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Review of the Week - A flutter of the eyelashes away from dystopia

What a week it has been for gender inequality-related news stories.

On Monday we had BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg turning up to the Labour Conference in Brighton flanked by bodyguards. Anyone would think she fancied herself as Beyonce, judging by the reaction of the public, rather than the reality - that social media users had threatened to kill her because they did not like what she wrote about Jeremy Corbyn.

The following day we had Lavinia Woodward walking free from court with a suspended prison sentence after stabbing her boyfriend in the leg with a bread knife. The public cried out it was an injustice. They believed she had escaped jail because she was privileged, pretty and female and there would be no chance on this earth a black man from a council estate would escape from the same crime scot-free.

Whilst later in the week came the triumphant news women in Saudi Arabia had finally been allowed to drive. This came after years of campaigning by an extraordinary group of women who were not afraid to risk imprisonment to make their feelings about the driving ban heard.

What to make of it all? There is certainly a rumbling undercurrent across all three stories about where we are in Britain, as well as across the world, when it comes to the fight for gender equality.

The plight of the Saudi women reminds me of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale – being forced to cover up, to be escorted to all places by guardians and to have no other role in society than an empty vessel for a man's bidding.

This way of life is unimaginable for us living here in Britain but I think we take this for granted as the two news stories closer to home suggest.

It is never fully revealed what actually happens in The Handmaid's Tale to bring those women to enslavement – we just know there has been a severe dip in fertility. What we must remember however, is the dystopian world of Gilead in The Handmaid's Tale has not grown out of a society like Saudi Arabia's. It is made clear that before the story begins, the title character had all the liberties we enjoy in British society.

We seem to need constant reminders we are only a few false moves away from being flung back into a place like Saudi Arabia.

If we value the path we have already forged towards gender equality we must support the likes of Laura Kuenssberg and allow her voice to ring out loud and clear against the cacophony of male voices around her.

And we must shun the likes of Lavinia Woodward whose case, I believe, can be reduced to that of young pretty female charming her way out of a prison sentence. The fact she was an Oxford university student, that she had hopes of becoming a surgeon, that she came from a middle class background are just a nice bit of decorative trimming around the central issue of why she didn't go to jail.


She willingly reduced herself to the position of victim. She expressed great sorrow for what she had done, she promised she would never do it again, she shed tears and mouthed a 'thank-you' to the judge when he gave his verdict. In placing herself into this submissive role she undid decades worth of campaigning by women to be treated as equally as men. Her flutter of the eyelashes took us all a step closer to dystopia.

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