Boris Johnson, yes, the floppy haired Mayor of London who got himself stuck on a zip line during the Olympics, surprised no one this week by saying something sexist. Representing the UK at the World Islamic Economic Forum, he supposedly joked that women go to university to find husbands. Reportedly, he was the only one at the forum to find it funny. As a woman, I just have one thing to say. Who the hell forgot to tell me?
If I had known that the $50,000 dollars a year in tuition wasn’t for education but was instead a modern day dowry for my husband, well then I would have spent a good deal less time in the library. What on Earth is the point of being pre-med if I’m only here to get hitched ASAP? Now I just feel silly.
Some say that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. I say I reserve it for the lowest of wits. If Boris truly thinks that women are only at university to be on the prowl for a husband, then he deserves more sarcasm than I think possible in a single blog post.
Leaving aside the rampant heteronormativity of the comment, let’s talk a little bit more about Boris. He is a politician, so gaffes are par for the course. But, he is no Todd Akin, who needs to brush up on his basic biology. No, Boris is a good old boy. He went to Eton then on to Cambridge, some of the best schools in the world. Ignorance, then, is probably not the basis of his sexism.
If you haven’t seen the blog Everyday Sexism, or if you don’t follow them on Twitter, you should. Founded in England as an attempt to shine a light on the rampant street harassment and daily sexism present in British society. Go ahead and take a break from reading this post to read some of the stories from Everyday Sexism. When you feel your skin beginning to crawl, or you simply can’t stand the banality of it all, come on back and let’s chat.
That is the culture in which Boris was raised, in which he lives, in which he serves as Mayor of its most populous city. Maybe it’s an Imperial thing, that a third culture kid like myself can’t understand, but the entrenched patriarchy is absurd. Yes, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister years before I was even born. But what about now? The Conservative Party, Thatcher’s own, has a Cabinet that has four women out of twenty-two people. Oh, and if you were looking for anyone that wasn’t white, wrong place. At least they’re consistent.
Boris Johnson is only one man. But, he is one of the most powerful men in the UK. That is no inconsequential thing, no matter how much the British Empire has shrunk since Victoria’s reign. It is terrifying to think that Boris can be so nonchalantly paternalistic towards women. How many of his actions, of his policies, then are influenced by this patriarchal paradigm?
Yes, that one time he saved a woman from being mugged by riding down the muggers with his bicycle was nice. But “The Knight on the Shining Bicycle” needs to get off his sexist high horse and get a reality check. He thinks women are flocking towards university because of this unconquerable need to find a husband? I’m struggling to think of something he could have said that would be more antiquated. We go to university because we make less than our male counterparts, so we need that degree to get an equal footing with the men around us. We go to university because we are passionate for what we are studying. We go to university because we crave the freedom of living away from our parents. If we do find a husband or a wife, because to hell with heteronormativity, it’s highly unlikely that we set off to university with that as our sole motivation.
It doesn’t matter if what Boris said was simply an off the cuff joke, in fact that might be worse. It shows that the Mayor of London gave no second thought to being sexist, to belittling women. Because it is belittling to say that women’s only motivation for going to university has to do with men. It makes it so that female students have less pure scholastic intentions than their male counterparts, reinforcing the belief of women’s duplicity. My name is not Eve, and I’m none too fond of snakes, so let’s leave that age-old ridiculousness behind.
There is a reason I wake up every morning to thirty new tweets from Everyday Sexism in my Twitter feed. There is a reason why I’ve experienced sexism myself, on several occasions. There is a reason why rape culture is alive and well. Consciously or not, maliciously or not, men, and sometimes women, promulgate this paradigm of female inferiority. And it’s about damn time that stopped, Mr. Mayor.