Jo Swinson: is it 'sexist' to give a pregnant woman your seat?
Debate rages on after a heavily pregnant minister was left standing in Prime Minister's Questions
A ROW has broken out after MPs failed to give up their seats for the heavily pregnant minister Jo Swinson during Prime Minister's Questions yesterday. The business minister, whose responsibilities include equalities, was left standing throughout the session despite being seven months pregnant.
It sparked outrage from viewers, including The Spectator's political editor James Forsyth, who described it on Twitter as a "really shocking lack of manners and decency".
Quite remarkable that no MP has offered Jo Swinson, who is seven months pregnant, a seat. Really shocking lack of manners and decency
— James Forsyth (@JGForsyth) October 16, 2013
But an aide close to Swinson subsequently told the Daily Mail: "The suggestion somehow that people should be outraged on her behalf is ridiculous. The idea that just because she is seven months pregnant she has lost all ability to stand on her two feet or fend for herself is quite sexist."
This prompted further anger, with critics accusing the minister of setting a "dangerous precedent" for other pregnant women – despite Swinson later denying that she thought it was sexist.
About to get on the tube - seat offers welcome & definitely not sexist :o)
But I was happier standing at pmqs yesterday
— Jo Swinson (@joswinson) October 17, 2013
"Does Jo Swinson hate women?" asks Cristina Odone in the Daily Telegraph. "Trust a Lib Dem to find sexism in chivalry... To try to erase all distinctions between man and woman, to pretend for instance, that a heavily pregnant woman deserves no special treatment, is foolish."
The MPs who failed to offer Swinson their seat should be "pilloried", says Odone, but so too should Swinson "for accepting their behaviour and thus setting a dangerous precedent".
Hannah Brewer in the Daily Mirror salutes men across the country who are "brave enough to stand and offer a seat". Offering a seat does not mean someone assumes a baby bump equates to a lessening intellect, she says, it is simply "considerate".
Meanwhile, Downing Street has been quick to insist that giving up a seat for a pregnant woman is the "decent thing to do" and that David Cameron would certainly offer his seat to a pregnant woman on a bus.
But in The Independent, Matilda Battersby sympathises with Swinson's aide. "Nobody likes to be patronised, and the age of chivalry – which promotes the myth of feminine weakness – is thankfully dead," says Battersby. The idea that women are "severely incapacitated" by their bump is "ludicrous", she adds. "The solution to the stand up/sit down debate? Women should simply ask for a seat if they need one and nobody has offered." ·