From Soames to Trump: The Recurring Case of the Female Dog in Politics
In light of the recent scandal plaguing the White House, we thought it would be beneficial to dissect the importance of language used to describe women in politics.
The United Kingdom and the United States undoubtedly share a number of similarities and recent discourse within U.S Politics have proven this special relationship also extends to the treatment of their female representatives.
Omarosa Manigault-Newman, a previous a consultant to the president of the United States, has accused the Commander-in-Chief of using racist language and has further claimed she has proof to support her accusations. Trump took to Twitter to address these accusations, where he then proceeded to attack the ex-consultant by using defamatory language when describing Omarosa as a “dog”.
This isn’t the first time the current President has referred to women in a canine context, as he infamously used the phrase when tweeting about actress Kristen Stewart’s personal life.
The use of this defamatory phrase in political environments is also no stranger to the U.K parliament, last year Sir Nicholas Soames’ of the British Conservative Party attempted to interrupt fellow member of Parliament and Scottish National Party member Ms Ahmed-Sheikh during her speech by “woofing” at her. What is perhaps more astounding, is the fact that Soames’ justified his actions as a “friendly canine salute” in his apology by asserting he was defending the then foreign security and colleague Boris Johnson because he felt she “snapped” at Johnson.
However, the House of Commons is quite notorious for being loud, chaotic and boisterous and comments on the floor are often met with heckling in an offence of their politics. Yet we fail to recall an instance where “woofing” was incorporated into heckling of male politicians in the male-dominated chamber.
Why is language significant?
With 44% of female MP’s admitting to having faced some form of abuse, cases like Omarosa’s and Sheikhs are more important than ever, not only because they illustrate how much progress we have yet to make in terms of gender equality but also because they epitomise the importance of language within political discourse.
- The use of the word dog implies a variety of things, including but not limited to animalistic and domesticated. In this case, Omarosa and Sheikh could have been to ‘rabid’ or out of place in the political sphere.
- ‘Dog’ has also been informally dubbed as the workplace ‘friendly’ version of ‘bitch’.
- Yet to use profanity when directly referring to a member of government within the public realm would be unprofessional. But when it’s hidden behind the subtleties of an implication, patriarchal norms become more pervasive and acceptable, perpetuating the complex male-dominated profession.
- Put simply, if we continue to brush off these ‘passing’ comments, we brush off their implications and by ignoring those implications, we ignore the real threat of those actions and our subsequent inaction.
- A key part of Trump’s political campaign focused on the incapability of Clinton as a candidate because she was female and Theresa May gets three times as many comments on her appearance than her opponent Jeremy Corbyn.
The point is, gender quotas and legislation can only take us so far on the road to complete gender equality. Without a paradigm shift, comments and implications will continue to inhabit the political sphere whilst aiding our desensitization to the complex patriarchal norms at play and women in governmental positions will continue to remain the underdogs.
Useful facts at the time of writing:
32% of MPs are women.
19.3% of the Members of Congress are women.