Last week was a grim one for women. In fact, it was downright depressing. Feminists may be justified in celebrating the Scottish government's statement in parliament, which in effect delayed any Gender Recognition Act reform by extending consultation in order to be more inclusive, and to undertake a detailed Equality Impact Assessment.
On such a highly sensitive issue, it beggars belief, that this was not carried out in the first place. In truth, 'success', such as it is, came at a heavy price for the women leading the movement for nothing other than proper scrutiny. The abuse meted out to them has been monstrous. Women's livelihoods have been threatened, some sacked for speaking out about their concerns. Furthermore, the huge amount of unpaid research and guidance carried out by women behind the scenes – work, by the way, that should have been done by government – has exhausted them and generated genuine fear about how their labours might affect future employment. Yes, the price has been high. And no, these women are not transphobes – many of them not even radical feminists.
Justifiably, there is deep anger with the government for its shoddy policy process, its careless disregard for proper scrutiny of such an important issue for trans people and women, that has led to this mess. Although many women welcome the 'delay', it will likely heighten tensions rather than dampen them – a polarised conflict which often feels like a zero-sum game – for which the Scottish government is almost entirely responsible.
There was, however, good news announced by the Scottish government for women and girls in Scotland, albeit with little fanfare or press attention. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a barbaric practice that, although illegal, is happening increasingly in Scotland. Announced on 30 May this year, a new law has been proposed to enhance protection for women and girls at risk from FGM. Extremely welcome, yes, but despairing that girls need enhanced protection at all in a so-called progressive country.
Benny Hill as PM
In England last week too – a tense few days for women everywhere – we witnessed an extraordinary, televised, physical manhandling of a woman protesting about climate change, by a Tory MP no less. Mark Field MP, shoved the activist against a pillar before holding her by the neck and pushing her out of the black-tie dinner. The overpowering physical strength of Field was humiliating, and a tremor of fear must have been felt by all domestically-abused women at the sight of it.
It was deeply worrying just how many commentators shoulder-shrugged, or echoed Field's defence that 'he was genuinely worried she might have been armed'. I'm not sure about the level of security at an event where the chancellor, Philip Hammond, was speaking, but I'd guess a suicide vest or a gun lurking beneath an evening gown would not escape discovery, to put it mildly.
Finally, the ghastly spectacle of Boris Johnson's campaign to become prime minister is an assault on all things decent. There's really nothing left to say about him. Max Hastings has said it all for us. On Friday, the Guardian revealed that the police were called to the home of Johnson's partner, Carrie Symonds, in the early hours of the morning after neighbours heard 'a loud altercation involving screaming, shouting and banging', with the young women screaming at him to 'get off me' and 'get out of my flat'.
As the row over the incident escalated the next day, Tories leapt to Johnson's defence, including Tory women, and blamed the neighbours for 'snooping'. I mean, what are Tory women thinking? Probably, I suspect a wee twinkle in the eye about Johnson's caddish behaviour: a charming, naughty philanderer of the kind completely acceptable and much loved by the upper classes. He is a throwback to a time of carry-on films – the political equivalent of Benny Hill. But we live in enlightened times apparently, and it's not remotely funny any more (if it ever was).
The status of women in this country is reversing and reverting to a dark place and we need to have our wits about us to continue fighting for the next generation. It is both exhausting and despairing.
I was in London last week with my daughter while my husband and future son-in-law were in China – for work purposes, you'll understand. For some reason, although intrigued by the country, I've never had a real desire to make the journey. Regaled with tales of an extraordinary visit, guided by the most hospitable hosts in Shanghai, I am now fascinated. It's not that I need to try 'crunchy frog with chicken feet, topped with salted egg white' – a Shanghai speciality available at all fine eateries – but the distinctive Chinese aesthetic, mindset and political system all deserve close attention.
A country that can throw up a monumental Western-style skyscraper on the Bund in a matter of weeks while still making cultural room for tea ceremonies and elaborate displays of calligraphy has managed to take what it wants from the West without compromising its own identity. And the size of the place makes it the only global player to challenge the US.
The guys got out of Shanghai (population 28 million) to visit a nearby 'town' for a couple of days – a town of eight million people. London is the size of an average Chinese city, no more. And this is no idle observation. When asked for the Chinese view of Brexit, the hosts just laughed awkwardly and tried to change the subject. The Chinese do not think it polite to openly acknowledge, let alone comment, on the stupidity of their guests. They are
interested in the EU, as it's the only possible contender to US and Chinese supremacy. But an 'independent', 'sovereign' UK, boldly striking trade deals across the globe having 'taken back control' from the EU – well, let's just say it's not remotely concerning to Chinese geopolitical calculations.
Finally, my envy-button turned full green when I heard that they stayed in the same hotel, on the West Lake in Hangzhou, as Nixon and Kissinger when they made their fateful visit back in 1972.