As MEP Molly Scott Cato learned this week, men will belittle women even at the peak of our careers

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Green MEP Molly Scott Cato during the launch of the Green Party Brexit policy at the Space Studio in London: PA
Green MEP Molly Scott Cato during the launch of the Green Party Brexit policy at the Space Studio in London: PA

“I was and I remain a professor of economics.”

On its own, and without context, it seems an innocuous statement of fact. Molly Scott Cato MEP is a professor of economics; she read philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) at Oxford and she has written no fewer than 11 books on the subject and co-authored several others.

This was a fact that eluded Brexit Party MEP Richard Rowland, who stood up in the European parliament because he “wanted to ask Mrs Scott Cato” how she had reached the conclusion that the UK’s exit from the European Union would result in a “cliff edge when as far as [he was] aware she does not have any degree in economics”.

The Green MEP is not, nor never has she ever been a “Mrs”. But she was and remains an economist. Rowland would do well to simply google someone if he’s going to make a whacking great assumption about them. It’s not as though discovering the details of Scott Cato’s expertise is difficult – it’s in the first line of her Wikipedia page and the second “area of work” listed on her own website.

Scott Cato’s calm and unflappable demeanour as she delivered her expertly timed and beautifully succinct response to Rowland’s question made the whole encounter remarkable. There was a ripple of laughter around the chamber followed by a flutter of applause from the amused onlookers. The elegant simplicity of her riposte rendered it all the more powerful.

Most of us in those kinds of situations find ourselves dreaming up “the perfect comeback” hours later, internally shaking our fists at our brain’s inability to come up with a witty retort immediately.

It’s the “as far as I’m aware” part of Rowland’s question that irks me the most. It would have taken no more than a few seconds to look up Scott Cato’s CV. But he was comfortable enough in the lazy conviction that she couldn’t possibly have expert knowledge in the subject matter because she disagreed with his point of view.

This happens to women all the time sadly; the belief that some people (mainly men, though not always) resolutely hold onto: that a woman whose opinion or statement diverges from their own must be making the whole thing up and/or not using facts to reach their conclusions.

A similar thing happened to journalist and writer Hadley Freeman on Twitter the same day. Freeman had lamented the fact that many non-Jewish people “feel better equipped to decide who is and isn’t antisemitic than actual Jews”. A man responded with what he kindly described as a “genuine question Hadley, please tell me what you understand by antisemitism”. She promptly referred him to the book she is about to release, which she had spent 18 years researching and writing, about the lives of her Jewish grandmother and great uncles.

This happens so often to women, this attitude of “look love, you’re saying something I wholeheartedly disagree with, so the easiest thing for me to do here is make a personal statement about you and your complete lack of expertise and knowledge in this arena, rather than learn anything about you before doing so.”

Why couldn’t either man in either of these instances have maybe done their own research before asking the question in such public forums? These two women saw fit to speak out on Brexit and antisemitism respectively following literally years of study and research on their parts – upon encountering their comments, the spontaneous reaction of two men was to decide they didn’t know what they were talking about.

The infuriating assumptions of these men is not only that these women do not have the requisite experience to say what they are saying but also that they do not have the right to say it. Their behaviour shows up nothing but the men themselves and their own chauvinism.

It’s this kind of institutionalised sexism which takes place in varying degrees of subtlety all around us that conspires to deprive many women of the self-confidence to put themselves out there. Women tend not to apply for a job unless they meet all of the criteria laid out and impostor syndrome remains prevalent among many women.

However, neither Molly Scott Cato nor Hadley Freeman were suffering from impostor syndrome or showing any lack of confidence in these instances. Rather their confident delivery of declarative statements of fact is what seems to have incited irritable reactions from men.

The opening of Scott Cato’s response to Rowland encapsulates perfectly the approach of many men when it comes to their willingness to question a woman’s opinion: “Obviously you haven’t been paying much attention.’’

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting