Sexism is the “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex”.
It is the belief that someone is a lesser person as a direct result of their gender. It is, like racism, one of the worst sins you can commit, and thus one of the worst accusations you can levy at someone.
In this light, it is clear that the accusations levelled this week at the Bank of England’s deputy governor are completely unfounded.
The alleged offence taken at Ben Broadbent’s comment about a “menopausal economy” have been reported wildly out of context.
In his interview, he referred to the British economy in the Victorian era as “climacteric” – a phrase, which despite working in the think tank world for over four years now, I can’t claim was in my word bank.
Upon realising that your average Jane and Joe might need more details, Broadbent defined the word in simple terms: “it has the same Latin roots as ‘climax’ and means ‘menopausal’ but it applies to both genders,” he explained.
This, according to the range of economists and journalists who have since weighed in, amounts to sexism. It is a blatantly ludicrous and far-fetched indictment – yet we live in a world today where these kinds of outbursts make national media headlines.
Putting aside the context (which shows that Broadbent’s comments are not remotely offensive), is it reasonable to classify words like “menopausal” as sexist, if their use is not directly to female biology?
Are “in utero” and “embryonic” off limits too? Is a “pregnant pause” not a dramatic and lengthy moment of silence, but a term of abuse used to discriminate against soon-to-be mums?
Of course not – such phrases, unless communicated in a deliberately provocative way, are not offensive. But the victimhood industry has the magical ability to up conjure up that which does not exist. Where no one has been offended, they will find a victim; where no one is sexist, they will find a chauvinist.
I sympathise heavily with Broadbent – though the Bank of England, perhaps unknowingly, has assisted in legitimatising the faux outrage. Its decision last year to pander to the speech police and gender-neutralise all of its terminology opened the floodgates to more of these kinds of criticisms.
Having agreed that the term “chairman” is intrinsically offensive, it follows that “climacteric” would be next on the ban-list.
Sexism was once a term reserved for truly despicable attitudes and behaviour; today, it is a common stick with which to beat people with whom you disagree.
Trump voters are sexist. Brexit voters are sexist. Anyone who has ever watched a Jordan Peterson video is sexist. If you happen to be a woman who challenges modern-day feminism’s emotive reasoning with facts, well, then you’re probably brainwashed by the patriarchy – and also sexist.
It strikes me that outcries over economic jargon are rooted in a deep unkindness and complete lack of faith in the intentions of others. But whatever the motive, the overuse of terms like “sexism” is devaluing real instances of discrimination and abuse against women.
Broadbent is not guilty of such things in the slightest. It is great disservice to him, to women, and to our public discourse to accuse him as such.