running her department” or “bullying”. She thinks her word should be law, it is claimed.
Yet her husband calls her a piranha – small, combative, capable of shredding flesh from bone.
And we all find it easier to list her negative qualities than use any of the positive descriptions that would be commonly used for a man in her position.
When Theresa May was Home Secretary, she was labelled incompetent and mildly racist with her “Go Home” vans and the germination of the Windrush scandal.
It flowered under her replacement Amber Rudd, whose political career was choked as a result.
When Jacqui Smith was in the same job, her achievements were lost behind a scandal in which her husband was found to have watched pornography while she was absent.
Those are the only four women who’ve held this great office of state, and they’ve all been labelled as uniquely feminine failures – not being in charge, not being able to escape, not being woman enough for her husband.
Ninety men have held the same post. One, the Duke of Wellington, built his fortune from plundering Indian towns his soldiers attacked.
He supported the troops who carried out the massacre of Peterloo, worked against political reform, and was so unpopular that in 1831 a mob twice smashed the windows of his London home, causing him to install iron shutters.
So they called him the Iron Duke. Not racist, not a thief, nor loathed, although he was all those things.
Winston Churchill was also Home Secretary. In 1910, when the government went back on a promise to give women the vote, he ordered police to stop 300 female protesters entering parliament. They were sexually assaulted for six hours. Bones were broken, noses bled.
A suffragette in a wheelchair was pushed into an alleyway and attacked. Churchill personally intervened to halt prosecutions, and said efforts to introduce suffrage were “anti-democratic”.
And we call him a hero. No matter what allegations against Priti Patel are eventually proved or disproved, the word “bullying” will be in her obituary.
The safest place for a woman still is in the home – not the Home Office.
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