Calm down dear?

liz blog icon.jpgDavid Cameron shocked the Commons at Prime Minister's Question Time this week when he shouted "Calm down dear" to shadow Treasury chief secretary, Labour MP Angela Eagle. His actions not only caused outrage in the House but also prompted Michael Winner to trend on Twitter - not something I expected to see in my lifetime. It seems that people assume he was echoing the dulcet tones of Mr Winner in the infamous esure advert.

Cameron has since faced a media backlash branding him a bit of a sexist pig. In his characteristically self-effacing way Mr Winner was the first to challenge this criticism: "It's just a harmless phrase I wrote for an advert 10 years ago, and it's entered into the national consciousness - I get people shouting it at me in the street or in restaurants, all the time, and I don't mind in the least. The Labour party are saying it's disrespectful to women, but what planet are they on? It's just a jolly statement, a bit of fun - and we need fun more than ever in these dour times. I really can't imagine why Harriet Harman, or anyone else, would object to it."

 

People who have been tortured by the said advert may take issue with just how harmless the phrase is but the question of whether it is actually sexist is far more interesting, especially when we drill down into how this expression relates specifically to the insurance industry.

 

If we force ourselves to remember the esure advert, the aforementioned phrase was said by Winner (in a rather patronising way) to his long suffering wife. I imagine the concept behind this was to promote the notion that insurance was indeed not something to get your knickers in a twist about. Having a rather smarmy man communicate this to a pretty passive woman isn't particularly forward thinking and it's possible to argue that neither are certain aspects of the insurance sector.

 

I recently attended an industry do with a friend who was an insurance virgin. Around two drinks in he turned to me, both bemused and rather captivated, and said: "God, it is like I've stepped back into the 70s." As I surveyed the familiar scene of older, suited men leering at younger short-skirted girls it was difficult to deny that gender dynamics in certain spheres of the  insurance world still leave a lot to be desired.

 

Yes things have improved and there are now some inspirational role models like Amanda Blanc who have taken the market by the short and curlies but they are still too few and far between. Hopefully in another ten years time there will be a new insurance related catchphrase being bandied about the Commons which will promote the industry in a fresh light. Let's hope it has nothing to do with Michael Winner.

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