If Leo is sexist for mocking a woman does that make his critics homophobic?
Men can no longer say boo to a woman without being called sexist, as the Taoiseach's row with Mary Lou McDonald shows, writes Eilis O'Hanlon
Imagine that the Taoiseach was gay. An absurd scenario, admittedly. Everyone who reads The Irish Times regularly, few enough as they are, will know that the people of Ireland are far too backward to allow that ever to happen.
Imagine, though, that every time this imaginary gay Taoiseach was criticised, scores of other gay people jumped up to insist that an attack on one was an attack on all, and that the very act of disparaging a gay person, whoever that gay person happened to be, was, by definition, homophobic.
That, sorry to say, is the sort of politically-correct circus that goes on with women every day of the week. Leo Varadkar's row with Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald during the week was merely an excuse for the latest dose of faux-progressive bilge from the sisterhood. When she rose to speak immediately afterwards, Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger even began by saying: "I hope I'm not treated to the same patronising and condescending response that the Taoiseach just gave to a previous female TD."
See how it works?
Was he patronising? Telling Mary Lou that he hoped she "didn't spend too much time practising (her script) this morning" was definitely scornful. Condescending? No question about it. Should he tone it down, as Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin suggested afterwards, calling the Taoiseach's comments "petty, too personal"? That's entirely up to him, though personally I'd miss hearing lines such as: "The only time you're not scripted is when you're interrupting." Politics needs some life and personality.
But why mention the fact that Mary Lou is a "female TD" except to imply this was the reason Leo Varadkar was patronising and condescending towards her? That will certainly have come as news to plenty of male deputies who have been on the receiving end of his disdain.
Why too did Mary Lou McDonald, writing about the confrontation in the Journal later in the week, begin and end by pointedly drawing attention to her gender? "Politics is still dominated by men," she declared. Indeed it is. What has that got to do with her row with the Taoiseach?
She clearly wants us to think that it has everything to do with it, without feeling any need to spell out exactly how. We're supposed to draw a certain conclusion. He's a man. She's a woman. Any criticism of her by him must, therefore, be sexist. QED.
If that's the case, then any criticism of Leo Varadkar must be homophobic, because, of course, the Taoiseach really is gay - however much that annoys the left, which thinks it has personal ownership of gay rights and that all gay people must think alike, because that's what diversity's all about, yeah?
The criticisms he has faced since he became Taoiseach have not been because of his sexuality, but because of what he's done, and what he is deemed to be by his more dim-witted critics - namely, a vacuous posh boy who eats the poor for breakfast. The same goes for criticism of female politicians. They need to stop being so ludicrously over-sensitive to imagined slights.
Feminism was meant to be about winning the right to equal treatment, but increasingly those who parrot feminist slogans want not equality but special treatment.
What would be sexist is if the Taoiseach tempered his normal approach out of deference to a woman, because that would indicate he didn't think the delicate little flower was up to the task of defending herself. Would Micheal Martin have chided Leo for using the same words to Gerry Adams?
When it comes to matters of concern to women, Varadkar can be pulled up for many things. His overwhelmingly male Cabinet. An equally unbalanced line up of Ministers of State.
But to accuse him of sexism simply for pointing out that Mary Lou McDonald is an outrageous ham, who regularly uses the Dail as a stage for amateur dramatics when the house is otherwise too empty to get her on the Six One News, is not only wrong but against all principles of robust fair comment.
Men can no longer say anything to women in public life without it being interpreted as sexist, while the charge of sexism has itself been elevated to the highest category of offence - making the levelling of it in the course of normal political argy-bargy an irresponsible act, unless those making the charge are prepared to prove it, rather than just flinging mud about and hoping some of it sticks.
If you believe sexism is a serious matter, then don't use the word so liberally that it becomes devalued.
"Misogynistic" is another one. It's so overused it has ceased to have any meaning. It's just a pronouncement that gets trotted out by feminists whenever a man says something they don't like.
It never works the other way round. Had a male deputy strode across the chamber and stopped by a female member to continue an argument, he would have been pilloried as a bully and condemned for throwing his weight around. Had he repeatedly talked-over and interrupted her when she was speaking, he'd have been persona non grata by teatime.
When Mary Lou did it to Leo last week - not a whisper of criticism. If sexism is the application of different standards to men and women based on their gender, then there's a classic example of it.
It's not as if Mary Lou is some frail wallflower who needs to be gallantly protected from nasty men. She's the deputy leader of a party shackled to a paramilitary organisation which has carried out thousands of bombings, shootings, murders, and punishment beatings, and has systematically covered up rape and child abuse. It was in this role that he was attacking her, not because she's a woman. Is he supposed to go easy on apologists for republicans if they happen to have wombs?
She certainly wasn't slow to mention that either last week, was she? When he slammed SF as "the only party in this House that has never done anything for children", she replied: "For the record of the Dail, I am actually raising two young children." Mary Lou's family was of no relevance to this row. Why bring it up?
When Andrea Leadsom made similar remarks during last year's Tory leadership election in the UK, she was suspected of using her children as a sly dig against her childless rival Theresa May, now prime minister. Had a male TD made a similar remark to, say, Katherine Zappone, he would surely have been accused of dog-whistling homophobia, because the children's minister is gay.
Why is it acceptable for Mary Lou to use her children as a political weapon against a man who has none, and to say explicitly that her motherhood puts her "in a position to understand that all of the cant and empty rhetoric about balancing the books is not worth a fig to struggling families"?
Since he was the one not "in a position to understand", how was this not a discrete dig at a childless gay man?
Leo Varadkar could have made something of this, if he was so minded. That he wasn't is to his credit. In a way, he was hoist by his own petard. In an effort to appear modern and progressive, the Taoiseach has condemned President Trump as "sexist and misogynistic", and called Kevin Myers' now-infamous article on female BBC presenters "misogynistic" too. Keep feeding the beast and eventually it will come after you as well. But that others can get away with accusing him of having a problem with women, just because he went tough on one particular woman, while he'd be scorned for alleging his critics are motivated by homophobia, shows that double standards are alive and well, and that the only sexism on display last week was emanating entirely from women themselves.