The First Minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, has resisted calls for her resignation following a botched energy scandal, calling her critics “misogynistic”.
Firstly, misogyny means the hatred of women. While people may have sexist attitudes, I personally can count the number of actual misogynists I’ve met in my lifetime on one hand (and put it this way, they weren’t exactly people men would want to hang out with either). There quite likely are sexist critics of Arlene Foster, but straight-up misogynists? The term has been, in the last few years, used and abused, and it’s beginning to lose its nasty power, becoming just a synonym for sexism. Just as Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty did way back in 1872, we have started to use words to “mean just what [we]… choose them to mean.”
Ms Foster is far from stupid, and the cynic in me wonders if she has intentionally dropped the word into the conversation in an act of self-preservation. After all, there’s nothing like a good Twitter storm to distract people from the real issue at hand.
The botched cash-for-ash scheme is likely to cost Stormont £490 million over the next 20 years, with the British Treasury likely to pick up the remaining tab of £660 million. For a jurisdiction containing only a million people, it’s an incredible sum of money. Westminster (with its female prime minister) cannot be too happy with Stormont at present.
Ms Foster leads a party of ultra-conservative dinosaurs, who have actively worked against extending the same reproductive rights availed of by women in the rest of the UK. (To be fair, abortion is also opposed by a great many Northern nationalists, but at least their beliefs are consistent with the laws of the nation they feel affinity with, the Republic of Ireland).
She herself is a strong character, and has met her critics with robustness. As for her critics in the public sphere, they have not focussed on her gender, but rather the incompetence that has led to this scandal, asking her to stand aside while the matter is fully investigated. Criticising someone for professional incompetence is not misogyny. In fact, if we cannot criticise someone for doing their job badly, we are no better than our Victorian predecessors who assumed women were incapable, delicate creatures, unsuited to the rigours of politics or business.