From ‘equal pay’ to ‘mansplaining’: when were these terms first used in Parliament? We used TheyWorkForYou’s search function, then sorted the results to see the ‘oldest first’.
Note that content on the site currently goes back as far as 1919 (for the House of Commons; and Lords content goes back to 1999), so any mentions before then will not have been picked up. This is especially relevant to the earliest terms in the list.
April 1919: Equal pay
World War 1 saw many women taking paid jobs outside the household, and in the following few years, parliamentary discussions and legislation on women’s rights came thick and fast.
Carlyon Bellairs makes the first mention that we have on record of this term, suggesting that women should be ‘eligible for all ranks of industry’:
Women have done magnificently in this war. They have worked side by side with men. They have, as I have said, shown their fitness to enter nearly all the ranks of industry. They have been in the valley of suffering. They have stood in the shadow of death, and I do think that we want a Bill which is a true emancipation Bill and which will put women all along the line on a level with men and side by side with them, and that the motto to which we should subscribe should be, “Equal pay for equal work.”
It’s his contribution to a debate on the Women’s Emancipation Bill, proposed legislation that would allow women to sit in the Lords and take on judiciary or civil appointments. This bill’s (curtailed) passage through Parliament was ripe for bringing emancipatory terms into Parliament: it provides no fewer than the first four mentions of terms on our list.
The Women’s Emancipation Bill had good support from all parties, but came to an unfortunate end thanks to political manoeuvering: you can read about the finer details here.
April 1919: Right to vote
William Adamson: While the Women’s Emancipation Bill was still under debate, Adamson said:
Within recent times we have enlarged and widened our ideas regarding the place our womenfolk shall hold in the national life. Politically, industrially, and socially she holds an entirely different place to-day from that which she held a few years ago. […]
Whenever this House departed from the narrow doctrine that woman’s sphere is the home and nothing but the home, we were bound, in the very nature of things, to be forced step by step to recognise her right to be placed on a legal and political equality with men […] when once you have conferred upon her a right to vote at thirty years of age, you cannot withhold from her that same right at twenty-one years of age, when you have already conferred that right and privilege on the men at twenty-one years of age.
Image: John Saunders (public domain)
April 1919: Votes for women
No doubt this phrase was spoken frequently during the suffragettes’ activities of the early 1900s, but the first utterance we have on TheyWorkForYou is by William Lunn:
The Labour party have always been in favour of votes for women upon the same terms as they may be given to men. […] I hope […] that we shall never again—ominous words!—never again see a Bill introduced into Parliament which may have words similar to the first few lines of this Bill: ‘Whereas by law certain restraints and disabilities are imposed upon women to which men are not liable’.
July 1919: Women’s rights
John Jones, in the third debate on the Women’s Emancipation Bill, is arguing against the idea that women do not require as much pay as men because they do not have the same responsibilities in the maintenance of a home and family:
The ladies are able to look after themselves in the home. I dare say they will be able to look after themselves outside of it. Hon. Members in this House know very well the power of the ladies. […] Therefore I appeal to the hon. Member opposite, if he is enthusiastic about women’s rights in industry, to give them first the political means of achieving the rights they are entitled to.
March 1920: Breast-feeding
A Dr Murray states his approval of a planned increase in money for the Ministry of Health. He mentions:
One great item in connection with the prevention of infantile mortality may be found in the fact that in rural districts breast-feeding is general while in the towns it is exceptional.
March 1923: Sex discrimination
Viscountess Nancy Astor is the first female speaker in our list (perhaps to be expected, since she was also the first woman to speak in parliament). She is on good form as she speaks prior to a vote on the age at which intoxicating liquor can be purchased.
A mother knows that, once you have got a child over teething, your next problem is that very difficult age from 14 to 20 […] There is nothing in the world more tragic and more dangerous for a country than to have adolescents drinking. If alcohol is a bad stimulant for girl adolescence it is equally bad for boy adolescents […]
The final answer is that, sex discrimination in legislation affecting morals will not be tolerated by an enlightened public conscience partly because it is unjust and partly because immorality is a joint offence which cannot be cured by dealing with one sex.
March 1922: Feminism
Sir J. D. Rees, in a short debate on women police, contributes this thought:
Surely if there be any economy for which this country might cry out, it is the determination of this fantastic and expensive piece of feminism. It is impossible by practical enquiry to find out what duties are done by these women perambulating the parts in unbecoming and expensive uniforms, but with no powers whatever.
Embed from Getty Images
Policewomen in tin hats in Victoria, London, 1918
February 1945: Maternity pay
Leo Amery is the first to mention this concept. During an Oral Question on women miners in India, Reginald Sorensen asks “May we take it that women can, and do, take their babies down the mines a month after birth?”
Lieutenant Colonel Leo Amery replies:
I do not know. There is no reason why they should. Maternity pay is continued for a month after the birth, and the women are forbidden to work at any rate during that period.
March 1945: Patriarchy
Sir Arthur Salter, in a debate about family allowance — state aid given to families with more than one child — argues for the money to be given directly to the woman of the household:
If this Bill had been passed in the form in which it was introduced it would have had a very unfortunate effect upon the status of women. It would have thrown us back from the conception of marriage as a partnership into patriarchy.
October 1946: Maternity leave
A statement is transmitted by Evelyn Walkden, announcing the removal of the ‘marriage bar’ from the Civil Service (which had meant that married women could not be employed, and female employees who married must resign). It stated:
The abolition of the marriage bar will take effect today. It will not give any right of reinstatement to women who have in the past been required to resign from the Civil Service on marriage. Marriage gratuities will be paid, as hitherto, to women who voluntarily resign from established Civil Service posts on marriage. The Government have decided to accept the recommendation of the National Whitley Council Marriage Bar Committee […] for improved maternity leave terms.
