Belfast Telegraph

Why couldn't pregnant MP Jo Swinson get a seat in Commons?

By Jane Graham

The little rumpus caused when a total of zero MPs offered heavily pregnant Jo Swinson a seat during Prime Ministers' Question Time highlighted a couple of interesting things about The Way We Live Now.

The first was that it turned out the quote that the headlines spun around – that Swinson considered it 'sexist' to suggest that she wasn't capable of standing – was not from Swinson at all, but an unnamed 'source.' Which must be damned frustrating for the Scottish LibDem MP, who has until now enjoyed a reputation for being sensible and level-headed, and thus the opposite to the kind of person who would accuse someone making a friendly, thoughtful gesture of being sexist.

Unfortunately, despite the charge coming not from Swinson but some know-better busybody, the story of her outrage and what it said about the ungrateful, offence-taking nature of today's young women (at 33, she is one of the House's youngest MPs) persisted.

For days, it formed the basis of online debates and radio phone-ins. Swinson took to Twitter to suggest that if people wanted to do nice things for pregnant women they could 1. Offer her a seat 2. Not misquote her. Nice try love, but you know how it goes. As the chap who tweeted Swinson – 'you did say it was sexist tho, I saw it on the front page, you feminist birds are all the same' – so charmingly clarified.

However, apart from the mistaking of fiction for fact (so easily done – my six-year-old got Lex Luther mixed up with the Republican Tea Party only yesterday!) the discussion which followed did raise a few little nuggets.

First was the question of why none of the MPs who saw the very visibly pregnant Swinson standing did the chivalrous thing. There does seem to be some kind of unwritten rule in the House of Commons that the traditions of a ruthless centuries-old, dog eat dog, patriarchal hierarchy should be maintained, and that to observe modern attitudes would be to undermine the serious authority of the political arena, thereby turning it into a soft-arsed girly fluffhouse.

As so many of its childbearing members have at one time noted, The Commons remains a difficult place for a mother to work. Its silly family-busting hours and overbearingly macho atmosphere, which often leads to women who stand to speak being shouted over, or, even more rudely, being chattered over, present a battle many women just can't see the benefit of undertaking.

Which doesn't exactly bode well when it comes to considering policy sympathetic to both genders and these 'hard-working families' so cherished by all political parties.

Then there was the discussion about whether it was insulting to offer pregnant women a seat. And as usual, there came tales about people who were 'trying to be nice' being publicly chagrinned by fierce women who regard the acknowledgment of their pregnancy as a patronising slur. Such an experience, we often hear, has led the nice person to conclude that women these days are so easily offended it's safer not to risk being mannerly.

Yet I don't know a single women, feminist or otherwise, who feels like this. And though I'm not implying it's a total myth – there will always be fools among us – I have never seen it happen, even when I spent eight years living in London. So I can't agree it's a good reason to ignore a visibly pregnant woman.

The other reason to give her a seat is that she could be feeling over-heated, dizzy and nauseous, and she might faint on top of you. Not a good look.'I don't know any feminist who would think it a slur if a man offered a pregnant woman his place'

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