‘Successful women are all sluts.’ Discuss...

Why is it suddenly such a big deal for a local political party – or, indeed, a local anybody or anything – to resort to insults of the basest, most misogynistic variety imaginable, when talking about a successful career woman?

MP Godfrey Farrugia said he would lead inquiry into PD's 'village escort' insult to Labour MP
MP Godfrey Farrugia said he would lead inquiry into PD's 'village escort' insult to Labour MP

This is one of those moments where I have to admit to being stumped. One second I was sitting at my computer, wondering why everything was so eerily quiet on Facebook – almost five whole minutes had gone by, without so much as a squeak of outrage about anything, from anyone – then I popped into the kitchen to make a coffee... and by the time I got back... Ker-BLAAM! The worldwide web was once again aflame with all its usual shock, horror and spleen.

OK, you might be thinking; so bloody what? Just another day on social media. Happens all the time. What makes this latest nationwide howl of protest so different or unusual?

And at a glance, the answer doesn’t even amount to very much. An anonymous spokesperson of the ‘Partit Demokratiku’ (just let that name sink in for a second... oh, and remember:  these guys are the local representatives of the ‘European liberals’) had just put up a post ‘slut-shaming’ Labour MP Julia Farrugia Portelli as a ‘village escort’.

And no, that’s not a reference to the popular Ford model of the 1970s and 1980s. It means ‘qahba’, if you really want to know.

Then again, that is exactly what got me so flummoxed in the first place. Sorry, but... why all the fuss? Why is it suddenly such a big deal for a local political party – or, indeed, a local anybody or anything – to resort to insults of the basest, most misogynistic variety imaginable, when talking about a successful career woman?

Again, this is something that happens all the time. Others have beaten me in listing a few of the more recent examples: such as Tina Urso, the civil society campaigner who was dubbed a ‘whore’ because she organised a protest against the IIP scheme in London.

A guy we don’t like is successful? Obviously, it’s because he bribed – not bedded – his way to the top...)

And in an article last Friday, Julia herself (note: I won’t excuse the first-name basis, as I worked with her for several years... and besides, her surname is just too darn long to keep typing out each time) observed how similar strategies had been used in the past for former President Agatha Barbara: Malta’s first elected female MP, who went on to become Malta’s first female head of state.

But I could add to the list: remember when a certain media commentator described Ira Losco as a ‘bitch’... because she threatened to create a pre-electoral ‘feel-good factor’, by (potentially) winning the Eurovision Song Contest?

That, to me, was as clear an indication as it is possible to get, if you really want to understand the underlying source of this misogynistic streak that runs through our entire society.

Think about it for a second: why would anyone even bother competing in something like the Eurovision Song Contest... if the intention was not to win? So what made Ira Losco (of all people) an instant ‘bitch’... if not the fact that (for a sadly fleeting little moment there) we all thought that she might actually pull it off?

Success. That’s what it is, right there. That’s what frightens us most about women in this country... the mere possibility that they might actually prove successful in whatever they choose to do.

And it’s not hard to understand why, either. For if Maltese women get it into their heads (even just once) that... hey, maybe I can make something out of this life of mine; maybe there is more to existence than simply popping out babies like a human slot machine... well, do I really need to underline the consequences? Chaos! Anarchy! Abortion! (No, wait, there’s a euphemism for that, isn’t there? Female Reproductive Rights!) And we all know what happens after that. The instant unravelling of all human civilisation as we (i.e., ‘we men’) know it... that’s what.

We can hardly allow that to happen, now can we? No, indeed. Even women will surely agree that ‘success’ is pretty pointless, if there isn’t any human civilisation to actually achieve it in.

But then again... how can we possibly prevent it, without actively discriminating against women through legislation (something we used to do very happily until... oh, just a few years ago, when all this new-fangled, namby-pamby European ‘equality’ business first started upsetting our patriarchal apple-cart)?

I know! We’ll spend years and decades patiently building up a national aura of bullying and intimidation around the mere concept of a ‘successful women’, so as to pre-emptively dissuade any from even trying. An instant arsenal of verbal warfare weaponry – ‘bitch’, ‘whore’, ‘slut’, ‘qahba’, etc. – which now roll so easily off the tongue, that most people end up typing them into Facebook comments, and hitting the enter button... without even pausing to consider the implications of their own words.

What are those implications, anyway? They seem pretty clear to me.

‘Success’ and ‘woman’ are two words which naturally conflict with one another in the popular imagination – you are either one or the other... never both at the same time – so if a Maltese woman does achieve success (especially in a traditionally male-dominated sphere)... well, it can hardly be because she was better qualified or harder-working (or both) than her naturally superior male competitors, can it? No, it could only have been possible through underhand means. And being a woman... and therefore, by definition, a slut just waiting to come out of her shell... how else could she possibly work her way to the top, if not by resorting to sexual favours every step of the way?

(Note: in the interest of gender neutrality – and for no other reason under the sun – I feel compelled to point out that a similar mentality exists for men, too.

The only difference is that – being men – it does not centre on sex. Unlike their female counterparts, ‘sexually active men’ are automatically considered role models of virility in this country. It is not so much an insult, as a grudging compliment – in fact, there isn’t even an equivalent word for either ‘bitch’ or ‘whore’ in Maltese, or in any other language I know – so instead, we smear them with corruption. A guy we don’t like is successful? Obviously, it’s because he bribed – not bedded – his way to the top...)

But where was I? Ah yes. Successful women. Scaring the pants off unsuccessful men since... oh, the dawn of mankind, I imagine.

So again I have to ask: why all the fuss about this particular example? And why now? Why not when the insult was first levelled over two years ago – or at any point during the subsequent libel proceedings, which Julia Farrugia Portelli went on to win (a sentence confirmed on appeal) last June?

Strange, huh, that the same allegation that got everyone so fired up this week, had been floating about in the public domain all that time, without anyone seeming to even notice. Well, almost the same, anyway. For as things stand, the only notable aspect of this latest case is that the anonymous ‘slut-shamer’ got his or her allegations muddled up.

As I recall, the ‘village escort’ label had been assigned to another female Labour MP. It was Rosianne Cutajar, not Julia Farrugia Portelli, who was accused of doubling up as a call-girl operating in Sicily: an accusation that was liberally broadcast – together with Cutajar’s mobile number, for anyone wishing to book her services – live on Radio 101.

Ah, how quickly we all forget the truly shocking instances of misogyny in this country.... the ones which not only violate all known standards of decency... but also the law.

As for Julia, on the other hand: she was described as a ‘stripper’ – relentlessly, for 13 weeks, until she was forced to take legal action – not an ‘escort’.

But let’s not quibble over minor details. One was the youngest female candidate to ever get elected to Malta’s Parliament; the other got catapulted into the House in her first-ever election attempt.

I call that ‘success’ myself. And in case I still need to spell it out for you: to be a successful woman in this country, is to be a slut... by whichever specific insult you choose to describe it.

There: nothing to be shocked about, is it? Now can we all go back to the ‘eerily quiet’ part, please? I was starting to enjoy it...

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