November 1947: Lesbianism
Viscount Turnour, debating the Criminal Justice Bill, opines that:
The penalty for unnatural vice between male persons is too high. […] I understand that there is no penalty for lesbianism.
The first use of the word ‘lesbian’, by John Tilney in March 1957 made a similar point:
I speak as a happily married man, with my wife listening in the Public Gallery. I have never been able to understand why there is a rather fierce law for the male pervert and not for the lesbian. There is no danger to life or property from the homosexual who, I believe, accounts for 4 per cent of the prison population. Such persons could be used for work outside prisons to a far greater extent than they are at present.
April 1970: Misogyny
Leo Abse mentions the word for the first time. The House is debating whether engagement rings should be returned if engagements are broken off.
I agree that the cynics may say that there are risks of women entering into a succession of engagements in order to obtain a succession [of] rings, but I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Aston has not pursued the misogyny that he expressed previously when he seemed to imagine that most women were in danger of becoming extraordinarily predatory, and that he now takes a much more realistic view.
November 1970: Women’s lib
Harold Wilson comments on the Conservative Budget:
The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues made no secret of their tactics in the election. They were to go all out for the women’s vote—even to try to persuade them to vote differently from their husbands. The right hon. Gentleman became a temporary supporter of “women’s lib” during the election, and even Lysistrata was not more eloquent than he was.
Image: Leffler, Warren K. (Public domain)
July 1973: Domestic violence
Jack Ashley, in a debate titled with a now less-used term, ‘battered wives’, says:
I want to draw the attention of the House to a subject cocooned in prejudice and buried in fear—the problem of wives who are victims of domestic violence.
March 1975: Positive discrimination
Millie Miller was the first to use this term to talk about giving women favourable terms; it had been used many times previously to propose a solution to other types of inequity. In a debate around the Sex Discrimination Bill she said:
I regret […] the fact that even in the White Paper the idea of positive discrimination to favour women, certainly in education and training, has not been introduced.
February 1976: Right to choose
Patrick Jenkin used it first in relation to abortion. Of course, the phrase appeared in many debates alluding to the ‘right to choose’ a type of education for one’s children, a company’s ‘right to choose’ where to buy electrical appliances, or Parliament’s ‘right to choose’ a Speaker; but Jenkin applied this phrase — now a well-known slogan advocating for women’s autonomy — to make quite the opposite point:
I cannot accept the doctrine that abortion is a woman’s right to choose.
July 1978: Page three
Dennis Canavan spoke eight years before Clare Short’s campaign against the Sun’s usage of topless models, referring to the phenomenon in a debate on the next year’s referendum for Scottish devolution. He was worrying that the paper might replace Page 3 with “anti-devolution propaganda”.
December 1983: Sexual harassment
Jo Richardson frames the term during the second reading of the Sexual Equality Bill:
I have left until last the matter of sexual harassment at work. While preparing the Bill, and discussing it at meetings, I often heard it said, “Why do you want to include that? It does not exist. It is just making a joke out of the whole matter.
Harassment ranges from sexist language to explicitly sexist calendars — [Interruption.]—to page three of The Sun, to the more threatening examples of women being touched up or asked for sexual favours and of being told, which many women have over the years, that they will not be promoted unless they submit to the sexual advances of someone who works higher up in their department. I assure those Conservative Members who seemed to think that my reference to calendars was trivial, that such matters offend many women.
April 1985: Spare Rib
Harry Cohen makes the only mention of the feminist publication in Parliament to date:
Emma MacLennan of the Low Pay Unit outlined the current position of the low-paid in the current edition of Spare Rib. She said: Most low-paid workers are women. Last year, nearly eight and a half million workers in Britain were earning less than the ‘decency threshold’ for wages specified under the European Social Charter (£108 per week, or £2.75 per hour).
May 2009: Gender pay gap
Philip Davies lives up to his reputation for contesting issues around women’s rights where he considers them to disadvantage men:
Another issue is the gender pay gap. […]The pay gap exists for a host of reasons. Sometimes, women choose to take time out of work. That is one of the reasons why there is a gender pay gap.
November 2013: Wage gap
Gloria De Piero, in a debate on women and the cost of living, states:
The Government are turning back the clock on women’s equality. Progress on the wage gap has stalled, and women’s financial independence is being undermined”.
The term was used several times prior to this, but to talk about issues such as the difference between average salaries in Wales or Scotland and England, or between low and high-skilled workers.
June 2016: Mansplaining
Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh complains about being patronised:
May we have a debate on “mansplaining”, and the fact that male Tory backbenchers are not the only ones to have been elected to the House with an understanding of difficult and complex issues? The House will then find that women are very good at it too. I shall be happy to elaborate further if the Leader of the House needs any help in explaining that to his backbenchers.
November 2017: #MeToo
Anne Milton is the first to nod to the campaign, in a debate about sexual harassment and violence in schools — and it continues to be referred to: to date the most recent instance was on 14 June of this year.
The #metoo campaign has without doubt gained momentum and done much to reduce the stigma and damaging shame associated with people coming forward to tell of their experiences.
Words and phrases for which we could not find a mention:
Will these come up soon? You could subscribe to a TheyWorkForYou email alert to find out: it sends you an email every time your chosen word or phrase is mentioned in Parliament.
- Third wave feminism
- Male gaze
- Bechdel test
This page is part of a week-long look at women’s participation and inclusion in Parliament, for National Democracy Week. See our other posts here.