Oh, The Times, what are you doing to me? An editorial exhorting us to "do battle with the sexists"? A cover story about how putting women's low representation in the higher echelons of science down to the Natural Immutable Stupidity of Girls is complete bollocks? And then... a witty, light-hearted sidebar about how Ann Widdecombe's fat and ugly haha. She's "dinosaurian". She doesn't have sex. She's proof of the theory of Stupid Design, a branch of Cretinism (DO YOU SEE WHAT THEY DID THERE).
So basically you're saying that sexism is bad and we should totally fight all forms of gender-based discrimination but also it's funny to mock women who we find unattractive?
High fives, Alan Childs: you win today's Most Mind-Boggling Chumpnuggetry Award.
Here's the thing: I really, really disagree with the vast majority of Ann Widdecombe's views. Shackling pregnant prisoners! Finding the idea of lady priests so abhorrent that she left the Church of England! The whole virulent opposition to abortion thing! Her staunch support of Section 28! The fixation on faith as inherently good and fundamentally necessary, and the almost-hilarious insistence that Britain is A Christian Country! None of these are my style. (BREAKING NEWS.)
But, weirdly, I kind of like her.
I don't know. She's got... I'm struggling to think of a word that isn't "balls" or "spunk" here. She's got grit. Determination. I think she's aware that people patronise her because she's a woman, and she doesn't take it lying down (even though she does come out with crackers like "women are so wet"). Whenever Strictly Come Dancing swirled uninvited across my field of vision, I found myself rooting for her because the tone was so "haha fat and ugly, let us point and laugh".
Remember during the 2008 US election, when we spent an incredible amount of energy pointing out that even though Sarah Palin's views were spectacularly sexist, that still didn't make it okay to be sexist towards her? Yeah. Widdecombe's views are mostly offensive. Widdecombe's views are often sexist. That doesn't make it okay to base your attacks on her on sexism.
Apart from anything else: COME ON, there is so much more material to be mined here! Acres of comedy coverage could be gleaned from even one of her bizarre pronouncements: in that New Statesman interview, in response to a question about the Catholic church abuse scandal, she asked "why just pick on the church?" OH THE POOR CHURCH. What a weak, defenceless target. Her charity of choice this Christmas? Donkeys. In "the Holy Land". "It's terrible that these gentle animals, which play a key part in the Nativity story, should be so badly treated," she laments: not to get into an Oppression Olympics my-charity's-better-than-your-charity battle, but come on, THE DONKEYS? (We are a strange and fucked up little country.)
My point being, she's a political figure: mock her politics, not her, well, her figure. Not her face. Not the fact that you think she's a virgin. Okay, you think she's totally a minger: is that seriously the reason you disagree with her stance on Catholic adoption agencies being allowed to discriminate against gay prospective parents? I would hope not! She's wrong because she's wrong, not because you don't want to take a guided tour around her secret lady garden.
None of this is new, you know? We've said time and again that sexism isn't just bad when it's directed at people we like, or people we agree with: it's bad because it's bad because it's bad. It's bad when it's used to tear down feminists. It's bad when it's directed at the most virulent anti-feminist you can imagine. Saying "but she's ugly" is one of the quickest, easiest and nastiest ways to discredit someone's argument without bothering with constructing an actual defence, and it serves to remind us all that we are nothing unless we are fuckable.