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Opinion: Did Clive Lewis’ remark go too far, or have we lost our sense of humour?

PUBLISHED: 16:14 24 October 2017 | UPDATED: 16:14 24 October 2017

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis (Picture: Nick Butcher)

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis (Picture: Nick Butcher)

Archant © 2017

The word ‘bitch’ is not a nice one in 2017, even when applied to a dog.

Indeed, I feel certain that a party of female dogs is already on the verge of bringing a class action against anyone who calls them anything other than ‘female canine’. Certainly, I can think of contexts where, if I were to be called a bitch, I would be unhappy.

If I were unsupportive of a colleague, spiteful, self-serving, cruel or unkind, then I would feel the insult smarting on my face for hours afterwards, partly because it is a horrible word, but much more so because I would be feeling ashamed of my behaviour.

If it were used by a man whose arguments I had destroyed with my superior intellect, however, I might, while feeling extremely sorry for someone who is only able to battle a woman by using derogatory terms, nonetheless feel I had won a kind of victory.

Joan Collins as Alexis in Dynasty made ‘the bitch’ something to be admired, I might argue. But equally it is depressing when ‘bitch’ is used against women who are merely confident, clever and determined to get what they want; qualities that in a man would lead to a very different ‘b’ word – brilliant, bright, brainy, ballsy…take your pick.

Essentially what I’m trying to say is that with any difficult word, context is key.

READ MORE: Norwich MP Clive Lewis condemned after making ‘filthy, sexist’ comment at event

The Labour MP Clive Lewis has taken a bashing this week because in a joking context he used the term ‘bitch’ towards a male actor at a Labour Party event.

Apparently he used to the phrase ‘get on your knees, bitch’ towards Sam Swann in a situation Mr Swann told the Guardian was ‘jovial and nothing vicious’.

Lewis has apologised unreservedly after being roundly criticised, particularly by female colleagues, including fellow Norwich MP Chloe Smith who said ‘his words are filthy’ and ‘he has let Norwich down’. She even suggested that his comments meant he was someone ‘not fit to do their job’ and said it demonstrated that he thought women ‘should be on their knees’.

I wasn’t there and don’t know the context but from what I’ve seen it suggests nothing of the sort. He used the term towards a man. He used it jokingly. Possibly in the same tone as a friend in the pub – and Lewis did have a lager in his hand - might call their friend an ‘arse’ or any other derogatory remark which tends to be the British way of talking to one’s friends in my experience.

If Clive Lewis turns out to be a man who regularly talks to women in this way without a sense of humour in sight, then he deserves all the abuse he may get and should be forced to eat humble pie daily.

But I don’t think he has.

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