Her Tone

This morning’s Wrap (the Guardian newspaper’s filter of news as it is covered by various papers) presented a piece about how the papers are covering Jacqui Smith’s management of the string of car bomb attacks in London and Glasgow. Jacqui Smith is our first female home secretary, and has been recieving (mostly) solid performance reviews thus far:

Writing in the Telegraph, Rachel Sylvester says: “Ms Smith’s
> reassuring manner could not be more different to the
> testosterone-charged attitude of her predecessor, John Reid. Instead
> of stoking up public fears, she has sounded rational … She did not
> talk about a ‘war on terror’, send tanks to Heathrow or promise a
> 10-point plan.”
> In similar vein, Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail says: “She did no
> tweaking of the neck or glowering or grinding of teeth, as Mr Reid
> almost undoubtedly would have done.” He even tips her as the next
> Labour leader.
> But Simon Hoggart in the Guardian isn’t quite so kind. He says: “Her
> tone was of a Women’s Institute secretary explaining the arrangements
> for a the fete in the event of rain.”
> * Simon Hoggart (
> http://politics.guardian.co.uk/columnist/story/0,,2117183,00.html )

I found it difficult to believe that the Guardian would print something as blatantly sexist as Simon Hoggart’s comments, so I linked to his article (see above) to see if he was quoted out of context. It turns out that he was. Mr. Hoggart believes that his characterization of Ms. Smith’s competence is not “a cavil: it is a sensible way of proceeding. We have a problem. Let us try to solve it without leaping around like panicky rabbits in a sack.” So he intended the “Women’s Institute” comments as a compliment. What Mr. Hoggart does not explain is why a sensible, capable, rational woman who has just taken up a prominent leadership position in our government should be characterized as a “Women’s Institute secretary” and how the handling of domestic and international terrorism should be analogous to “a fete in the event of rain”.

This is not by way of denigrating the Women’s Institute… The analogy between the organization of a fete and the organization of high levels of gov’t made me uncomfortable. What would Mr. Hoggart have said if the home secretary were a man? Ought we to see strength in the transfer of traditionally female abilities to a traditionally male role? (Then again, I don’t know anything about Ms. Smith’s extra-governmental abilities, gendered or not.)