Warning for new women MPs joining country’s ‘biggest boys’ club’ as record number elected

Labour’s Dawn Butler says new female MPs should be prepared to ‘endure a lot of misogyny and abuse’ (Parliament TV)
Labour’s Dawn Butler says new female MPs should be prepared to ‘endure a lot of misogyny and abuse’ (Parliament TV)

Women entering parliament for the first time following the election should be prepared for “misogyny and abuse” as they join the country’s “biggest boys’ club”, female MPs have warned.

A record number of women were elected on 4 July, with 264 female members of parliament set to take up their seats under a Labour government. This represents 40.6 per cent of all MPs and is a significant improvement on the 34.2 per cent in 2019.

But experienced female MPs say they still face “sexism, patriarchal and archaic power structures”. The Pestminster scandal in 2017 saw a series of claims of sexual harassment in Westminster and the dying days of the last Tory government were dogged by further allegations.

Rachel Reeves has been appointed the country’s first female chancellor, among a record number of women MPs (Reuters)
Rachel Reeves has been appointed the country’s first female chancellor, among a record number of women MPs (Reuters)

Labour’s Dawn Butler, who has been re-elected having been an MP in west London since 2015, said new female MPs should be prepared to “endure a lot of misogyny and abuse”, adding: “You get critiqued on how you sound, how you look and what you wear.”

While entering parliament is an exciting time, new female MPs “should expect to be bamboozled with a whole load of rules – some of which are archaic or make no practical sense whatsoever”.

“They should also expect to be part of the biggest boys’ club in the country, which brings many challenges to be heard and respected,” she added.

Much more needs to be done to address the Pestminster culture, she said, arguing misogyny will persist in Westminster as long as it exists in society as a whole.

“I'm pretty sure that with a new cohort of MPs, there will also be a new cohort of pests,” Ms Butler added.

Carolyn Harris says female MPs regularly receive online abuse (PA)
Carolyn Harris says female MPs regularly receive online abuse (PA)

Asked what advice she had for incoming female MPs, she said: “Parliament and the system can strip away many aspects of you, but if you remain your authentic self throughout, then you always have that to fall back on in the tough moments. So don't try and change in order to fit into parliament, as parliament is not designed to fit into a modern working age.”

Research by the gender equality charity The Fawcett Society from last year found seven in 10 women MPs have witnessed sexist conduct in parliament in the past five years, as well as highlighting an “exclusionary” and “toxic” culture in Westminster.

Deputy leader of Welsh Labour, Carolyn Harris, said abuse is extensive online, particularly about an MP’s appearance. Recently, she was sent a death threat that has been reported to police.

Kate Osborne said the new government needs to ‘clean up parliament for good’ (PA)
Kate Osborne said the new government needs to ‘clean up parliament for good’ (PA)

The MP for Swansea East said she has not experienced abuse from parliamentary colleagues but that Westminster can initially feel like a scary place for newcomers.

“It is like a maze and like Hogwarts, but your colleagues will be your best friends because they will help and support you,” she said.

Jarrow and Gateshead East MP Kate Osborne advised incoming female MPs to “stick together”.

“Lean on the women that are re-elected that can help, don't suffer in silence. You should not have to put up with sexist abuse in real life or online,” she told The Independent. “[Parliament] can be an overwhelming place full of sexism, patriarchal and archaic power structures that are hard to navigate. The government will need to help the women that are elected clean up parliament for good.”

Daisy Cooper urged women MPs to look after themselves as they enter the world of Westminster (Will Durrant/PA)
Daisy Cooper urged women MPs to look after themselves as they enter the world of Westminster (Will Durrant/PA)

Daisy Cooper, Lib Dem deputy leader and MP for St Albans, had words of advice for new arrivals to Westminster.

”There are always a hundred demands on your time at any given moment,” she said. “So the piece of advice I would give to other women MPs is the best piece of advice that was given to me: ring-fence time to look after your health and to spend with friends and family.

“You will become emotionally invested in many people’s lives and causes very quickly, but you’re no good to anyone if you don’t look after yourself. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty mug.”